Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery from Jam City and Portkey Games is the latest Harry Potter-themed video game to bring the magic of Hogwarts to the Muggle world. This new game steps into the realm of mobile games and will allow players to immerse themselves in a mystery that begins before Harry, Ron and Hermione were first sorted, but features many familiar faces.
Major Spoilers had the opportunity to sit down with Johnny Cassamasina (Senior VP Creative Development at Jam City), before Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery launched and ask him some magical questions of our very own.
MAJOR SPOILERS: Let’s start with the most obvious question: why Harry Potter?
JOHNNY CASSAMASINA: I mean, Harry Potter is one of the most amazing brands in the world. When it’s all said and done it’s something that almost everyone has some idea of what it is and it’s this amazing, amazing idea that everyone wants to be a part of. Whether it was the books or the movies or the extended lore or some of the games that have come out – it just has this amazing fanbase attached to it.
From our perspective, “Why Harry Potter?” It’s all those reasons said above and we wanted to deliver a game experience where the player got to step into the shoes of a young wizard of their own making and attend Hogwarts. This is something that, to our knowledge, had not been delivered and this us something that everyone who is a fan wanted to experience.
MS: Was there an added pressure going into the development of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery knowing that there are other Harry Potter games that do exist?
JC: I think there’s an enormous amount of pressure to just deliver on the promise of a world like Harry Potter and the universe. Whether there was games before, or the other IPs we work with, there’s really no bigger IPs than Harry Potter. It’s really one of the biggest in the world and it’s something that’s untapped.
The game we’re delivering is something different than has been delivered thus far for this particular universe and, yet we feel a great deal of responsibility to the fans of that universe to make good on that promise of “become the powerful wizard, step into the shoes of a kid at Hogwarts and go through that journey.”
MS: Can you tease some of the immersive experience that you think fans are going to be excited for in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery?
JC: Yeah, there’s so much! I think first and foremost, one of the biggest things that’s different – and to note for everyone – is this is a live title. This is a game that’s going to live on for a while. Just like Harry’s experience gradated up over time – he started out, came in as a first year and there were different experiences for him at that age versus as he went up through the years – both tonally and where the adventure took him. I think this game – one of the most amazing things about this game – there’s a plan for evolving in a way like that, which player’s that come into the game initially might not be experiencing everything that we plan to deliver over the course of this journey. I think that’s exciting. The game’s going to evolve along with the player.
As far as the mechanics that you can expect at worldwide launch: it’s going to be very akin to the first year experience of Harry Potter, himself. You’re going to start attending Hogwarts. You’re going to be able to make friends and build relationships in the game. You’re going to be sorted into your House. You’re going to get a little bit of the lay of the land and be able to explore Hogwarts. You’re going to attend classes with famous professors like Snape, Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick. You’re going to learn spells, which then you’re going to maybe get into a little bit of mischief with and some unsanctioned duelling. Maybe meet some pets? That you can take care of and build a relationship with as well, go on adventures and explore a mystery that plays out across the first year narrative of the game.
MS: Was there any hesitation about including a Sorting Algorithm instead of letting players choose their Houses?
JC: It was a conscientious choice and, we think, one for the better. It’s going to give players an opportunity to really chart their own destiny and we feel like that’s an active choice – that’s really the first major choice, spoiler alert! – it’s the first major choice we allow the player to make in the game because it will set a tone for everything that you do in the game going forward.
MS: Now I have to ask you: what House do you belong to?
JC: You had better be sure I’m a Gryffindor. I’m a Gryffindor. It’s not just because Harry Potter and all the main characters are in there.
You asked me before “what’s it like putting a game like this out?” You have to be very brave to put a game like this out and bravery is one of those core qualities of Gryffindors.
MS: There’s so many amazing actors from the original movies lending their talents to (title) can you speak about the process of folding this iconic performances into the game?
JC: I wasn’t there at the recordings, but we got the notes from the team that was and they said it was an amazing experience to be able to work with these great actors and actresses.
I’m an old school nerd and there’s something to be said at the end o the day when guys like Warwick Davis are lending their voice and their likeness to your game. It definitely adds that authenticity and that little bit of personality right at the right moments in the game that bring it to life and make it hit home for the player.
Play with the sound on. Not often something that people do, playing mobile games, but you might just want to leave it on for this game.
MS: Are there any castmembers in the game that haven’t been announced yet?
