There's a lot going on in Harry Potter's life, thanks to his penchant for trouble and the minor irritation of always being in mortal danger. When you throw in a vast catalogue of friends and foes, as well as an intricate web of interpersonal relationships, it's no surprise that turning all of this into a dialogue-free video game was not an easy task.
But it seems the Traveller's Tales team is managing fine. Using its past experience in Lego titles--including Lego Star Wars and Lego Batman--the team said it relied on humour and the undeniable charm of coloured interlocking plastic blocks to transform the complex world of Harry Potter into a toy kingdom.
We chatted to associate producer Vince Grogan about the challenges of storytelling the Lego way, a new level editor, and the interminable appeal of the boy wizard with a lightning-shaped scar.
GameSpot AU: This game only looks at the first four years in Harry’s life at Hogwarts. How was the decision made to break the games up this way? For example, why not years 1-3? Or years 1-5?
VG: There’s a natural narrative break after year four, with the Triwizard Tournament providing a brilliant climax to the game. Our story starts with Harry delivered to the doorstep of the Dursley household and follows him all the way to the dramatic end of year four.
GS AU: This isn't the first Harry Potter video game we've seen. What does the Lego makeover bring to this story that gamers haven’t seen before?
VG: Fun! That’s what people expect from Leo games--humour, mischief, and surprise. The game also offers the first chance to play the story of Harry Potter where you’re not just confined to a single year. Throughout the game, you’ll be exploring Hogwarts and watching it open up as you unlock more spells and abilities to find and access different areas. You can also explore other famous locations like the village of Hogsmead and Diagon Alley.
GS AU: Part of the charm of the Lego games is the exaggerated emotions, the expressions of the characters with minimal sounds, and--as always--no actual talking. Was it a challenge to get a story as complex as Harry Potter across this way?
VG: Although it can sometimes seem tricky to convey complex storylines, the team at TT Games has so much experience in bringing the Lego characters to life that it always creates something amazing and memorable. One of the trickier storylines in this game was Harry and Hermione travelling back in time in the third installment [of the Harry Potter series], "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban." Time travel is always a difficult aspect to explain or deal with, let alone without words. The team had to really work hard on this.
GS AU: How well do you think players who are unfamiliar with the Harry Potter story will take to this game? Is it essential to come with at least some knowledge of the story in order to enjoy this game?
VG: Although Harry Potter is extremely popular, we’ve been very aware that not everyone will have seen the films or read the books, in particular younger players. So we made sure that anyone is able to pick up the game and know from the start exactly what is going on and what is being asked of them. As the characters in the game are taught new lessons and abilities, players will also learn about the magical world of Harry Potter in a fun new way. Anyone who isn’t a fan of Harry Potter at the beginning of the game will certainly be by the time they’ve finished playing.
GS AU: Does the game follow the traditional Harry Potter story? Or does it take some liberties? For example, how many elements are borrowed from the books and the films? And, how many are original?
VG: Everything in the Harry Potter universe has its origins in the books. We have 170 playable characters in this game, some of which are not present in the films and only in the books. Also, the books have given us some excellent reference for all the great spells in the game that you won’t see in the movies. But the specific look and style of the films had a big influence on the game. The level of detail in the environments is really impressive, and although we have many famous locations built using Lego, it’s amazing how natural and real they feel. As with all Lego games, there’s a certain amount of spin added to the story. For instance, when you meet Fluffy the three-headed dog in year one, you’ll have to make him fall asleep as in the original story. But, unique to our game, you’ll also have to distract him with an oversized squeaky dog toy.
GS AU: We know that like other Lego games, you’ll be able to play with a friend, as well as online, and you’ll be able to use the abilities of each specific character to help you solve puzzles, and the like. Are there any new gameplay features in Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4?
VG: One of the standout features of this game is the way you learn new spells and abilities. Unlike in previous games, where all the abilities of each character are given to you from the start, you’ll have to practice and learn all the spells, which are added to a "spell wheel" selection tool. Also new to this game is the "free building" feature, which allows players to manually move individual blocks to build and solve puzzles in any way they like. There are also cauldrons where you can mix ingredients and brew potions to gain special abilities.
GS AU: Exploring has always been a big part of Lego games. How much freedom to explore will players have this time around?
VG: The Lego version of Hogwarts castle is the biggest environment we have ever created. You’ll be able to explore and discover hidden areas for many hours, unlocking classrooms as you learn more spells while completing story events in locations both inside and outside the castle, such as the Forbidden Forest or the Quidditch Stands. If you ever get lost, the ghost of Nearly Headless Nick will be available at all times to guide you to the next story event or lesson. Throughout Hogwarts, you’ll be able to interact with the students and teachers, receiving a reward for helping some of the unfortunate students who may have gotten themselves into trouble. You can also cast spells on others just for fun--although you have to be careful as some students and teachers may cast them back at you!
GS AU: Can you tell us more about the playable characters in the game and their different abilities? What does this add to the gameplay?
VG: You'll be able to play as 170 different characters, each with their own set of abilities and their own style of spellcasting. For example, Harry has his invisibility cloak, while strong characters like Hagrid can pull heavy chains without the need for a strength potion. Dark wizards, such as Barty Crouch Junior, have their own special spells as well.
GS AU: Finally, we've heard rumours of a level editor. What can players expect from this feature?
VG: Yes, the Builder mode will be present in Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4. You’ll find this by exploring deep within the vault of Gringotts Bank where you’ll need to unlock each of the 10 vaults using the gold bricks you collect throughout the game. Each vault will lead you to a brand new bonus level built using the Lego builder. Once you have completed it, it’s then yours to edit and create your own level for you to play.
GS AU: Vince Grogan, thanks for your time.