Let’s Talk Retro With Doctor Who Unleashed Host Steffan Powell

If you enjoy what you read and want to support an independent publication, you can join our Patreon to receive extra benefits and a physical welcome kit filled with official merchandise sent directly to your front door! View our premium benefits here. Thank you.

For the latest in my ‘Let’s Talk Retro’ series of interviews, I reached out to gaming expert and host of Doctor Who: Unleashed, Steffan Powell, to talk about his gaming history and career within games media.

Steffan broke ground as the first ever gaming and culture correspondent for the BBC, bringing his warm and energetic presence to the broadcaster’s gaming coverage, including creating and hosting the BBC Sounds podcast ‘Press X to Continue’.

Steffan kindly took some time out of his schedule to talk to me about his career in games media, shadowing Hideo Kojima during the production of Death Stranding and how his ideas for a Doctor Who game might be too good to share.

Getting To Know Steffan Powell

Steffan Powell as host of the BBC Sounds Press X to Continue podcast.
image credit: steffan powell

Retro Dodo: What is your earliest gaming memory?

Steffan Powell: My earliest gaming memory is watching my dad try and fail to get a Commadore 64 working on our living room telly in the early / mid 1990s! The first in many struggles to get some gaming systems working over the years and I think sub-consciously it’s why I’ve become such a console player! 

As I got older, we would visit my cousins house during school holidays, and they always had the latest Nintendo or Sega set-up and it was there that the gaming bug really got me. Whether it was Double Dragon or Super Tennis. Mario Kart or Ghostbusters I’d play for hours and talk about the games for longer.  After some persistent nagging on my 9th birthday I got my first console. Me and dad drove to Swansea and picked up a Mega Drive 2 and I’ve never looked back.

RD: What’s your favourite video game of all time and why?

SP: This is such an impossible question! There are games that hold a special place in my heart like The Last of Us and Red Dead Redemption – games that have stayed with me because they were the first time I’d been emotional (and shed a tear or two) while holding a controller.

Pro Evolution Soccer, Madden and Jonah Lomu Rugby bring back fond memories of playing with my mates on the couch. The Witcher 3 I think is the most invested I’ve ever been in a game world, however my favourite game of all time is probably Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid gameplay.
image credit: konami/gamesdb

It’s not a title I want to go back and replay necessarily but it’s my favourite game because it’s the one that made me realise that games could compete with other media and tell complex stories that intrigued me.

It was the first time I felt that games were competing with the books, shows and movies that I loved. Platforming is fun – but being a legit action hero, smoking, hiding in boxes and taking down intercontinental terrorist organisations was more fun…

RD: If you had to pick one system to play for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?

SP: I would have to go for the PlayStation 2. Systems for me are all about the games which you play on them and the list of games you could play on the PS2 were incredible.

GTA: Vice City, NBA: Street v2 and Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty were some of my favourites. I also think this was a time where we saw a big leap in the playability and depth offered by sports games in particular. I spent a lot of time playing Madden and Pro Evo with friends and these titles got better and better during the PS2s lifespan – plus it looked cool!

RD: What is your favourite video game soundtrack?

SP: I think the music in Red Dead Redemption 2 is amazing. So evocative of the era and really moving in parts. The moment in the game where the song Unshaken plays is magical.

I will also give a shout out to Death Stranding (granted I’m biased) but there are so many great songs in that game and the Chvrches track they wrote for the game in a certified banger.

RD: What game are you unbeatable at?

SP: I was crowned champion of my University House (there were of 8 us) Pro Evo 6 competition. I think I’d give anyone a good game of that (just give it to Adriano and shoot from anywhere). My and my mate Rhodri always play NBA Jam when we go to arcade bars and I claim to be the best at that… but really I’m rubbish…

A Handheld History

RD: As a presenter who travels a lot, do you manage to play games while on the road? How easy is it to balance gaming with work and family commitments?

SP: I try to play when I travel as much as I can and hoped that my Nintendo Switch would be the way for me to get some serious time into big titles while on the road but I find I struggle to concentrate on story heavy games while travelling and so miss big plot points. Instead, I  know find myself playing snackable titles like Bad North, Stardew Valley or lots of Mario Kart 8.

