Wednesday 1st May 2019
Games, websites, wands in the real world: here’s a look back at how the magic of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts has been brought to life with technology, while taking a gaze into the future.
Harry Potter, the boy wizard, grew up in a cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging. But the Wizarding World grew up in the age of the internet – with the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone being published at a time (1997) when the World Wide Web was just on the cusp of becoming mainstream.
While the books were attributed to making children’s literature popular again (known colloquially as ‘the Harry Potter effect’) it wasn’t long before the stories began to be discussed and dissected in a blossoming digital age. While the books reigned supreme, the Wizarding World’s relationship with technology – both in how the fans use it to unite in their love of the Wizarding World, and how new creations, from games to gadgets, have been used to innovate and tell new stories – began to walk hand in hand too.
With the recent announcement of Portkey Games, which gives the Wizarding World new dimensions, there has never been a better time to revisit the history of Harry Potter and the magic of technology. After all, which is faster – owl, or email?
THE EARLY YEARS
The Wizarding World’s embrace of the internet could arguably be traced back to the innovative interactive Flash website created for J.K. Rowling in 2004, which was notable for resembling the author’s charmingly cluttered desk, complete with chewing gum wrappers and stray paperclips.
These little moments of digital magic paved the path for us, Pottermore (originally a collaboration with Sony in 2012) which has evolved over the years to present J.K Rowling’s stories through cutting-edge interactive moments. Pottermore is perhaps known best for its Sorting experience; the official way for fans to get sorted into their Hogwarts houses, based on an algorithm written by J.K. Rowling herself.
To this day, millions of Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws and Slytherins are connecting online to discover their Hogwarts identities together. Since then, Pottermore has created even more exciting experiential digital moments, such as the Patronus experience, where fans navigated through an otherworldly forest answering mysterious prompts to discover who their silvery, animal guardian was. With over 100 3D rendered Patronuses created, the launch of this particular interactive event set the internet alight.
But of course, official websites are only half the story. In the mid-noughties, Harry Potter fans who had just finished the books started up their own websites and message boards, spawning beloved fan sites such as Mugglenet, SnitchSeeker and Leaky Cauldron to name a few, along with podcasts, fan fiction sites and various other online offerings. Mugglenet contributors who ran the website even set up a live stream of the team reading the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in real time, uniting the reactions of readers from all over the world.
The communities that formed thanks to these websites helped shape a new type of fan culture that still exists today; a unique online community that could speculate about plot points in the gaps between books being published. Now, the original fan sites live on, but online message boards have since transformed into social media. It’s little wonder, for instance, that Harry Potter so frequently trends on Twitter, or that certain inspirational quotes, words and phrases have fallen into common discourse. The generation who grew up on the message boards are now adults, and there’s nothing adults love more than whiling away the hours on the internet.
It makes sense that the Harry Potter stories would lend themselves so well to video games. The Wizarding World is a natural fit for virtual exploration and interaction and magic itself opens up an infinite amount of creative possibilities.
Official video game adaptations began with the films in 2001, which – across multiple platforms – strived to evolve with each installment, covering all eight Harry Potter films. The series, produced by EA Games, invited the player to live out Harry’s adventures from a third-person perspective, with each new game offering improved graphics, new gaming developments (such as free-roaming Hogwarts) and in later games, the use of motion capture from the film’s actors.
In its LEGO form, the Harry Potter games continued to thrive.
2001’s Lego Creator: Harry Potter, one of the earliest Harry Potter video games, was the first LEGO game based on a licensed property – a construction simulator where players were charged with building their own version of Hogwarts out of LEGO blocks. Years later, the Harry Potter films were retold through 2010 and 2011’s Lego Harry Potter: Years 1 - 4 and Lego Harry Potter: Years 5 – 7, and then LEGO Dimensions (which combined real-life LEGO with console gameplay) brought in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, giving fans the unique opportunity of seeing the characters from both film series together.
THE BIRTH OF PORTKEY GAMES
The next evolution of gaming, and what promises to be one of the most exciting, is Portkey Games, the Wizarding World’s own dedicated games label created by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
So named because Portkeys transport wizards and witches, Portkey Games was created for Harry Potter fans to transport themselves into their own adventures and make their own narrative choices - all inspired by J.K. Rowling’s original stories. While the old PlayStation 1 and 2 games had us playing as Harry, Portkey Games gives players the unique opportunity to be at the centre of their own stories.
