Video Games

Harry Potter Effect

I was prepping for a piece on Mass Effect 3 today. I was going to comment on the dialogue differences and the game play, but then I got into a conversation about the latest patch for SWTOR. You know, the game where BioWare took an existing property and set it in a different time frame than the hit media upon which it is based? That got me to thinking about another media phenomenon that could benefit from the same treatment.

Harry Potter.

I can hear it now. The collective sigh followed by the words, “You’re joking, right?” No, I’m not joking. Let me break down why I think this would be amazing as hell.

Base it on the Auror Office and the Department of Mysteries
This is a no-brainer to me, the Auror Office and the Department of Mysteries are the coolest thing in the Harry Potter universe. They are the ones who go out and actually do the work. Hunting dark wizards, tracking down evil artifacts and dealing with mysteries are things these folks do on a daily basis, it’s very easy to drive the story this way. Now, there are some people who will say that this isn’t what the Harry Potter series is all about, and I agree with that. However, it is by far the most compelling in-world organization, with some of the best supplemental characters. Better yet, these two divisions were barely explored, so not having to worry about canonical writings or modes of operation is a huge benefit. Besides, is there any other way for a character to have responsibility thrust upon them than suddenly becoming part of an elite organization? There might be, but this has to be pretty high on the list of bad ass ways to begin saving the world/galaxy. Future-magical-action-noir is a hell of a hyphenate. Yes please.

Set it in the distant future
Harry Potter meets Blade Runner. I think we can all agree that this is basically a cyberpunk fantasy waiting to happen. Best of all, it’s far enough removed that the likelihood of any media follow-up might as well be so low as to statistically approach 0. This means the team could go crazy without having to worry about any intellectual property infringement, and no one would really expect existing characters to show up. Descendants? Sure, but two hundred years is a long time, just as an example. Technology has advanced to the point where magic has a much easier time blending in, and more and more young wizards are throwing off the cautions and laws of the older generation and interacting more with society. Goblin gangs, still forbidden to use wands, but now afforded more freedoms, control major sections of magical fringe society. Half-breed giants are enjoying lucrative careers in both professional sports and as muscle-for-hire. Veela are now a force to be reckoned with in both Hollywood and advertising, and Leprechauns host nearly every late night talk show. However, as there is more and more overlap in the two cultures, the opportunities for crime is at an all time high. Things fall apart, the center does not hold.

Ok, now that we have the basic setting conceit out of the way, let’s talk about gameplay for a second. Harry, Ron and Hermione. That sure sounds like a group of three people to me. You know what else is a group of three? Shepard, Ashley and Tali. Shepard, Mordin and Miranda. Shepard, Liara and Garrus. That’s the entire premise of the Mass Effect squad combat system. A group of three running around and tearing shit up. That meshes so well with the written literature of Harry Potter that it’s a shame to even think about changing it. What about the wands you say? Surely that doesn’t translate. Here’s where I play a little fast and loose, relying a bit more heavily on the movies than the text. When you watch from Order of the Phoenix on, you see scenes where wands are pointed and magic/plasma balls shoot out of them. Sometimes you get a specific spell, but a lot of the time it’s a generic bolt of light. This would be your basic aim and shoot attack. Spells would be your special attacks that would have cooldowns, allow specialization and so on. Hell, you even have the idea of shield spells that function like Barrier in the ME universe. Pull? We got that. There are lots of easy ways to make consistent character effects. For non-human squad mates, you have templates for that too. In the ME world, there have been several instances where characters have their own effects that are not shared at all. A house elf companion that refers to you as a round-eared wood-stroker might teleport around the battlefield, grapple levitate guys, or shoot lightning or some shit like that. BioWare knows lightning is boss as fuck, and everyone else should jump on that train. Goblins would enhance weapons and use items to do their work for them, and so on. The point is, that while this seems wildly disparate, it’s not all that different than the current Mass Effect style of game play. The pieces are there waiting to be fit into other systems.

Here’s where I think the game would depart from the clear cut “this answer gets you paragon/Light Side and this OTHER answer gives you renegade/Dark Side”. I much prefer the relativistic morality presented in Dragon Age, where you are only as bad as your companions think you are, and there is no scale to push you in any one direction. Now, I haven’t seen the numbers on this sort of system, but I really loved it as a player. The moral flexibility it lent to the character meant that I was only as bad as I wanted to be, and didn’t feel compelled to drive up any one scale to unlock conversations. Now, Dragon Age went strong with the tried and true BioWare method of having a Persuasion/Charm/Intimidate skill that unlocked conversation options, but frankly, I think we are past that now. I’d prefer you’d simply have a few options on how you get the information out of someone, and that effects your party’s opinion and so on and so forth. People do everything they can to get those options anyway, and hate missing out on an option they see they COULD have had. Just let it be available from the start of the game, and let people decide how they want to do it. If you want to threaten someone with an Unforgivable Curse, that’s one way. If you want to just charm someone into it, that’s another. If you want to just talk it out of them, that’s yet another. There is no reason to continue with the old methods. Just have it all available and link it to relativistic morality. This, of course, ties into the next issue of just buying the affection of your party mates with gifts. I’d prefer it if this worked for some, but not all. I think that would be an interesting turn of events. Then again, I’d be fine without this ability at all, and just linking power progression to the story quests of each character, like in ME2, rather than having them unlock their efficacy based on their love of you, like Dragon Age. Anyway, the point is that hard line morality doesn’t really fit this world and I’d like to see it done away with, or just have it as a toggle, like Samhaine (see sidebar!) suggested in a conversation. Good guy or bad guy is just a choice at the beginning of the game. After all, you will just keep wanting to fill up that meter.

So there you go, the basic reasons why Harry Potter Effect would be an amazing game, and fit nicely into an existing system. BioWare proved it could do amazing things with a different time period of an existing title, I’d like to see it again. Plus it would fit my desire to have a wizard detective game that was a future action noir title without having to figure out how I’d make Dresden Files work in a compelling manner.

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