Eurocom/Electronic Arts UK
Lead Design (Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo Game Cube, Microsoft Xbox)
The second Harry Potter book ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ was the first to be translated into video game form for the then ‘Next Generation formats’ of PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox. Taking two years to develop work on these titles began at the same time as work on the Philosopher’s Stone titles commenced, with the aim of these more sophisticated titles being released on the same day as the second Harry Potter movie.
In order to create the vast amount of graphics and animations required, development of these titles was split between EA’s own internal team, working on PlayStation 2 and an external team at Eurocom in Derby, UK working on GameCube and Xbox. The majority of the design work was done internally at Electronic Arts with regular brainstorming sessions and meetings at Eurocom to keep everyone updated and discuss all the issues you would imagine arising from developing different levels at two different sites and across three different formats.
From the design perspective, taking Harry to the ‘Next Generation’ meant doing our utmost to create a believable version of Hogwarts and incorporating as much of ‘The Fiction’ as possible. Early brainstorming sessions and direction meetings identified both the need to ‘learn spells at Hogwarts in a fun and challenging way’ (the words ‘class’ and ‘lesson’ were frowned upon as they imply the sort of things you don’t want to do in a game) as well as being able to ‘sneak out at night’ in order to get involved in the kind of adventures that make the books so appealing. After some thought, I proposed the idea of splitting the game up into ‘Days’ and ‘Nights’ – giving the player a list of tasks to do to complete in the daytime (such as going to Defence Against the Dark Arts to gain a spell) and secret missions (such as sneaking out to the library at night).
The trick then was weaving in the storyline of the books into the game in such a way that the player was not merely going through the motions, replicating every twist and turn of the books by rote. The intention was to spring the important events of the story on the player at the times that they least expected it so that they like Harry are truly surprised when while wandering the corridors of Hogwarts at night they find themselves walking past the second floor to find Nearly Headless Nick petrified by a Basilisk.
We also recognised that this would be the first time anyone would be able to really get a look at Hogwarts, so trawling the books and referencing JK Rowling’s own notes about the layout of Hogwarts we did our utmost to replicate a correct version of the castle – Floor 1: Transfiguration, Floor 2: Charms, Floor 3: Defence Against the Dark Arts (with the tapestry on Floor 3 that conceals a shortcut with a slide in the middle of it down to Floor 2), and so on – these details from the books are correct and a great deal of work was done by both the design and world building teams to reconcile visuals based on those of the motion picture with the Hogwarts as it is described in the books.
As with all of the extensions and adaptations from the books we undertook the task with utmost seriousness – we knew that readers would take away from our video games a picture of Hogwarts in their minds that would influence the way they’d imagine it in the books. For example, adding an extra door to reach the Grounds is not an option – it would break the rules laid down within the stories. Likewise, the often-referenced Entrance Hall does not feature at all in the movies, but the one we created for the Chamber of Secrets games is exact to its descriptions in the fiction.
With respect to the Hogwarts Grounds, this was heavily based on the motion pictures’ representations of the castle but adapted it to our own technologies and matching the layout of the Grounds as documented by JK Rowling. Our desire on ‘Next Generation’ was to give the player the ability to simply hop onto their broom and have freedom to fly anywhere over Hogwarts, and with more than a little technical jiggery-pokery (and much hard work by the engine and world building teams both at EA and Eurocom) this was achieved.
Concerning my role on the project, as Lead Designer my work involved constructing the adventure, co-writing the voice scripts, designing the majority of the levels, the functionality of the various memory screens and then joining the game programmers and designers by coding the game logic in ‘game script’ (a type of computer language created for the project to allow control of everything from the game cameras to the gnomes that populate the Burrow.)
In terms of the effort required to get Chamber of Secrets put together, it took more than 80 people working for two years at both Eurocom and EA’s UK Studio and for the majority of them, myself included, the summer of 2002 will be remembered for being, sat at the keyboard for many hours, long into the night obsessing about some detail of the Whomping Willow, what colour Basilisk venom should be and how the moving staircases within the Grand Stairwell actually function.
Suffice to say, the efforts paid off, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was released worldwide on 9 November 2002 – the release date for the movie in the UK and the USA. It was translated into over 13 languages and sold a stupefying amount of copies. Our job was done.