Chris Roberts can’t believe what J.K. Rowling let him do.
Sure, he’s a video game designer and he’s overseeing the development of Electronic Arts’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” video game. Yes, he has the key Potter spells committed to memory.
But she’s J. K. Rowling. She invented Harry. And yet when the EA team working on the game in London wanted to give players the ability to play wizard games like Gobstones and Exploding Snap, she did more than just say, “OK.”
Rowling’s books mentioned the games but didn’t spell out exactly how Harry and friends play them. Roberts and team dreamed something up. “We wrote the rules up for all these games, sent them off to J. K. Rowling, and she went, ‘Yeah, OK, those are the rules,’ ” he told MTV News during a visit to EA UK’s Guildford, England, studio just outside of London. “It’s kind of cool. We got to make all the rules.”
Roberts is the game designer on the sixth EA “Potter” game, the fifth based on Rowling’s books and associated movies (the other game was all about the Harry Potter sport of Quidditch). At this point, Rowling has some confidence in the developers. But they can’t get away with everything. “She has written documents for us, explaining how certain things work, why you shouldn’t do certain things that we’re not supposed to say because they’re secret,” Roberts said.
And she has put her foot down when need be. Roberts and the team came up with a mission in the game that would have Harry’s classmate Neville Longbottom sabotaging a clock tower to get back at Hogwarts professor Dolores Umbridge. “We got this feedback from her saying, ‘I really like the mission, but I don’t think Neville would do that. I think it would be Dean Thomas. He’s much more likely to do it.’ ” They switched the mission to Dean.
The developers at EA UK have worked on “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” for a year and a half. Their proudest achievement, the one mentioned repeatedly during MTV News’ visit, is the game’s re-creation of the Hogwarts school. “The challenge the previous games had was it had a castle but it was kind of empty,” Roberts said. “So what we’ve tried to do is fill it full of stuff the player can do. So, it’s a school — we made sure it was full of students that you can chat with — and then it’s just chock-a-block full of secrets and things you can discover. And we’ve tied that all into the gameplay, so you can power yourself up by discovering secrets.”
And Hogwarts has all the small details, Potter fans. Creative Director Matt Birch mentioned that there are umbrellas in the Hogwarts viaduct entrance. Why? Because they are mentioned in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.”
Feedback from anyone associated with the world of Harry Potter is appreciated at EA UK. The film’s actors came by to have their faces rendered for the game. Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood, hung out and talked to Birch for two hours about theories regarding the end of the series. Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley, visited, but his influence was less welcome. “We played Wii bowling,” Roberts said. “He kicked my ass, which is slightly disappointing because I thought I was good.”
The development team has explored the movie sets for “Order of the Phoenix.” The guys have poured in their deep knowledge of Harry and friends. Is it enough? Asked what makes this Potter game special, the developers repeatedly point to their virtual Hogwarts and the quality of the actors’ faces in the game. Gamers can check if those are the magic ingredients when the game ships for all major game consoles on Tuesday.
And as for how all this will end, Rowling hasn’t told Robert or anyone else on the team how the books end. Roberts thinks Harry will die. He’ll know for sure in July when the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” is released on July 21 (see ” ‘Harry Potter’ Book Covers Provide Clues, Confusion About Showdown With Voldemort” and “Final ‘Harry Potter’ Book’s Release Set As Films’ Star Fights Controversy” ).