- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

ach week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

J.K. Rowling’s young wizard makes his fifth appearance on movie screens as the star of Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which opened Wednesday.

The Potter fantasy world has been a vibrant, interactive place since the first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was released back in 2001, and it appears the Web developers have started to coast a bit with all of the previous multimedia content still online.

At least that is my explanation for the official “Phoenix” site (www. harrypotterorderofthephoenix.com/), which barely dabbles in challenges or film background and prefers to highlight other links associated with Harry Potter’s film world.

Before flying over to those Web stops, however, visitors will want to check out the 360-degree views of Professor Umbridge’s office and Number 12 Grimmauld Place along with the ominous activity, Death Eater Art.

Basically, artists can download a kit of elements to create a mask worn by Lord Voldemort’s legions and post it to the Web site for fans of evil to admire. The kit has almost 14 megabytes of stuff, including borders, textures, logos and frames to enhance a mask, but creators will need their own image design software.

The first link of note from the “Phoenix” site, Dumbledore’s Army (https://join dumbledoresarmy.warnerbros.com/) allows fans to register to be a part of the secret club Harry assembled to battle Lord Voldemort. (Almost 300,000 surfers had already joined at the time of this review.) Wizards choose a screen name and avatar and then can unlock the best piece of the site: A game called Dark Arts Defense has the visitor wield a wand in the first-person perspective and challenge online players from around the world in a duel.

The combatants have the use of nine spells, but to use them, a player must use the mouse to draw a pattern on the screen that represents each spell; for example, a very accurate triangle to activate petrificus totalus and diminish an opponent’s health meter. A welcomed training mode against a mechanical dummy allows the wizard to hone his attacks before going live in the difficult-to-master challenge.

Now on to another link accessed from https://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/ that leads to an overwhelming site dubbed More Harry Potter. Within its virtual borders lies access to the famed Marauder’s Map, which allows quick navigation of the site. It also comes in handy to find places in and around Hogwarts loaded with games encompassing references from the first four films.

Among the 25 activities and challenges, visitors will have to avoid the branches of Womping Willow, compete in a selection covering the finer points of Quidditch and try a trio devoted to the Triwizard Challenge seen in “Goblet of Fire.”

A final site link worth a mention offers a new type of interaction to the Potter world and is found at Electronic Arts’ ode to its official Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix video game (www.ea.com/harrypotterandthe orderofthephoenix/).

Titled the Wizarding Widget, this all-inclusive Potter activity area can be installed and personalized on a visitor’s own site to create Web traffic and promote the game and film.

The developer code associated with the widget features the game Gobstones (roll a ball closest to a hole), the ability to make virtual potions, practice the levitation spell and draw the shapes of discovered tokens to unlock videos from the game.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site, where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www3.washingtontimes.com/family times/romperroom.htm.

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