The Leaky Cauldron visits EA Games (24/8/06)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix video game demo
By Donna Hosie
I was lucky enough to be invited to the EA headquarters on the 25th August 2006, along with representatives from danradcliffe.co.uk, The Snitch, HPANA, HPfans (from Germany), Wizardzone (from the Netherlands) and Dreuzels (from Holland), to see the first ever publicly-seen images from the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix video game. This was a working session; we were shown in-development software and asked for our feedback.
The image I had about EA Games, before I visited, was of 20-or-so computer tekkies, hunched up over their computers with the cash register going "kerching" in the corner. Let's face it - anyone involved in the Harry Potter brand is going to make money and while I was excited to see something like this, I was also cynical about the process.
My fears were allayed within seconds of being ushered into their media centre - hereafter called The Great Hall. When I say Great Hall, that is exactly what it was. A room with four long tables, each covered with a different colour tablecloth representing Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. The enormous team of 85 people working on this game are actually sorted into houses before starting work, and new staff members have to go through a sorting before they are allowed to start work! I quickly crossed out one of the questions I had written the night before - "Have you read the books?" These guys haven't just read the books, they are living them!
We were introduced to Matt Birch who is the Games Producer and Chris Roberts who is the Games Designer. It became obvious immediately that this game is going to be made for fans, by fans. There aren't many people in the world who could have this Gallery Manager chasing him around a room, pretending to be Sir Cadogan, but Matt is one of them. His enthusiasm for the books and Jo's world was absolutely infectious and after a quick introductory session (in which I was dismayed by the amount of people who adored Severus Snape) we went on to the demo of the game.
This is very much in the working stages, but what we saw made us gasp out loud. For a start, Warner Bros and EA Games are obviously working together as never before to tie in their products to make them as believable as possible. EA Games will design the OotP game from the actual film blueprints, so all locations are not only matching, they are breathtakingly real. The actors have had their heads scanned so the video characters match them exactly. In the demo, we saw Harry and Hermione in the Gryffindor Common Room and it was simply incredible. The attention to detail, not only in the room and with the characters, but with the inanimate objects in the room itself, was a game players paradise.
For this game you will actually be able to perform the spells as they are written. For example, you actually swish and flick your control pad or mouse to perform "Wingardium Leviosa" and at the heart will be the message "Discover Hogwarts." So, not only will the player act out the main story, but they will also be able to spend hours uncovering Hogwarts secrets.
From this demo, we went to see the world artists and saw the actual software in development. The pre-production for this started back in November 2005 and the conceptual artwork was created.
Seeing the iconic images from the book somehow being brought to life, even in still paintings, gave me goosebumps. As we worked our way along the wall, looking at imagery from Little Whinging to Grimmauld Place to the Ministry of Magic was incredible. Then we came to the conceptual game art for The Veil and at that point myself and Karen from danradliffe.co.uk almost burst into tears.
The game will follow this pattern:
• Little Whinging - yes there is the dementor attack on Harry and Dudley!
• Grimmauld Place
• Dumbledore's Hogwarts
• The Room of Requirement
• Xmas at Grimmauld Place
• Umbridge's Hogwarts
• Occlumency and Snape's Worst Memory
• Fred and George's Finest Hour - do you really need me to tell you what this is?
• The Ministry of Magic
• Voldemort v. Dumbledore
• And some extras!
You will also get Grawp, a visit to St Mungo's, Thestrals and pretty much every image a fan would want. Every single scene is sanctioned by Jo herself. Everything relates to the fiction. There will also be a section called "Hogwarts: Endless Day" in which the game player can go back to the core message, which is "Discover Hogwarts." The game will be played through Harry's eyes, as this is the book where Harry starts to lead and to teach; however, there will be sections where the player will be Fred and George (guess which bit that is!), Sirius (I'm sobbing now!), and Dumbledore. No playing as Ron or Hermione for this one.
Harvey Wheaton from EA, who manages the world artists, showed us around and the artists revealed what they were working on. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the work being done on Severus Snape - he even has a shine on his hair for the grease!
We were introduced to Adele, the Audio Director, and her team who put together the music, speech and sound effects for the game. We listened to the section that will be put to the graphics for Grawp and the Centaurs. For this game Adele explained they have a team of professional scriptwriters who are liaising with Michael Goldenberg so both scripts compliment each other. The game will be translated into 21 languages.
As the day drew to a close, we went back to the Great Hall and were joined by Harvey Elliot, the Executive Producer, who had interrupted his holiday to meet us, and also Kelvin Tuite the Art Director. We then had a working session in which we said what we liked and what we thought the fans would like. This is where my job on the Leaky Lounge came in useful as in both the Galleries forum and Argent Scrim's film forum, I have threads that discuss members' most anticipated image from the Order of the Phoenix.
That brings me onto the really exciting part of all this. Leaky fans will be amongst the first to hear about this game, while it is in development. WB have consented to a fan's council, who will have direct contact with EA during the making of this game. The aim is to have fans, WB's and EA Games working together to create the best possible experience. It's a great PR exercise, but it's one that will be a win-win from all sides. We at Leaky will set up a thread on the Lounge so you can suggest what images you would like, how you want to play the game, what things do you not want, and it will be reported to EA Games. Obviously no one can promise that every suggestion will be acted on, (we've already suggested saving Sirius ;) ), but EA will be able to draw upon the forums and your suggestions because no one knows this world better than us! Most importantly, you will hear first about developments and content, before the more mainstream press.
Like I said at the beginning, I was excited but sceptical about seeing this. However, these guys at EA Games are absolutely Harry Potter mad - they even have wands and broomsticks in the office! They love the world, the characters and have absolute and utmost respect for it. They treat it with love and care and simply want to make the best game they can. Let's help them.
Many, many thanks to Lisa, Ellie, Chris, Harvey W, Harvey E, and Kelvin, but most of all Matt - you rock like Fred and George!