Guest Author - Lisa Shea
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Come read how the game developers at KnowWonder translated this well-loved classic into a fun game for your computer or console!
Lisa: Harry Potter is a character loved and studied by millions of children
and adults the world over. How did you set about making a game which
would match all of those various individuals' imaginations of how the
world and characters looked?
Greg: Honestly, for the look of the characters and environments, we had tons of movie reference to draw from. Everyone wanted to make a game that would truly complement the second film...make you (the player) feel like you're IN the second movie. Of course, we also had the completed first game which did a great job of capturing the look and feel of the Potter universe.
But when it came to deciding what to include in the game itself (what parts of the COS story we wanted to include in the game) Guy Miller (the EA Potter design guy) and I (the KnowWonder Potter design guy) really stuck to our instincts when we put together the high-level linear game structure.
We had limited time and resources and our schedule was extremely rigid. This being said, we got really creative with the "Chamber of Secrets" storyline and ulimately made our own version for the game. We worked as hard as we could to ensure that the game, by itself, had a story that could be understood without having to see the movie or even read the book. Hopefully we succeeded. :-)
Lisa: Knowing that both adults and children would be drawn to playing the
game, how did you try to balance the difficulty levels so that both
would have an enjoyable time?
Greg: Well, we initially set out to include 3 different settings for difficulty, so that gamers/Potter-fans could have a challenging gaming experience (on HARD) AND so that non-gamer/Potter-fans could play through the whole game without getting frustrated (on EASY). However, multiple difficulty settings got cut due to a lack of needed testing time. (the feature can be re-activated if you put the game into debug mode, however...).
So in the end we ended up balancing the game for the casual gamer, betting that there are probably FAR more Potter fans that don't play games than there are Potter fans that are also gamers. While I do believe in this decision, I feel for those gamers out there that feel the game is too easy. The hard-core gamer inside me strongly agrees.
Lisa: The Quidditch matches are always one of the most remembered features
of the books. What did you focus on when designing that stage?
Greg: For the second game, we wanted to focus on making a more accessible game than the first. Many, many folks found Quidditch in the first game to be far too difficult...the free-form flying disoriented many. This time we focused on simulating the main thing that Harry Potter has to worry about when in a Quidditch match; beating the opponent seeker to the snitch.
Lisa: Did you use the movies at all for reference, as they've influenced
peoples' views of the Potter universe, or did you stick solely with the
Greg: Yep, for the game's look and feel we worked from the gigabytes of visual movie reference that we had access to.
However, we actually didn't have access to the movie's script, so for the story we used the second book as the bible, and there are a bunch of little details that are in the game that we pulled from the book. An example: the strange "musical" sound that Falkes the Phoenix makes when flying around in the Chamber of Secrets is from the book.
Lisa: Wizard Cards were a fun collectible item in the game. I actually
wanted to get some for people for the holidays. Any thoughts on selling
real life versions of them?
Greg: I think that's a great idea, and I'm willing to bet someone at Warner Brothers is working on that as we speak...each pack of cards could come complete with a little chocolate frog. :-)
Lisa: The graphics were beautiful and lush, but there was a large amount of load time associated with them. How do you decide where to make the
trade-off between gorgeous graphics and interminable waits?
Greg: Yeah, we were aware that this was a potential issue fairly early on, and we talked a lot about ways to keep load-times as short as possible (by avoiding having to load new levels too often).
The basic problem, really, comes down to the fact that we were working with an engine (the Unreal Tournament engine) that wasn't exactly designed to be used in the way we were using it for our game. Without getting too technical, I'll just say that we should have either
A) Designed the game differently from the beginning to work with the engine architecture more efficiently, AND/OR
B) Dedicated some programmer time to get into the bowels of the engine and speed up the loading time of levels.
Lisa: Thank you for your time and thanks for a fun game!
Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets Game Review