The alarm blares at eight-thirty in the morning, and a groggy young woman wakes up, and gets dressed in a flash. She boots up her laptop, and with the rolls of vicious thunder in the background, she puts in her headphones, ready…
To do an amazing interview!
What… what did you think I was going to say?
I had the opportunity to interview Lee and Susan Cummings, the people behind Tiny Rebel Games, to talk about their upcoming creation, “Doctor Who: Infinity.” Now, I avidly obsessed over their previous Doctor Who game, “Doctor Who: Legacy,” so I am excited as all heck to play this new game (which shall be available on both Mobile AND PC, which excites me even further!).
I know, I know, I hear you. “Stop babbling, give us the interview!”
Ask, and you shall receive!
Geeks WorldWide: What inspired you to create this new game?
Lee: Oh! Where should we start? This… is a long story. Um, it was just a chain of things, so, I guess, where did the story start? Well, we made a game with Doctor Who before this.
Susan: Doctor Who Legacy.
Lee: We had lots of fun with that. We had a great relationship with the BBC through that. We built up this huge, extended family of people in the Doctor Who community we got to know – people at Big Finish and Titan – and utterly found ourselves, you know, leaving that game behind a bit, looking forward to what we’re doing next, and, uh, that’s what we just finished, was that. So, we thought, perhaps, you know, we’d do something with the BBC. We started looking around the same time we were thinking of moving to the UK. And at the same time, we noticed the Welsh government was part of… the European fund?
Susan: The “Media Investment Budget,” it’s a “Welsh Media Investment Budget.”
Lee: There we go.
Susan: And they were looking – they primarily used it for film and television. They hadn’t the opportunity to invest in video games yet. They wanted to! And we came here with the idea of creating video games, so, it was a good opportunity for them and for us. Um, they wanted us to do another Doctor Who game but use more Welsh hands. And, first, we didn’t know if it was possible cos it’s a small – there is some game development going on in Wales, but it’s been fairly vacant so far.
Lee: There’s a massive help in Wales. Doctor Who’s been filmed here for the last decade.
Susan: And loads of comic book artists live here, loads of writers from the Doctor Who universe live here, and–
Lee: Loads of people who worked on the show. The costume people, the marketing people, they’re all in Cardiff, or around Cardiff.
Susan: So, it turns out we could, in a distributed way, work with lots of people in Wales, and just have most of the content creation happen here, whereas on the text side, we still partner with Seed Studio, who are good friends of ours, who partnered with us on Doctor Who: Legacy, and on Doctor Who: Infinity.
Lee: So, what inspired us was, wasn’t really inspiration.
Susan: There’s the story…
Lee: Well, the project came together, we found ourselves geographically in the right place where the local government was looking for creators and the BBC would back us up to make all that happen. But Susan’s right, what inspired us was the story. We launched Doctor Who: Legacy five-odd years ago, and people complained there wasn’t enough story – and there wasn’t, you know, there’s whole interviews regarding why there wasn’t a story, but, we fixed that, and we started launching content over the years and one way we found we enjoyed putting out content was a set of levels, like its own self-contained adventure, you write a story. So, we’ve done a few of those, where we patched together content around the idea of a story. Um, and we wanted to revisit that, and take that further, we wanted to, instead of a free to play game that was built around, you know, just time crystals or some other mechanic, we thought why don’t we create a new platform for telling Doctor Who stories, and we’ll take some of the stuff we learned from our last gem game we made, which was our second gem game, and we’ll take what we learned working with people in the greater, extended Doctor Who universe, and we’ll lean on these new contacts, we can start doing V/O using the same studios as Big Finish uses, the same guys they use to direct it, to, at least in a light way, we can have Michelle Gomez monologue over a story.
Susan: Yeah. Add a richer experience.
