Interview: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
April 20, 2007 - EA is gearing up to release the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise to coincide with the release of the new feature film. [Register or Login to view links] will chronicle the events of the fifth book and movie in the series, taking gamers into a more immersive Hogwarts than ever before. We recently chatted with the title's executive producer, Harvey Elliott, about what we can expect. Here's what he had to say.
IGN: In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry, Hermione and Ron are growing up. How has that been reflected in the game?
Harvey Elliott: Well, for starters the obvious change is that they are visually older. We facial scanned each of the actors as they came off set to get up-to-the-minute data to ensure that they look exactly like the characters they portray in the movie. We also see their magic has improved and they are becoming more powerful wizards. And finally, with the vast majority of the cast reprising their roles from the movies, their characters really come out in the game -- as a result, they are definitely more determined and a little less prepared to listen to 'authority.'
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Harry and friends are growing up. The screenshot above comes from the Wii version of the game.
IGN: How closely does the title follow the look and style of the upcoming feature film?
Harvey Elliott: One of our team mantras this year is to get absolute movie authenticity. Because such a large part of the movie is set in Hogwarts, we have gone to extreme lengths to recreate the locations from the movie in the game -- perhaps more than any movie game ever. It started with us working with the movie team to construct a 3D virtual Hogwarts -- getting their blue prints of the movie sets, going to the exterior locations with tape measurers and high-end digital cameras, and reviewing how these locations have been translated into the movies, poring over every detail. There were some areas described in the books that haven't yet been seen in the movies so we had some fascinating conversations between the teams to describe and then create those 'authentically.' Back in October, the experience of running around Hogwarts was surreal -- the castle was fully built, but the walls looked like architects' paper because we'd literally scanned the drawings in. Then we got a bit obsessive with the detail and took thousands of photographs on the film sets, to ensure that we captured the elements in every room, courtyard and corridor. As the movie has moved through production, we've constantly revisited the set to check, for example, how the lighting changed from concept to the final shoot and adjusted ours to match.
IGN: Would you say that Order of the Phoenix is darker than, say, Goblet of Fire or Prisoner of Azkaban?
Harvey Elliott: The storyline underpinning the game is definitely darker in places than Goblet or Azkaban, with Voldemort returning to power, but no one believing Harry or Dumbledore that he's back, and with senior wizards at the Ministry of Magic intent on burying the truth -- most noticeably Dolores Umbridge, who takes over the school during the school year and makes it a really uncomfortable place to be. It's up to Harry to find a way to convince everyone Voldemort has returned. When Harry returns to school he finds himself in a Hogwarts filled with students and teachers who think that he's been lying about the return of Voldemort, he is forced to physically hurt himself in detention, Professor Umbridge bans Quidditch, and then in the final explosive battles, one of the key characters dies. Having said all that, the focus of the game, like the movie, is entertainment. We have added a whole new layer of gameplay that balances some of this darkness by allowing the player to cast magic in and around the school not just to fight the evil Slytherins, but to uncover its many secrets around our open world Hogwarts.
IGN: Does the game at all explore Harry's boyhood crushes?
Harvey Elliott: Oh yes, we had fun recreating the turmoil of teenage relationships. Whenever Cho and Harry meet in the game, they fumble around for the right words, and most times Harry just fails to say the right thing and ends up feeling a bit stupid. And in the background, Ron is totally oblivious to the whole romance, occasionally making it worse for Harry by criticizing Cho for her sudden support of the Tornados Quidditch team just because they're playing well -- although at one point he does ask Hermione if she's noticed Harry acting a bit strangely around Cho. The script is really strong. And, of course, we feature the famous first kiss.
IGN: How is Hogwarts represented in The Order of the Phoenix? Is it an open world, are the level loads, etc.?
Harvey Elliott: Making it an open world was a huge task, but one the team have met incredibly well. We set the bar very, very high: to create an open world game that looks better than traditional linear games, and build it in a way that the player never has to pause for a load screen, and we don't change the architecture of movie Hogwarts just to make it easier for ourselves. We don't believe that open world has to mean poor graphic quality so we've pushed really hard to make it look and feel amazing. And this isn't just for next gen, we set the same high bar on PS2. I've seen so many people pick up the controller in the Great Hall, run up the Grand Staircase, pick a door (or secret passageway) to run through and two hours later they're still astonished that they're finding new rooms, new courtyards, new professors and students to talk to and of course, more secrets to discover. They just get blown away by the scale of the castle. Fortunately, we've added a magical navigation system that allows you to select your destination from the marauder's map and be led in the right direction by magical footprints until you start to learn the layout.
IGN: Are you satisfied with the new Wii controls? How are the Wii remote and nunchuk utilized?
Harvey Elliott: At some point in the development we just wondered whether Nintendo started their prototyping around the Wii controller by asking themselves "what would be perfect for a Harry Potter game?". I mean, seriously, it's a wand! So as the player waves the wand around, the game recognizes the gesture and casts the spell. It really feels like you're casting magic. If you want to set an object on fire, you simply flick the wand quickly from left to right, as if you were striking a match. If you want to levitate an object in the world using wingardium leviosa, just raise the wand and the nunchuk together and the object will lift, and then moving the wand around will move the object in the world. It's pretty much exactly how you would imagine it. And in combat it works the same way - if you want to knock your opponent down, just give them a shove, or to take their wand away, snatch backwards - it just feels great. Because the control is a wand in Harry's hand, we've even found that you don't need the sensor bar to cast magic, and instead only use it for optional fine-targeting, which just adds to your immersion in the game.
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