Latest news
Context Error #01: Why I’m childishly excited about the Doctor Who games
by Linford Butler

Lead Editor, Linford Butler, takes a look at videogames culture, the latest developments and industry issues, and how they personally affect him and gamers, in his Context Error column.

I think the time has come to admit it. I am, as much as it shames me to say it publicly, a Doctor Who fan. I think it stems from an infantile love for adventure and excitement, and just a small belief in magic. However, they’re precisely the same reasons I love videogames – they provide a platform for experiences impossible in the real-life world of cars, jobs and the weather, and weave magic way beyond anything the human mind could begin to imagine. However, similar though Who and videogames are, the relationship between the two has always been a tenuous and largely unsuccessful one.

And then, I woke up one day in April, and received my copy of the excellent Develop Magazine in the morning post. To my surprise, what was on the front of the magazine got me hugely hyped – a picture of the TARDIS and, standing in front of it, the BBC’s Simon Nelson and industry legend, Charles Cecil. I daren’t believe it. Had the BBC finally taken the leap into a serious venture in videogames?

Of course, we all remember the BBC’s past… ahem… efforts in the videogames industry. Looking through the list of BBC Multimedia’s previous videogame titles, it’s both painful and shaming for a British citizen to see that every single one of the ‘games’ released by the BBC have either been massive flops or non-releases. It doesn’t take too much staring to see precisely why the Multimedia branch of the BBC was soon closed.

I suppose, therefore, that considering the BBC’s track record I should actually be more worried than excited into the videogame attempt they’re making with Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. But I’m not worried at all – though DW: The Adventure Games is a licensed game by the BBC, I am – certainly against my better judgement – rather expectant of what could possibly be the BBC’s first decent game, ever. You see why when you dig deeper into the project, and find that it’s possibly one of the most epic, massive and unique projects undertaken in a very long time.

The basics: The Adventure Games will be released in four parts, or ‘episodes’, distributed via direct download only from the BBC website. Available for PC and Mac, with the first ‘episode’ – set in a 1960s ruined London and featuring the new Dalek design from Victory of the Daleks – downloadable from 5th June onwards. And you’ll not have to spend a pretty penny either, as all the episodes will be entirely free.

It’s sounding rather impressive, but to most, it’ll just look like another licensed game. And almost everyone who works or plays in the games industry knows that when licensing is involved – unless it’s something in the Batman series – the game is likely to be little more than dull.

Get ready to forget that stereotype.

So, why am I childishly excited about the Doctor Who games? I think, overall, it’s the fact that I’ve been looking for a way to become a part of Who since I was first drawn into it when Eccleston’s Doctor graced the screen in 2005. There’s that deep-down, ever-immature part of me who wants to play this, just because it’s a part of Doctor Who which you can control. And then kicks in the games critic in me – I want to play this because it’s a truly unique partnership.

The games have been in the works since January 2009. That’s more than a year of development without anyone getting so much as a hint at the game, qualifying The Adventure Games as the industry’s best kept secret so far this year. A year, however, is a long time, and the feat of keeping it secret has been made even more awe-inspiring considering the partnerships which the games have been built on. Not only have BBC Wales hired Sumo Digital, the multi-Develop and TIGA Award-nominated studio, to develop the games; they’ve also got industry stalwart Charles Cecil on board.

The team at BBC Wales first came into contact with the York-based Cecil through Develop magazine’s columnist, Rick Gibson. Suggesting that the Beeb could improve their work in games by taking various modus operandi, Cecil and the team at BBC Wales had a creative spark long before Sheffield’s Sumo Digital became involved. Cecil is a long-standing industry veteran, having been a major factor in the success of the critically-acclaimed Beneath a Steel Sky and the Broken Sword series. If the BBC are warming to the idea of games again, then bringing Cecil on-board for The Adventure Games is an excellent idea – 25 years of industry experience can’t go amiss.

The games are being pitched as four additional episodes of the current Who series and they’re being written by the BBC Wales team who write all the episodes for the television version. The first three of these interactive episodes will be written by Phil Ford, the man responsible for various episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, the animated Who series ‘Dreamland’ and the Doctor Who special The Waters of Mars. The final episode will be written by James Moran, who wrote the fourth-series Who episode, The Fires of Pompeii. They’re being developed in close coercion with BBC Wales and, therefore, it’s safe to guarantee that they’re likely to be highly true to the series.

The games are based on a thesis of being “something that is like an interactive TV episode”, explains Cecil. The Adventure Games are not designed like a traditional videogame would be – a wise move on the part of Sumo and the BBC, as with The Adventure Games they’re catering to an entirely different demographic. The choice to go with PC and Mac as a platform allows a much wider distribution field, as almost every person in the country has easy, readily-available access to a computer and the internet. The controls are simple keyboard-and-mouse stuff and nothing more complex; though PC-gaming vets may find this simple to the point of being insulting, it’ll allow the game to play much more easily, allowing a pick-up-and-have-a-go mechanic with which anyone can enjoy the game instantly. You don’t get stuck, either, but instead are challenged – the team say that they don’t want to create a game in which you’re stuck wondering how to use two abstract objects together to solve a puzzle.

I’m hugely excited about The Adventure Games – possibly more so than any other games on the horizon at the moment, with maybe the exception of Naughty Bear, which looks truly epic – and it’s down, in part, to all of the reasons I’ve already detailed. However, there’s one more reason why The Adventure Games are going onto my calendar to ensure I don’t forget to review them. They’re striving some way toward a solution to one of the biggest problems facing the games industry - public stereotype and opinion.

The general public and the traditional media have been against games for a very long time, still under the unfounded stereotype that only spotty, friendless sociophobes play games. The recent affair concerning the Alan Titchmarsh Show has proven that we’re a long way yet from solving the issue. However, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games is going some way towards showing that games can be exciting, entertaining and educational, instead of being purely about shooting and death. Hopefully The Adventure Games will champion videogames as a platform which can advance children’s ability to think logically and laterally, learn something and yet still have fun whilst doing it.

What was, when I began writing, intended to be a short piece on why I’m excited about the Who games, has now grown to a four-page mammoth of a Word document, and so I shan’t keep you any longer. Personally, I’m eagerly awaiting the beginning of June in order to get my hands on what I sincerely hope will be a triumph for what I’ve coined as the BBC’s neo-videogames movement.

Stay tuned to Gamer’s Guide to Life for the reviews of all four episodes of The Adventure Games, for which Tom and I shall be sharing the reviewing responsibilities. I’ll look forward to seeing you in the next Context Error.


Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

- Linford Butler

Discuss this article in our friendly forums

Sign up to our community today and discuss our articles, debate over upcoming games and organise matches and playsessions with like-minded people just like you.

Liked this? Spread the word - share with your friends!

Done? You might also enjoy these!

All comments are subject to our commenting policy

GGTL Classics
Some of the very best articles dug out from deep in the GGTL archives, written by some of our past and present wordsmiths alike.
Your continued use of this website and/or any others owned by Gamer's Guide to represents your acceptance and indicates your full understanding of all of our legal policies and terms. Our legal policies and terms are legally binding. If you in any way disagree with or refuse to be bound by any part of said legal policies and terms, you are advised to leave this website immediately.