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Interview: Charles Cecil

After creating a hit adventure game series some creators might be happy to settle in and take things easy for a few years. For Charles Cecil, managing director of Revolution and creator of Broken Sword, life is as busy as ever. Cecil is executive producer on Doctor Who: The Adventure Games and has been working with the BBC and Sumo Digital to bring them to computers across the nation.

Following a panel on the making of the episodic adventure games, with Sumo Digital’s creative director Sean Milliard and members of the BBC, we caught Cecil for a brief word to talk about working practices and what he’s learnt from this pioneering collaboration with the BBC.

Want did you think when the BBC approached you with their proposal for the Doctor Who video game project?
Charles Cecil: I was enormous excited and very flattered. I think every male loved Doctor Who when they were young, and I think what’s particularly exciting was when it was reinvented with Christopher Eccleston and, of course, David Tennant. There was an enough amount of interest in who the new Doctor was going to be. We’d just about hear that it was going to be Matt Smith, we had no idea that Karen [Gillen] was going to be involved.

Although, I have to say, Karen Gillen is absolutely wonderful. I’ve been very privileged because I actually done the voice directing for [one of the episodes] more recently and they’ve have been fantastic. Because both Matt and Karen are enthusiastic about the project, I found them very, very easy to direct. What’s quite interesting is that what we require from them in a game perspective is quite different from what we would require in linear [media]. So quite often I’ll get them to go back and say: “That’s lovely delivery, but actually can you put an emphasis on this because what we’re actually doing in this line is we’re creating a clue – subliminally, it’s not a obvious clue – but if you can change the emphasis and the way that you say it then you will be delivering more than just the acting of the line.”

It’s a terrific learning process. The wonderful thing is everybody’s been very embracing of the changes, from Steven Moffat on the production side through to Matt and Karen as the acting talent.

You said Sumo Digital has been very receptive to the BBC’s requests.
CC: Yes, I’ve worked in partnership with the BBC. So the BBC are the clients and I’m effectively working with the clients. I guess in a way, Sean’s very much the interface in that, he’s got this infectious enthusiasm and also a passion for the brand as well. The problem with having with having four of these Adventure Games is as you crunch (where you’re working really hard all hours to finish it), they sort of come one after another after another, so it is absolutely vital that the team are really enthused by Doctor Who. And we have some people who are extraordinarily knowledgeable about Doctor Who, terrifyingly so.

For example, last time I was directing Karen, the companion from Sylvester McCoy [the seventh Doctor, 1987], Sophie Aldred, turned up. I took a picture of Karen, Sophie and my daughter, and I showed it to one of the Sumo guys and he instantly knew exactly who she was and which episodes she’d appeared in. So you have an incredible affection and knowledge about the whole brand [at Sumo].

What have you learnt from working on this project with the BBC?
CC: One of things when you’re asked to work with The BBC is a huge organisation and they have an enormous number of people covering different areas. To be honest, I’ve loved working with the BBC Wales people, both on the production side and interactive side. What’s really impressive is when they get behind a product and you see the marketing people, the PR people, and the brand, and these incredible events come together, like the Daleks invading Sheffield, like the Cybermen going to Glasgow, these extraordinary things come together [from] incredible teamwork. We’ve been very privilege in that we’ve met everybody at every level, so we’re very much integrated into all of this. It’s been a real pleasure working with them.

Do you think the games industry needs to diversify more by working with other established media, like TV and film, to open up more opportunities?
CC: I think that, as Simon Nelson said, Doctor Who is probably the BBC’s best brand so this was exceptionally, both from our side as an industry and from the BBC’s side as well. So it’s probably not typical, but I think both sides have learnt a lot.

Ed Vaizey has invited you and Ian Livingstone to review university games courses. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
CC: I was asked by Ed to come, with Ian, and talk about what issues were affecting the industry, in particular because people are very disappointed by [the lack of] tax credits. But, frankly, within the industry there’s some debate as to whether tax credits are the most effective way of stimulating the industry. What I’m really delighted about is that politicians are very happy to seek our advice, which I have to say I’ve never really experienced before. And Ed clearly loves the video game industry and takes it very seriously.

Aaron Lee

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