hogwarts legacy

Hogwarts Legacy Interview – Crafting The Most Fully Realised Hogwarts To Date

Chatting all things witchcraft and wizardry with Technical Director, Stephen Dona.

After getting to go hands-on with Hogwarts Legacy recently, entering Hogwarts for the first time as our purple-haired student of wizardry, “Xavier Diggleby”, we also had the opportunity to sit down with Avalanche Studios’ own Stephen Dona.

A fellow Aussie, born and raised in western Sydney, Stephen studied at the University of Utah and then went into the industry around seven years ago before being picked up by Avalanche Studios, now serving as the Technical Game Designer for Hogwarts Legacy. Stephen gave us some great insights into the development process of the game, as well as the challenges that came with it.

First things first – if you had to pick a house, which house would you put yourself into?

Stephen Dona: We actually have quite a good culture at Avalanche where, when you start, you basically have to do a test. It seems like I have a bit of a cheeky side because I ended up in Slytherin.

hogwarts legacy

How are you and the studio feeling this close to launch?

SD: A perfect mixture of really, really excited and really, really terrified. Genuinely excited to get it out into peoples’ hands and get some thoughts about the game.

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How challenging was it to develop for a wide range of consoles?

SD: Basically, making any game of this scope and size is going to have its challenges, and that was particularly quite challenging because to some degree we had to make two games. There is definitely a level of quality that we want to hit at Avalanche and WB, and we went and made the decision that we needed a little extra time, because we really wanted to get [those older consoles] to a point where it felt like those users weren’t being cheated just because they didn’t have the most current console.

The game is also releasing later on the Nintendo Switch, which of course is a little bit older. How is the quality there?

SD: Exactly the same thing as before, we just needed a little bit more time there, and like you said the Switch is a whole different beast in itself, and we didn’t want anyone who picked it up on Switch to get a second-hand experience.

Profile photo of Stephen Dona

Pictured: Stephen Dona – Favourite Shapes flavour, Pizza.

The lore of the Wizarding World runs very deep, what challenges did you face in creating such an expansive video game version of this world?

SD: I think in general, we were trying to show the world in a size and scope that has never been done before. We obviously have a lot of books and movies that are set in the Wizarding World, but we have a mantra at Avalanche that if you can see it, you can go to it – and that’s really why we wanted to make the whole castle, and endeavouring that was quite a task.

We had to start to think about “Well, hey, we’ve never been to this part of the castle but we know there are windows there, so we know there must be something there,” and we had to work out and make sense of what that would be. And it was a great, great challenge, but it was a lot to take on; not only just the castle but the grounds surrounding as well. Then to go further with Hogsmeade, and the Black Lake, and to really flesh them out and make sure they always felt like a real place. I think in some of the other media we’ve seen in this world they’ve only been set dressing, like the background, and now we need to say “No, we’re going there – what does that look like, what does that feel like as an actual place now?” so it was quite an undertaking. But we think we’ve nailed it pretty well.

hogwarts legacy

So we get to see the Quidditch field in the game, but Quidditch itself isn’t featured. Was that a technical decision, and could we see it in the future?

SD: So we really wanted to nail the open world part, “If you can see it you can go to it”. That was predominantly our focus in development. I don’t want to spoil anything for the future!

Of course a big part of that is also traversal across the game, through walking and via broomstick; was that a difficult thing to get right as well?

SD: We wanted that to feel organic and – specifically for broom flight – we wanted that to feel real and genuine and fulfilling. We have little things like broom flight races, but we wanted to add a verticality to it – as you drop and move up and down, you build up speed – and that was really important to us to actually make it feel like broom flight wasn’t just walking through the air, it was its own beast that you got to explore and get good at. There’s definitely skill to it, and when you see people master it, it’s quite entertaining to watch.

hogwarts legacy

What were some of the largest technical challenges when developing a game of this scope?

SD: I feel like the game is one of the prettiest games I’ve played and we really went into making sure we can maintain that level of detail and fidelity. But we also didn’t want the experience to be sitting in loading screens constantly, and that was something we were always fighting back and forth with. We wanted to make it feel like if you saw something you could go to it, and that you weren’t clicking through loading screens to get there. We had to do quite a good job of streaming things in, doing a little bit of magic behind the scenes, and to get these things loading in while you’re not looking at it – and that was quite a challenge early on, but I think we worked out ways and tricks because we absolutely didn’t want to lose any of that fidelity and that beauty.

How hard was it to scale the progression as you become a stronger wizard/witch?

SD: One of the hardest things about my job was that we really wanted to nail this idea to be your own witch or wizard, and so when we started, we mapped out the ways we thought people would want to play this game, and we really wanted to do them all justice. I think it’s really easy for you and me to visualise how Harry Potter would go about combat, and how Hermione might go about learning new spells, but we really wanted to do every sort of playstyle some justice, and try and balance them against each other; so the player who just wants to focus on Herbology, we want them to feel just as powerful or as an enjoyable sense to play as someone who wants to be a real jerk and “Dark Arts” it up.

hogwarts legacy

How was it balancing the combat of your character against the formidable foes?

SD: Particularly in combat, that was one of the hardest parts of my job – we really wanted to validate every single person’s playstyle. The whole idea is to be your own wizard or witch and to follow your own combat progression, where you get to indulge in certain skills. And because of that, in thirty, forty or fifty hours into the game, we can have two players that play very differently, and have drastically different power levels in different ways. And to then be able to say “Hey, now we’re going to ask them to confront a Troll or a big monster” and want that to be a fair experience to both of them, that was one of the bigger challenges of the entire game – and my role personally.

From linear progression, to open-world and sandbox and being thrown into the wild – what is the Hogwarts Legacy experience closer to?

SD: We wanted the world to feel real, and lived in, and we wanted it to feel dangerous. We didn’t just want the player to pick up the controller in the first hour and not have these spaces have some gravitas to them. So we’ve obviously tried to build that progression into the world, and there will be moments where you might run into certain things and think “Oh wait, maybe I have to think about this” and go back to build up your character. At the core of the game it’s an RPG, and a big part of the game is building your character and building your level up, going back and saying “Okay, how can I do this better?” by approaching the same area at a higher level, or with a different set of strategies. That was really at the core of what we were trying to design into this game.

You can also watch our video discussion of our hands-on preview below:

A burning question for a lot of people – there is no multiplayer within the game for now. Is there scope to see it added in the future?

SD: Unfortunately I can’t really say too much, I don’t want to give away too much about future plans and stuff like that. Right now it’s a single-player game, and that’s definitely what we’re trying to deliver.

We really appreciated the opportunity to have a chat with Stephen, and to sit down with the game and get that experience as well. As someone who has grown up with the Wizarding World, you can definitely see there’s a lot of depth in the gameplay, and a lot of effort into creating these worlds that we’ve only seen through movies and books. Being able to pet the cats in the game made it a day-one purchase from me, so I guess the experience can only go up from here.

You can read our hands-on preview of the game in full here.

Hogwarts Legacy is out February 7th for Deluxe Edition owners and February 10th for standard owners. The cheapest copy is currently $79 from Amazon with free shipping.