For clarification, what is your name and where are you from?
My name’s Greg, though I go by Team Eldritch online – which is probably the most misleading pseudonym I could’ve chosen, sorry! (There’s no team, alas – it’s just me behind the curtain.) I’m British, born and raised in Harry’s homeland, and I’ve loved the books and movies ever since I was a kid.
How did you become a fan of the Harry Potter books and films?
My dad read me the first three books, which I can’t thank him enough for; he’s got a brilliant voice for all the characters, especially Dumbledore and Hagrid! Then I saw the movies a bit later than most, but made up for it by watching them over and over again. (Not least during the research for this project…)
By this point, I know the books backwards, and I love them all to bits. That really came in handy when coming up with secrets to hide around Hogwarts, including a readable Quibbler and the cake Hagrid bakes for Harry's birthday...
Seeker VR is an unofficial game of your own making, correct? How did you come to make this game a reality?
Nobody had ever made a VR Quidditch game before, and I got to be the first. That’s how new and insane and exciting this stuff is.
I knew immediately after putting my headset on for the first time that this was going to change everything. Describing VR to people who haven’t tried it yet is really, really hard, because I think sometimes people assume it’s just the next generation of gaming. (It is, but that doesn’t come close to actually experiencing it!)
In a Quest headset, there aren’t any wires to get tangled up in. There’s no heavy backpack or overheating computer. It’s just you, your hands and the headset… and you’re completely transported into this virtual world.
VR isn’t flat, either – that’s something you don’t always realise till you try it! There are two screens, one for each eye, and they show slightly different views. That means you get perfect physical parallax – and that means the world has genuine depth. Everything looks as 3D as real life – it’s like standing inside one of Tony Stark’s holograms... but better, because it’s not blue and transparent!
Can you explain for those of us who aren't developers what kind of work goes into making a VR video game?
I love living in a world where you can go online and teach yourself almost anything for almost no money. Eight months ago I’d never put on a VR headset – a year before that, I’d never opened Unreal Engine. These things are vastly easier to learn than people realise… and when you’ve got the basics down, you can do anything you want.
Robert Rodriguez once said that it’s not enough to just be creative. Because if that’s all you are, you’ll always have to rely on technical people to do the hard work for you – and why should they? But if you train yourself to be creative and technical, you don’t need anyone else. If you have the idea and the skills to see it through, you’re unstoppable. That’s definitely been my experience on this project.
There was no such thing as a typical workday on Seeker VR, which I loved! Since I had to do almost everything myself, I might spend the morning retexturing a prop or piecing together parts of the castle. Then after lunch, I could easily get lost coding a scripted event for three hours, or doing the sound design for the Bludgers, or rewatching the movies for inspiration. It was an incredible ride.
Was there any part of the project you found particularly challenging? Are there different challenges you have to overcome since the game is developed for VR instead of the average game console?
Yeah, developing for stand[-]alone hardware is hard! The genius of the [Oculus] Quest 2 is that it’s small [and] lightweight and does everything on the headset itself – you don’t need a beefy computer rig to run VR games any more [sic]. But in order to get that weight and cost down, there’s a processing and graphical trade-off… which is fine; you just to have to get creative!
I’m also lucky enough to be living in a golden age for game development – right now, the lovely people over at Epic Games are giving away the Unreal Engine for free. (You’ve seen this engine powering games like Jedi: Fallen Order and Kingdom Hearts III; what you might not know is that anybody on the planet can download and use it completely free of charge.)
On top of that, Oculus make their dev kit available for the sweet, sweet price of nothing… and that all means schmucks like me can open up a VR project, dive into the code and start figuring out how it all works. There’s no better way to learn than by getting your hands dirty.
I can’t stress this enough – I’m entirely self-taught and I didn’t start out as a programmer. If someone like me can go from zero experience to a fully functioning Quidditch game in less than a year, you can do it too!
You joked, "Why would you spend eight months coding something you can't even sell when it's finished, you strange person?" Haha! I'd love to bring this up again because it really does introduce an interesting point – why did you take this on? Do you find this is sort of a passion project for yourself?
Seeker VR is an absolute labour of love, yeah! My dream job would be working on a Harry Potter game – and I’m fortunate enough to live in a time where the tools are available for me to actually go out and do it! Be the change you want to see in the world, and so on…
Turns out you don’t need a million-dollar budget to make a game like this – all you really need is time, love for the source material, and a flat refusal to even consider the odds. (The pandemic actually helped, too, since I ended up having a lot more time on my hands all of a sudden.)
