I’ve hardly ever played video games before. I’ve done a touch of research on virtual reality and augmented reality, and am aware of VR headsets like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. But I’m a fan of Doctor Who (Christopher Eccleston, I love you), and I was almost vibrating with excitement at having the chance to demo the titular VR game at Comic Con 2019.
Maze Theory, an immersive entertainment development studio, collaborated with BBC America to create a brand new experience for both Doctor Who and general gaming fans. Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, published by PlayStack, is a fully interactive and feature-length VR video game that arms players with the iconic Sonic Screwdriver to solve puzzles, face classic monsters, visit strange worlds, and rescue the Doctor while repairing the space-time continuum.
Courtesy of HomeRun PR, Maze Theory, and PlayStack: a teaser trailer of ‘Doctor Who: The Edge of Time’
The setup is quite simple. I strap on VR glasses, noise-cancelling headphones, and hold onto two small controllers. I only needed to use the toggle and hold buttons on each controller. The left controller allowed me to move forward and backwards; the right, to turn around. However, even without using the right controller to turn around, I could still look my fill with the headset. The game designers made sure that the VR was fully immersive; none of this fishbowl bubble nonsense.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of the demo, which gave me a tantalizing taste of the game in full.
The setting? Apocalyptic London.
The task? To follow the Doctor’s instructions (voiced by Jodie Whittaker) and collect a variety of instruments that would provide enough energy, when sonic-ed, to summon the TARDIS.
The reason? The Doctor is stuck at the edge of time, and I am her companion, the only one able to save her before the First, a new baddie, along with a trove of classic Doctor Who monsters, can disrupt space and time and wreak havoc on the world.
The experience? SO DANG COOL. (I sweat through my turn a bit, as I was nervous and excited.) It took a little bit to adjust the headset to my head, and to minimize any blurriness from the screen. It was a bit touch-and-go, successfully moving around — especially since I have a tendency to physically move in order to keep up with the actions of my on-screen persona. The game is easy enough for me to navigate and understand — the left hand/controller can pick up and set down objects, and the right hand/controller allowed me to pick up and use the Sonic Screwdriver.
I had to identify and pick up a: staticky radio, a car battery, and a satellite receiver. They were sprinkled all around the alleyway I was in, and two of them required me to Sonic the hardware closer to me. Then I needed to Sonic all three pieces together to generate enough energy to get the TARDIS to materialize in front of me. My first try in reaching the TARDIS was a fail; I didn’t move fast enough before the Dalek ship ominously appeared above me. Luckily, the second time, I ran towards the TARDIS and it materialized around me, and I got safely inside the ship before it took off, ostensibly to the Doctor.
The demo ended with me traveling through the space-time continuum that everyone sees in the opening credits of each Doctor Who episode.
In a word: epic.
Chatting with Maze Theory.
After the demo, Pure Fandom got the chance to speak with Ian Hambleton, CEO of Maze Theory, about what went into creating this game.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pure Fandom: Tell me more about this game.
Ian Hambleton: “The Edge of Time” is the new Doctor Who VR game; it’s launching in September. It features the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, and it exists now, in between the last series and the new series. Basically, the Doctor’s been held at the edge of the time, by this new baddie, called the First, who’s woken up to realize that she hates the universe and has released this reality virus, which is changing time. The bit you saw is the apocalyptic version of London. After you’ve [successfully completed the first challenge], you get in the TARDIS, and you fly the TARDIS and go off to Victorian England, a colonial ship in the future, and a Dalek-invaded planet. In every planet, you’re trying to help the Doctor find these time crystals, and once you get that, you get to fight the baddie. Basically, you have loads of puzzles or stealth games — there’s loads of different game play.
PF: How come VR?
IH: Well, we only make VR games, and the only reason we make VR is because we think it’s a new entertainment genre. It’s not really game-y, but it sits in between immersive theater, cinematic film and TV, and gaming. Between those three things is an amazing new place where you can be inside the episode and participate in the shows that we love. Why VR? Because it’s the most exquisite, premium version of being in the Doctor Who franchise.
PF: What was the creative process like?
IH: Marcus Moresby is the Creative Director of Maze Theory. He’s this wonderful genius; I’m like the annoying front guy [laughs] and he’s the really good one. He did the game in partnership with one of the script writers of the show. We come in from the gaming, VR, “what will work?” [angle]. Marcus had a bit of an idea of what he wanted to feature in it, and then we worked together with BBC America to write the show. So it’s really authentic.
PF: Were there any unexpected hurdles in the creative, storytelling, or technological process?
IH: We got an amazing character in the Weeping Angels in this. What’s great in VR is you can look away and when you look back — well when you look away, they come at you. Now, we couldn’t do blinking, you can’t do that with anything, but it still works.
PF: How did you decide on the game player being the companion?
IH: We researched it and went on all the forums, and all the fans say that there are two things they really want: one is to pilot the TARDIS — which we’ve made possible — and the other is to be the Doctor’s friend. Quite weirdly, a lot of fans do not want to be the Doctor because, how you can be the Doctor? They just want to be the companion.
PF: Was there any specific companion you had in mind when you were creating the companion role?
IH: I suppose you are just yourself. We wanted people to feel like they are themselves in the show, being with the Doctor in the way they want.
PF: Did you make sure that the entire scene at all time was 360 ready?
IH: Yes. We made this in a software called Unity, which is a 3D game development engine. Some VR you see is made in a low-res film, but that’s not really immersive. Everything we do is in real-time, fully animated, and full CG. That’s why, any moment you experience in the game is completely unique to you because that’s where you were in that scene.
PF: I assume there are different game levels, but are there different player levels?
IH: So you’ve got the intro level like this one, which is quite basic gameplay. Then you pilot the TARDIS to different planets, which is like levels, and they’re about 45 minutes each. There are no gaming mechanics where you win, for example, the Weeping Angels game and get more points to that. That would ruin the narrative.
PF: So the game is deliberately narrative-driven?
IH: Yeah, everything we do is like that. Maze wouldn’t do Tetris or shoot-em-up [type of games]. Maze will do — for example, I wrote the game that we’re making at the moment, which is based on, Peaky Blinders.
PF: Do you actively base the projects and games that you create on things you like?
IH: Yeah! We have our own projects that we make as a studio. There’s a thing called The Vanishing Act, which is out next year or the year after. We’ve written it ourselves and the story is a mix between Blade Runner and Inception. That’s sort of how this project came about because the Doctor Who producers saw that, loved it, and reached out. We also pick ideas that will really work with the things we want to do.
PF: Logistics-wise, what do you need to play the game?
IH: It’s going to be available on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, HTC Vive, and all the high-end headsets.
PF: Is there anything you want readers and game players to be particularly excited about?
IH: The thing that I would love for people to take away, is that whilst the game is for Doctor Who fans, even if you’ve never watched the show, but you like adventures and sci-fi and being taken to new places, that’s as important to us. For us, some of the team are massive Doctor Who fans but they [everyone on the team, even non-fans] love it because they like games and being in this new world.
Make sure to check out booth 4129 at San Diego Comic Convention International to demo the game for yourself. The BBC America booth has got some prime real estate and the game is totally worth waiting in line for.
Doctor Who: End of Time will be available in September 2019, on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos.