BBC taking a "leap of faith" with episodic gaming
Success of ambitious project will influence future direction of interactive entertainment at broadcaster, says Sumo
The BBCs plans to release four separate episodes for Doctor Who: The Adventure Games is a "leap of faith" according to developer Sumo Digital, as it prepares the first in the series for release on June 5.
Each episode is designed as a true extension of the hugely popular Saturday night TV show, with Sumo, BBC Wales Interactive and BBC Online collaborating with Broken Sword designer Charles Cecil to create what it calls "new forms of drama".
"The BBC has taken a big leap of faith here in trying to create a game alongside the TV series that integrates with it so closely, and is effectively broadcast while the series runs to compliment it," offered Paul Porter, studio head at Sumo Digital, in an interview published today.
With all four episodes in various stages of production, the project has proven a significant challenge to the developer as it juggles finalising the earliest release with the continued development of the rest of the series.
"That has some significant challenges because you can have two approaches," detailed Porter. "You can have the whole team working on every episode or you can try and have sub-teams that do a different episode each. The problem with sub-teams is that you're not necessarily going to get the consistency of the design and the development through each episode so it's a difficult balance trying to manage the delivery of four episodes over a period of time.
"You have key people you want to work across all those episodes but at the same time you've got a beta deadline on one, a final deadline on another, an alpha deadline on another and those dates coincide or are just a week apart so it's a different challenge creating episodic games."
Working with the BBC has also been a learning curve compared to Sumo's more traditional videogame publishing partners, but Porter said he was surprised how easy it has been to manage the project given the scale and ambition of the broadcaster.
"Our expectation was that things might be a little more bureaucratic than they actually are," said Porter. "Now that we've met all the different stake holders in the BBC – because there are a lot with the Doctor Who team, BBC North, BBC Wales – there's a lot of interest because it's such a big project for the BBC, but now we've got those relationships and we know those people it's easy to just pick up the phone with them if there are any issues.
"There was a fear at first that their might be tiers of management to go through to get decisions made but that's not manifested, which is great," he added.
With the episodes releasing so close to one another, there is only a small opportunity to tweak the gameplay and design of the later games dependent on consumer feedback, according to Charles Cecil, but the bigger design challenge was not breaking established rules of game and TV story-telling that could result in the main character jumping the shark and upsetting the the tone of the TV series.
"In a game you really need to know what your immediate objective is," said Cecil. "With TV or film you don't, because part of the drama comes from not knowing what's immediately going on. So there are certain rules you need to adhere to in the game otherwise you confuse the player."
"There are requirements of a linear medium that are very different to the interactive medium. Once you understand them you can break them. In TV you might give the audience information that your protagonist might not have, but in a game you've got to be careful because if you give the player information that the character doesn't have, they might act out of character. A lot of this is about how far you can push it."
The episodes are designed to appeal to all ages and dedicated and non-gaming audiences, with Porter expecting the BBC will be watching performance closely with respect to other interactive projects that are in the pipeline.
"We'll see how many downloads that games get and if there's significant take-up then it'll be fantastic and I'm sure the BBC will want to do more in the space of interactive entertainment as well as on the TV side," he concluded.