Google has long used its Chrome Experiments as a way to show off the power of browser-based apps, and the latest one should appeal to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson's set of Middle-earth films. The new "Journey through Middle-earth" Chrome Experiment (first shown off at Google I/O in May) lets users view an interactive map of Tolkien's world and zoom in on relevant locations from Jackson's trilogy of films based on The Hobbit. At a high level, you can zoom through an eagle's-eye, Google Maps view of the areas feature in The Hobbit (so no, you can't fly into Mordor); zooming in fills in landmarks and cities throughout Middle-earth. As with the rest of Google's recent Chrome Experiments, Journey through Middle-earth is meant to be viewable on any device running Chrome, including smartphones and tablets. Some controls work best on a touchscreen, while others make more sense on a keyboard, making it a bit of a fragmented experience overall.
Right now, three of those locations — the elven haven Rivendell, Trollshaws forest, and the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur — can be explored at a deeper level. Clicking or tapping through will activate a Gandalf-esque voice-over, informatoin about relevant characters from each location, and an interactive 3D game-like element for each location (built with CSS3 and WebGL). The games themselves aren't exactly deep experiences, but they do a good job at showing off the 3D power of Chrome. Journey through Middle-earth will have three more locations added in the coming weeks — soon you'll be able to explore Thranduil's Hall, Erebor, and Lake-town. Not coincidentally, all three of these locations will feature heavily in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which hits theaters in just a few weeks. It's a fun distraction for Hobbit fans, but for our money we'd love to see a fully interactive, Google Maps version of Middle-earth.