Electronic Arts UK
Concept Design and Planning (Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360)
Having completed work on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the Potter team turned its collective attention to the next book/movie in the series – the gigantic and complex Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Having tried many different approaches to the Potter series (single player/single character in Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, single player/switchable characters in Prisoner of Azkaban and 3-player multiplayer in Goblet of Fire) the decision was to go back to basics – to centre the game around Harry and the thing that our fans missed in the previous game – the opportunity to explore Hogwarts.
For this, the final of the Potter games that I was to work on, the process was the same. First, take a couple of days to read the book from cover-to-cover, taking copious notes about key plot points, characters, spells and events and jotting down page numbers and references. This not only helped refresh my mind about the book, but it also provided everyone on the Design Team with a guide to the novel that we could easily dip into and get to key paragraphs and descriptions quickly.
With that done, I spent an awful lot of time building a huge wall diagram – a timeline of the events that we’d be depicting in the game, with plot points broken down into cut scenes and missions, along with which characters, objects and spells were available in the game at any point. With a storyline as complex as the Order of the Phoenix, you’ll understand when I tell you that the diagram stretched to over thirty feet in length.
With the story broken down, all of the people who watch the budgets (the Producers and Development Managers) could then start working out how long everything was likely to take, which in turn would determine how much the game would cost to make and how many people we needed to make it. This is vitally important stuff, especially because the Harry Potter games have to come out at the same time as the movie and a particularly big factor in this is how many characters the team has to build and animate.
In most traditional games, you build the main character, a few supporting cast characters and a bunch of enemies. But, for Harry, the books are so rich in memorable characters it is easy to create a list of 40 supporting characters before you even think about creatures and enemies. (Don’t believe me – count on your fingers: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Fred, George, Neville, Draco, Crabbe, Goyle, etc., etc.) Each one of these characters has to be individually modelled, textured, rigged (bound to an animation skeleton) and then animated. It’s a massive task, and my respect goes to all those folks on the character and animation teams who tirelessly worked through the massive cast list and gradually brought all the characters to life.
The final task for me on Order of the Phoenix was to work out how to build the definitive version of Hogwarts. When we began years before on Philosopher’s Stone our version of Hogwarts was based strictly on the novels, with a nod to the look of the movies. Years later, with the games and movies becoming closer together, it seemed only natural to try to create a new version of Hogwarts that looked as close to that of the movies as we could make it, while still maintaining a high degree of fictional accuracy for fans of the novels.
This task fell to myself and Art Director, Kelvin Tuite. We spent days scouring the DVDs of the movies. Freeze-framing and scrubbing between scenes to build up a gradual picture of each corridor, classroom, courtyard and stairwell. We studied each scene to see where characters entered and exited corridors so that we could build up a series of journeys from one location to another around Hogwarts. We watched the establishing shots of Harry staring out of his dormitory window and worked out which tower the Seventh Floor would have to be in. We slowly unpicked the movies and then overlaid these journeys onto our fictionally correct diagram of Hogwarts.
Eventually, we came up with a layout we were happy with, knitted the various story missions through it and put together our proposal to Warner Bros and the author for approval to go ahead.
At this point, I got the unexpected opportunity of transferring to EA’s other UK studio – the newly acquired Criterion Games to work on a new project that was as far away from Harry’s world as you could possibly get. I decided that after 5 years and 5 Potter games that it was time to move on to some new and different challenges and packed away my wand for good.
As a footnote: during my time on Order of the Phoenix, I got the opportunity to visit Leavesden Studios to visit the Art Department and tour the sets of the movie. At the time, the production of the movie was in full swing, so I had the privilege of not only getting a sneak-peek at the upcoming set designs, to eat in the studio canteen (surrounded by the majority of Dumbledore’s Army, many of whom were still in costume) but also, to step into the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom and Grawp’s area of the Forbidden Forest. It was the perfect end to 5 years of dreaming of Hogwarts – the chance, just for one moment to step into Harry’s shoes and take a look around.
And the final treat for me, was when the last novel – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. With the games behind me, I could sit down with a new Harry book and become a fan again – no more taking the story apart, scrutinising every sentence for hints of gameplay – nothing like that – I simply sat down and read it and enjoyed every moment.