Red Dwarf: The Video Game [Golden Opportunity]

Golden Opportunity was a feature that ran towards the end of my tenure at Shogun Gamer.  The purpose of the feature was to highlight unique brands, either films, TV shows, or animated properties, that would be perfectly suited for a video game adaptation but unfortunately had yet to receive one.

Focused on providing thoughtful details as to what potential game mechanics could be featured in these would be adaptations, I also opted to go straight to the source for feedback, either good or bad, for one particular installment.

Being a huge fan of the British sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf, I sent a message to the representation of series co-creator/writer Doug Naylor to see if he would be available for an interview.  After some brief email exchanges I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Doug via Skype, thus the feature was complete.

Below follows the complete Red Dwarf: The Video Game [Golden Opportunity] feature as it ran on Shogun Gamer.

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A multitude of elements are often presented in video games whether it be action, drama, horror, or even amazing bouts of athleticism.  For many of us these are elements we enjoy seeing, but for some unknown reason one thing is often devoid in the games and experiences we have: comedy.

Sometimes we’re lucky to receive a game such as Grand Theft Auto which provides a steady flow of comedic elements through the satirical writing and the unsavory characters that are presented to us.  Though side from that, most video games released in the last decade have never really attempted to branch out and provide something that’s purely comedic in its execution.

Perhaps such a thing can be attributed to the fact that once a joke is said it immediately loses its punch upon repeated playthroughs – thus things can get stale fast.  That and the fact that writing material that’s deemed funny enough to last in a video game which spans eight hours or more can be difficult to say the least if not entirely daunting for a creative team.

Even though pulling off comedy within a video game may be difficult for a myriad of reasons along with having a limited audience in a sense, I can’t help but wonder what a resurgence would be like.  With only a few scant comedic video game offerings such as Ratchet & Clank, Sam & Max, and Grim Fandango, I think there’s a place in the industry for a bit of levity and something that’s fresh compared to the action romps we’re used to playing.

If comedic based video games were to make a comeback, there’s no property greater poised for such a thing than the legendary TV series RedDwarf. Today on Golden Opportunity I’ll be examining what a game based on Red Dwarf could be like thanks to some input from series Creator/Writer Doug Naylor.

WHAT IS IT?

Premiering on the BBC in 1988, Red Dwarf merged an entirely sci-fi setting with comedy, thus resulting in a sci-fi sitcom.  Set in the 22nd century on the mining ship Red Dwarf, the series follows the exploits of vending service repairman Dave Lister (Craig Charles) and his “superior”/bunkmate Arnold J. Rimmer (Chris Barrie) as they go about their daily lives on the ship.  The relationship Lister and Rimmer has is somewhat amplified by the fact that a mistake made by Rimmer results in the entire Red Dwarf crew dying – save for Lister who was cryogenically frozen after being punished for smuggling a cat onboard the ship.

Awakened three million years after the death of the Red Dwarf crew, Lister finds himself the last surviving human and has to deal with Rimmer, who is dead but now “alive” in hologram form, as his sole companion to keep him sane.  Eventually joined by an evolved humanoid cat descended from the one Lister smuggled aboard – known simply as the Cat (Danny John-Jules), and later on an android named Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), the Red Dwarf “crew” go on adventures that involve eating curries, disrupting the space time continuum, and dealing with aliens that want to suck out what little brains they have.

What makes Red Dwarf so much fun, along with being one of my personal faves, is that it’s just an entertaining show which manages to have quite a bit of depth to it.  Lister is a quintessential slob who manages to be brave when the occasion calls for it, Rimmer is a neurotic and spineless fool who only cares about himself and the possibility of becoming an Officer, the Cat is in love with himself and his immediate sense of style, and Kryten is a would-be “free” android if it weren’t for his desires to wash the laundry all the time or vacuum using his crotch attachment.

The interactions between the characters as portrayed by the cast led to some wonderful scenes thanks to the consistently funning writing which ranged from monster of the week type plots to those that were more involved, such as one involving the Red Dwarf crew and the assassination of former U.S. President J.F.K.

While the show has only had ten series (six to eight episode seasons) over the last twenty-five years, it has still managed to evolve over the years and maintain its fanbase. Not quite as rapid as that of Doctor Who, the Red Dwarf community is a strong one and there’s no doubt that they would jump at the chance to play a video game adaptation.
WHAT COULD IT BE?

