Interview with Arthur Parsons, Game Director of LEGO “Harry Potter”
Eric Scull: I’m here with Arthur Parsons, he’s the Game Director at TT Games. So Arthur, the game you’ve directed most recently, then, is LEGO Harry Potter?
Arthur Parsons: Yeah. LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5–7. I also was game director on Years 1–4, so I worked on back-to-back Harry Potter games, which was brilliant.
Eric: There was nothing in between for you; it was from one LEGO Harry Potter to the other?
Arthur: Yeah, we finished LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1–4 May/June last year, and me and the team rolled straight on to Years 5–7. So we’ve had a really good, long time to make a brilliant sequel.
Eric: How has the first game succeeded? What were some of the fan reactions? You were working on the sequel while the first game was taking off?
Arthur: The great thing about Years 1–4 was that we did something new with it, where we wanted the player to experience being a wizard, going to Hogwarts, going to lessons, learning spells, and just that whole “magical environment.” Going around Hogwarts was so cool and such a big change from previous LEGO games, where you had lists of levels and you could go. Fans of Harry Potter loved the game because it was all about Harry Potter. Fans of the LEGO series loved the game because it was something new. It had a completely different feel than, say, Batman, or Star Wars, or Indy. So it was successful because it was new, and kind of “shook up” the LEGO series with this cool, new feel. You could explore, you could wander into rooms. You could just go to lessons. It’s not an RPG, but you felt like you were Harry and you didn’t know how to do magic. And as you progressed in the game, you learned new magic, new spells, new abilities. So we really built on that for Years 5–7 to really take it to that next level. People have been to Hogwarts and experienced it, now they needed something new and fresh and exciting. That’s where Years 5–7 comes in.
Eric: In the first game, I loved flying on brooms and having those unique, character touches to the brooms in the first game. Are there still brooms in the sequel?
Arthur: Yeah, we’ve got brooms; we’ve also got Thestrals so you can fly around on those. And again, we’ve given every character a unique feel. So whether you’re playing as Ginny Weasley, or Arthur, or Tonks, or Bellatrix, every character feels unique. And every character has unique elements. Tonks, for example, if you stand there doing nothing, she gets really angry and her hair changes color. And then it changes back. Because it’s small stuff that’s in the fiction. I know the films, I know the books, I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and so are most of the guys on my team. So we want Harry Potter fans to see all the attention to detail. Ginny Weasley has a pygmy puff, Ron now has Pigwidgeon as a pet. Lucius has a pet peacock. All of the little things that people won’t expect. And every time you play a character, it feels like there’s an extra surprise in there.
Eric: Can you play as the peacock?
Arthur: Yeah, absolutely. It’s cool! You’re Lucius and you’re running around, you go *click-click-click.* You get your pet out, and this bonkers peacock comes out and you can run around as a peacock. It’s so cool.
Eric: So let’s talk about the characters, then. There [was] a MASSIVE collection of characters in the first game. Have you improved upon it? Are the old ones back?
Arthur: What we did was, we love bettering ourselves in the LEGO series. So in the first game, there were 167 free-play characters. Now, some of those were “Gryffindor Boy” or “Ravenclaw Girl.”
Eric: Some of those were my favorites.
Arthur: Yeah, they’re pretty cool, but Years 5–7 has amazing characters. This time around, on the console versions, we have 200 free-play characters. All of them are great characters, so whether it is Bellatrix or Professor Slughorn or Umbridge or Blaise Zabini, all the characters are there. And the cool thing is, they all do cool stuff. With Profesor Slughorn, you can turn into an armchair. And there’s no need for it, but because he does it in the fiction, we thought we’d do it in the game. So 200 characters, and it was a bit of a job getting it to fit on a disc, but every character that a Harry Potter fan would want to play is in there. Even characters like the Grey Lady. You don’t expect to be able to play them, but they are there. And we have just crammed everything into it.
Eric: Obviously you guys reference the Potter books a ton. I think because a lot of us are very visual, since the movies have come out, the games seem to follow the movies, but yet there’s so much from the books in the games. With Years 5–7, in Harry Potter, is there sort of a fourth year in that because of the movie split with the final film? Or how did that affect content or the direction of the game?