Lee: A much richer experience. And we can lean on this massive, Welsh, comic book industry that popped up, and we can make all these look really beautiful. And I guess that’s the third thing that really inspired us was we wanted to make something where each story was very, very unique. It would be like walking into an art gallery or walking into a comic book store where all the comic books look different. So, you go to the front end of the game and start flicking through, and one story looks dramatically different from the next, and they sound, they’re all written by different people so they have all different narrative voices and are drawn by different people and are all narrated by different people, so they all feel very, very different. It’s a built on this modular, incredibly extendable gem engine.
Lee: Has that answered that one? (laughs).
Susan: I think so, yeah.
Lee: It’s long explanation.
GWW: It also answered three other questions!
Susan: (Bursts out laughing).
GWW: Will it mainly be the same gem matching mechanic or will there be other implemented game mechanics?
Susan: It is in a sense in the game play aspect of this, but I want to be clear, it’s more than the gameplay, it’s the story, it’s the comic book style cut-scenes, and so forth, and the audio, but the gameplay aspect of it is a derivation, I guess you’d say, of what we did in Doctor Who: Legacy. It’s still a detachable gem mechanic, because we think it’s a really efficient way of constantly, rapidly changing gameplay.
Lee: It’s accessible on loads of devices, it’s low-end, it’s not heavy 3D, and we found through Legacy that we have fans who are like 5 years old playing the game–
Lee: And we have 90-year-olds playing the game. It’s great, and Doctor Who’s loved by all ages all across the world, and it’s another way of, you know, all those people accessing the same content together, and not sort of, walling off one group of fans.
Susan: But what we did is we started with that, and then we created something almost ridiculously robust.
Lee: And different, right? Different from anything we’ve seen before.
Susan: It feels more like a strategy game, like you’re playing chess more than anything else right now, because what we’ve done is we’ve gone and made it so that at a level by level basis we can change up the gameplay. Within just the Dalek story, on top of the core set, there are about a hundred other versions of those gems just depending on what is going on in the story whether you’re capturing Daleks…
Lee: Because here’s the difference. A normal gem game, you might have six different colored gems and that’s the core of the game, that’s most of the game. In this, that’s the background, there’s an overlay on top of that of strategy where the Doctor is a character on the board, he has his own gem in some levels and as you match other gems around him you gain abilities. Maybe there’s Daleks on the board who after every turn, start moving towards you to fire things at you, with buildings collapsing around you and rocks fall from the top of the screen as the gems get refilled as they hit the ground, and if they hit the Doctor, you kill the Doctor.
Me: (internally: I don’t want to kill the Doctor!!!)
Lee: If you hit a Dalek you can take a Dalek out to buy yourself some time.
Susan: The board becomes a top-down map.
Lee: It’s like chess. There’s nothing quite out that we’ve seen yet. And importantly, you can use it to tell all sorts of gameplay situations. So we have Bill sneaking through a Dalek factory on top of that, so you have a Bill gem and you have bits of the factory than you can’t move into and walls.
Susan: And her tool is that she can summon holograms of the Doctor and so if she summons a hologram of the Doctor it gives the Dalek another target.
Lee: It runs off to blast the Doctor, the target, and remembers it has to come after you, so you can distract the enemies to make your way across the board. You can do all sorts of stuff with it. We’re putting a lot of weird gameplay situations in there.
Susan: We’re having a lot of fun with it.
Lee: But that’s the point, the point is we’d go to an author and go write us a story, anything you want to write, we’ll make it into gameplay. And it’s worked so far for the first five, we said just start writing, it can be as long as you want, it can be what you want within these skeleton sort of concepts, and we will find ways to turn them into gameplay. We’ve one story where the Doctor, it’s really noisy and he has to stop it from being so noisy, so he has to use the sonic to negate soundwaves coming from a load of motorbikes (laughs). All modeled in a gem game. So, it’s weird but story first, the story is golden here. The first thing we do is write the story and that becomes the master document it’s all built off of. It’s more like writing a novel than trying to make a game five times.
GWW: That sounds really cool.
GWW: Why another Doctor Who game?
Me: I know this was already answered.
