The Quaffle has fallen. I’m racing toward the grass from 50 feet in the air to retrieve it, but I’ll have to recover from my nose dive — fast — if I want to grab the Quidditch ball without slamming into the ground. Can I pull it off? Closer, closer, I reach out my arm, and at the same time as I’m grabbing the ball with my left hand, I’m pulling up on the broomstick with my right and YES! The Quaffle is mine!
Multitasking in mid-air is a necessary skill to hone in a new VR game for Oculus Quest called Seeker VR. It’s the creation of a Harry Potter super fan so dedicated that he spent the better part of the pandemic year teaching himself how to code in VR, all to bring to life the Hogwarts castle and grounds, as well as the flying mechanics of the broomstick and autonomous balls, for fans like him.
“No one had made a Quidditch game for the headset yet,” the developer, who goes by Team Eldritch, said via email. “And it felt like somebody should.”
It debuted in August, and as of late September, had over 10,000 downloads on itch.io.
Seeker VR is an unofficial Quidditch game, but what really makes it stand out is the virtual, multi-sensory, three-dimensional and tantalizingly explorable Hogwarts world Team Eldritch has constructed with high fidelity to the films. In order to create the VR Hogwarts, he adapted the highly detailed spatial images from a previous Harry Potter game that’s currently out of print and no longer playable on most devices.
Potter fans, there are some things to know before you go running to your Quest (or start planning to buy one). Seeker VR is an “unofficial” game in two ways, which means playing it requires jumping through some hoops.
First, it is not affiliated with Warner Brothers, the studio that owns the rights to Harry Potter. The webpage for the game includes an all-caps disclaimer noting that it is a fan creation, available for free, and is for non-commercial use only. Team Eldritch is hoping that “the nice people at Warner Brothers,” as he calls them in the game site’s disclaimer/plea to c’mon lawyers just let him do this, will stay true to their previous stance with fan creations and let him carry on as long as he doesn’t claim affiliation or try to make money. He would also be open to working with the official Portkey Games if they wanted to.
However, Team Eldritch prefers to stay anonymous and go by his developer name, in hopes of avoiding any cease-and-desist letters should the “nice” lawyers change their tune.
Credit: team eldritch
Seeker VR is also an “unofficial” game in the Oculus universe. That means you won’t find it in the Oculus Store, where you can download Facebook-approved games like Beat Saber and The Climb (Facebook owns Oculus, in case you forgot).
Instead, anyone with enough technical know-how can find games that are experimental or still in development by using alternate content libraries and installation mechanisms. This is a practice called “sideloading.” Some tech platforms — notably Apple — take a hard stance against sideloading. But it’s ok on Facebook’s Oculus for now, as long as you enable “Developer Mode,” which requires confirming your identity with a credit code or phone number.
One popular way to sideload on the Oculus Quest is with a free service called SideQuest, a platform that also serves as a content discovery library. Essentially, you download the game on itch.io, and then SideQuest is the platform that lets you install it on your Oculus. Seeker VR‘s SideQuest page is here, but there are other methods for sideloading, too.
But jumping — and hopefully throwing the Quaffle — through those hoops just might be worth it, because the best way to describe the experience of Seeker VR is that it’s magical. While there have been other Harry Potter games, a VR version feels special because of its ability to transport you inside the world, where you become an active participant. AKA a wizard.
“Playing a Quidditch game in VR isn’t like playing one on a flat screen,” Team Eldritch said. “You put the headset on and you’re standing there on the pitch… no cables, no headphones, just the towers stretching up and the sound of the wind at your back. And then you take off, and the ground’s 50 feet below, and you can look down and actually feel it. What it’d be like to fly up there. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to real magic.”
Credit: team eldritch
Quidditch, and then some.
In terms of actual gameplay, Seeker VR is mostly a demo right now. When you fire it up, you’ll go through a 10-minute tutorial that mimics Harry’s first Quidditch lesson, when then-Gryffindor Quidditch team captain Oliver Wood explains the rules: Team Eldritch even hired an actor to voice the demo, and he uses a very Oliver Wood-esque accent.
In the demo, you learn how to fly your broomstick; throw, catch, and score with the Quaffle; beat away the Bludgers; and, if you’re fast, catch the Golden Snitch. I wasn’t able to achieve that last feat, but my husband did, and he said he felt “really cool.”
I had some trouble just getting the flying down, and I kept getting stuck under the grass somehow. But eventually I got the hang of it, and taking off, accelerating, and doing loop-de-loops is a rush.
“I spent a long time just figuring out the flight mechanics and making sure they felt fun,” Team Eldritch said. “Cornering, braking, accelerating – everything had to be dialed in exactly to strike that balance between speed and control. The first time I felt like I’d nailed it was when I finally managed to do a figure-eight around the three goal hoops without smacking into any of them.”
