Tiny Rebel Games, the creator of 2013’s Puzzle and Dragons-a-like Doctor Who Legacy, returns this year with a brand new Doctor Who game for PC and mobile.
While Legacy was a ‘greatest hits’ approach to Doctor Who’s vast, well, legacy – continuously updated over five years with new adversaries and companions from the series’ vast history – Doctor Who Infinity tells original stories of its own, with its match-three puzzles reflecting what’s happening along the way.
The opening episode, The Dalek Invasion of Time, starts with familiar gem-swapping territory, tasking you to match colours on a board to power up the Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver to get you out of a bind. But from there, as the story changes, so do the rules of how you interact with each board of gems.
For example, as part of an escape sequence, you have to help the Twelfth Doctor’s companion Bill reach an exit. Bill will move automatically each turn while Daleks give chase, so you have to match gems and create decoys to help distract the Daleks – which is not unlike a turn-based strategy game – helping her escape and progress the story further.
Sometimes the ‘perspective’ will shift, with gems cascading from above, representing bombs dropping into the area. Each match you make causes more bombs to fall, and if you position things correctly, you can move Daleks on the board directly in their path, helping you to fight another day.
Elsewhere, the tables turn to tell the story from the enemy’s perspective, playing as the story’s Dalek overseer as you assimilate humans on the board, or play as the hero and are forced to concede what becomes an unwinnable situation.
Based on this early look, Doctor Who Infinity could go to some interesting places in its attempt to bridge story and mechanics. Even divorced from the story – which is penned by seasoned Doctor Who writers in conjunction with the team – seeing puzzles that change win conditions, or how its components behave, is an intriguing premise.
The developer is aware all this chopping and changing could be jarring for players, and communicating these frequent rule changes is one of the biggest challenges the game faces.
“We’re spending a lot of time playtesting,” executive producer Susan Cummings explained. “We have a beta test group of hardcore Doctor Who Legacy players who have been playing the game for a while now, giving us feedback on what’s confusing, what’s too hard – we really want the game to be something the casual gamer can play through, with a bit of a challenge. But we want them to hear the story.”
To help, each episode will have defined sets of gems for players to learn – such as Daleks moving two spaces in a single turn, or square-shaped allies that cannot be moved at all – to provide a grounding of certain rules even as the end goal shifts.
Right now each episode is planned to last between 10 and 15 hours, and once you’re done, there’s more challenges available on harder difficulties – such as making it through without losing a life – with Steam Achievements as a reward.
Each episode focuses on a different Doctor and era, and puzzles are interspersed with comic book-like scenes with performances from the likes of Michelle Gomez’s Missy and Lella Ramsey, who voiced Game of Thrones’ fan favourite Lyana Mormont, to help bring them to life.
Developer Tiny Rebel gave writers – who have all written Doctor Who comics and novels for the show before – a high level pitch before helping translating their ideas into a gem-swapping scenarios.
“[Most writers] didn’t play games for the most part,” Cummings said. “It actually became a remarkable thing, because they’ve all thought about it differently, so organically out of this we’ve had five incredibly different stories – in the way they’ve used the narrators, and even in the way they think about gameplay.
“We haven’t always taken their ideas, but they’ve had a lot of interesting ideas of how to tie things together.”
When Doctor Who Legacy launches first on PC this spring, the opening of each episode will be available for free, with the rest available “for the equivalent as you would [pay for] a comic book”.
These five stories will release by the end of the year, and there’s plans for an episode involving Jodie Whittaker’s upcoming Thirteenth Doctor after that – though there will be a wait to see what exactly that entails.
“We can’t do it until it’s on the air,” Cummings said. “We want to hear that Doctor’s voice a little bit. Everyone know what Matt Smith means, and his attitude, but we don’t know anything about Jody. So I’d like to be able to see a few episodes, a script or something!
“We’ve talked to one of the novelists who had to work on one of the Doctor Who stories before anything was known, and she had to change everything – it was Tennant, to match the fact he wasn’t speaking with the accent. Stuff like that – we just don’t know!”
Ultimately, the aim is to release new episodes every few months, with the hopes it will become a “new platform” for telling Doctor Who stories.
“It is a game, first and foremost,” said Cummings, “but it sits at what you’d call a crossroad between what Titan does with the comic books, what Big Finish does with the audio recordings – and what we did with Doctor Who Legacy.”