Oli Smith

How did you get the job?

Liking games, basically. I’ve been a keen gamer since my cousin first showed me this new game called Super Mario Brothers one Christmas, and had been talking about them enthusiastically whenever I got the chance. Also I’d just been commissioned to write a game guide for the PlayStation 3 game LittleBigPlanet only a couple of weeks before the Doctor Who team started looking for writers and I think that kind of proved I had a pretty thorough knowledge of how the genre worked. I’m of an age where games really began to embrace storytelling as I was growing up, so it was something I was especially interested in.

What is the format of a video game script? Is it similar to the nightmare of ‘spider diagrams and flow-charts’ that you experienced while writing Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny: Judoon Monsoon?

Not at all. The Wii and DS games have very linear stories which allows us a very focused plot with lots of dramatic scenes. The Wii game was almost a film script, with gameplay functioning as stage directions, but for the DS game there are a lot of side-missions and character moments so we had a main ‘gameplay’ section for dialogue with other parts written separately. Every line in the DS game has it’s own code so it can be dropped in when needed, so I was using spreadsheets mostly. The spider diagrams come in at Asylum [the developers] and over time they gradually build up these massive pin-boards of all the locations and characters in the games, linked together with where they progress and what areas can be reached from others etc. That’s the complicated bit!

How did you approach writing it?

The same as a novel really but with a few more challenges because of the medium- you write a synopsis and that goes around the developers who then talk about what’s feasible and what’s not, what they like and what they don’t and what gameplay possibilities there are in it. Then you rewrite and rewrite and that goes of to Cardiff and once they’re all happy it goes away to the level designers who break it down into a game. Once everyone’s happy with those breakdowns I write the script based on that- that’s when the real work comes in, I remember watching the sun rise every day before I went to bed for about a month.

This is the first time you’ve been let loose with the iconic baddies of Who, The Daleks, Cybermen and Silurians: How did you approach each one respectively? Did you go back to any particular episodes for inspiration?

The first thing we did immediately was to make sure that the Daleks were bad, I mean REALLY bad, they’re tough and they’re scary and the story had to make sure they were a big deal. There’s no stopping to chat with the Daleks, from the moment they arrive it’s a race against time.

The Cybermen only appear in the Wii game and they gave us a whole different dynamic to play with. If they want to convert the cryogenically-frozen ship’s crew and the ship’s AI is programmed to keep the crew alive at any cost… what’s the outcome?

The Silurians again are completely different and their ambiguity as an enemy really works with the more conversation-based DS game, so you’ll understand their motives and hopefully even sympathise with them at points. The Doctor and Amy find good arguments on both sides and it’s finding that middle-ground that’s the challenge. But we all know there’s a certain inevitability about human-Silurian relations…

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