London, 1963. Amy and the Doctor are looking forward to swinging with The Beatles, but when they arrive they find Trafalgar Square in ruins and the Daleks swarming all over the place.
It’s destruction on the kind of epic scale that you can’t get on television’s limited budget, but on a computer with a little bit of CGI magic? No problems at all.
Created by Sheffield-based developer Sumo Digital, the first part of the brand new Doctor Who: The Adventure Games will be downloadable from the BBC’s website on June 5.
Previous games on Auntie’s Doctor Who page have included a Time Lord take on Sudoku, and a variety of puzzles that while away a good ten minutes or so. Not so with City Of The Daleks. The first game of four, City is being described as a continuation of the current series, which stars Matt Smith in his debut as the Time Lord.
Players help the Doctor and Amy (a CGI version of Karen Gillan) tackle the Daleks and find out why she is the last survivor of the human race.
The gameplay lasts for around two hours, and has been created by a team of writers from the show itself. To add authenticity, the vocal talents of the Tardis team and the Daleks are on board, too, In short, it’s one of the most ambitious projects ever to come out of the BBC’s website.
“This is quite a series opener,” says Phil Ford, the episode’s writer. “We destroy London even before the credits roll – so you can only begin to imagine where we travel to from there. City Of The Daleks is as big budget as you can imagine: from London we head to Kaalann, the capital city of the Daleks, one constructed from pure anger and hate. And these new Daleks don’t like to be messed with, so players are about to enjoy a new interactive episode which is as heart-pulsing as anything you’ve seen before.”
Doctor Who doesn’t suit shoot-em-ups, and the team behind the games has instead created a point-and-click game that contains mini-puzzles and plenty of opportunities to dodge Daleks, Cybermen and a host of weird and wonderful creatures that could never be realised on TV.
I had a sneak preview of the first part of the game – well, actually I watched, not from behind the sofa but from behind the shoulders of fellow journalists, lest my lack of knowledge of gameplay be exposed, with the Doctor being exterminated very quickly over and over again. It’s very impressive.
The gameplay is actually aimed at people who don’t normally play computer games, with intelligent puzzles that children can get their teeth into and plenty of fun to be had as you devise strategies to defeat the Daleks and return time and space back to their proper order.
You get to play the Doctor in the game, wielding your sonic screwdriver to open locks, wire circuits and cause mayhem in Dalek Central. It’s compelling, addictive and easy to get to grips with – all five of my fellow hacks in the room were solving puzzles at similar rates and, like me, not all of them were hardened gamers.
Future instalments are closely guarded secrets, but early shots reveal that the Cybermen will turn up to menace our heroes, and concept art on the walls of Sumo Digital reveal some other grisly discoveries await them, too.
Although the game is free to download and play for PC and Mac, the game has been developed as if it were a standard-issue release.
Many strands have come together to create the game. The early stages included getting Matt Smith and co-star Karen Gillan filmed walking, crouching, frowning, holding, turning and running so that their movements could be used to create a 3D wireframe version of their characters.
The duo were then recreated digitally using Maya, creating highly detailed textured recreations that could be filmed showing every possible human emotion and action. Although they are obviously computer generated recreations of the characters, mixed with the right voices and the feature rich landscapes of the Dalek city and destroyed London, you soon forget that it is CGI and imagine you’re seeing the real thing.
The plot, which has been devised by the Doctor Who team at BBC Wales, including showrunner Steven Moffat, has then been properly storyboarded as if it were an episode of the TV series, with all the effects shots mapped out.
The Doctor Who team has always been at the forefront of digital, says Ian Tweedale, editor of interactive at BBC Wales. Previously, this has meant Tardisodes (mini-episodes downloaded to your mobile) for series two, exclusive behind the scenes content and video diaries and commentary podcasts. But this year it’s different.
“It’s really a 17-episode series this year [13 of which are on TV],” Ian says. “It’s more episodes, just interactive. We’ve worked closely with the game’s producers and those on the TV series.
“The game is achieving what we believe, as a public service broadcaster, we should be doing. It’s very important that the mainstream audience [that doesn’t play games] isn’t put off. We want them to think they can have a go because it’s Doctor Who.
“[The show] really appeals to a broad demographic, and the game isn’t focused on teenage boys: there’s almost a media literacy angle to it.”
Sumo Digital’s chief executive Charles Cecil agrees. “The casual audience won’t play hardcore games. Really, this should be accessible for everybody.”
From what I’ve seen, he’s not wrong.
“You get the role of the Doctor and you can do things that can’t be done on TV,” he adds.
Writer Phil Ford is also enthusiastic about the game. “There’s huge freedom,” he says. “In each episode you go to another wonderful location and have freedom to explore. The animation gives you a bigger canvas to enjoy.”
The game also gets the thumbs up from the chief Dalek, not Davros, but actor Barnaby Edwards, who hunches himself up to hail the canny pepper pots around the set in the TV show (he was the white Dalek in the recent episode, Victory Of The Daleks).
“It’s fantastic to play but it does feel like a TV episode,” he says. “I’m much better at solving puzzles than creeping around but it’s got broad appeal and [solving it] gives me a sense of achievement.”
Ian Tweedale is keen to see how well this goes down, and hopes that there will be more of this type of show in the future (although whether that means a The Sims-style EastEnders game where you could play the part of Dot Cotton in the laundrette remains to be seen).
The mantra at the Beeb is now “fewer, bigger, better,” and the Doctor Who: The Adventure Games is part of that.
“Audience feedback says we want lots of originated content,” Ian continues. The team has high hopes for this game and future possibilities. “We’d love to see more of them,” he says.
When the first game goes live on Saturday, it’s thought it will be around a 250 megabyte download – with ten million people tuning in to Matt Smith’s debut episode on telly and a further million watching via iPlayer, it’s going to be popular, but Ian isn’t worried about the strain on Auntie’s servers.
“iPlayer has shown we can deal with demand. We’re confident that we won’t be a victim of our own success.”
With the game’s creators promising jaw-dropping moments, stuff that can’t be done on TV, and thrilling adventures in time and space, there’s one thing for sure: I wish I had my own Tardis so Saturday could arrive a little earlier.