Susan: (Laughs) Fair enough. But, I did want to say, more than anything else, the reason we loved using Doctor Who, other than obviously being Doctor Who fans, is it’s such a rich canon to pull from. I mean how many properties can you come up with that have over fifty years of history and characters and monsters, and not only that, we’re putting new stuff on top of that. It’s such a rich fodder.
Lee: And nobody’s had a chance to go back, right?
Susan: And our second story is a classic Doctor Who story. We’re jumping all over the place. This isn’t just modern Doctor Who.
GWW: Will Mike Collins be the main artist, or will the artist change for each story/ “comic”?
Susan: The artist changes for every single story. Different artist. Different colorist. The visual style is incredibly different from story to story.
Lee: And we want to keep that going.
Susan: Even the gem set matches the story, right?
Me: Oh cool.
Lee: Yeah, in the first story, I guess what would traditionally be a black gem, is Missy purple, matches Missy’s dress all through the story. And the second story, there’s a lot of brown, a lot of forest, a lot of wood, so we made a brown gem instead. Everything gets changed up with the story. It’s really nice. It feels like, I don’t know, just like a series of comic books.
GWW: Will there be any other veteran “Who” writers besides George Mann working on the game?
Susan: Same goes for the writers, but George is potentially writing another story, so he’ll be the first repeat.
Lee: There’s a really massive specific reason for that, for why George is writing another story.
Susan: But beyond that we trying to mix things up, to change things.
GWW: Did you originally plan for Michelle Gomez and Ingrid Oliver to reprise their roles?
Lee: Yeah! Well… interesting thing is when you work on Doctor Who, when you launch your projects, you’re supposed to use the latest Doctor. So, we launched this game before the new Doctor, so this is a Twelfth Doctor game and the rules says to get the Twelfth Doctor in, and we tried, and sadly we couldn’t get Peter Capaldi in the studio. And the BBC said, well, what’s your back-up plan then? And we thought, wouldn’t it be amazing, if we could get Missy into a situation where this complex situation, this morally complex situation, up against this amazing young lady.
Susan: Yeah, so it’s been written as a Missy story and, ah, it’s incredible getting Michelle in the studio. We did it in New York, I was on Skype for the full recording session, and she’s just magical to work with, she’s so funny, both on and off the script she’s really funny. And as far as Ingrid goes, we hadn’t originally planned to get Ingrid Oliver, but what happened was George wrote these amazing sequences between Missy and Osgood that occur sort of two-thirds of the way through the story and at first we were like I don’t think we’re going to do that George but then it turned out we needed Osgood for another story and we’re oh, we can make that work. It was so wonderful the rapport between them that it felt wrong to not do it. So, we did!
Lee: It’s also nice having a really strong, female led story. Because when we launched the game we forced you to play through the first chunk of the stories, it also serves as our tutorial. We can’t lead into the other stories without knowing if you can play the basic game. And it’s nice, it’s light, it’s funny, and it’s very female led. It turned out nice in the end.
GWW: Is there any information we can learn about the new character Freya, voiced by Bella Ramsey?
Susan: Freya. Freya is awesome! Freya was chosen to be Bella Ramsey because Lee and I watched Game of Thrones, and we saw her as [her character] and we were like oh my god that is Freya, and originally Freya was supposed to be a boy but that night we had an epiphany and realized Freya should be a girl.
