Consider any computer game made within the last decade or so.
It doesn’t matter how well it was received, or how much money it made. Whether it was good or bad, one thing is certain – that game was loathed by everyone who worked on it.
Developers hate all their games unconditionally. Don’t bother asking them to choose a favourite – you might as well ask them about their favourite bout of gastroenteritis. When you spend every day for two years staring at the same thing, it doesn’t matter how glamorous it might be – by the end, you’ll hate it.
So it was for us and Harry Potter. We’d been delighted to discover that it was our next project, and after working on some games which were nice to look at but a bit lacking in depth, we relished the idea of making a substantial adventure game with such a well-rounded universe.
But what we wanted was not what the publisher wanted – and it was their money, after all. What we had hoped would be a deep, immersive adventure game turned into something rather linear and simple. A lot of our best designs never happened not because they weren’t fun, but because it wasn’t in the publisher’s vision. Ah, well.
But there was one aspect of the game we were secretly very pleased with: the paintings around Hogwarts.
If you know Harry Potter, you’ll know that many of the paintings were magical and could speak to Hogwarts’ inhabitants. Our artists had to produce many paintings to adorn the walls, and so interspersed amongst more standard pictures of wizards and witches they created likenesses of the developers, our families, and the occasional pet.
We were doing very long hours, and it wasn’t just us suffering – our families were, too. They were supporting us – often suffering in silence. Marriages were strained, children were missing a parent. It seemed only right to put their pictures into Hogwarts; our odd way of showing our love and gratitude. And possibly to remind us what they looked like.
Then – the day before we final submission – we were instructed to remove all those paintings and replace them with some fairly generic wizardy-looking types. We were never given particularly clear reasons why – but we were too tired to fight.
That was probably my saddest memory of that project. For anyone else, those pictures were just a triviality. Gamers wouldn’t have bothered looking at them – they were just a bit of extra colour to improve the feel of the game. But we were proud of them – they made the project feel like ours.
Anyway … Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for Xbox and Gamecube (ignore the PS2 version, it was made by another developer and was inferior) was released in 2002. Any profits from that title are long-gone, now to be found only on creaking pasting tables at your local car boot. Eurocom is no more; the happy band of team Potter long since scattered to the four winds.
When sorting through some boxes in the garage the other day, I discovered an old Xbox build made before we replaced the paintings. Of no value to gamers, publishers or even Potter fans … but I’d held on to it out of a sense of nostalgia. Playing through it revived some happy memories; mostly the great people I worked with, but also a tiny feeling that even though the project didn’t turn out as we imagined, we still enjoyed being a part of it.
And so, I proudly present some screenshots here to remind a few old, crusty developers – we did have some fun occasionally.
I think these might have been competition winners – “get your portrait in Hogwarts” sort of thing.
Next time: my face as a female shotputter in one of the Olympics games.