Sunday, 8 April 2018

Now Play This 2018

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend Now Play This, at Somerset House. Here are some of my favourite and most interesting things from the exhibition part of the festival.

10 Mississippi by Karina Popp
A series of 10-second activities using stop-motion photography spell out a story of daily life.
I loved 10 Mississippi's use of photography and staccato, broken motion. I think stop-motion is such an untapped area for games, and the scenes of 10 Mississippi felt still, contemplative and intimate. The style of the photography; using real word scenes but often blurry, messy compositions, contrasts sharply with the ever-aspiring to be more realistic animation of contemporary games. 10 Mississippi also used sound, and toyed with the nature of the keyboard as input, to great emotional effect. A fantastic experience.

Dobotone by Videogamo
4 players play party-minigames, while a fifth 'remixes' the games by changing variables like gravity and speed. 
Dobotone created some of my most memorable moments from the exhibition. It explores the relationship between game maker and players provocatively. The 'remixer' has the power to ruin everything: send all elements flying off the screen, slow down time to nothing, reduce the match length to one round. At the other extreme, they could do nothing, and leave the players with a totally vanilla experience (which would work perfectly well for the players, but is a bit boring for them).
What emerged then, for me, was a sort of negotiated mischief. "Oh, this round is going quite smoothly. How about if we turned off gravity? Would that help? Oh. Oh, no. It doesn't seem to have helped." at times, "hmm, it seems like this one is going quite well... how about we make it a best-of-5?" at others. Also, the game box's Neon-ish design is absolutely gorgeous.

Multibowl by Bennett Foddy and AP Thomson
Using the power of emulators, play a random mix of 30-second scenarios from over 300 old arcade games.

This was pure fun. Each 'match' consisted of a fast onslaught of old games, some of which made perfect sense, and most of which didn't. The nominal challenge was to win 10 scenarios, but the real challenge was to learn something about what you were experiencing before your 30 seconds were up, and you were booted into a different genre/continent/decade. Having this be a 2-player experience was genius, and for me this game captured something deep about the process of playing together.

Sounds of the UK, using the LED Gameboard by Wolfgang Huther
A standard match-the-pairs game which used only sounds.

This was such an ingenious twist on the classic match game that I was taken aback. It turns out much more difficult (at least if you are me) to memorise a grid of sounds than a grid of words or pictures. The sounds were cleverly chosen too: each represented a simple concept, but work was often required to figure out what that was. "Is that the pub? Oh, no, I think it's the fish-market" for example. Finally, the LED Gameboard was a swish and inviting medium for this game to run on.

And Finally...

Acknowledgement for perhaps the most difficult and popular game in the UK today.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

~~Excitement Music~~

Rumour has it that there will be New Crystal Maze.

Below is a reading of Sata's official position on the possibility of a revival of the best gameshow ever of all time ever.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

In which the Author remains convinced that ITV know nothing about primetime quizzes

As Dan Peake remarked ITV haven't made a successful primetime quiz since...
[insert your own punchline here].

ITV have, in fact, shown two good quizzes in this author's memory: Duel (2008) and The Exit List (2012). That neither was successful we wholly blame on ITV's decision not to renew.

Let's Duel.

In fact, if we discount instances of friendly fire, we think ITV has only made one good quiz at all in recent memory; that being Jenny Ryan's programme. Tipping Point, by the way, does not count because it is an arcade game (not a quiz), and 1000 Heartbeats does not count because it is a multidisciplinary challenge (and/or: we forgot it). That said, we hear Rebound is being afforded a second series - if so then we might afford it a review.

This is not a picture of Revolution.

A lot of the demand to create new primetime gameshow things has been absorbed by The Cube, which is a great show, but not a quiz, and is getting a bit old. Perhaps 500Q was ITV's one attempt to find a quiz replacement before reverting to the safer territory of physical games - perhaps it was their attempt to copy the success of The Million Pound Drop Bank Job. We know something called Revolution was worked on for a while, but never good enough to be shown to us.


We're not actually going to pour very much over 500Q itself, mainly because there's not that much which is both interesting and not obvious to the naked eye. The Challengers are a bit redundant. The questions are (slightly) too hard, and there aren't 500 of them. The catchphrase (can you remember what it is? Exactly.) doesn't work. The set's too big. The lack of a destination has been patched, but at the cost of making the game overtly asymmetric. Position in the queue is everything.

Three wrong and you're... eliminated?

The problem is, turning our eyes upward, Sata's author knew that 500Q would be a disaster. We've already seen it fail in America - few people watched it and even fewer thought it any good. We've heard that it failed to shine in Germany, and even on paper, it seems obvious to us that 500Q is a weak format: it's just questions, not five hundred of them, not particularly fast, and with no real destination.

Some of the not 500 Questions.

What bamboozles us is that heavy resources have gone into producing 500 Questions. They've got (borrowed) an expensive set, the questions are of an ok quality, the editing is tight, and we (subjectively) like Giles. It's not going to set the world alight, but, it is watchable; Sata comfortably sat for an hour. The programme produced could (with some numbers changed) fit comfortably into the 5pm daily position.

And ITV are actually great at this. We haven't bothered writing about many of them, but over the last 2 years we've seen ITV create 4 or 5 middling-to-competent teatime alternatives. (And Freeze Out.) This one just happens to have escaped into a slightly bigger studio, and a slightly later transmission. But we can't just wrap things up there: 500 Questions as a format demands to be primetime, demands to be eventful, demands to be Big. For it to be a mediocre hour, is, due to its own nature, a failure.

We think everything wrong with the Format 500 Questions is endemic; no amount of work could save it. We cite the programme produced by ITV as evidence. What we find most annoying is that this wasn't an easy mistake to make. We think any ITV exec could and should have noticed that 500Q was a lacking format, and we think the same work done on a blank slate would probably produce something adequate; maybe even another Exit List or Duel, (which the channel could then inappropriately cancel, obviously).

We ranted last summer that BBC4 had had one successful gameshow and then given up trying. We might contrast ITV, who have almost given up on primetime quizzes, and who we doubt have the insight to ever get one right.