A Hogwarts Mystery – how this game ever got made

There was quite a lot of excitement surrounding the recent release of a new Harry Potter game on iOS. It was your chance to attend Hogwarts, learn lessons, immerse yourself in the magical world that we’ve grown to love. It was even touted as Harry Potter meets The Sims, which, as you can imagine, immediately got my attention.

Early reviews of the game weren’t so positive though, suggesting that whilst the story is interesting enough, it’s really just one of those ‘gouge-as-much-money-from-the-user-as-possible’ games which is free to play but perhaps not so free to fully indulge in.

The Guardian review, in fact, hits out at the game right from the off:

Like a lot of smartphone games, Hogwarts Mystery looks a bit basic, but it’s not lazy; it’s colourful and gently humorous. Fan-pleasing touches come in the form of dialogue voiced by actors from the Harry Potter films, cameos from beloved characters and allusions to nuggets of Potter trivia.

The enchantment fades when you get to the first story interlude, where your character becomes tangled up in Devil’s Snare. After a few seconds of furious tapping to free yourself from its clutches, your energy runs out and the game asks you to pay a couple of quid to refill it – or wait an hour or for it to recharge. Sadly, this is absolutely by design.

I’ve played the game on and off for a week or two and haven’t spent any money on it but I’ve also not gotten very far with it either. Things didn’t get off to a good start when I inexplicably picked Ravenclaw to be my house (I’d love to see the bar chart comparison of how many users pick Gryffindor compared to the other three).

The fact that you do have to either buy energy or wait until your health is restocked is annoying, and it makes the gameplay very stop-start. My biggest complaint though, is that the game is basically just tapping the screen to no real end. Occasionally, there’s some dialogue where you choose how to direct the conversation, and there’s a very rare tap-to-get-the-circle-within-the-circle moment to break up the monotony, but it’s really just tap tap tap. Wait. Tap tap tap. Wait.

With a rich universe as the Wizarding World, this seems like such a missed opportunity. Make it a free-to-play, pay-to-play-faster if you must but if you do that you have to make the gameplay addictive and interesting. There’s such a range of options that could be designed in terms of mini-games: getting more characters involved, flying broomsticks, racing broomsticks, match threes, crosswords, quizzes, spells, caring for a magical creature, proper duelling like street fighter, really there’s so much that could be done.

Instead, it’s tap tap tap. Wait. Tap tap tap. Wait.

You’re really better off just watching the films or reading the books again, because even though there’s no actual expansion of the universe by doing that, you actually get some entertainment from it.

I wanted to love this game, but sadly it doesn’t live up to The Sims or Harry Potter.

The alphabet is hard

Here’s a piece of advice for anyone starting a new project or challenge or adventure that requires a little bit of structure:

DON’T FOLLOW THE ALPHABET.

It seems like such an obvious and fun choice. I’m going to set myself a baking challenge, why not a cake for every letter of the alphabet? I’m going to write a book of short stories, why not start each title with the next letter in the alphabet? I’m going to visit various attractions around the UK, why not do it in alphabetical order?

That last one is me, by the way, in case you’re a new reader. The Alphabet Adventure seemed such a genius idea when I dreamt it up, but that’s because the first half of the alphabet is easy. From A-P, you’re having an absolute laugh. K can sometimes be a bit tricky, but mostly, it’s all fun and games.

Then you get to Q, which presents different degrees of difficulty depending on what you’re trying to achieve. V can be tricky, but then you’re hit with the triple whammy of X, Y, and Z.

The horror!

My recent cop-out proves all too well how difficult it can be to find a UK attraction starting with X (not impossible, but the options are certainly limited), and goodness knows what I’m going to do for Z.

I’m not alone in finding the alphabet tricky. Other recent examples have also struggled with the bottom half of those 26 pesky letters.

So, my advice? Don’t do it. If you’re planning a travel-based adventure, just go places because you want to and because they appeal, not because they start with a specific letter of the alphabet.

