Doctor Who vs Puzzle & Dragons: How Legacy regenerates the GungHo formula

Doctor Who vs Puzzle & Dragons: How Legacy regenerates the GungHo formula
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

November 29th 2013 at 12:30PM

Develop speaks to Tiny Rebel Studios about how their iOS title will stand out from the Japanese smash hit and tie-in with future seasons of the hugely popular sci-fi show

The Day of the Doctor may have come and gone but the series' 50th Anniversary celebrations are still in full swing, evidenced with this week's release of Doctor Who: Legacy.

This match-three puzzler for iOS bears more than a striking resemblance to a certain popular GungHo title, but has the potential to win over the Time Lord's millions of fans, spinning a tale that stretches back throughout the history of the long-running BBC show.

Legacy was developed by Tiny Rebel Studio with help from Seed Studios. We caught up with Tiny Rebel's executive producer Susan Cummings and creative director Lee Cummings to discuss how they distilled the Doctor's adventures into video game form.

The BBC has tried to bring Doctor Who to video games in the past but some of the titles have been met with lukewarm receptions. Why do you think this is? 

Lee: I actually have no idea because I tried not to play any of the other games which have been made. Generally when designing I don’t want the distraction of what other games have done in the space – while the advances other games are making matter greatly in the larger scheme of things, while I’m designing I have a specific vision of what I want to make. I don’t want to become distracted because some other puzzle game does something new, or some other Doctor Who game handled the Doctor in some different way.

That said, I played Google's Doctor Who doodle over the 50th Anniversary weekend and I thought it was awesome.

But Legacy's gameplay is very similar to other mobile games, most notably Puzzles & Dragons. How have you differentiated your game, and ensured that it fits with the Doctor Who licence and universe?

Lee: I was a huge fan of Puzzle & Dragons, but we felt that the design of it didn’t really fit our vision for a Doctor Who game in lots of areas, so we had to go in and reimagine the whole experience. Some little changes end up having massive impacts on design.

For example, we didn’t want to have users rely on others to build their perfect team, so having a friend fill the final spot in a team – which is standard for this style of game – was the first thing removed.

We also felt that Doctor Who fans wouldn’t want to be restrained by an energy system – which is typically used to slow down progression through content and as a source of revenue –– so we didn’t even consider an energy system for the game.

Games in this genre typically make the characters you interact with pretty disposable; you often merge them together to gain XP or to trigger an evolution. But this doesn’t fit with the show in any way whatsoever, so we had to design that whole chunk of the game experience in a way very different to other games in the genre.

And Doctor Who is heavily driven by narrative, while games of this type typically steer as far as possible from any real narrative, so we had to approach that part of the game in a very different way so it would fit with the universe.

We're huge fans of Puzzle & Dragons, but we the design didn’t really fit our vision for a Doctor Who game, so we had to reimagine the whole experience. Some little changes end up having massive impacts on design.

 How will Legacy be different to previous Doctor Who titles?

Susan: Our design vision with the game was pretty epic right from the start, and I think that immediately differentiates us. This isn’t a boxed game where you play through a few hours of gameplay with a single regeneration of the Doctor and a companion or two, but rather a platform we want to use to go through all 50 years of the show. Our very first pitch to the BBC started with the line “we want to let any Doctor Who fan pick his favorite Doctor, group him up with the fan’s favorite companions and allies, and take them through the fan’s favorite adventures from the show”.

The game launched with gameplay based on the last two seasons (seasons seven and six) from the show and gives the average gamer about 25 hours of gameplay. Through December we’re giving away all sorts of goodies to users in an “advent calendar” promotion which will contain at least five or six new episodes, and in January we’ll start rolling out content from season five of the show.

Doctor Who: Legacy isn’t just a game, but a journey all Whovians can go on together as we go back, together, through the history of this amazing show – hopefully all the way back to An Unearthly Child.

What are the challenges in bringing Doctor Who to video games? Do the Doctor's adventures translate well to the medium?

Lee: The Doctor’s adventures work amazingly well in the medium. Our starting point for the game was the vision that the gem board, our core gameplay mechanism, reflected a conflict or a confrontation which the Doctor or his allies took part in. We never frame the gameplay as violent or necessarily even physical, just some sort of conflict which could be verbal, or even some sort of battle of wits.

When you view the show in this way – with the Doctor and his allies on one side and a continual set of challenges on the other – you can start to see how wonderfully the Doctor’s adventures translate into actual gameplay.

As we went through episodes we looked for points of conflict, and then converted them one-to-one, where possible, into gameplay. So if during Episode X the Doctor goes up against Enemy Y in a specific setting, that same confrontation can take place in Doctor Who: Legacy. We then try and weave in character and story, so when you confront Cyber Webley – a collector of rare items from the episode Nightmare in Silver – he uses an ability called “Collect” to steal all the gems of a specific color from the board.

Doctor Who Legacy

Susan: In the same area lies one of the really unique challenges of Doctor Who – we’re huge fans, and we get obsessive about attention to detail.

Designing and naming unique abilities for major characters such as Clara or Amy Pond is easy since they had so many adventures with the Doctor and their characters are so amazingly fleshed out. But Amy's father-in-law, who appeared in very few episodes, needs to be just as fully realised in the game as any other character.

This led to us obsessing for many hours, digging through episode after episode, to find these small details. They probably really only matter to the most diligent of fans, but they meant everything to us. We became a bit obsessive.

Doctor Who: Legacy is a platform for the adventures of the Doctor. We’ll end up tying into the show in some very direct ways.

How much support did you have from the BBC when developing Legacy? How did it contribute?

Susan: Everyone we worked with on the BBC side – both the BBC and BBC Worldwide – has been amazing. From day one, we’ve been continually impressed with not just how well they perform their jobs but their undying love and reverence for the Doctor.

From day one it was clear that the only way we could make Legacy the love letter to the series we wanted it to be was to fully engage the BBC as much as possible. From the very start we would get them builds the moment a new one was built so they were part of the iterative design process with us. They contributed to everything in the game, from very early on in the project when we started to work on the art style and the general look of the UI, through to the music, sound effects, story, and right up until the final days with gameplay balancing and feedback.

How does Legacy tie-in with the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, other than being released shortly after?

Susan: Because we’re a platform for the adventures of the Doctor, we’ll end up tying into the show in some very direct ways – for example, we want to get the War Doctor from the 50th Anniversary special into the game over the next couple of weeks, and we can treat the episode in the same way as we treat any other we decide to translate into gameplay.

But, not to give too much away, we also have other ties to the episode. While the Sontarans are the protagonists at the start of the game, they’re quickly joined by another alien race viewers will recognize from the Day of the Doctor.