Steffan Powell hosting at the British Academy Gaming Awards.
image credit: steffan powell

I also use this time to try out mobile games and love Mini Motorways, Retro Bowl and Threes – they’ve got me through a lot of the travel to and from the Doctor Who set. The mobile version of Football Manger is my go-to on a long flight!

Balancing gaming and family life is tricky. I do think games – especially story focused triple A titles – are getting overly long. It’s tough to find 100 hours to pour into one title at the moment with two small children and a busy schedule. I’m determined to find a solution though and if anyone has any ideas let me know! I’m definitely looking to play more indie / retro titles that come in at anywhere between 10-20 hours.

A Career In Games

RD: You visited Kojima Productions for the creation of ‘The Metal Gear Man’ for the BBC. What was it like spending time with Hideo Kojima and being invited behind closed doors at Kojima Productions?

SP: It was a fascinating few weeks! We’ve been lucky enough to visit the studio twice and see Kojima work up-close and personal for documentaries. It amazed me how into the details of every facet of production he is, from physically editing the game trailers himself to working on the music.

Steffan Powell with Hideo Kojima
image credit: steffan powell

Making games is such a team effort and he seemed to be part of every team at the studio. What I like about people who make games for a living is how passionate they are about their projects and how desperate they are for people to like their work – and that was certainly true at KJP. Plus, they have lovely snacks there, and the entrance hallway is immense.

Ludens statue inside Kojima Productions
image credit: kojima productions

RD: Can you tell me a little about the time you met Shigeru Miyamoto?

Miyamoto was an interview I did while working as Gaming Reporter for BBC Radio 1. It was for a piece I pitched on the 30th anniversary of Mario and was ahead of the Switch full announcement if i remember correctly.

Steffan Powell with Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto.
image credit: steffan powell

We filmed in London with him and his co-producer on Mario Maker in 2015 – it was pretty brief, in and out in an hour or so.

RD: Are there any game creators and/or developers you would love to meet?

SP: I’ve been lucy enough to interview Neil Druckman and Corey Balrog during my career but would love to spend more time with them to see their process of putting a game together. I think their games are so cinematic and they tell such rich stories that I’d love to try and find out how they make it happen!

RD: You hosted 8-Bit to Infinity, the very first video game music Prom with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. How was the event received by people that may have had limited exposure to games in the past?

SP: People loved it! Gamers and non-gamers alike were totally enraptured by the night. We had such lively feedback from the audience and the people who watched it on the telly that I hope we get to do it again one day.

Steffan fronted the BBC Proms for 8-Bit to Infinity.
image credit: steffan powell

I still have goosebumps thinking of the Cello solo from Journey that they played that night. Lush stuff.

Bring It Back

RD: As the presenter of Doctor Who Unleashed, what do you think would make a great Doctor Who game?

SP: Where to start! The beauty of Doctor Who is that you have such a big storytelling canvas to play with! Who wouldn’t love to play an action-adventure title where the Tardis is your central hub for boosting stats, tweaking your outfit and choosing the next mission to play? Scrap that, don’t publish this answer, I’m going to approach Russell T Davies about it myself…

RD: What does the future of retro gaming look like to you?

SP: When I look back at my favourite memories playing retro games it’s almost always about communal moments with friends, I think retro gaming has a key part to play in the future of the industry in helping bring people together physically. Retro bars can and should be a big part of that future in my opinion. Nothing beats a drink with mates and reliving Mario Kart 64 for example.

As the industry (and society) relies more and more on online / digital interactions having reasons to still get together in person to connect will become more and more important. Life is about balance, I think. I love playing games with mates online but I do miss the sense of togetherness playing in person can bring. Retro gaming bars make that happen play and have an important role to play in bringing people together in future and at the same time keeping retro games relevant.

Thank you to Steffan for taking the time to speak to us. For more Let’s Talk Retro interviews, check out our discussions with PlayStation Access host Rosie Caddick and former Editor of PC Gamer magazine Samuel Roberts.

This article may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to purchase an item we may earn a commission.

retro dodo team 2024

Like our content?

Join our Patreon Community.