I didn’t think it was possible to make a game as collaboratively geektastic as LEGO Star Wars. But when it comes to the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-style “two great things that taste great together,” I think that LEGO + Harry Potter is right up there. With LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 casting a spell on PS3 and PSP this Spring, PlayStation.Blog EU‘s Jem Alexander met up with Traveller’s Tales‘ Jonathan Smith to find out more about the games. Y’know, cos SCEE offices are pretty close by the Ministry of Magic.
Jem Alexander: How does Lego Harry Potter differ from previous Lego games?
Jonathan Smith: With every new game we make we try to raise the bar and there are lots of technical innovations in Lego Harry Potter. The new layer of physics makes the world more realistic and enable us to build with Lego using magic in a way you’ve never been able to do before. And taking advantage of this wonderful setting of Hogwarts and the magical characters within it, we can use magic to create a new kind of lego gameplay as well, with characters that learn new spells over a long period of time, so that they’re always progressing over what is a very sizeable adventure and learning new things every step of the way.
Jem: How has game progression in particular changed in this Lego game?
Jonathan: So what’s radically and completely new in Lego Harry Potter from what we’ve done before is the effect that having Hogwarts as a massive explorable environment has on the game progression and the game structure. When you first start as a new student in Hogwarts, finding your way to your first lesson you’ll be pretty well directed by the teaches and the design of the environment to find your way, but as you play and progress further through the story, with each new spell you’ll gain access to new areas and trigger new story events that move on through the plot. So you’ll find more and more of Hogwarts accessible to you as a player, switching between different characters, until it becomes a really huge, immersive, explorable, open environment — to which you’ll return between story events to discover more secrets and learn more things.
Jem: So why did you choose to focus on the first four books?
Jonathan: We wanted to start at the beginning of the Harry Potter story with year 1 and we wanted to create a game that was a really substantial adventure. The end of the Triwizard Tournament at the end of The Goblet Of Fire is a really nice climax. Over those four years you get a real sense of development from a novice to becoming a very powerful wizard. It’s a period of time that’s rewarding to play through and get to the end of.
Jem: Would you say the game is based more on the books or the films, or a mixture of both?
Jonathan: Everything in the world of Harry Potter comes from the books. That’s where it was invented and where it has the greatest detail. We draw, where we can, upon the wonderfully vivid evocation of the story as represented by the film makers and you’ll see that in the representation of the characters and some of the action scenes.
Jem: How much creative freedom were you given when creating objects, characters or environments for the Harry Potter Universe?
Jonathan: Everything that’s in Lego Harry Potter has to be fitting for the world of Harry Potter and the world of Lego Harry Potter is very accommodating of surprising objects. So, you’ll find tractors and washing machines and trampolines and all the surprising, fun, Lego things you’d expect to find in a Lego game — and yet at the same time it will still be perfectly fitting for the world of Harry Potter.
Jem: How have you dealt with character progression in the game? Do they get older and more powerful?
Jonathan: All the students, as you progress through the game, will learn new, more powerful spells.
Jem: Are there any plans to incorporate Move functionality?
Jonathan: No. Because we’re coming out before the Move is releasing.
Jem: How much support have you had from JK Rowling and the people behind the films?
Jonathan: We’ve had tremendous support from JK Rowling and all the team at Warner Bros who are responsible for the upkeep of the world of Harry Potter. Everyone appreciates that what Lego brings to Harry Potter is unique and I think everyone has come to trust the respect and love that everyone on the team has for the source material and that wonderful world that was created.
Jem: How much sidequest / secret content will there be in the game?
Jonathan: It’s a big game compared to other Lego games. The balance of directed, plot-orientated level action to fool-around bonus stuff is not dissimilar to previous games, but there is probably more of it because it’s a bigger game.
Jonathan: The PSP version of the game has a greater focus on adventure and questing. The PS3 version has a greater focus on action.
Jem: How do you feel about the idea that Lego Harry Potter will be the first exposure to the series for some people?
Jonathan: We aspire to be the perfect introduction for new gamers and people who may not be intimately knowledgable about Harry Potter already. Lego always gives people a way into new worlds of imagination and we feel very proud to be able to do that.
Thanks, Jem! Little known fact: on the way to SCEE HQ, you walk right past what I’m convinced is the basis for Diagon Alley. Someplace called “Carnaby Street.” Check it out if you’re ever round that way.