Arthur: What we wanted to do… The first game was massive; it was a really big game. [In] the films, clearly, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is split into two. So what we’ve done, again, internally it was like “Years 5–8” – obviously, there’s not an eighth year at Hogwarts – but there are six, strong story events for Year 7 (Deathly Hallows – Part 1) and then there are another six for Year 8 (Deathly Hallows Part 2). So the game is actually bigger than the first game, but there are still 24 story events in there, and there are something like 16 lessons and then all of the exterior areas… Whether it’s the forest when you’re camping in the tent, whether it’s London, King’s Cross, Godric’s Hollow, [there’s] a HUGE amount of real estate in this game. And from a direction point of view, we wanted to make sure that, like you say, “visually,” we know people relate to the films, but from our perspective, we’re not just aiming the game at kids [age] 6–12. They’re going to know the films. But we also have to cater to the fans, and the fans know the books like incredible detail. So for us, we’re dealing with kids, fans of the LEGO series, but also we are scouring the books for every little detail so that we manage to get stuff in there for fiction fans. Because these are the guys that, as they’re playing it, they’ll see something (and it may be the tiniest thing we’ve added) but they’ll be like “That’s so cool.” or “Yeah I remember that from the book!” Or, “I can’t believe they’ve added this in.” And so we try to meld the two together.
Eric: That was my reaction playing the first game: “I cannot believe somebody else has read the same book as me and thought to turn it into a game!” Because it’s that recognition that rarely comes from games. A deeper perspective, a “we get you.” I think that’s something with the interactivity because with LEGO, it’s fun and inviting and people are going to be surprised when that stuff pops up.
Arthur: We would hope so. If Harry Potter fans like the game, it’s a job well-done. We will be happy if fans of the fiction say, “this is a great game. This really does justice to a great series of books.”
Eric: What year, 5–7 (or 5–8), was the most challenging to produce? Or the most difficult? Most areas to go to?
Arthur: I think Deathly Hallows – Part 1 was the trickiest because there’s no Hogwarts. It’s Harry, Ron, and Hermione (when Ron’s there), but they’re on the run, and they’re not [at] Hogwarts. So we had to think, “How are we going to tackle this?” What we’ve actually done, and it’s really cool, is that we have an exterior forest area that unlocks throughout the course of Deathly Hallows – Part 1. The tent moves around the area, you can go into the tent, and it’s a cool area. You can do the Harry/Hermione dance, which is ace. But in order to make sure people can go to Hogwarts (because we still want people to be able to go and do free-play stuff) if you go into the tent at any point in Deathly Hallows – Part 1, you can go to the table and there is the Marauder’s Map. Open up the Marauder’s Map, and the camera zooms into the map and comes out in Hogwarts. And you’re playing as Ginny, and Neville, and Seamus, and Dean Thomas.
Eric: I really just got chills.
Arthur: [laughs] Well, Harry, Ron, and Hermione can’t go to Hogwarts. But everyone else can! So we let you go and play Hogwarts as though you were the rest of the cool crew. And at any point, you can pop back and just progress the story. So that was quite a challenge to link that up, as well as being able to go back to London, go to the cafe and fight Dolohov, and explore around. We’re all very proud of the fact that we were able to tie that in and make it still feel like the rest of the game. But there were a lot of sleepless nights, scratching our heads, and we’ve managed to get it right, thankfully.
Eric: So Voldemort – obviously a big difference from the first game. Now, he’s everywhere. He’s back, fully formed. And I saw the advertisement that appears on the Blu-ray, where he’s looking in the mirror, and Bellatrix catches him.
Arthur: Yeah, the “Game Face” trailer.
Eric: That’s hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. Is he scary? Is he still a villain in this game? How did you manage, because he’s a very dark character in the books, how did you handle the transfer from the books to the game?