When looked at in the traditional sense of what most games tend to be (3rd person action titles), it may be hard to imagine what a Red Dwarf game could be like.  Though if one were to look at what the greatest traits of Red Dwarf are, that of the interaction between characters and presence of witty jokes and one-liners, a game based upon the series would best be suited for the old-school adventure genre.

These days it may be a tough sell for people to get excited about an adventure game, but titles such as The Walking Dead and the other efforts done by the team at Telltale Games this generation such as the games based upon Back to the Future and Jurassic Park has proved that there’s room for the genre to grow, whether it be in this console generation or the next.

The brilliant thing about Red Dwarf as far as adapting it into a video game is that the series never took itself too seriously. Yes, Red Dwarf is a comedy, but aside from having the characters stay consistent in their tone, series creators/writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor often jumped from one story to the next, occasionally leaving some plot threads aside or seemingly admitting how convoluted things got with the sudden occurrence of a timey winey scenario that may even leave the Doctor a bit befuddled.

Having this carefree attitude resulted in the show having a rather brisk pace as well as allowing somewhat random scenarios to occur, whether it be Lister forgetting where he parked Red Dwarf because he was drunk or the deceased crew of the ship coming back in a rather unexpected way.  This narrative style could make for a rather interesting episodic game series as players assume the role of the Red Dwarf crew and go on somewhat hapless adventures.

The direction of a Red Dwarf game could be rather straightforward: the Red Dwarf ship could be your central hub area to explore before embarking on missions – either on the ship or on a nearby ship/planet by taking off in Starbug (a small scouting vehicle).  Now while the game would have the basis as an adventure title, it shouldn’t necessarily be filled with a plethora of QTEs since the series was never really about action; at least up to a point. Instead, having a branching dialog system with action QTEs interspersed would be the best combination to capture the spirit of the show (comedy) and actually having something to keep the interest of the player engaged.

In an interview with Shogun Gamer series Creator/Writer Doug Naylor said this concerning the potential direction a Red Dwarf game could take, “You could easily do it as a twelfth series or you could do one that kind of dips in-between series and scoops up stuff that wasn’t necessarily included in the big jumps that happened between series two & three or series eight & ten. There’s all sorts of areas that we weren’t able to touch on in the TV series that you could obviously scoop up into a game because you don’t have any real constraints.”

Having the potential to create the comedic situation at hand by allowing players to decide which insult Lister can fling towards Rimmer via a dialog tree, customize the Cat’s ever stylish wardrobe, or see how many times Rimmer’s dimensional duplicate Ace can save the universe would be things that would not only please longtime fans of the series, but could ultimately captive people unfamiliar with the property merely because the material is so original and entertaining.

WILL IT EVER HAPPEN?

With a tenth series having aire in 2012, the Red Dwarf crew are still kicking around doing a show when they can permitting scheduling and the ever tricky situation of settling on a budget to actually produce the program. Despite the rather long gaps in between series of the show, the biggest of which was nearly a decade, interest hasn’t waned at all as evident by the fact that Red Dwarf X garnered impressive ratings.

“We did talk about this around fifteen years ago with some of the big companies based in the U.K. I think the feeling was that it’s got to have a film to make the series well-known worldwide and they [BBC] felt that it wasn’t well known enough, particularly in the States, for them to invest the massive sums it would require to make a good game,” said Doug Naylor on the matter of doing a Red Dwarf video game.  While we may have been close to receiving a Red Dwarf game many years ago, fans shouldn’t immediately lose hope on the matter just yet as Naylor went on to say, “A game is something that’s very much worth looking at if we can get people involved who would want to back it.”

The odds may somewhat be stacked against a Red Dwarf video game happening due to the ever tricky situation of securing funding, so it could be quite some time, if at all, until the series is transformed into the polygonal world. Though with Doug Naylor’s enthusiasm about exploring a video game it would be amazing to see the Red Dwarf franchise leap into the world of video games, not just so longtime fans can experience the show in a new way, but for players and the games industry as a whole to experience something that’s fresh, entertaining, and downright hilarious.

You can view my full interview with Doug Naylor below which delves into topics such as his interest in games as a medium and whether or not theRed Dwarf cast would be keen on doing a video game.

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Ian Fisher: Over the last few years we’ve seen video games evolve as far as the technology that powers them and the involvement of acting talent. Now the same can be said of Red Dwarf as the show has evolved throughout the years whether it be through the production values, cast, and central tone of humor & writing. So with that said, would you ever be interested in expanding the Red Dwarf franchise with a video game?

