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.

Catherine demo available from next week

Atlus fans rejoice. On July 12 a demo for Catherine will be dropping on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live – or rather, at least in the United States. There’s no confirmation yet that the gameplay glimpse will be available in Europe, adding further speculation to when (or if) the title will be released there. The erotic horror puzzle-platformer came out in Japan back in February, with the aforementioned demo being available since January.

To get an idea of what the demo will showcase, below is a walkthrough of the Japanese demo by Kotowari. He’s been kind enough to translate the dialogue and control scheme, so that you’ll be able to understand some of the insane plot.

Are you excited for the English demo? Or have you already played the Japanese version? Let me know in the comments below, especially if you’re concerned about the speculative Europe release.

Race, trick and survival modes demoed for new SSX

The development team behind the new SSX presented their latest build at a community event yesterday. The presentation showed fans all three gameplay modes and announced that Psymon Stark would be a returning character.


SSX is still in early stages. Creative Director Todd Batty describes the title as being in a ‘pre-alpha’ stage, which means that some of the content and gameplay mechanics are yet to be put into the game. It’s refreshing to see the game’s continuous progression, but I worry that the fan criticism will disrupt the development and direction of the final product.

First up was a sneak peak at the Psymon Stark. It was only concept art at this point, but to be honest I was a little bit disappointed by the chosen styling and gear. Psymon has always been the insane maniac of the franchise, cackling wildly with spiked hair and aggressive one liners such as “Gimme Air Or Gimme Death!”. This version has seen his eccentric personality curbed significantly, with a tame tuft of brown hair and combat trousers. Hopefully some of his unlockable outfits will give players the chance to kit him out with some more of his more famous garments, such as the straitjacket from SSX 3 or the white vest in Tricky.

Todd Batty started out with the hub menu, which was sparsely populated by a rotating globe and selections for ‘campaign’, ‘explore’ and ‘global events’. It looked a little bare to be honest, although I imagine that it’ll feel more impressive once all of the online features and feeds have been put in.

It’s been known for a while now that the SSX team are using data from NASA to recreate some of the mountain ranges and snow conditions. However, this presentation was the first time that I recognised the scale of the data and just how influential it will be on the level design. It won’t mean that each level is a boring, real life depiction though. The developers used this technology to construct the core of each mountain, later sculpting and changing them into the surreal, over the top courses that we have come to love in the SSX franchise. Todd Batty promised that each mountain range would be extremely open and have specific themes that make them unique.

The race event was set on Kilimanjaro, pitting Kaori against Mac and Elise in a quick descent. The starting gates are gone this time around, replaced by various drop points that bring each rider together. What ensued was classic SSX gameplay, encouraging players to earn boost by tricking along the way. A section through an underground cavern felt particularly impressive, offering multiple paths and jumps. Todd Batty stressed that he wanted the speed to feel like ‘Burnout on snow’, edging players to a point where they would always feel slightly uncomfortable. For the most part it seemed to work, although I would stress that the race felt very short – nothing like the all peak rides found in SSX 3.

Unrealistic and mind blowing stunts are a staple of the SSX franchise. The trick segment of the game took place on a mountain with the great wall of China, allowing Mac to take each obstacle at his own pace. The character animations and flow of the game looked particularly impressive, although a minimalistic HUD seemed to play down the role of uber tricks. Todd Batty later explained that there would be a series of signature tricks that could be unlocked after ubers, taking influence from past iterations. Fingers crossed for guillotine, eh?

‘Survive it’ is the new mode for SSX this time around. It represents the trend toward big mountain riding and peak descents in modern snowboarding, acting as ‘boss stages’ throughout the campaign. Players are pitted against extreme environmental conditions, such as cold, darkness, thin air, gravity, snow, rocks, trees and white out. The demonstration showed off snow, launching the rider in front of an avalanche in North America. A reverse camera angle was used to show off the scale and atmosphere of the disaster, which was undeniably impressive and over the top. The viewing angle meant that it looked quite hard to control the direction of the character, although I’m sure this will be addressed before shipment.

The feedback section brought up a whole host of smaller announcements such as custom soundtracks, new riders and organic snow models. Although none of these would make headlines, I recommend checking out the Ustream above if you’re interested in the game. I came away from the presentation happy, but not blown away by the how the game is developing. The development team has a lot of great ideas, but I’m sceptical that they’ll be able to execute them all in the final product. The colourful personality of SSX (or lack of) was what concerned me the most, with characters and levels looking subdued and reserved. There’s still plenty of time for development though, so hopefully these issues will be addressed in the coming months.

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.

Opening cinematic released for InFamous 2

The release of inFamous 2 is now less than a measly month away. Sucker Punch has decided to unveil the intro sequence, which brings new players up to date with the story and shows off some impressive comic book animations. I think it looks absolutely gorgeous, it fits the gritty superhero theme of the games and reminds me of DMZ by Brian Wood.

I’m not completely sold on the voice actor for Cole, but who knows – it might grow on me. It also throws up some interesting questions on who or what the ‘beast’ is. Perhaps a future/ alternate version of Cole? Or a new character altogether? It’s probably too early to speculate.

The Hero Edition of inFamous 2 will get any fan drooling at the mouth. Clothing, soundtracks and graphic novels are all my favourite types of video game memorabilia – so this special version really appeals to me. The sling pack in particular looks like a great way to carry around some gear with a hint of gaming style (although I’m sceptical about what the build quality will be like). The figurine and in-game items are also nice extras, but I doubt they’ll be a deal clincher for most people.

Of course, whether or not gamers will order this depends on the price. In the UK it’s currently going for around £99. Ouch.

A retrospective for GameCamp 4

GameCamp is an event where fans of board games and video games can come together and discuss their favourite hobby. The fourth gathering was held in London South Bank University and this year I was lucky enough to attend. Despite suffering from partial deafness in one ear (I’ll have to get that checked out) I had a great time and learnt a lot from the various game developers who were holding debates.

This is the mighty whiteboard found in the base camp room. Any of the attendees can write down a game or discussion that they’d like to hold in one of the designated rooms – then it’s down to the rest of the visitors to decide whether they’d like to attend it. It all feels very creative and democratic, providing gamers with a chance to talk and play about anything that they’re passionate about.

The first talk that I chose to sit in on was about free range video games. Programmers argued that the measly pay and unfair hours that some game developers work is unfair, and that consumers should be made more aware of this. If some games were labelled in a similar manner to free range produce, the discussion questioned whether gamers would choose to purchase ethically. Do players care about the working conditions of triple A game studios? Or are they just concerned with getting the most play for their pound? It was an interesting argument, especially when the popularity of small indie developers were considered.

Another debate that I really enjoyed was about 2D art used in video games. I’m a big fan of the genre, but had never considered the technical and artistic limitations of choosing between pixel art, vectors or other digital mediums. Listening to the game developers explain why pixel art had remained so popular was insightful and added to my appreciation of modern game design.

One of the stranger talks concerned the political implications and representations of LittleBigPlanet. The host argued that the campaign in the original game stereotyped real world locations and cultures, encouraging players to plunder each country of all their resources. Personally I thought this was a complete misreading of a very light hearted game, but nevertheless it helped to create some interesting debate about the portrayal of ethnic minorities in video games.

I came away from GameCamp 4 feeling humbled and educated. If you’re a game designer or have ever wanted to debate the culture of video games with other people, this is a fantastic event that I can heartily recommend. Everyone that I met was very friendly, courteous and interesting to listen to. It was a shame that my damaged right ear affected my experience, because otherwise it was a very pleasant and memorable day.

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.