On the record 2018, Part 3: One whole piece of art

Last time out, I was worried about the year so far, and whilst it still hasn’t grabbed me as much as last year’s musical efforts, it certainly has picked up. We’re heading into the spring and summer seasons, so there are good vibes coming from artists. George Ezra was a particular highlight of this particular batch, but read on for the full list!

Week 11

  • Gone Now, Bleachers
    I was curious about this one because Jack Antonoff writes so many good songs, it’s a wonder he has anything left for his own outlets. I wasn’t sure about this album for the first listen through, but second time round it started to come together for me. I liked how the songs linked together and there were little callbacks throughout making it one whole piece of art.
  • Bella Donna, Stevie Nicks
    Lovely Stevie’s first solo album is a really great listen. I can’t lie and say it stood out as separate to the work that Fleetwood Mac do, it had all those influences and more, but it was still great to listen to – particularly Edge of Seventeen with it’s Destiny’s Child bounce.

Week 12

  • Superorganism, Superorganism
    I was dubious about this one – a glimpse at the craziness on TV had made me wary, but then I heard Everybody Wants to Be Famous a billion times on Beats 1 and fell in love with it. Actually, the album is great. It is crazy, sure, but it also has that glorious lazy summer vibe so you just kind of chill and go with it.
  • Alright, Still, Lily Allen
    This is one of those albums where I know a lot of the songs but have somehow never actually listened to the whole thing. I really liked it. Lily is one of those artists that you either love or hate, and thankfully I love her. Don’t always agree with her and think some of the songs push it a bit, but ultimately they’re catchy and meaningful, clever and fun, so why not?

Week 13

  • Staying at Tamara’s, George Ezra
    Really loved this from George. I was a fan of Budapest but wasn’t really sure I’d manage to sustain interest over a full album. Couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s fun and quite preppy, sweeps you up in its summer holiday, leave all your cares behind, kind of way. A new favourite.
  • B*Witched, B*Witched
    I thought this would be your run of the mill pop album but it’s more eclectic than that. The singles are the normal saccharine denim-laden pop that we know, but the rest is all a bit of an oddity. It kicks off with some bizarre folk-violin-drum-and-bass dance mix, and indulges in some feisty female rock as well as super slow ballads along the way. Weird.

Week 14

  • Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves
    This album has gained a lot of supporters in the short time it’s been out, and I have to be honest, I’m not 100% sure I get what the fuss is about. It’s a good album, and stands apart from the more traditional country and from the more pop-orientated modern stuff, but it’s darker more downbeat tone didn’t quite do it for me. Good songs, great voice, but as a whole it didn’t quite work.
  • Waiting For My Rocket to Come, Jason Mraz
    I do so love Jason and his witty words, fast-paced songs and interesting subject matter. I learnt a lot of these songs listening over and over again to a live version so hearing them in their studio format was a bit odd, but it still works. Lots of craft has gone into these and that shines through. They’re intensely catchy tunes and I’ll listen over and over again once more!

Week 15

  • Bye Bye, Annalisa
    This was recommended by a friend of a friend and whilst I wouldn’t normally stumble across Italian pop, I really loved it and I’m glad I got to listen to it. It’s just pure, catchy pop music, and even though I don’t speak Italian it doesn’t matter at all, you still get the same good pop vibes. Annalisa has a great voice too.
  • Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond
    I only know a couple of Neil Diamond songs, and so for my first album of his, it was lucky that it had one song on it that I knew. The album reminded me quite a lot of Johnny Cash – not in terms of sound, but just the sort of genre. Shorter songs, quite odd topics (the horseflies round your face thing really confused me, I think he thinks it’s a compliment). I quite liked it but I’m not sure I’d particularly seek it out again.

Home run

Last weekend, my good friend Lukeh ran his first marathon, completing the incredible 26 miles in the first event held in Newport city centre. He was raising money for a mental health charity and was aiming to complete the marathon in about 4 and a half hours. I’d been watching his progress as he shared training updates on Twitter, and reading along as the nerves kicked in once the marathon was only just around the corner.

