What a decent Harry Potter video game would look like

The Harry Potter video games have been, for the most part, distinctly average. Far too preoccupied with mimicking key moments from the films, or trying to force game mechanics that have been successful in other franchises. It’s all been a bit of a mess, accumulating in a final instalment which many consider to the be the worst of the lot.

Although it’s easy to blame short development cycles or inexperienced teams, Electronic Arts should really know better. They’ve been in the business a long time and were entrusted with a brand that has millions of fans around the world. Surely they could have done a little more with the Harry Potter video games?

The concept for this piece was inspired by a recent post on Kotaku. They ask a simple question: If you could create a perfect Harry Potter video game, what would it be like? Both Jen and Sam bring up some interesting (and hilarious) ideas for their own prospective works, but what I really took away from the article was the need to go beyond the original source material.

From a business point of view, each Harry Potter game was designed to coincide with the films. That’s fine. Once a child leaves the cinema, they’re likely to spot the game in a shop and then want to do a little magic conjuring of their own. The difference is that these games don’t have to be a scene by scene representation of the films. They could be about an entirely different part of the Harry Potter franchise. Simply call them ‘Harry Potter 7’ and slap Daniel Radcliffe’s absurd face on the front cover. It’ll have the exact same effect on sales, regardless of the content inside.

Sam mentioned a prequel game, similar to what The Force Unleashed did with the Star Wars license. I think this is a fantastic idea, introducing characters who were mentioned in the books/ films, but never given the chance to be explored fully. I would consider taking this one step further – how about a game documenting each stage of a particular character’s life, such as in Assassin’s Creed? Let’s take James Potter for example.

James Potter started out as a pupil in Hogwarts. This chapter could be presented in a similar fashion to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with an open world school and classes to attend at your leisure. Small cut scenes could tie it into the original literature, such as meeting Lily Potter and making friends with Sirius, Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. Otherwise it could deviate into new territory, using platforming and dialogue trees to show how the school once operated.

Upon graduation, James then fought in The First Wizarding War as a member of the Order of the Pheonix. Marking the original reign of Lord Voldemort, this section could show Potter senior in a new, older light. Upgraded powers could be used to take on missions from either the Ministry of Magic, distressed muggles or the Order directly. This would provide the opportunity to explore previously unseen locations from the books and films, allowing level designers to create worlds that actively benefit the gameplay.

Each console offers a wealth of opportunity for controls and input. Motion controls are an obvious place to start, but should be handled delicately and intelligently. No waggle Wii mote flailing, please. Using the Wii U as the Marauder’s Map is a great idea offered by Sam, allowing players to design their own routes or track important enemies. Taken one step further, the map could be used in game to offer online player hints and tips in a similar fashion to Demon’s Souls.

Most importantly, put the franchise in the hands of a capable developer. Bioware is already doing a fantastic job with Star Wars: The Old Republic Republic and shows the quality that can be produced with a little creative freedom. Perhaps it’s too late for a decent movie tie-in, but it’s certainly not too late for a decent Harry Potter video game.


Bioshock Infinite demo looks very impressive

Bioshock Infinite is going to be phenomenal. Don’t believe me? Watch the 20 minutes of gameplay footage put up by GameTrailers right here.

The location of Columbia looks stunning. I wasn’t sure that Irrational Games could top the artistic marvel that was Rapture, but this new floating dystopia has proven me wrong. Each island is filled with a scale that is almost breath taking to look at. American patriotism is everywhere, tarnished by greed and corrupt ideals. Every street has a dark edge to it; giant posters quickly go up in flames and horses are found dying on the streets. Skylines litter the world like one giant suspended roller-coaster ride, weaving in and out of skyscrapers, streets and recreational parks. Columbia feels much more organic than Rapture, free from the restrictions of glass corridors and one way trams.

There is also the possibility of other settings. Through Elizabeth’s ability to create ‘tears’, the demo revealed a glimpse of down town New York. Who knows, perhaps the player will be able to explore this at greater length, alongside any other areas that Elizabeth can summon with this potentially limitless ability.

Elizabeth’s ability to manipulate tears also applies to combat. Throughout the demo it was obvious that Booker could call upon her powers to summon a variety of objects, such as carriages for cover or doorways for alternate routes. She acts as a simple support character that players control directly, eliminating the need for sublime A.I or complex commands. The demo showed a tendency to rely on traditional weaponry rather than ‘vigors’, the equivalent of plasmids that have been designed specifically for Bioshock Infinite. This might be due to the location of the demo in the overall campaign, or a desire to hide some of the more extravagant ‘vigors’ for a later date.

Elizabeth has an interesting personality and relationship with both Booker and the Songbird. At times she appears naive, believing plastic gold to be real and trying on a novelty Lincoln headpiece. At others she seems incredibly serious and determined, asking Booker to swear that he will never let the Songbird take her back. The dynamic between these characters looks to be at the core of the plot, offering a personal and believable take on the Bioshock Infinite world.