The first title released as a part of this dedicated label was Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, created by studio Jam City in collaboration with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and was just one of many amazing projects on the Portkey Games slate.
During a time where boundaries of new technology are constantly being pushed, Portkey Games will include titles from the best developers in the business to make it possible for players to interact with the world in more realistic ways than ever before.
The fruits of this founding philosophy will be seen later this year with the incredible Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, a new augmented reality mobile game that has been developed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment in collaboration with Niantic, the company behind international sensation Pokémon GO. You can read more about the gameplay here.
Mary Casey, Executive Director of Product for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, was instrumental in creating this new style of game with her team, tasked with meshing the real world and the magical world with new smartphone technology.
‘One thing that was really important for me was to feel like you were in your own story and you were creating your own wizarding persona,’ she told us. ‘This was really about creating your own story in your own world, and so in order to do that, we really had to look at really innovative technologies and try and bridge the real world and the wizarding world together.’
As such, the multi-layered game involves a brand new narrative that asks players to work with others to uncover the wizarding world’s mysteries, that turns your local neighbourhood into an RPG-style universe populated with characters to meet and quests to beat.
‘The other thing I wanted to achieve, is that you could really feel like you were stepping directly into the wizarding world,’ Mary added. ‘That, without the new technology, would have been traditionally impossible, so we use a form of AR plus, advanced AR, to allow you to step into the wizarding world through our Portkey feature. I’m really excited for everybody, no matter where they are, to be able to pick up their phone and to be able to jump into that world we’ve loved for so long.’
Indeed, this game, and other projects currently being created by Portkey Games are set to transform not just the way we game, but inviting us to create our own wizarding world adventures.
It’s the spirit of collaboration in the Wizarding World that has allowed these technical innovations to stretch far beyond conventional console gaming and into other brilliant digital and physical projects. The teams working on the Wizarding World are always on the look out for new collaborations with the best creative minds globally, keeping the Wizarding World fresh and finding new ways to bring fans closer to the magic and interpret its stories.
Take the wand. In 2012, Xbox game Harry Potter for Kinect utilised new motion sensor technology to turn a player’s controller into a wand, allowing them to not only cast spells using proper casting movements, but to duel Draco Malfoy. Similarly, PlayStation 3’s Book of Spells, released the same year, used the PlayStation Move controller to cast spells, but added the extra element of augmented reality through a camera – allowing the player to see themselves with a real wand in hand. And in 2018, Kano created a Harry Potter coding kit in which younger fans could build their own motion tracking wand, used in tandem with responsive software, in order to learn how to code.
Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano, spoke to Pottermore about the story behind creating such a project that educates as well as entertains.
‘Harry's journey into the hidden world of magic, learning how it works, and discovering new powers in himself, mirrors the feeling in our world, of discovering the mysterious rules that make technology work – and then, wielding them yourself. It's a natural narrative overlap that we have loved working within.’
As such, Alex’s team (‘we spent untold hours exploring every aspect of the Wizarding World, toys, books, confectionaries, ephemera, apocrypha, and more’) created the Kano Kit, inspired by the books and films they’d grown up with themselves – this time, for the next generation.
‘The Harry Potter Kano Kit ended up on TIME’s Best Inventions of 2018, a Toy of the Year Finalist, and getting us listed as the second most innovative company in consumer electronics worldwide by Fast Company.’
More recently, Wizarding World has expanded to explore new gaming platforms, collaborating with developers all over the world to bring the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts stories to fresh technological levels. And with the release of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there was suddenly more magic to learn about, and a selection of new games, with bigger and better capabilities to showcase it, were born.
For example, Google’s Virtual Reality app for Daydream View gave fans the chance to tour Newt Scamander’s suitcase of magical creatures from the inside, truly showing just how much technology has evolved since the 90s.
From websites, to theme parks with state-of-the-art rides, to spellbinding gadgets, to games, to new digital advancements, this surely is only the tip of the iceberg in what is to come in the future of Wizarding World tech and digital innovation. In the past few years alone, we’ve learnt so much more about the Wizarding World, giving us more to think about and reimagine than ever before.
So what’s next? Well, the Wizarding World continues to breathe life into our favourite books, films, characters, creatures and locations in newer, fresher and more pioneering forms than even our imaginations can muster, so, in the words of Mr Ollivander, we can certainly ‘expect great things’.
Since we launched Pottermore in 2012, the digital landscape has evolved and so must we. We can’t wait to tell you more about the next phase of our digital journey.