Electronic Arts UK
Lead Design (Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo Game Cube, Microsoft Xbox)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the fourth of the Potter games that I worked on at Electronic Arts and marked the opportunity to try to shake up the series by trying out some different ideas, different technology and some different approaches to the challenge of creating a Harry Potter game.
The first challenge that was set to us on the team was to make the game multiplayer. The rationale being, that the first two games saw Harry on his own, the third, Prisoner of Azkaban, was single player with the ability to switch characters, so for the fourth, the logical extension, was to make the game work as 3-player simultaneous multiplayer, (with players being able to drop in and out of the multiplayer adventure at will.)
This proved to be quite an interesting challenge and one that everyone on the team wrestled with throughout the game’s development. Simply, from a story point-of-view Goblet of Fire is the book in which Harry steps away from his friends and is forced to meet challenges alone – which evidently isn’t something that screams out ‘multiplayer opportunity’. But we carefully side-stepped that issue by choosing and adapting sections of the story (with the author’s approval) that allowed us multiplayer opportunities.
Visually, however, the three-player nature of the game put a lot of demands on everyone on the team. The simple fact is, that if you have three characters on the screen, each with a projectile weapon (in this case, a wand), the majority of the camera angles you have to choose are aerial views to allow players to see what’s around their character in all directions. Add to the fact that with Goblet of Fire we were finally given the go-ahead to match the likenesses of the characters within the game with those of the actors in the movies, then you can only imagine the kinds of back-and-forth tweaking that we undertook to try to keep the game as playable as possible while showcasing the characters’ likenesses.
In the end, a great deal of iteration, careful design and sheer hard work paid off, with specifically-designed sections in the levels being constructed to give players breathing spaces in the action. These were narrower sections of the map, designed to allow the camera to pull in close to the characters that then opened up into broader areas for puzzles and combat.
The other big, (big!) departure from the Harry Potter conventions set up with the first three games was a very conscious decision not to build an explorable Hogwarts. On the previous games building a living, breathing Hogwarts while also creating the rest of the game had meant that our efforts were naturally divided. So, for Goblet of Fire, with the emphasis being put on the three-player action, it was an opportunity to go all-out, step away from the issues of building the castle and its inhabitants and throw everything we had at the game.
This allowed us the opportunity to really push the visuals to a new level, with more spectacular spells, puzzles using a physics engine, more gameplay and puzzling per square inch of the map than any of the previous Potter games – and doing everything we could to engage 3 players playing simultaneously. (With single player adventures you know that you’re going to engage the same player for an extensive period, with multiplayer it’s much more about getting to the action as quickly as possible and keeping everyone there.)
In my role as Lead Designer, my job was to coordinate the work of the design team, working with the game’s producers to make sure that the high-level ideas (multiplayer, no Hogwarts, great looking characters, within this timeframe and technology) were achievable as well as handling the business of character controls and maintaining the game’s system of rewards and missions.
Late in development, when schedules were tight (as it is, inevitably on game projects) and it became evident that a lot of the levels we’d planned for simply wouldn’t make it in time, I switched roles and with a small team of artists built from scratch the Prefect’s Bathroom level of the game (which turned out to comprise about 1/7th of the game’s total play) in a few short weeks. (Which given the fact that the level had been dropped from the game’s schedules due to us having insufficient time to build it, was an exhilarating and fun challenge to take on and beat.)
In addition to all this, I also wrote the majority of the game’s dialogue (including getting the opportunity to sit in on the recording session where the actor, Stephen Fry read my lines while simultaneously giving us a lesson in the correct pronunciation of surnames such as ‘Marjoribanks’.)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire hit the shelves in November 2005 – a simultaneous release with the movie of the same name. But, with the next movie lining itself up, there was only a small break before I found myself going back to Hogwarts for the final time.