We took a stroll through LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 developed by Traveller’s Tales who are known for the LEGO series of adventure games. Although the game is developed and rated for children, TT games wanted to ensure that the dark quality of the Harry Potter series - particularly when moving further along in the story - was still retained. Read on to hear Producer Vince Grogan and Designer Wil Evans explain just how they achieved that, as well as some of the other new features (seamless drop in/drop out co-op, new art direction, etc.).
Vince Grogan, producer at TT Games: This is Harry Potter Years 5-7, so everything has moved on from the first game. The films and books got a bit darker; everything is a little more scary. There's a lot more fear inside Hogwarts, as you can see by the opening credits. Everything is quite dark. We've got Death Eaters attacking the castle.
Taking A Trip To The Lovegood House
VG: So, I'm going to show you the Lovegood House level, which you may know is where Harry, Ron, and Hermione go to the Lovegood House to try and find out about the Deathly Hallows, and where they draw a connection between Hermione's book and Xenophilius Lovegood's locket. They're trying to piece together the puzzle.
This screen depicts Harry and Ron trying to put the tent together. They’re arriving at the house now, trying to get in, but no one's answering so the gameplay in this area is to try to find some way to open the door. As you can see, LEGO games are about taking the story, scenes from the films, and adding that extra LEGO element to it. That means adding loads more fun, more adventure, and just twisting the story a little bit.
VG: We've got loads more from Harry Potter 1; you went through Harry Potter 1 to 4 learning new spells. You start with a totally blank slate. Harry was new; he just found out he's a wizard. Going through the game as Harry, you have to perform lessons to learn new spells, and that kind of happens again in 5 to 7 but you're learning more complex spells.
One of the new spells we've got is called Aguamenti, which is the water summoning spell, that allows you to go around and spray water. One of the best things about it is you can knock people over with a jet of water. But it also allows you to put out fires or fill up canisters.
But you can also use it as an attack?
Yeah, you can, to knock people over. It's not the most damaging kind of attack, but it's quite fun.
So here - again, like in the film - Xenophilius Lovegood's house probably didn't have the sprinkling scarecrow that is depicted here, but in the LEGO world, we do. That's the best thing about the LEGO games. In previous LEGO games like Batman and Indiana Jones, you'd run around, you'd be bashing LEGO up, breaking it apart, which is fun. It's always fun bashing LEGO apart.
LEGO Interaction Through Harry Potter Characters And Objects
VG: But in Harry Potter, you interact more with LEGO, and you never quite know what's going to happen until you cast a spell on it, experimenting with all the different ones the game has to offer. So here, we've broken down these kites and these are giving us pieces to build some LEGO together. You don't know what it is yet, though.
Here's an old spell from the first game, Lumos. You can catch the Lumos on the end of your wand and it attracts a Devil's Snare. Wherever you see paw prints, there are dig spots, and we can use Hermione's cat Crookshanks (which she can spawn). You can run as Crookshanks, and just do whatever you want really. But you can also dig to reveal hidden objects. Here, we revealed a pink base plate. A pink base plate indicates an area for Hermione to use her beaded bag. She's always got the right tool for the job at any time. So in this case, we're trying to get rid of this wasp so she pulls out a mirror, a trumpet and now she's got a giant ice cream cone.
So she is the only one that can use those on the pink pads?
On the pink pads, yeah. And she'll always pull out the right tool. It's quite an amazing bag; there can be anything in it. You can also uncover this Weasley wall. Any purple and orange objects in the environment are Weasley objects. And we’ve got Weasley Wizard Wheezes. If you’ve got ginger hair and you’re Weasley, you can use this box. And if someone isn’t a Weasley and they try and use the box, they get a big surprise. They get a chicken in the face.
Do you play as the other Weasleys?
Yeah, all the characters from the films that you would want in the game are there. It’s always nice for us to get everyone - all the characters people know and love in the game. I think we’ve got some of the best characters from the Harry Potter franchise in 5 to 7.
We’ve got Bellatrix, who’s fantastic. And in LEGO form she’s even quirkier and funnier. Fenrir Greyback is another great mini figure. We also have Slughorn, who can turn into a couch whenever you want him to, like in the third movie.
We work quite closely with J.K. Rowling’s people at The Blair Partnership. We’re always working really closely with them to make sure that all these characters look exactly like people would want them to, and act the way they should. Even in LEGO form, the detail on the clothing and on their mannerisms is always spot on.