While accelerating on my broomstick towards the hoops, I find that my left arm holding the Quaffle is accessing some long-forgotten muscle memory from (mandatory) eighth grade Water Polo class. So I wind up and bring my elbow in line with my engaged shoulder, and then use my back muscles to launch the Quaffle, one-handed, through the hoops. I definitely have better aim and force in (virtual) mid-air than I ever did in the pool, and scoring is all the sweeter since throwing the ball through those hoops prompts the same “score” noise as in the films.
“You can look down and actually feel it. What it’d be like to fly up there. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to real magic.”
In separate parts of the demo, interacting with the Bludgers and Snitch that move of their own volition is a different kind of challenge. The Snitch buzzes around like a mischievous golden fly, and whacking the menacing Bludgers with the small bat is as satisfying as it looks in the films. Team Eldritch said that those balls actually represented some of the most challenging parts of the game to create.
“They’re essentially mini-AIs,” Team Eldritch said of the Quidditch balls. “Finally managing to code a Bludger that was capable of homing in on you, firing itself at your head and whizzing off again was a very proud moment.”
Multiplayer gameplay probably isn’t in the cards for Seeker VR — it would require overhauling the game with even more advanced coding, and server hosting costs would be prohibitively expensive. But Team Eldritch is still working, and he said that playing with a virtual team against some AI opponents is more likely.
You can also fly out of the Quidditch arena to explore Hogwarts castle and the surrounding grounds. This isn’t exactly a game, but as a straight up Harry Potter dork more motivated by fandom than by gameplay, it’s my favorite part. Taking in the turrets from 360 degrees, zooming through the bridge Neville Longbottom eventually blows up, discovering the owlery and the boathouse and courtyards in VR — all on a broomstick! — feels like a privilege. Like I got to explore the Harry Potter world in a way even the actors never could.
“The castle was never originally supposed to be part of the game, but I kept adding to it,” Team Eldritch said. “It’s kind of the fulfilment of a lifelong dream – ever since I saw that beautiful movie miniature, I’ve wanted to shrink [it] down and walk around it for real. It’d be awesome to think I made that dream come true for a few other people as well.”
During the game, the music from the scene where Harry rides Buckbeak the Hippogriff swells as you ride over Hogwarts Lake. In the moment, I feel the tingles of watching that scene, and the wonder I felt laying on my elementary school library’s floor reading about the Hogwarts letters filling up 4 Privet Drive, with a potency I haven’t channeled in years.
So how did this developer do it?
Working from blueprints.
Team Eldritch describes himself as a “jack of all trades” who took advantage of Epic Games’ 3D development tool, Unreal Engine, to teach himself VR game creation. He familiarized himself with the standards of this sort of game development — like pressing the trigger on a Quest handset to grab something — which makes it easier for frequent VR users to catch on.
To build the world, Team Eldritch looked to the official Harry Potter games from the mid-aughts. The developer Bright Light Studios went to great lengths to create a realistic model of Hogwarts based on the films where players could run around. The team even worked from the same blueprints as the movies.
Unfortunately, Team Eldritch says that “due to various licensing entanglements, it’s not actually possible to buy or play those games on PC anymore. (You can get the DVD-ROMs on eBay, but the DRM they use isn’t compatible with modern Windows unless you run a virtual machine, which is way too much hassle for most people.) Effectively, those games are now abandonware, which is a bit of a sad legacy for a series that had so much love and artistry poured into it.”
He gives copious credit to the original developer, and hopes that the Bright Light team from back then would appreciate their creations getting new life.
“Extracting 3D assets from a 15-year-old game built on a closed-source engine isn’t easy,” Team Eldritch said. “It took me a month and a half just to finish putting together the exterior of the castle. But it was absolutely worth it, because the detail the artists at Bright Light achieved was phenomenal.”
He’s also hoping that the fact that the original game is no longer really playable will give him some legal leeway. Team Eldritch extended that philosophy to other media assets, too.
“I’ve tried to only use 3D assets in this game that are already available for free or that nobody seems interested in making money from anymore, like the Bright Light games,” Team Eldritch said. “This has genuinely been a labor of love for a series I adore and respect.”
Credit: Team eldritch
Another element that makes the game feel real is sound. Team Eldritch himself “voiced” the spitting and hissing Bludgers, but the tech that powers Quest experiences allowed him to go much further. Oculus supports an “open source spatial audio plugin” that lets developers play to the way our brains process sound in three dimensions.
“That means you can have a Golden Snitch flying around your head and know immediately which direction the sound is coming from – which completes the illusion as far as 360° audio is concerned,” Team Eldritch said. “It’s the difference between hearing a stereo recording of a city sidewalk and actually going and standing outside.”
Paying attention to that sound is, in fact, part of the key to catching the Golden Snitch. My most burning question for the developer was how in the heck do I get my (virtual) hands on the elusive flier?
“Most of the time, you’ll be able to hear the Snitch before you see it,” Team Eldritch said.
Just like magic.