Doug Naylor: Absolutely, I would love to do that.  In fact, we did talk about this around fifteen years ago with some of the big companies based in the U.K.  I think it [the game] was going to tie up with the film and because the film didn’t happen it kind of fell away a little bit so it didn’t happen. I think the feeling was that it’s got to have a film to make the series well-known worldwide and they [BBC] felt that it wasn’t well known enough, particularly in the States, for them to invest the massive sums it would require to make a good game.

Ian: If a Red Dwarf game were to ever happen, what would your approach for it consist of? Would you want it to take the place of an eleventh series, or would you rather have the premise be original material that takes place during/in-between one of the previous series to tie-up certain events?

Doug: That’s a really good question. You could easily do it as a twelfth series or you could do one that kind of dips in-between series and scoops up stuff that wasn’t necessarily included in the big jumps that happened between series two & three or series eight & ten. So you could do something like that, but equally I think the initial story is quite an interesting one with the crew being wiped out, the lone survivor, and him getting the hologram along with the cat evolving.  So there’s all sorts of areas that we weren’t able to touch on in the TV series that you could obviously scoop up into a game because you don’t have any real constraints.

Ian: What would be the biggest hurdles, if any, in potentially adapting Red Dwarf into a modern video game? Would it be an issue of trying to provide enough comedic material to keep people engaged, or would it be a case of trying to adapt the finer points of the show, such as the interactions between the actors, in a way that can still be appealing within a context of an interactive experience?

Doug: Well that’s it: you got to get all those things.  You got to make it funny, you need to have a good story, you need to make sure the character interactions are right and in a way that’s not obvious in terms of the story and stuff that we’ve done before. So it’s juggling all those balls really. So in many ways it would be like making a movie but just for another medium in terms of complexity. In some ways maybe a movie is easier because it’s only going to last an hour and a half or two hours whereas a video game is way longer.

Ian: Obviously you would be interested in seeing a Red Dwarf video game happen at some point, but do you think the cast would be interested in that as well, not only to see the franchise expand but to explore different elements of acting whether it be through performance capture or simply using their voice?

Doug: Yeah I’m sure they would.  They’re always up for any kind of new experience like that so I’m sure they would.  Although they don’t absolutely adore doing lots of greenscreen, they much prefer acting in front of real actors and in reality – ideally in front of an audience.  Nonetheless they’ve done so much greenscreen so I’m sure they would take to it like ducks to water.

Ian: Would you ever be interested in exploring crowdfunding for a Red Dwarf video game via services such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo? Obviously a full Red dwarf game may not be able to entirely rely on crowdfunding to make it a reality since video games are expensive to produce, but do services such as Kickstarter interest you as a creator since it allows the fans to in a way give back to the projects they love?

Doug: Well my understanding of it was, rightly or wrongly, was that these things are really expensive. They were talking about multi-million pound budgets to make a really good game, though I’m not sure if that’s still the case today since that’s what I was told fifteen years ago. So I’m not sure if something like Kickstarter could work since it doesn’t do sums quite like that.

Ian: As a creator in general, do you find video games appealing given how they allow users to experience something all while controlling the situation in certain scenarios?  Is that sense of freedom something you can appreciate, even if you don’t actively play video games, and would you ever be interested in doing a video game project if it weren’t related to Red Dwarf?

Doug: As a writer I think it’s really interesting. Sometimes you’ll get an idea and you’ll go “God, I can take this in seven or eight directions, but I have to choose one,” and you never truly know whether it’s the best direction you’ve taken.  You get that with science fiction ideas when you go through ideas about it being about either Rimmer or Lister, but you have to choose and pair them down.  Now with a game obviously you don’t need to do that; you can explore all those different story arcs and different areas that you just can’t do on TV. So it would absolutely fascinating to be creatively involved in something like that.

Ian: As you said earlier, a Red Dwarf video game was discussed as a potential tie-in with the movie.  Since the last series aired in the U.K. last year and was a hit, would you want to make the push for a video game to happen at this point or would you rather be focused on making a next series become a reality at some point?

Doug: That’s what we’ve been working on right now.  We’re discussing budgets with Dave [TV network] at the moment and I think we’ll get there. So there will certainly be another series and then after that we don’t know, but a game is something that’s very much worth looking at if we can get people involved who would want to back it.

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Article originally posted on July 31, 2013.

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