To get back to this Weasley box, you can get some sticky trains. A sticky train is an Alice, to look at walls. We can go up and down these walls, and these allow us to get to another new mechanic in the game: the Spectra Specs. If you remember Luna Lovegood’s Spectra Specs, she could use them to see the spectrobes.
You get the Spectra Specs from a Quibbler dispenser, like the Quibbler newspaper. When you put them on, they will reveal LEGO you couldn’t see before. So you can see this LEGO now, and this lets us create a giant door.
The Quintessential LEGO Humor in Cut Scenes
VG: Another one of the great things about our LEGO games is our cut scenes, and how we take these famous scenes from the films but parody them and add a twist. So here we’ve got Xenophilius being quirky, and you don’t know what’s quite going on with him. He’s dancing one minute, and he’s sad the other. It’s just another area where we can use LEGO to tweak the Harry Potter brand and have some humor. The cut scene humor is almost to our own now. Everybody knows about LEGO cut scenes. And with the films getting darker, it gives us the ability to let us have a bit more fun. Obviously, there’s quite a lot of people dying in the film. That’s handled very carefully in our game. But in fact, those scenes are probably the funniest scenes in the game. We have so much fun showing them in different ways.
Do you ever try to go for the dark aspect?
No, it’s a kid’s game, so we always have to keep it fun and entertaining. The game is darker, but again, like in this level, it’s so bright. LEGO is so fun. It’s not a dark game. The story is and the books are, but I think that’s relieved by using LEGO, and using it to create things, have fun, and add humor. Even Ron and Hermione’s relationship set up all throughout the cut scenes is brilliant. Seeing that kind of story develop individually in the books was great, but to see it in LEGO form is another thing.
Here we find out about the deathly hallows and the three brothers.
We can show this in four cut scenes, but we really like to let the player play this whole level. If you remember this scene from the film, this is where they are telling the story of the three brothers, and we've tried to recreate that entire section of the film but in gameplay.
I'm now controlling the brother with the old wand who can destroy what gets in his way.
A Unique, And New Art Style
This level features very different act direction than when we were exploring the Lovegood’s home, does it not?
Yes the team is really so spot on, they matched the scenes to the film. This pop-up style was such a big thing for the team when they were looking at what levels they wanted to do, and they really wanted to create density.
Do you see this art style on other scenes, as well?
Well, this is such an original thing for us to do in a game. Usually we stick with the levels, and the action of the film. For us to do this art style is a big move, and the more LEGO games the team makes, the better the art looks. It just looks fantastic. They can make these beautiful sceneries and when they add LEGO elements in there, they combine brilliantly. They're not out of place for each other.
Here we've got the brother with the Elder Wand (so he's really powerful), and then we've got the brother with the Resurrection Stone, which can control his dead wife to help him get through the level. If you know the story, you know that the brothers have gotten these gifts from Death and they're trying to avoid Death. So the story is about trying to get through the level before you kick it.
With our different LEGO games, it’s always drop in/drop out co-op at any time. It’s great when you have siblings playing together. Even better is when parents play along with their children. We've got fans who are either kids who get their parents into the Harry Potter world or the other way around, and it’s a really great way to get them into the story.
Using New Gameplay For Storytelling
VG: So here is where Death arrives. He's laying on top of the tree and you cannot look at him. So you use the cloak ability to try and pass.
Only one of the brothers has the ability?
Yeah, so we need to get rid of Death. We can chop the tree down with this massive axe, and then it lets you carry on. It’s a really unique way of having three separate characters, each with their own ability. Similarly with what I said about the art style, it is a great level for the team to create, and we really hope fans will appreciate it.
With this being Years 5 to 7, we've expanded a lot of the game, including many new characters as compared to the last game. So much of Years 1 to 4 is about running around Hogwarts, and as the years went on you opened up this massive castle. Everyone really enjoyed walking around, exploring this castle. In Years 5 to 7, we still have the same ongoing places people will recognize, but we've got new areas like the Room Apartment that's always changing. Even outside of Hogwarts has expanded, as well. We've got a brand new Diagon Alley. The first Diagon Alley Years 1 to 4 is really the first area you went to in the game. It was really bright and colorful and reminiscent of the scene in the film.
