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Video game makers conjure up first 'Potter' title

The adventure of the "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" video game begins at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

By Marsha Walton
CNN Science and Technology

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- It's a school millions of youngsters will be thrilled to enroll in this fall: "Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." But will Harry Potter, the video game hold a candle to the incredible success of the books about this young magician-in-training?

Electronic Arts has no doubts the rollout of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" this November will be huge.

"I think this is a phenomenon that is really still peaking," said Erik Whiteford, director of marketing for EA Games.

"Kids and adults everywhere around the world are still enraptured. So I don't think we're overhyping at all," he said from the "castle" of the company's exhibit at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

But game publishers and developers at this "show of shows" for the video game industry know there is no magic potion for a successful title.

Can 'Harry Potter,' the game, equal the success or the draw of the books? CNN's Marsha Walton reports (May 20)

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"You have many games that are movie tie-ins or book tie-ins that historically have not done well because you haven't been able to translate what was good about the book, what was positive about the book, into an entertainment environment," said Chris Taylor, who covers the industry for Time Magazine.

The Mario Brothers characters, "Street Fighter," and "Wing Commander", while huge in the game world, did not do as well as hoped at the box office.

There's been tremendous secrecy surrounding development of the Potter game from EA studios in Seattle and London. A couple of details the company will confirm: no matter how much players stumble over a spell or mangle a magic potion while they're playing, they cannot "kill" 11-year old Harry. That contrast to the carnage of so many other video games is due in large part to the intense involvement of Potter author J.K. Rowling, who must approve all aspects of the game.

"She's given us a lot of feedback to ensure authenticity, to make sure that we're representing her vision of the Harry Potter universe in the video game world," said EA's Whiteford.

Author J.K. Rowling
Author J.K. Rowling  

More than 43 million Harry Potter books are in print worldwide, according to NPD Group and Scholastic Magazine. And the adventures of this young sorcerer are credited with sparking a huge interest in reading that crosses both age and gender lines. You could almost hear parents, teachers, and librarians cheering about that phenomenon. But will the game take away from the page turning?

Not likely, said some of the hundreds who tried out a demo of the game at E-3. It's designed so the player "becomes" Harry at the Hogwart's School.

One software company president who says he's read all the Potter books said the EA developers have nailed the Potter spirit: "I think the image I had in my head from the book -- they've captured it."

"Just like Harry you have to learn your way around," said EA's David Lee. "You have to go to classes, learn spells, and interact with evil counterparts," he added as he showed off one of Harry's first broomstick flying lessons through the Forbidden Forest.

The Potter game will first release for Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Sony PlayStation, and the PC. In fall of 2002 it will be available for PlayStation 2, the Gamecube, and the Xbox.


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