Interviews

Doctor Who: Top Trumps

Interview: More than just a card game tie-in?

When David Tennant graced the cover of UK multi-format magazine Gamesmaster, Doctor Who fans were momentarily elated at the possibility of the Doctor's first game in a decade. Then they were bewildered when they realised it was a Top Trumps card game in videogame form.

With a universe as rich as any other science fiction franchise, and a smash hit revival that still dominates prime time telly, it seemed baffling that the first outing for the Doctor in a while would be based on a card game we thought no one remembered. How wrong could we be?

Wanting to know why they'd taken this route, we dropped designer Tom Heaton and exec producer Pete Hickman a few questions.

Doctor Who is TV show that deals with issues about the nature of humanity. Top Trumps is a numbers game based on limited skill and luck. Are you underselling the licence?

Tom Heaton:The Doctor is a Time Lord; a near immortal alien with a binary vascular system from the Planet Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborus, found (before the last Great Time War) at galactic coordinates ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero by zero-two from galactic zero centre! So, dealing with the nature of humanity is perhaps a little overstated.

Err... okay.

Heaton: Seriously though, we have all been really big Doctor Who fans since we were kids, so when we were approached to make a Top Trumps game, we looked at all of the fantastic card packs available and concluded that having these two great British brands together would be an awesome way to launch Top Trumps for Eidos.

What are the benefits to sitting down with a Top Trumps game as opposed to a Top Trumps deck of cards?

Pete Hickman: First, there's a full single-player adventure mode, which obviously you don't have with a pack of cards. As you play you'll unlock extra cards, special cards, new characters and locations.

Second, it looks and sounds great, with cool animations and reward sequences when you win.

Third, we've added a whole raft of extra gameplay features that we're going to talk about in a minute. These have made it so compelling that the producers are still playing multiplayer games for fun in spare five minutes even after months of development.

We're still paying Mario Kart 64 at lunchtimes...

Hickman: The whole experience reflects the Doctor Who universe from the design of the UI to the databank - which gradually fills up with cool information about characters in the series.

How complex is the game? Is interaction limited to selecting one of five statistics to compare with other players?

Heaton: We wanted to add new features to deepen the experience, but at the same time we didn't want to destroy the simplicity of the core gameplay. And we think we got it just right.

The first thing is, before each round, you get to choose three special cards. They have effects like boosting certain stats or taking a peek at the opponent's stats, or swapping cards, or taking a card back from the bottom of the deck. There are lots of different types and you unlock more as you progress.

Hickman: Then we created a special ability based on each character which is very powerful and you have to charge up by stringing together combos of wins. So the Doctor for example can use his Time Travel ability to see a few cards ahead and plan his moves, or the Slitheen can use their Chameleon ability to disguise itself as another card.

And finally we rewarded special combos and achievements - winning with the same stat 3 times in a row, or beating an ultimate card (a card with one of the highest stats) gives you a huge boost. The result is a game with a surprising amount of strategic depth, especially when you get to know the deck really well.

You've based the visual style on the Doctor Who cartoon serial shown on CBBC. Why not the live action TV show?

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