But now they always look darker, and there are much darker places in it. You even see Olivander’s being destroyed, and all the devastation that the Death Eaters cause. Even further on, you can explore out to London, and into Hogsmead and the train station. All these places are connected. We’ve got this massive Hogwarts castle, but also everywhere else in the world.
A Darker, More Open World
Especially in year seven, they pretty much abandon the school.
Exactly, and in those years we actually create their own forest hub where Ron, Hermione, and Harry have their tent/own area for that year that you can actually enter. It’s a massive area where you can do everything you could in the castle.
Once players have completed the game, they can actually traverse the whole area. They can get the train from Kings Cross to Hogwarts, and they can go to all these different, massive areas.
Is it open in the sense that you can visit anywhere that you’ve already been to?
Yeah, once you start unlocking the areas. Obviously, at the start, you’re confined to the first few areas. And then you explore the whole of Harry Potter canon. And in 5 to 7, as well, we’ve got a dueling pack. You’ll be able to fight and duel in wizard’s duels in all the famous duels they had throughout the years. So you’ll be able to fight Bellatrix in the cornfield, and obviously Voldemort right at the end.
We’ve got some great levels, as well, with the Legitimacy levels, with Snape and Harry, going back into Harry’s an Snape’s memory and replaying the memories. There’s a really great level where you get to play as the marauders. So James Potter, Lupin and Sirius, and you actually tease Snape, and at the end duel with him. It’s a really fantastic level.
How long is the game approximately?
There are six levels in each year, and in each year you’ll have to go to different lessons to learn all the spells. The amount you can do is kind of endless. We’ve got free-play, as well. So even when you complete the story, you still need to go back in and replay those levels to unlock all your favorite characters and find all the LEGO collectibles. So in each level, there will be a student in peril that you’ll have to find and free. And you unlock him, and then there are the house crests to find in each of the levels. There is a lot of gameplay there. It is quite endless at times.
Easy, Drop In, Drop Out Co-Op
[Enter co-op mode with Wil Evans, designer]
Wil Evans, designer at Traveller’s Tales: I can explain a bit more about the gameplay in co-op. Say for example that I am playing with my child, but I’m distracted by a phone call. I can just press start and go to “drop out,” and it’ll drop me out of the game for the AI to take over. I can come back and carry on playing once I’m done with that phone call. In that way, it never stops the game for the child. So you don’t have to take away from it.
How do you pick and choose what you’re going to include in the games? The books are so expansive, and so are the movies.
WE: We find a balance. We sit down with the design makers at the start of the game. I’m a massive Harry Potter fan; I’ve read every single one of the books. But it’s surprising what you get. In some of the other projects that we’ve worked on, it’s a little bit harder to pick out certain levels that we feature.
This almost in a way designs itself, because it’s just the best bits from the film, all the iconic moments. Like when you go and see the film, the kind of thing you stand around and talk about the next day.
Do you remember the bit when they broke into Gringotts? Don’t you remember the bit where they fought Voldemort at the end? We consider what would work from a gameplay perspective.
There are certain story events that we might use that could fit very well, but in every LEGO game we always have two people playing at the same time. So if there’s a section where it’s literally just one person’s experience in the film, it might not be the best thing to play as a game. So what we usually do is we play it a different way.
For example, you see in the Goblet of Fire when Harry’s in the dragon pit, we really wanted to do that because we thought that would be a really cool level to include with them fighting the dragon. We tweaked the gameplay a little bit where Hermione falls into the pit with you. So there are examples of this, where it’s supposed to be only one person. At the end, you have to fight Voldemort. But obviously only Harry can kill Voldemort, so how do we change that gameplay to make it so that you can still get to kill Voldemort as Harry, but you’re not limiting – say for example if I turned into that level at Harry, my friend wouldn’t be able to kill him? We have to consider things like that.
VG: I think we’ve done the same in the ministry level at the end of year five, where Voldemort and Dumbledore have that big standoff. And again, we’ve got a level where they’re both Dumbledore and Harry. Dumbledore is blocking the shards of glass that are coming in, and because of that, there’s loads of LEGO on the floor which Harry can then build up and throw back.
WE: We design around it in a way that two people can be playing at the same time. Because obviously during that bit Harry’s just carrying on the floor, watching this awesome display of magic going on around him. Whereas in this one, he’s working with Dumbledore and fighting with him. But we still design it so that Dumbledore has to do the really important bits that he does in the film, just with Harry included.
