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Loz Doyle (Producer, TT Games) - LEGO Harry Potter
Loz Doyle is a producer working for TT Games. He has been in the games industry since 1994 when he worked as a tester for EA. He moved on to do some design work there, working on some classic games - Magic Carpet, Syndicate, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. He left EA to go and work in production at LEGO Company, where he started work on LEGO Star Wars. When TT Games was set up, he continued to be Producer on LEGO Star Wars, then went on to produce LEGO Star Wars II, Saga, LEGO Batman and is currently producing LEGO Rock Band and LEGO Harry Potter. Darren Rea spoke with Doyle as LEGO Harry Potter was due to be released...
Darren Rea: The latest Lego game, Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is to be released soon. Can you give us any information to whet our appetite?
Loz Doyle: It's the story of years one to four, so it follows the films quite closely as we've done with all our other games. We pick out those key scenes, from each of the four films, and recreate them in LEGO form - give them a little LEGO twist.
You've got Hogwarts, which is the biggest environment we've ever made, and that's kind of the main hub of the game and where the levels get triggered from. Hogwarts is an ever expanding place so, as you progress through the game and learn more and more spells, it opens up and gets bigger and bigger.
We've got all the spells that are in the films and you gradually learn them as you go through. So, just like the fiction, you start as Harry who doesn't know how to use his magic and you learn. So, it's very good for kids to start. They don't have loads and loads of abilities at the start, they've got to learn. It's very incremental so when you get to the fourth film you've got all the spells and you've turned into quite a powerful wizard by that point.
DR: Do you find it interesting that a game series based on a child's building block toy has managed to become so popular.
LD: I suppose we were all surprised at just exactly how successful it has been - it's beyond anything we could have imagined at the start. But when we were making all the games we were very aware that they were fun to play. That was basically our main thought the whole time: "Is it fun?" And from the very first time Traveller's Tales fused the basic LEGO bricks and characters in ultra realistic environments you could see it worked straight away. And that's the formula we've stuck to.
In Harry Potter our technology has moved on a long way and the environments are really realistic, they're up there with the greatest looking games around at the moment. And the LEGO now has so many shades applied to it and it's so detailed in itself that I think it looks really good.
DR: The LEGO series of games is one of those franchise that can be, and is, enjoyed by everyone. Why do you think that is?
LD: I think it's because if you actually think about, and go about, making a game that a four year old can play, that literally means that anyone can play it. It's about accessibility. If you make a game that is for 20 year olds, that isn't accessible by everyone. It's very kind of a Mario type of approach to making the game - they would always design for accessibility and we do the same thing.
We do focus testing all the time on young children. We go down as far as four and five years olds. They don't necessarily have the same goals as an older player, but as long as they can get through the game and have fun playing the game then that's where we base it on. Of course we're gamers ourselves - the developers - so we're always playing the game. If something isn't fun for us then we fix it as best we can to make sure everyone enjoys it.
DR: One of the most notable things about the previous games in the franchise were the humorous cut sequences. I presume LEGO Harry Potter will include plenty of those.
LD: Absolutely, yeah. This has got the most cut sequences out of any game. I think it's almost feature length if you run them all back to back there's about 75 minutes worth. But yeah, we've definitely kept the humour in there. And sometimes it was challenging, in terms of approvals, because we do take the mick to some extend in some of the scenes. We've kind of turned serious things on their heads. But we definitely know that it's a key part of the appeal and what makes our games work so well. There's very few games out there that are funny and it's hard to make a funny game, but the LEGO characters do lend themselves to it. You can get away with fairly whacky things that you just couldn't in other games because it would be strange.
DR: Games that are based on movies are usually designed to be published to coincide with a movie release. Because the LEGO games aren't generally released to tie in with movie openings does this make it easier to ensure that a more polished game is published?
LD: I suppose it depends on the game. For LEGO Star Wars I we released just before Episode III so we were the first game to reveal the story of Episode III, in fact we came out ahead of LucasArts's game. But it is definitely advantageous to know the stories in advance and especially when it's a really well known story that makes it a lot easier for us to tell the story without words. Everyone knows the Harry Potter stories, they've been the biggest most successful films of all time, so we are able retell those stories without words and people know what's going on as well.
DR: What do you think to the increase of university courses on video gaming?
LD: A lot of these video game course, I feel, are a little bit bandwagon. If someone does a video game course then they come out the end of it knowing a bit about some things but they're not actually specialised in anything. I think that's the biggest problem. If you want to be a programmer do a course on programming; if you want to be an artist do art. To do a video game course, I think, is pretty much a waste because you don't become a specialist.
There's still quite a few big studios in the UK. The difficulty is actually making games that people want to buy and play. There's so many games on the shelves and if you're not making games that are selling millions of units you are going to struggle. We're in the lucky position that our games do stand out on the shelves and do sell millions. It's those studios that spend two or three years making a game and it sells a couple of hundred thousand units. You've got to wonder how they can keep going.
DR: Are there any areas in the UK where we have a shortfall of talent?
LD: Not that I know of. I've been working with Traveller's Tales for six or seven years now and we have everybody that we need and all our technology is in house. To be honest, I'm not really exposed to a lack of talent in any area.
DR: In your private life are you a big games player?
LD: I actually very rarely play games at home. There's a few games that pop up every now and again that I do enjoy, like God of War. I'm a big fan of God of War - all the different versions. We do, at the office, play Pro Evo (Pro Evolution Soccer) every day without fail and we have done for the past seven or eight years. I wouldn't like to say how many games of Pro Evo we've had [laughs]. I probably should play more different games, but we are Pro Evo addicts.
DR: What of the future? What LEGO games are currently games are being developed and are there any that you'd personally like to see being turned into LEGO games?
LD: There's almost endless possibilities aren't there. I can't really talk about the games we've got coming... yet. But, we have got some big ones coming.
LEGO® Harry Potter™: Years 1-4 is released through Warner Bros from 25 June 2010.
Click here to buy this on Nintendo DS for £23.70 (RRP: £29.99)