Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Multiplying by 0.9

EXTER- ahem- sorry. DECIMATE

Advised audio accompaniment for this review.

A major theme of this show is DECIMATEing
So decimate. A show so exciting that this review has been put off until weeks after the last episode was broadcast.

Our episode begins with a ominous introduction from host Shane Richte, followed by a chance to play that sting. Get used to it, you'll be hearing it a lot. Well, if you keep watching.

The titles are too bland for me to comment, then it's time to MEET THE CONTESTANTS. There are three of them. Yes, three. This author isn't sure what the last show to have teams of three contestants was: examples that spring to mind are late-era Jungle Run, Scrapheap Challenge (ish), or TheAdventure Game.

We chat to the contestants for slightly shorter than seems usual, and then Shane explains the rules, complete with a play of the DECIMATE. Is that effect, that really cool effect that the producer obviously loves with DECIMATE and the wall of gold collapsing getting old yet? Don't worry, it will.

There are 3 main rounds, each the same. 10 questions, each for 10% of the money you had at the start of the round. The maths here is sound -  pedants may claim \pedantvoice "oooh but they only decimate for the first wrong answer", but doing it this way makes questions be worth more in general, seem more important in general, and keeps the numbers nice... ish.

Wrong answer. DECIMATE.
Indeed, the problem is more that 10% of the money you had at the start of the round often isn't a compelling enough amount. If you look at decimate's main game as a way to ask 30 questions which result in an amount of money between £20,000 and £0,  the system is certainly elegant, but it feels a bit too spread:

On, say, The Chase, there is only a one question difference between success and failure, but the game conceals exactly where that boundary will fall until quite late. On Decimate, there is no boundary between success and failure: rarely if ever do we see a team score 0/9 in a round and need an answer to avoid elimination (and even if they did, the total would be so low as to prompt a bit of a 'who cares?'). Every question in round 1 is worth £2,000, of which you can consistently expect about £1,000 to be kept during the next two rounds. 30 questions over 3 rounds is just enough that the team seem to hit a consistent average, and so a brief spell of good or bad answers isn't that interesting, and during 30 questions over about 35 minutes it all just feels very bland and soulless.

This isn't helped, and really isn't helped at all by the set being the most boring environment since Traitor (probably the most obscure reference this blog will make for a while). It really isn't helped, at all by the obsession with the DECIMATE effect and graphics, to such an extent that I begin to wonder whether that repeated horrible sound is actually being played over this otherwise inoffensive quiz show as a mild form of sabotage.

The problem, with Decimate, though, and the reason this review must continue, is the game from a Game Point Of View is Excellent. See, when I was trashing it, I didn't tell you about 'keywords' mechanic, where before choosing who's to play the team are shown 10 keywords, which AREN'T CALLED SUBJECTS, and actually aren't really subjects, perhaps just about in the Perfection Final sense, because they tend to be specific in a way which is actually helpful, but not that helpful.

For example, we saw "storm" as the keyword for "On which planet is ... the great red spot?". We also saw "Anglican church" for the question "in which year was the Anglican church established?". It's not HUGELY useful, but on the list of 10, most people might see one or two keywords about which they could offer a couple of bits of trivia.

This is crucial because after the player is chosen, there is a frantic 20 seconds for the other two to 'brief' them on anything that might be helpful for the round. This is imaginative and makes a great, frantic moment of television. It would work much better if the questions were a little more accessible, or the keywords a little more useful, or, indeed, there was not another two ways for the team to collaborate during the round, but, it still deserves praise for originality. 

Briefing in progress.

Those other two ways then. Across the three rounds there are 5 chances for the player to 'pass' the question over to the other two players, and 5 chances for the team to 'overrule' after the main player has given an answer. Regardless of the fact these are good mechanics, 5+5=10 chances for the team to answer, plus the start of round briefings, plus the fact that a fair and constant % of the questions are impossibly hard anyway, makes it feel like they might as well have all 3 players answering all 3 rounds.

Using a passback. It's not Caravaggio.

But, let me emphasise that these ARE good mechanics. The 'passback' challenges the player to anticipate where their team's strengths will lie. The 'overrule' encourages the player to talk through their knowledge and reasoning in detail, so that the team can gauge whether the player should be overruled. The fact that both are available, but in limited supply, creates a resource management problem: is the player better guessing a dodgy answer, and hoping the team will overrule if required, or should they risk putting it back to the team who may then have no idea?

Both of these ideas create interesting points of strategy, these could be used for discussions with the host, if the host were more Game-oriented than the Comedy/Emotion-oriented Ritchie. They also create interesting setup/payoffs: were the team right to overrule? Will [team member] be able to answer this question on [thing]? They also encourage the player to talk, which ensures the player will talk, and also means the host/player can stall to fill out the needed time without the Eggheads-weary audience shouting 'Why don't they get a move on?!'.  

The problem, then, with Decimate, is it has not only a good Game, but a good Game which could be made into a Good Gameshow, and, between the host, the pace, the obsession with yelling DECIMATE, the set, the obsession with a big gold wall, yelling DECIMATE, the weirdness of some of the questions, the lack of audience, the final, which is so exciting I remembered to mention it, and the, for want of a better word... lack of a 'soul', they've just made something incredibly bland and uncoupling.

The problem with Decimate, is I wrote this review, THEN added in the positive bits.

The problem with Decimate is that I didn't feel compelled to write about it for 6 weeks after the first transmission.

The problem with Decimate, is that I just watched a 45 minute episode while writing the review, and nothing happened and at not one moment did I care at all.

And for me, for a gameshow that's impressive.

So there you have Decimate. If you missed it, don't worry, it wasn't very good, and if you didn't miss it, don't worry, I doubt it's coming back.

Oh, and in case you didn't keep watching right to the end of the credits.


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