But Harry Potter has been absolutely amazing to work on, because it’s just that action packed, and it’s got that many cool events. It really does design itself.
In terms of content, is it more interesting five to seven, since things get a little bit more violent and grim?
WE: Yeah, being a designer and having worked on it, it’s not made my job easier because that sometimes takes away from what I do, but when my boss turns around and says, “Have you got a level design for the break-in to Gringotts,” all I’m thinking instantly is there’s a massive dragon in there that I don’t want to be able to just fight him, and things like that.
Obviously because we’re dealing with a LEGO game, it’s kind of kid-scary, like 1980s kid film scary kind of thing. But the way that we always deal with darkness has been a great thing with LEGO and the LEGO cut scenes that we always do. We found that the darker the story gets, the easier it becomes to parody. So it actually ends up just becoming funnier.
So for example, when Dumbledore dies at the end of film six when he falls off the tower, obviously in the film Harry goes down, and everybody puts their wands up and are crying and sad. But now when he falls off the tower, when Harry runs down there and finds him, it’s just Dumbledore’s legs sticking up out of the ground, because he’s fallen into it. It offers us all these really nice ways of retelling the story. Basically what it means is that you could have a six, five, four year old child who can’t go see the film, but they can play through our game and have the story be told in a way that’s accessible to them.
Working Together With The Harry Potter Franchise
Is there anything you wanted to do that J.K. Rowling wasn't down with?
VG: I think one of the things we really wanted to do is get her in the game.
In what aspect?
VG: As a character.
WE: I just think she's too modest. More than anything it's generally sometimes the things that we want to do with the LEGO characters and the LEGO twist. Sometimes they're not 100% with what we want to do, because they might just say, “Well that's not exactly what Harry Potter would do,” or, “It's not true to the brand.” Little things like that. As for gameplay, they never really have any issues with what we're trying to do, it's just how we treat the brand. But they are really good.
VG: They really do get the LEGO humor that we try to add to the game, and if anything they only ever add stuff to our game to make it more, so the fans will enjoy it more. It's more accurate than it ever is.
The Benefits of QA Testing With The Target Audience
WE: We have kids play the new puzzle, so I can see how the puzzle works with a three year old. Basically it’s almost on a daily basis. We have focus testing with our actual targeted audience. It’s free testing for us. But it’s a really nice way, because we always know that the puzzles are never too complicated. We’re getting it straight, and we’re getting it right off the bat.
VG: We always find they find the best bugs. Children will never do anything like as a designer, as well. You’ll think, “OK, this is set up like this, and they’ll go bang, bang, bang.” They never do it in the exact order you want them too. And they’re always exploring and always running around.
WE: They see so much stuff that you don’t from a child’s perspective. For example, if I was going to play with my child, they ask, “Why can’t this do this? This should do something, why doesn’t this do anything?” We don’t think of things like that. And that allows us to go, “OK, maybe it should, actually” and we can put it in. That’s the reason why the LEGO games work so well, because thanks to our children who we bring in, it’s always targeted perfectly towards who we’re actually doing our games for. We’re not making these games for ourselves, obviously. It would be hard to make games for kids as adults. And basically, we have our children make our games. And it’s really important to us obviously, that the games that we make, that’s how it works.
Did you find that any of the puzzles were too complicated for them?
WE: They do struggle sometimes. But again, that’s all part of the process. If anything is initially a bit too complicated, then it is obviously by the final version, we don’t find that they struggle too much.
VG: Also, another great feature of the drop in, drop out co-op, is if a child is playing alone and they do get stuck, they can ask for help. They’re not taking the controller off the child; they alleviate the problem together. And then from then on, the child will know what to do. And then the parent can just drop out and leave them to do the next one.
WEil: And like I said, because it’s always humor-based, it’s suitable for almost any age. Because there’s obviously nothing bad, apart from many things being blown up and stuff like that apparently. But it’s a comical kind of thing.
VG: One of the scariest things in Harry Potter is the Dementors. But obviously mini figure Dementors are almost comical to look at. And in the film as they’re portrayed they are scary. But in the game they’re just LEGO, so it’s a great thing for the kids to see. It’s just not as scary as some of the films.