Lee: When [George and I] were talking about what is going to be [George’s] lead story in a Doctor Who sense, you don’t know what people know about Doctor Who, you have to lean in on the big ones. Everyone knows Daleks, you know, enough people know the Daleks. You do a Dalek story and people understand it. And I’d grown up with these big Dalek stories like the Daleks Invasion of London, you know these big epic stories. So, one of the first stories with George, so ok, let’s make it bigger, the Dalek Invasion of Europe, you know we’ll take this big transcontinental Dalek story, and then he said, we’ll make it even bigger, the Dalek Invasion of Time. That’s, that’s brilliant! And then we started to think about what we liked about Dalek stories. Like, the Davros mythology is great, you know, it’s a really interesting story about a guy trying to save his people. And we’re both sort of fans of body horror, the idea of someone becoming a half Dalek in some way, some creepy stuff. If we wanted our own spin on that story, how can we make this really interesting, something different, and something that is really interesting for Missy to go up against. Missy can always stand up to these strong guys but what if it was somebody younger, someone who is sort of fragile, someone Missy might not want to start screaming at. Maybe Missy has some shred of morality somewhere deep inside her. And about two days after we started to pen the story, [Susan and I] were sitting down watching Game of Thrones. And it was just like, we weren’t thinking about the voice, straight away it was her from the beginning, we were writing about her. George, we found her, it’s a girl, you didn’t even know! Watch Game of Thrones, watch these scenes in particular, she’s going to be great. And we were right. She was amazing in the studio, she’s such a great voice up against Missy. Yeah, it was great.
Susan: She’s this tragic character who has witnessed the death of her parents and, uh, just loses her mind.
Lee: And decides to take out all the Daleks, and take over the Universe.
Susan: She decided that the only way to save the Universe from the same fate as her parents is to turn everybody into Daleks. A new Dalek mission.
GWW: I like that!
*giggles all round*
GWW: Will the Doctor gain a voice over, or will each incarnation remain narrated by others?
Susan: In the, uhm, first set of stories, we’re not using any of the Doctors, but in the sixth story, we, in fact, hopefully will be,.
Lee: Yeah, the first five, the voices we came up with for very different reasons. One of them is this amazing Welsh actor who we love and right when the first sort of sentence of the story was put together, we went to him first, and he was the first to say yes. And look, we’re writing this whole story about you, and want you reading poetry while you’re walking through a field sort of thing. So that whole story is built about him, you know, versus writing a story and, alright we have to find the Doctor. It’s a much more interesting angle.
Susan: Yeah, and Doctor Who is so much about in the eyes of those he encounters, you know?
Susan: It’s full of so many rich factors that encompasses Doctor Who, you’re learning about the Doctor through those characters.
Lee: The Doctor is in the sixth story, again when we can talk about it, is very specific. He’s in there for a very good reason, other than he has to be in it because it’s a Doctor Who story.
GWW: Will there be an original soundtrack for the game, music from the show, or a mix like we heard in “Doctor Who Legacy”?
Susan: On the audio side, Stafford Bollard is the audio director, and what he is doing is he is taking the audio work of what the actors have done – which have been directed by–
Lee: A bunch of people.
Susan: A bunch of people. Aviv Consari, Scott Hancock, and Gary Russell, he’s taking their audio recordings and adding sound effects, we have a ring modulator for Dalek voices–
Lee: Cool reverb, and filters.
Susan: Creating new enemies and on top of that adding music and composition. It’s gonna feel like a full story.
Lee: You can’t play this game without headphones.
Susan: We warn you in the beginning.
Lee: About the audio, yeah. It’s such a beautiful experience. It’s one of those things that game developers tend to always leave a bit late, but from the beginning we had Stafford in the room, understanding the game from the beginning. giving the time and resources he needs.
Susan: It’s a big part of the game, the audio experience.
Lee: And we add really cool stuff. It’s the most audio in a gem game we’ve ever had (laughs).
Susan: Anything else we can answer that we didn’t answer?
GWW: Well, the best question to always ask when Doctor Who related is who’s your favorite Doctor! (Laughs)
Susan: OH! That’s a hard question. We get asked a lot, and it’s a hard question. I’d say for me, David Tennant was what got me back into Doctor Who after years from when I was a kid, so I think David Tennant is my Doctor.
Lee: Ohh, the Eighth Doctor is mine. Always been the Eighth Doctor. There’s so much you can do with him since he’s hardly there.
GWW: (laughs) Yeah. (Thinking: I love him too!).
Susan: Well thank you, Jessica. Appreciate it.
Me: Yeah, well, thank you for, um, letting me interview you guys!
Susan: Alright, take care.
Me: Take care guys. Thank you!