Doctor Who Computer Games – a new format?

So, there are four Doctor Who games releasing this summer. This is interesting partly just because new Who games are cool – maybe these will do the license justice. The last one, Destiny of the Doctors, was appalling and even the best Who game yet – The Mines of Terror – was clearly supposed to involve K9 and the Daleks, but had to change them for licensing reasons. And it’s a little disappointing for me personally, because I’ve wanted to work on a Doctor Who game for over a decade. But at least someone’s doing it…

But I’m more interested because of the format. These are free episodic downloads for PC and Mac, developed in parallel with the TV series, and written by TV writers. One of the producers has described them as four extra episodes of season 5. So creatively, there is a possibility of something quite special. I would be nervous about the involvement of writers with no experience in the interactive form, but under the guidance of Charles Cecil of Revolution, I’m pretty confident they’ll create something that works.

My only worry is that it does look a little low-budget – in the screenshots posted so far, the lighting looks poor and character models are both waxy and wooden. They’re apparently aiming for “stylised” look, but haven’t really introduced a style to make up for the simplification. I hope the finished product is a little more polished than the work in progress screenshots.

Nevertheless, I’m excited about the possibilities of this format, and I hope it’s very successful. If you want more detail, Develop magazine have a very detailed article here.

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Doctor Who makes triumphant return

We all wanted it to be good, but the sheer quantity of changes made even the most ardent fan a little nervous – new Doctor, new companion, new TARDIS, new executive team, new logo, new titles, new music…
So what a relief to be swept away on the tide of exuberant joy that was the Eleventh Hour! Matt Smith absolutely makes the role his own. I’ve read criticisms that he lacked gravitas, or was too silly, but those – on the basis of just one story – are completely unfounded. I don’t expect to see Matt Smith’s full range in one story. I don’t want to. I want to see wild adventure one week, and creepy shocks the next. I want raw excitement and then pensive melancholy. I want to be surprised.
And the new series of Doctor Who is just the show to do it. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Geronimo!

Let the ScriptFrenzy begin…

Still not ready to start writing, or even fully recovered from The Cough That Ate Manhattan. I’ll just have to outline as I go, and throw out the stuff that doesn’t work. I’m only expecting to get a first draft out of this month, anyway. Hopefully the relaunch of Doctor Who on Saturday will prove inspiring!

In other news, I’m getting used to Blender, which is very satisfying. I’ll post my experiments here when I have something worth showing. A key shot for the Monsters trailer is developing nicely…

Doctor Who pitch for Big Finish

Big Finish make Doctor Who audio dramas, and recently issued an open invite for new writers to submit pitches for a standalone story. I procrastinated for a couple of weeks because I didn’t have a strong story idea. Then I summarized what I’d come up with do far to my wife, who immediately joined the dots for me.

Unfortunately, this was about 12 hours before the deadline. Still, it was too good an opportunity to miss, so I wrote an outline, pruned it ruthlessly to get it under the 500 word limit, and scrawled a sample scene. Audio drama is a different beast to TV and film, and not one I’m used to writing for – it was hard to resist putting visual elements in. Even simple physical actions are hard to convey in an audio format, so the plot has to turn entirely on character interactions and sound effects.

By this time it was 4am, but at least I delivered it on time. Big Finish received over a thousand pitches, so I doubt my rushed effort will get very far, but if nothing else it was a fascinating exercise.

Doctor Who RPG

Since it’s now on the shelves, I’m fairly sure the NDA I signed has lapsed, so I’m going to blog about it…

I was lucky enough to get to playtest Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space a few months ago (all thanks to Jac Rayner), and I’ve been biting my lip ever since. There are detailed reviews elsewhere (Try rpg.net), so I’ll keep it short: the game is utterly inspired.

Cubicle 7 have created a simple system with a built-in bias against violent solutions, which really captures the essence of the show. Some reviewers have interpreted the minimalist rules as a sign that it’s targeted at younger novice players; which it is, but that shouldn’t put off experienced roleplayers. My favourite systems are those with the fewest rules; Amber and Nobilis in particular.

But the best thing was that I got to play the Doctor. And it was amazing.

I’ve been a Who fan since I was about 4, so I am steeped in that universe. The Doctor was my first and strongest role model. The system is designed to promote dialogue and problem-solving over fighting, and as the Doctor I honestly felt like I could march into ANY situation, hold court and solve everything – but if not, I could always run away and try something else. Over a decade of ground-in roleplayer’s paranoia evaporated in minutes. It was like flying.

The only flaw we detected in our playtest was that the companions can have little to do (or perhaps I just monopolised the GM and ordered them around). The simplest solution seems to be to split up the party so that the Doctor can’t do everything himself, but careful character design could also alleviate that problem – making sure the party have complementary skills, and that everyone has at least one specialist skill they can do better than the Doctor. Also, we used characters we’d generated that afternoon, so the group didn’t have much chance to build up relationships between the Doctor and companions. A few more sessions and I think we’d have settled into a comfortable partnership.

Character creation is astonishingly versatile, allowing you to create humans, aliens, robots, even Time Lords. And the game encourages alternative party setups such as a group of Time Lords or Unit agents. They really have made anything possible. I can’t wait for Cubicle 7’s expansion books…

Doctor Who: The End of Time

Warning, spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it yet…

I’ll admit to shedding a tear at the passing of David Tennant’s Doctor, and a fanboy squee! at the almost-return of the Time Lords. But really, Russell T’s era peaked at Doomsday and never quite managed to attain the same level of emotion without feeling contrived. Davies’ scripts are strong on emotion but when the plot gets too reliant on coincidence and lazy technobabble, my suspension of disbelief is destroyed and the emotional highs feel hollow, although the great acting and score usually manage to carry them off to some extent.

In this story, the Master is resurrected by some random groupies who are wheeled on for this scene and never heard of before or since. His wife conveniently has a plan to sabotage the process, which has no effect other than to give him superpowers that give the Mill more work. This imperfect resurrection manifests in three completely unrelated ways, one of which is purely cosmetic. Then he’s kidnapped by a random rich guy to fix an alien machine which conveniently gives him an opportunity to take over the world…again. It’s all too coincidental. The changes to the timeline in Waters of Mars are never mentioned – seems like the Time Lords could have used the Master to escape at any point in history. And by the end everything goes back to the way it was before, except that Wilf is stuck in a deathtrap ready for the Doctor to save him. Tennant performs brilliantly, but the story feels so transparently engineered. The greatest hits epilogue was nice but heavy-handed and felt unrealistically protracted, as if the Doctor can go weeks after a mortal wound before actually having to regenerate. I was looking forward to this because Euros “Children of Earth” Lyn is a fantastic director given decent material, but this isn’t his finest hour.

Still, hopefully the new era will be better – Steven Moffat is much better at coherent plotting and consistent use of the SF elements, so I expect his new rebranded version of the show to be more thoughtful and less hysterical. Roll on spring…