Exclusive Interview: Simon Harris
We’re thrilled to be able to bring to you all, in parternship with the Chris Jones Gaming team, our exclusive interview with Simon Harris!
Simon is the Executive Producer for BBC Worldwide on The Eternity Clock, the new Doctor Who video game which will be released on PS3 and PS Vita later this month, with a PC version coming shortly afterwards. During the Q&A, he talks about developing the plot, working with Matt Smith and Alex Kingston, and what fans can expect from the game.
He also discusses what the future holds for the Doctor in the gaming universe beyond this release. Read the interview below. Big thanks to Simon for answering the questions!
Q) Were the Developers at Supermassive Games fans of Doctor Who before they made the game? If so, what was it like for them to be able to work with Matt Smith and Alex Kingston?
A) I can’t answer for all of the team on the game, but I can assure you that two of the Directors of the company are both big fans, as is the Lead Designer, which was so apparent when we received the pitch for the title. When we commission a game for BBC Worldwide, we ask several companies whose work we know and respect to provide their design pitch on how they would present a game. We did this for Doctor Who, and the pitch from Supermassive Games absolutely nailed so many aspects of the show which was vital for a partner for us.
In terms of working with Matt Smith and Alex Kingston, they were really honoured. I remember after we had wrapped on the motion capture session, the lead designer dropping into a chair and saying, “I can’t believe that I have just directed Doctor Who!”. Both Matt and Alex were fantastic to work with, really enthusiastic and extremely professional. With both of them, it’s amazing to watch them step into the characters so easily, but I guess that’s why they are both such respected actors.
Q) Will The Eternity Clock be a title that appeals to newcomers, as well as hardcore Doctor Who fans?
A) I really hope so. I also hope that it’s a title that will bring game fans to Doctor Who, because they have heard it’s a great game and then that interests them in the show as well. It’s always difficult knowing how much to cater for people playing who don’t know the intricate details of the show, so we try to provide layers of depth.
For novices to the show, we have the base level of game play, navigating the environments, solving the puzzles, using the Sonic Screwdriver and avoiding the monsters. For the real fans, we start to layer on the subtleties. The dialogue is one massively important aspect of this. Having worked with David Bryher, who wrote the script in conjunction with Supermassive and then having the Doctor Who team in Cardiff provide feedback, meant that we got something that really carries the tone and feel of the show dialogue. The banter back and forth between River and the Doctor always makes me smile, even though I’ve heard the lines again and again. We also laid this dialogue over the game, rather than just in the cut scenes, so again, it feels natural and is going on whilst the player is actively engaged in the game.
Then, finally, we have the collectibles. There are two types of collectible, Hats and Diary Pages. The hats are a nod to the current Doctor’s love of hats. There are 40 of these to collect, covering the entire history of the show. The Diary Pages are something very interesting. For the first time, fans will be able to see what really is written in River’s diary… Spoilers!
Q) The Eternity Clock utilises the Unreal Engine 3. Traditionally, games based on the Unreal Engine 3 are played from a third person perspective, but for The Eternity Clock, Supermassive Games chose to make a modern side-scroller. Why did they choose this particular style of game?
A) The primary reason for this style of game was related to the goal of making this a PlayStation Network release. Developing games comes with a fairly hefty cost in terms of the number of people and effort required. In order to be able to deliver a game which hits the quality level we wanted in terms of visuals and the feel of the show, but keeping the investment and team size down to something which we can release via a digital platform, the side-scrolling genre seemed like a perfect fit. The Unreal Engine gave us real confidence in the ability to deliver great visuals as well as great game play.
On top of this, we do of course have two player co-operative play on the same console, and we showcased some nifty camera tricks we use which show that whilst the game plays as a side-scroller, we have tried to make it feel a lot more 3D than you may expect…
Q) BBC Worldwide has announced that the PC version of The Eternity Clock will be released “shortly after” the Playstation 3/Playstation Vita versions. Could you confirm the release date of the PC version, as well as the Playstation 3/Playstation Vita versions?