JC: I think there will be surprises down the line. Can’t get into that too much, but as I said, very similar of that journey of Harry Potter through the years, right? Not everyone was there right away – there was new friends, new classmates, new teachers – Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers – that through your progression in your story – and you never know who might shoe up.
MS: Not a confirmation or spoiler, but is there a character that you would really love to see folded into the game in the future?
JC: Oh my god, that’s so hard! Even though I’m a Gryffindor my favourite character from the books is Snape and he’s already in the game. He’s just such a dynamic character. I think we would love to see – there’s so many others – Sirius Black! You never know who could show up! We don’t know yet – we don’t exactly know where the story’s going to take us – but there’s just such a wealth of content there that we are absolutely going to be exploring.
MS: You’ve mentioned Snape a couple times and he’s obviously such an important character who was brought to life by the late Alan Rickman. What was it like bringing him into Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery in respect of these two legacies?
JC: As you said, he delivered such an amazing performance. He really put his mark on that character and played that role so well, that I think of all the characters in the game, I think the team did a really fantastic job capturing the mannerisms of the characters that they played in the films and he is no exception.
There are certain little mannerisms and animations and things that make their way into the animation – into his in-game avatar, essentially – that are spot-on Snape and the team has been very protective of that as well. There have been ones that we have had come out in development that were a little bit off and they went right back into the can and were done to nail it. It’s hard to describe it, but when you see it you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are really key little mechanisms and the way he would move his hands or move his eyes or give a smile that literally came out in the facial animations in this game.
The first time I ever saw them when the team delivered them I was blown away. This is great!
MS: You’re looking at details as minute as how people move their eyes?
JC: Yeah. The animators do a fantastic job! Again, he art style that the team used was a little bit of a hybrid. It’s not exactly photo-realistic or anything like that. It’s so well done and it was one of the first aspects of the game that – I think during development – that was put forth as a high bar that we wanted to reach and development followed on those lines. It was always one of the biggest components of every build that we saw.
Everything always looked good. Sometimes stuff didn’t always work good, there are always those things, but the game always looked good.
MS: Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is rolling out worldwide instead of in a handful of countries. What are some of the challenges or joys that you faced where a worldwide launch is concerned?
JC: It’s nuts, right? This is going to be a huge – this is a worldwide brand! This is something that everyone in the world is going to want to get their hands on. We’ve already had many people in the world trying to get their hands on it, so a release like that is a true worldwide release.
We use that term a lot, here at Jam City, and what does that mean? A lot of the times that means this market, that market. It’s going to be bigger in this market. This is going to be big everywhere, even in the soft launch markets that we see right now. We’re expecting big thing. We’re expecting a big, big response and I think we are just trying to get prepared for that at the end of the day. Millions and millions of installs and millions and millions of new people coming into the game.
There’s always going to be last minute preparations that we have to account for and make sure everything is stable and delivers a great user experience to our players.
MS: Mobile games are known for micro transactions and in-game currencies. In Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery will it be dressed up like the Harry Potter universe currency of galleons, sickles and knuts?
JC: The team took what was there and they made it very mobile user-friendly. There’s an analogue in the space that you see. In a lot of mobile games there are coins, you see gems, and of course we have our energy system. We use iconography that would very familiar to players that play mobile games, but also user-friendly to players coming in that haven’t played before; where it’s not exactly exactly what it’s supposed to be, but it’s representative enough that it’s not going to throw anyone off. It’s going t be very user-friendly.
MS: So, this is going to accessible to players who haven’t read or seen Harry Potter?
JC: Yeah, I think that’s what the big promise is of a game like this, for us, as we develop it. We’re looking at this particular opportunity and this particular project as something that is going to attract a much larger demographic – of fanbase – than what we would typically be building a game for.
It goes well beyond people that are just playing mobile games. This is going to bring people from all walks of life, all worldwide territories, and you don’t necessarily know what their comfort level is going to be with playing a mobile game, so we really had to compensate for that and make it as user-friendly as possible.
MS: Is that tough compared to something like your Family Guy game where the demographic probably skewed more mature?
JC: It’s very iterative. You have to put your user experience and UI design through a lot of iteration to land on something. Again, the team was very respectful about trying to deliver something that would – a UI and a UX – that felt very magical and very whimsical. Very much akin to the world of Harry Potter, but still keep it an interface that you could manage. At the end of the day, you are playing the game on mobile device, you’re not a wizard yourself and you can’t necessarily cast a spell yourself.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is available through for download on mobile devices right now.
Listen to the Major Spoilers Podcast #777 for Ashley’s spoiler-free review of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.