Arthur: There are some really quite spooky moments in the game, so even just at the end of Year 5, when you have the showdown in the Ministry. Voldemort there, he has this really evil face. And the cut-scene team did a fantastic job of bringing him to life. So we kind of mix him with the more serious side, but also with a little bit of a goofy side as well. Because at the end of the day it’s fun, we want it to be fun and funny. But we kind of melded the two together. There are some fabulous shots where you’re interacting with Voldemort. We have a lot more interaction with him, and obviously with the other bad guys, through Years 5–7. So we’ve tried to really create a menacing character, without losing the fun and humor. I think, as people progress through the game, they’ll really enjoy every time they come across him. And even the Dark Mark, in Years 5–7, is so menacing, so spooky. You’ve got the cool, Voldemort smokey monster in the game, in the section by the lake where they crack open the locket. When I first saw what the art guys did for that, I was blown away. This is far more advanced than the LEGO game. It’s proper spooky and sinister. And then you’ve got Harry and Hermione coming out of the smoke and you’re just like, “whoa!” And then of course we do a LEGO thing and you’ve got to create a crazy fan to blow Voldemort away.
Eric: Wow, I love that. How does Malfoy Manor look? Is that a playable area?
Arthur: Definitely. Right at the end of Year 7, we have a story event set there. You’re running around the forest, and you get caught by the Snatchers. And then they take you back to Malfoy Manor. Harry gets the Stinging Jynx on his head, so his head turns into this big red block of LEGO, which is really funny. And then you get taken down to the cellar by Peter Pettigrew. And you’re there, you get to play as Luna and Ollivander and Harry and Ron, but you’ve got no wands. So you’re exploring the cellar, and eventually, Dobby arrives and knocks Peter Pettigrew out. You go up to the main area of Malfoy Manor and you get to duel. And it’s so cool, because we’ve really tried to keep to the fiction, but at the same time have a great deal of fun with it. It’s really, really funny.
Eric: Gringotts, in the first game, was sort of only a power-up area. How is it, going back to it to break in? How did you mend the area between the two games?
Arthur: Because we wanted it to feel new and fresh, Diagon Alley was completely rebuilt this time around. So we’ve turned it around, 180 degrees, so you’re looking up towards Fred and George’s joke shop. In Year 5, there’s no joke shop. There’s just all scaffolding and stuff. Then in Year 6 onwards, the joke shop’s open and you can do go in and cool stuff in there. So with Gringotts, by switching it around and having the camera at the other end, the player isn’t really “aware” of Gringotts. And then when you get to the start of Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and break into Gringotts, you get to go down, [the] cool mine cart section, [and] you get to break into Bellatrix’s vault. You then get to go and ride on the dragon, blasting all the Ministry guards, and we’ve just tried to do the fiction justice the best way we can. And at the same time, it’s so funny. You’re racing around, and you’re having fun at the same time as seeing all of these key plot points. And playing it as a Harry fan, when we finished it, I just said “This is right! This is as it should be.” And hopefully, everyone will see that.
Eric: LEGO has also done a game, LEGO Indiana Jones: The Adventure Continues. Will there be an extended, another Harry game? Or with The Clone Wars for Star Wars. Will there be another Harry game after this?
Arthur: I really don’t know. At the minute, we are so fully focused on (now we’ve done the game) getting the game out, so that everyone can enjoy it. We’re not looking any further ahead than right now. We want everyone to go out, play the game, really enjoy the game, and we’re going to have a massive holiday because we’re all really tired!
Eric: Wrapping up, you’re obviously a big Harry Potter fan. Have you signed up for Pottermore at all?
Arthur: I’ll be honest with you, I missed the deadline! The early deadline. Because I was [at] work, 15 hours a day, all the guys on the team… We didn’t have weekends off. We were so focused on the game that we just missed everything. So now that we’ve got a bit of quiet time, I’m sure we’re all going to be signing up and just interacting like every other Harry Potter fan. And trying to catch up with the world as well! You know, everything that’s going on. We’ve been locked away in the office.
Eric: That’s good to hear for us, I think, because in the end, it’s that there’s that much more attention…
Arthur: Yeah, that we cared. Absolutely!
Eric: And then, on Twitter, I’ve seen your avatar image. Were you Luna for Halloween?
Arthur: [laughs] Uhh, that was just a joke in the office. Someone [went] to Wizarding World on holiday and brought me back some Spectrespecs. Because we’ve got Spectrespecs in the game. I had to put them on. And we have a blonde wig. It’s like this sort of… Whoever makes a boo-boo at work, they have to wear a blonde wig and a dunce cap.
Eric: The plot thickens!
Arthur: So I dressed up as Luna. But why not? It’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?
Eric: It is. Thank you for your time!
Arthur: It’s been a pleasure.
Eric: Let’s try the game!