A) I’m afraid I’m not able to announce the exact release dates just yet. We have announced that we are just putting the finishing touches to the game and it will now be released in April. It will launch on PS3 first, closely followed by the PS Vita and then the PC version. I would like to reassure fans that the game will be available globally.
Q) When it comes to pricing, can you tell us how much The Eternity Clock will cost on each of the three Platforms?
A) I’m afraid again that we haven’t announced our pricing details, but this information will be coming soon.
Q) When it comes to developing a Doctor Who game, where do you start?
A) The first thing we did was went out to a number of potential development companies and asked them to pitch to us what they felt would be their design for a digital download Doctor Who title. We then decided that Supermassive Games had the best vision for the game in the way they were taking such important aspects of the show, such as time travel, and weaving them into the game itself.
Once we had their idea of the plot line, game mechanics etc…, we then started a dialogue on how to fill in the details. Interestingly, they had a slightly different line up of monsters initially as Series 6 hadn’t been shown on TV at that point. When we discussed the ideas with Doctor Who team, they suggested that the new monster, the Silence, would make a great addition to the game. So, we sat down with Supermassive, talked them through who the Silence were, what their abilities were and they worked out how to use them in the game and designed the game mechanics around them, which worked out brilliantly. The Silence now play a very significant part in the overall storyline for The Eternity Clock.
Q) The Adventure Games have been very well received by fans. Do you think The Eternity Clock will be equally well received and how will you judge if it’s been successful?
A) I certainly hope so! The goal was definitely to make a game which, whilst playing, felt like an episode of the show. That’s why we ensured we got the motion capture and the voices just right and that the script and the game design was approved by the production team in Cardiff. In terms of the game play, we wanted to really try and weave the aspects of Doctor Who into the game mechanics, so the way the player can use the Sonic Screwdriver and the role time plays in the actual game play as well as the story again, hopefully make it feel like you are playing the show.
How we will judge it has been successful is going to come down to the fans reactions and the reviews we get. The scariest aspect of creating a game is the waiting. Once the game is finished, the testing is done and there’s always a short period of time where the team is waiting, waiting for the first reviews, waiting for the first consumer reaction. At that point you’ve done everything you can, you’re just hoping that the world likes it as much as you do!
Q) Excluding Top Trumps in 2008, Doctor Who games released in recent years, including on the Nintendo DS/Wii, have all featured the Eleventh Doctor and his TARDIS. Would the BBC like to create games in the future that feature any or all of the other 10 Doctors, especially with the 50th anniversary coming up in 2013 and games meaning only voice recasting would be needed for those actors that are sadly no longer with us?
A) One of the wonderful things about working in games is that we have the ability to create things which would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, in other media. We’ve have some big plans for the story we would like to tell which we have started with The Eternity Clock, but it’s too early to talk about those plans just yet.
Q) River Song would probably warn us about “spoilers” when asking this next question, but as the Executive Producer of The Eternity Clock, what is your favourite aspect of the game?
A) It’s tough to pick out a specific aspect. I guess it would have to be the story itself and the way time is integrated into the game play. As a bit of Doctor Who fan myself, I believe it feels like a Doctor Who story which, if the fans agree as well, will mean we’ve done a great job.
Another aspect I really like is how we’ve dealt with the player controlling the Doctor. With a character that is so intelligent, how do you get the player to step into his shoes? In the show he has this great manner of laying out the solution to a problem in his rapid fire way and then expecting everyone to keep up. So, we thought it would be great to do the same thing in the game. When the player is confronted with a situation, the Doctor provides the solution through dialogue, just as he does in the show. It’s then the players job to execute on all of the steps required so they know exactly what the goal is, but not necessarily all of the actions that are required. It feels right and the player still has to use their game play skills to complete the task.
Q) Finally, it’s been announced that The Eternity Clock will be the first game to be released, with others following later. Is there anything you can tell us now about any of the future Doctor Who games?
A)Whilst I’d love to start talking about all of the plans we have, I can’t. as I am sure you expected. The storyline in The Eternity Clock is self contained, but there is clearly a door left open for how we can expand on what happened. This is very much just the first part of the journey. We expect to make an announcement in the next couple of months, so watch this space.