Doctor Who has never received the triple-A treatment when it comes to video games.
The character’s innate aversion to violence has always been a challenge for developers. And the broad scope of the TV series, jumping from horror to comedy in a heartbeat, has proved difficult to capture.
Despite this there are multitude of high concept elements in Doctor Who that should, on paper, be the ingredients for a great video game. It has an intelligent lead, adventure, humour, a huge cast of characters, hundreds of alien races and planets and, of course, time travel. What more could a game franchise need?
A gun you say? And there’s the problem.
In recent years titles such as The Eternity Clock and the Doctor Who Adventure Games have nudged the bar a little higher, and with the impending arrival of Peter Capaldi’s twelth Doctor it can only be a matter of time before the Time Lord makes a return to our game machines. But what elements are essential in a Doctor Who game and what type of game should it be?
Telltale’s Walking Dead proved with considerable success that you don’t have to shove an IP into an FPS to have a successful licensed game (a memo that Activision didn’t get). So the obvious place to start would be an episodic graphic adventure. This format obviously lends itself well to telling a story with a complex, timey-wimey plot. It would also allow the player to be the smartest character in the room, using their intelligence and guile and not brute force or action.
In the hands of a good writer it would enable that mix of drama and comedy to come to the fore in a way that no other Doctor Who game has managed. And as we saw with The Walking Dead, it could be a game where your decisions matter, changing the course of history and creating multiple time lines that culminate in a finale based upon your choices and actions.
An alternative approach would be to actually ignore the Doctor as a lead character. It is often the role of the companion that is most identifiable to the viewer. Part of the Doctor’s appeal is how he affects those around him, so maybe we don’t need him at all. Imagine a story that is progressed by your responses to his actions.
It seems fanciful to ever expect the full RPG treatment for a Doctor Who game, however mouth-watering the concept may be. Over on N4G, Mr Pinky and PirateThom suggest a potential RPG format that begins with the current Doctor, who then regenerates into a Time Lord of the player’s creation. A Mass Effect style RPG with a universe to discover, free from current TV continuity to explore its own horizons. But again, how do you tackle a game like this without using traditional combat game play?
The challenge remains that the character of the Doctor sits uneasily with the actions that many game genres require. Maybe we should expand upon the earlier point and dispose of him altogether, making the Doctor Who universe the starting point. Freed from the shackles of the lead character it’s easy enough to imagine an FPS taking place on a war-torn Earth, desolate from occupation by the Cybermen. Or an RTS based on the Time War in which you command armies of Daleks or Time Lords in a battle to the end. These all sound appealing enough, but would they be true to the ethos of series?
Perhaps the scope should actually be reduced and simplicity is the key. Evacuation Earth, the Nintendo DS title, failed as a game, but its objective wasn’t necessarily wrong. A Professor Layton-esque game came that mixes storytelling and puzzles feels like a natural fit. The combination of a decent story alongside puzzles that use the feature set of a handheld of mobile device should be a perfect mix. As ever, the hard part is finding the right writer to bring across that combination of wit and energy.
With over 200 adventures under his belt perhaps some of the classic TV adventures could be revisited and adapted as the backdrop for a game. Certainly it’s possible to imagine a survival horror game set during of The Dalek Invasion of Earth or The Web of Fear. Or a more cerebral adventure based around recent stories such as Midnight or The Girl in the Fireplace.
These are just some ideas in a universe of infinite possibilities. How would you successfully translate Doctor Who to a game, can it even be done? And which developers would you like to see take up the challenge?