With all that in mind, it was impossible not to go and support him on the day. Mr C and I headed to Newport to cheer Lukeh on as he sped towards the finish, crossing the line in a superbly respectable 4 hours and 16 minutes. It boggles my mind that you can achieve this on your first attempt at running such a distance, but what a fab job he did. Not only did he complete a stunning time, but he was totally fine afterwards. A bit wobbly in the legs, maybe, but I turned around at one point and he and Mr C were talking nerd stuff about creating apps – after you’ve just run a marathon for goodness sake!

I hadn’t realised that, whilst it was an understandably emotional day for the runners, standing on the sidelines was pretty special too. Picking a spot towards the end of the course meant we saw runners in all manner of conditions – fit and striding to their goals, gritty and determined despite the pain, or walking it off to push to the finish. All of them were cheered along by people lining the route: friends and family, naturally, but also strangers all cheering for the same goal – get these people across the line. I was surprised by how emotional I found it, seeing the courage of those participating matched equally by the love and support of those clapping along from the side.

Other things I realised that day include how useful a marathon tracking app is – I don’t quite know how people would have followed their friends and family in days before such helpful apps existed? We got to see where Lukeh was around the course which helped us planning our arrival, picking our spot, and waiting for him to snap pictures. Without it, we’d have had no idea where he was, when he was going to pass by or if we’d already missed him.

Having said that, even with the app you have to be vigilant. After Lukeh had finished running, we dashed back up the course to cheer on his friend Sarah. We waited, until the app said she had already gone past the point we were standing. So we started walking back, a little disheartened, and then we saw a flash of purple leggings pass by and realised that was her! Mr C had to do a little jogging of his own to catch up, cheer and snap a picture.

I was pleasantly surprised by what a fun day out it was. The idea of the marathon has always been a pretty obscure one – something I’ll likely not run personally and something I don’t particularly have reason to watch either. But now having witnessed the spectacle first-hand, I almost want to search out another marathon just to cheer on some more people that I don’t know. It’s kind of addictive like that!

Regardless of our day out though, Lukeh achieved his running goals and raised more than £800 for his chosen charity. An incredible effort.

Learning from the Masterclass

I’ve been wanting to write about Masterclass for a while but didn’t really want to shout its praises until I had sampled some of the merchandise. Unfortunately, time has not been my friend but now there are two developments with the online learning provider that I have to talk about.

Firstly, if you’re not familiar with Masterclass, they offer exceptionally high quality courses from incredibly big names with ridiculous amounts of wisdom and experience to share. The courses are delivered online, they come in a variety of subjects and are expensive but not prohibitive.

One of the latest announcements, and the reason for this post, is the reveal of Chris Hadfield as a new presenter launching a course about spaceflight and space exploration. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hear about the exciting world of space travel direct from one of our most famous astronauts?

The roster of speakers Masterclass has managed to gather is incredible and I almost want to hear from all of them, not limited to but including:

  • Ron Howard teaches Directing
  • Hans Zimmer teaches Film Scoring
  • Garry Kasparov teaches Chess
  • Christina Aguilera teaches Singing
  • Serena Williams teaches Tennis

It’s mind-boggling access to some of the greatest names of our time. My list of courses I want to watch just keeps getting longer – I don’t want to do half the things that are being taught but I still want to hear from the experts they’ve managed to hire.

The second thing that was announced recently was the iPad/iPhone app. I was sort of surprised this didn’t exist already, and even more surprised that there wasn’t an Apple TV app to go with it. The beautifully shot videos are made for streaming on a TV rather than a small screen, and this feels like an opportunity missed. However, opening up the course catalogue to those with smaller devices is also a pretty shrewd move.

Now, my “I have no time” argument means just that little bit less, because I have my phone with me all the time, whereas I don’t always have access to a desktop/laptop browser.

So, even though I haven’t managed to tune in to any of these courses yet, and my love affair has remained at a distance for now, I continue to be excited by what Masterclass are doing, and I can’t wait to get involved.