Although the Songbird looks pretty menacing, in my eyes it doesn’t quite have the same edge or iconic appeal as the Big Daddy. Perhaps this particular enemy will warm to me over time, but it still has a long way to go before it’s scaring me half to death with a pneumatic drill.

I came away from the Bioshock Infinite demo feeling very impressed. The scope and artistic direction of the game is like nothing else on the market, offering frantic combat and an original plot line. I can hardly wait for when this is released next year.

New Okabu trailer shows off environmental gameplay

Get ready to jig to some tribal beats and protect the environment in this brand new Okabu trailer. The video shows off some interesting new mechanics which include safely leading groups of villagers, bringing life to nearby vegetation, directing cranes and encouraging bulls to smash through gates. It’s all wrapped up in an adorable cel-shaded art style, coupled with an upbeat tune and some positive critical acclaim.

Watch out for this one when it drops on PSN later this year.

New trailer and screens for Sonic Generations

The blue blur is celebrating his twentieth birthday at Sega. What better way to mark the occasion than reuniting him with his pudgier Genesis sibling? Check out the new trailer below:

Sonic Generations has two main characters; classic Sonic and modern Sonic. Together they’ll be revisiting the best levels from the Mega Drive, Dreamcast and other home consoles, such as Green Hill Zone shown above.

The new trailer shows that each level will be re-imagined twice. Starting with the classic first stage from Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis), it looks like players can pick and choose how they tackle each level. Prefer lanky Sonic’s homing attacks and mid-air tricks? Throw yourself into modern Sonic’s exhilarating 3D rollercoaster. Want to spin dash your way through Robotonik’s baddies instead? Classic Sonic has you covered.

This could potentially be the perfect game to please both veterans and newcomers to the Sonic franchise. I stress that it could be. I was a Sonic fan up until the current generation of consoles, but threw my loyalty aside after the monstrosity that was Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Although I’ve read a considerable amount of positive feedback about Sonic Colours, it would take a lot to truly win over my admiration and trust.

So far there are no annoying side characters, towns, NPCs or gimmicks to speak of. Let’s hope and pray that it stays that way. I’ve dropped a few images unveiled by CVG below (all copyright and kudos is owned by them). Sonic Generations will be out on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 later this year.

Beyond Good & Evil: HD and sequels

A remake of the action-adventure title Beyond Good & Evil will be hitting the Xbox Live Arcade in late February. Despite having never played the original, I’ve somehow found myself hooked on this HD update and the future of the franchise. The original, which was released in late 2003, has gained somewhat of a cult following on the internet. So what’s the big deal with Jade and Pay’j?

The first time I saw footage surrounding the HD remake, I was left with an overwhelming sense of ‘meh’. Achievements and trophies? A leaderboard system? These were perhaps the most mundane, boring and unimpressive features that a PR official could possibly choose to show off at an interview. The visuals appeared reasonable, but it was difficult to tell whether or not they were much of an improvement over the original.

Back on the last generation of consoles, Beyond Good & Evil had adequate, but by no means inspiring sales figures. The futuristic title follows Jade, a young reporter who uncovers an alien conspiracy on her home planet. Human trafficking, abductions and social revolution blend with basic combat, platforming and puzzles. Presumably it didn’t entice many gamers at the time.

Therefore, my initial assumption was that the HD remake was a simple cash in for Ubisoft. However, that was before I stumbled upon a few scarce details on a rumoured Beyond Good & Evil 2. Suddenly it seemed like Ubisoft was carving out a future for the forgotten franchise. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Kotaku that:

“We were, as we are, working on the game. What is very import with this next product is that it will be perfect.”

Developer Michel Ancel’s “intention is to come [out] with something really exciting. But everybody needs a little bit of patience.”

A brilliant CG teaser trailer was circulating the internet at the same time, showing off Pay’j in a delightfully humorous scene. In my eyes, decent action-adventure games (and to some extent, even 3D platformers) were starting to become thin on the ground – so this instantly caught my interest.

More speculation was thrown into the fray when a second piece of footage hit the headlines. The black mop of hair, combat staff and outlandish clothing certainly made it look like Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, but was it legitimate?

Ubisoft, as far as I am aware, has never claimed ownership of the footage or quoted it as being authentic. The apparent ‘gameplay’ looks highly scripted and set in a locale that I wouldn’t expect from the franchise. Fans continue to speculate its origins.

Despite all of my cravings for a sequel to Beyond Good & Evil, I have still never played the original. Ridiculous, I know. Thankfully, Ubisoft is ready to cater to newcomers and outsiders such as myself with the release of the aforementioned HD remake.

I’m still not entirely convinced on its high definition credentials. It still looks like a last generation title and without playing the original, it’ll be hard for me to tell what textures have been changed. Still, I’m happy that the game is getting another outing and hope that it will pick up more followers as a result. With enough support, Beyond Good & Evil 2 might finally come to fruition.