While many know all about the Doctor Who TV show, it's a franchise that has had a lot of optional lore and storytelling through other entertainment mediums — books (including audio books starring the main actors), spin-off shows and of course video games. Just recently the Switch got a port of Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins, which originally made its mark on mobile devices; it turned out rather well.
Next up we have Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality arriving on 14th October, and it's another game with a history. A form of the game — called Edge of Time — was previously released on VR platforms. It now comes to Switch and other 'flatscreen' platforms with a new name and, apparently, an overhauled and greatly expanded story. The gameplay has been shaken up too, of course, so the new iteration could potentially feel very different to the original.
We've been intrigued to learn more about it and had a chance to talk to key figures from the two development studios involved in its production. We posed questions to Stewart Gilray (CEO/Creative Director, Just Add Water) and Russell Harding (Studio Director, Maze Theory) to learn more on what we can expect in the game, the challenges of working in the Whovian universe and, of course, the TV stars leading the game's cast.
This has been described as a reimagined and expanded story from the previous VR release The Edge of Time, can you explain that in more detail?
Stewart Gilray (CEO/Creative Director, Just Add Water): We’ve expanded locations and experiences in-game. Without giving too much away, the first level of Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality now has about 80% more content than the same level in Edge of Time. Mix that in with new levels we’ve added, or indeed levels we’ve entirely rebuilt, such as the forest level and you end up with a reimagined and expanded story.
Some of the changes have been a necessity as the differences between VR and non-VR dictate that elements have had to change. We’ve got puzzles that have been changed due to that transition. Conversely, VR is more of an experience than traditional gaming. As such we’ve made changes that remove some of those items only applicable to VR.
With the game bringing us a reimagined story, can you talk about the creative process? Were there various stakeholders, tie-ins with broader lore to consider, for example?
We have gone to huge lengths to ensure that we are truly authentic – from using photogrammetry references for the Tardis and Weeping Angels, to ensuring that audio (sounds and music) is inspired by the show.
Russell Harding (Studio Director, Maze Theory): Being authentic to the lore of Doctor Who is a key focus in the creative process, we have now spent quite a significant amount of time working closely with the BBC and showrunners ensuring we are in tone with the present seasons.
Story is very much at the core of what we do at Maze Theory and always where we start, so having worked with Gavin Collinson on Doctor Who: The Edge of Time and again on The Lonely Assassins, we already knew that there was a bigger story to tell relating to the Reality Virus and the 13th Doctor.
We have gone to huge lengths to ensure that we are truly authentic – from using photogrammetry references for the Tardis and Weeping Angels, to ensuring that audio ([both]sounds and music) is inspired by the show. Richard Wilkinson's music has been hugely inspired by past and present eras of the show, and his take stands out as an authentic yet original take on the iconic Doctor Who theme.
Also, working very closely with the BBC allowed us to harness Doctor Who lore to create new foes such as the Tazmas, Hydrocks and a nemesis called the CyberReaper.
What was it like working with Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant on their parts for Edge of Reality? Also, were there any additional challenges in that respect due to the pandemic, for example?
RH: Authenticity is extremely important to us at Maze Theory and that also extends to working with the show's talent where possible. Jodie Whittaker always gives such an amazing performance as the Doctor – it was really important to us that she was a part of the game.
Then when we looked at the story for Edge of Reality, there was this huge opportunity to introduce a second Doctor as chaos unravels across time and space. The 10th Doctor seemed the natural choice, and one that fans really wanted to see in-game, so we were very excited when David Tennant agreed to come on board.
SG: Both Jodie and David were extremely professional and easy to work with, especially during the pandemic. When we recorded David for example, he wasn’t able to get to a recording studio, so worked from his own recording facility at home.
Another thing we were extremely keen to expand on was that infamous Doctor Who ‘behind the sofa’ moment. It actually made our QA lead jump when he’d finished work for the day! So I think we’ve got that one covered.
For those unfamiliar with the VR game in particular, can you outline the gameplay experience we can expect?
SG: We had to make some changes due to the differences in VR and non-VR mediums. For example, you usually have two controllers in VR – one to represent each hand – but that’s not the case for non-VR platforms. We had to alter some puzzles and elements to work with traditional controllers.
The game itself features various mechanics, including a lot of puzzle solving (both physical in the game world and mental agility puzzles), as well as some action and stealth moments as well.
Another thing we were extremely keen to expand on was that infamous Doctor Who ‘behind the sofa’ moment – those stories that have sent kids scurrying away in terror, but still wanting to watch more. It actually made our QA lead jump when he’d finished work for the day! So I think we’ve got that one covered.
RH: The Edge of Reality is really a narrative adventure where players assist the Doctor in uncovering a universal threat that is destroying reality. In true Doctor Who fashion, you’ll get to explore new worlds and time periods as you race to discover how to stop a virus released across time and space. You’ll come face-to-face with a number of old, favourite (and new, iconic) foes as you explore the narrative, solve puzzles, defeat Daleks, avoid Weeping Angels, encounter the Cybermen and try to escape the Doctor's newest nemesis – the CyberReaper.
The narrative and gameplay has also been greatly expanded and adapted to work best as a flatscreen game.
From a technical viewpoint, what's it been like working with the Switch hardware, and are there any Switch-specific features you've implemented in the game? For example using the Joy-Con in a similar manner to VR controllers in the original?
SG: We really couldn’t retain the use of separate controllers because of changes to the gameplay compared to the VR edition. The main feature we’ve had to work on is the docked/undocked ability of the Switch, paying close attention to those differences during development.
As the Doctor Who IP continues to evolve, how big a role can games play for the franchise, in your opinion?
I think games play a huge role in expanding the Doctor Who IP by allowing deeper fan engagement, but also introducing new audiences to this well-established franchise.
SG: Well, it’s fair to say that the Doctor hasn’t been in many games over the past decade or so. I can think of a handful of titles during that time. I suppose that’s true of all licensed IP. In the '80s and '90s, we had a LOT of licensed IP, but I actually see that trend reverting with more and more coming through. It’ll certainly be interesting to watch.
RH: I think games play a huge role in expanding the Doctor Who IP by allowing deeper fan engagement, but also introducing new audiences to this well-established franchise. I think the big focus for any IP entering in the gaming sector is to focus on being true to the medium and really exploring its potential in this space, not just strapping on some well known game mechanics.
Do you have a final message regarding Edge of Reality, for Doctor Who fans old and new?
SG: We’ve tried to entertain Whovians out there with nods to various things from the Who-universe scattered throughout the game.… There may or may not be answers to questions that have been asked for years. [winks]
RH: The Edge of Reality narrative takes you on a great and varied adventure touching on many genres, from action to sci-fi and horror. For fans, there are some great Easter Eggs and narrative ties into the Whoniverse… and if you’re new to the franchise then Edge of Reality is also a great entry into the world of Doctor Who, as you really don't need any prior knowledge.
We'd like to thank Stewart Gilray and Russell Harding for their time. Doctor Who: Edge of Reality arrives on the Switch eShop on 30th September.