I made the game for myself, first and foremost – it was something I’d always wanted to play. Obviously, it’s fan-made, but I didn’t want it to feel amateurish – so everything from the design of the menus to the balls to the voice[-]over got the same obsessive treatment. People are kind; they lower their expectations for fanworks. That’s a gift, because it gives you a real opportunity to exceed them!
Besides that, I’ve always been massively inspired by the official series of Harry Potter games, particularly the ones created by the team over at Bright Light from Phoenix onwards. The standard they set for movie accuracy and sheer love for the source material is still unmatched, and I’m in awe of what they accomplished.
They were very much ahead of their time when it came to recreating Hogwarts in 2005. Their castle and Quidditch pitch are as accurate as it gets, because they built it from the same blueprints the filmmakers used to construct the physical sets. Not only that, they went to the studios and took tens of thousands of pictures, both for reference and to map onto the 3D models. And they got a kilometer of movie-accurate castle up and running on a PS2, without a single loading screen once you start walking. That’s absurdly impressive.
Sadly, those games are no longer available to buy or play on PC, since they were published by EA (who no longer have the license) and no one really seems interested in getting the rights back. That’s a bit of a sad legacy for all those artists who worked tirelessly on cramming every detail they could into Hogwarts; talented folks like Kelvin Tuite, Wayne Stables and Simon Britnell.
And that was one of the reasons I wanted to see whether I could bring the magic of Hogwarts in those games to a new audience. Roughly speaking, there’s not that much difference in graphical horsepower between a PS2 and the Quest 2 – so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
I hope those artists would enjoy seeing their work up close in VR for the first time ever. I really hope I did them justice! They did all the hard work when it came to creating the first walkable, immersive, movie-accurate Hogwarts… I’m just standing on the shoulders of giants.
What can someone expect for a first-time Quidditch VR experience?
Everybody’s seen a Quidditch game in the movies, and a lot of people have tried a decent approximation of one on a flat screen. But nobody’s ever felt like they’re playing it for real.
Jo’s imagination gave us this magical, crazy, impossible game, and up until fairly recently, there just wasn’t any technology that could simulate it convincingly. But with the arrival of virtual reality, that’s all changed forever…
When you look over your shoulder, you can see the Bludgers rocketing up behind you. When you look down, you see the ground, fifty feet below – and when you move your hands, your hands move in the game. It’s completely immersive, and the scale of the towers, the hoops of the castle takes your breath away. I reckon this might just be the closest any Muggle’s ever gotten to flying a broomstick for real!
Do you have plans for any future Harry Potter VR games?
Put it this way – Seeker VR started life as a tech demo, an experiment to see how far I could push the world of Harry Potter in VR. (It got much bigger than that, but it was never initially intended to be my magnum opus.)
I love this series beyond words, and I’ve been overwhelmed and incredibly humbled by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support and generosity from the people who’ve played it. You’re all absolutely lovely, thank you so much. And clearly there’s a demand for more games in this world!
So I’d love to make another Potter game, but it won’t be more Quidditch; I feel like I’ve taken my best shot at that now. (To quote J.K. Rowling, who I believe was quoting Teddy Roosevelt: ‘I did the best I could with what I had in the time I was given.’) If it happens, you can expect something completely different – but something made with just as much love and care and attention to detail as this one. That much I can promise.
What is your Hogwarts House?
I’m a proud Slytherpuff, man. (Bit of a twonk, but I’d like to think I’m a good friend.)
Also, I actually made a Hogwarts pilgrimage recently to a few of the filming locations in the UK – Durham Cathedral, with its beautiful cloisters and courtyard, and Alnwick Castle, where the flying lessons for the first movie were shot. (My love for this series runs deep, man.) Getting to wander around those places for real was incredibly special, and it made me even more determined to give other people that experience in VR.
So if you turn around in the loading screen, you’ll spot some stereo 3D photos of a few famous locations. I took those on the trip and threw them in as a bit of an Easter egg – hope you enjoy ‘em!
What's your favorite Harry Potter book or movie?
I think the Order of the Phoenix movie is massively underrated, mostly because Michael Goldenberg’s script manages to be respectful to the characters and the source material while also giving us something new – scenes we hadn’t seen that genuinely enrich the world and the story without ever feeling out of place. All that lovely stuff with Harry and Luna feeding the Thestrals? That’s pure Goldenberg, and it’s magic.
Picking a favourite book is like picking a favourite child! But I’d have to say… either Chamber or Azkaban. I re-read them both recently, which is an absolute joy as an adult; you can finish them in one sitting, and really enjoy the entire story from start to finish. But any of the books could’ve made the cut, honestly; and all of them have done on different days.