Sunday 28 June 2015

Genius: top 10 moments from series 1-3

Korean It's-better-than-the-apprentice Reality elimination show The Genius has announced an all-old cast for season 4, including the top 3 from each of the first three seasons. To be honest, the casting is a hugely interesting decision and one I might try to critique, but there seems little point as it's fairly likely that makers TVN were constrained by availability rather than making choices, to such an extent that I'm rather impressed they managed to get all 6 season finalists even.

Instead, then, we'll celebrate with a trip down memory lane: my top 10 moments from The Genius' history to date. 

Spoiler alert! This list contains spoilers for all 3 existing series of The Genius. If you haven't tried an episode yet then I suggest you read this description of the show. If you are midway through the archive, I suggest you stop reading. If you want to watch episodes, you should check the activity of this twitter user.

#10 Series 2 Episode 1 opening sequence.

It's become traditional in this format for the series to open with contestants shown reading a letter: their 'invitation' to the tournament. (It's one of the ways The Genius pays tribute to its inspiration: The Liar Game). All series have done a nice job of opening with this but in series 2's first episode, the letter sequence was preceded with a much better sequence showing the bandage man (don't ask) 'selecting' the contestants. This sequence was simply a series of archive clips set to music with occasional captions, but is still a masterclass in the way TG uses music to create a sense of cinematic awesomeness. Western shows could take note.

Impressiveness: 7/10
Unpredictability: 1/10
Impact: 9/10
He's not kidding.

#9 Eunji destroys Poong in Indian Poker

In the build up, and even when she questions the rules in the first round, Park Eunji seems like she is badly suited to the Indian Poker Deathmatch. Fans of Kim Poong (this author included) were breathing a sigh of relief as it looked likely he would take a casual victory. But this wasn't to be. Exactly how genuine Eunji's confusion was is never really resolved, but this author does think it unlikely she would enter a Poker game not clear on what it meant to fold. Regardless, it gives her the edge when she goes all-in on Poong, and then starts talking about her apathy toward remaining in the tournament. In one of the most quietly decisive moments of TG history, Poong calls her enormous bet, and well... cue Moby.

Impressiveness: 7/10
Unpredictability: 10/10
Impact: 5/10

A decent haul.

#8 Juneseok dodges the bullet.
Oh Juneseok. Eliminated in the very first episode, and for reasons that largely didn't involve him, Juneseok would just be a notable but faceless name in the annuls of Genius history, if it weren't for the fact that he created the biggest twist a guest player has ever managed, when he took part in the Layoff game (another nod to Liar Game, perhaps?) in series 2 episode 9. Juneseok's skill in this moment is remarkable. The Guest Players form an alliance with fellow old player Sangmin, with the aim of destroying the new players and maxxing out their money. Junseok realises that he will have to be the Guest team's sacrifice, before they do, and defects. Although there is no other real fallout: Sangmin is already too far ahead to be in danger, this does cause one of the most elegant plans seen in TG to fail.

(Sidenote: we should also celebrate Jungmoon for her pointless-but-very-impressive achivement of convincing EVERYONE she was a high-ranked player, just to mess with them. Well done Jungmoon.)
(Sidenote 2: Jungmoon and Junesoek both return for series 4.)

Impressiveness: 9/10
Unpredictability: 7/10
Impact: 1/10

Sangmin discovers he's been wrong-footed. Sangmin is not pleased.

#7 Emotional Eliminations

I'm going to combine two similar moments into one here.
First, Jinho's exit in series 2. (I'm not going to spoil the episode number just in case.) The music choice here is excellent, and that combined with the emotional speech he gives thanking the show and his fans, and the genuine emotion of seeing such a major player fall, leads to a very well-crafted sad episode ending.

Second, Jongbeom (another of this author's favourites. Perhaps it's something about cartoonists?) is eliminated by Hyunmin in S3E7. Everything about this episode is emotionally charged: from the tense-to-the-point-of-unpleasant atmosphere when Dongmin goes Kamikaze in the main match, to the impressive failure of the black mission, to the two friends facing off in the draining Deathmatch. In addition to this, it's clear Hyunmin is unhappy about the way he and Dongmin have played and the fact that this lead to him having to eliminate his friend Jongbeom to survive. Everything boils over in the final minutes and we see some impressive sincerity from Hyunmin, and senerity from Jongbeom.

(Also mentionworthy: The usually Steely Sujin who chokes up mid-sentence when saying farewell to Hweejong in S3E4.)

Impressiveness: 2/10
Unpredictability: 4/10
Impact: 10/10

He's not very photogenic.

#6 Jinho sees infinite chips.

It's well-known that in TG, the simple games will have hacks. (See #2, below.) What was impressive in S2E5, though, is that an already entirely complicated game had a hack, and further, buried in a massive junkyard of conditional rules and obscure possibilities, Jinho fishes this one out. The plan, which is better explained by the Koreans than myself, involves combining 3 players' abilities to get an endless loop of +1s and hence an infinite score. Unfortunately, and mainly due to poor people skills from the team's self-appointed boss Yoonsun, the plain fails. But still.

(Yoonsun returns for series 4. This author does not rate Yoonsun's chances highly, and wishes we could have seen more, and better, former female players invited.)

Impressiveness: 9/10
Unpredictability: 8/10
Impact: 2/10

This diagram was actually preceded by a much more informative diagram.

#5 Dongmin's incredible bluff

On one hand the greatest, on another hand the most terrible moment in series 3 came in the 10th deathmatch, when Dongmin gets himself out of a guaranteed-lose situation, just by confusing his opponent into making a terrible move. Yeonjoo deserved to win, and if she had kept a cool head, then certainly could have. Some viewers might genuinely struggle to believe that this was not a producer meddle (although this author doubts it), without question it changed the course of the show, and arguably it lacked a sense of justice. However, it deserves recognition as an excellently presented piece of television, from the fake 'sad music' when it looks hopeless for Jang, to the 'flickbook' flashback sequences during the key moment.

Impressiveness: 7/10
Unpredictability: 9/10
Impact: 8/10 - (penalised 2 for sense of injustice).

On the left, you see a man fully aware that he's in massive trouble.

#4 The longest game

Another 10th episode deathmatch, this time from series 1. Certainly, it was no surprise that when two of series 1's biggest characters faced-off, it would be an incredible game. The showmakers were gifted here, the presence of guests allowed them to bring out tactical yut (one of the best deathmatchs in this authour's opinion), and an epic battle ensued, which twisted backwards and forwards and lasted nearly 2 hours. It's cut into an impressively-long 20 minute sequence in the broadcast, which makes great use of music and the fluctuation of the game to create a genuine impression of this as a great, final, struggle between two giants.

Impressiveness: 8/10
Unpredictability: 1/10
Impact: 9/10

The moment it finally ended.

#3 Dohee double cross turns into double-double cross turns into triple-double cross.

It sounds like something from a cartoon, but in S2E6, TG managed its first ever genuine triple cross. What's brilliant about this is that every twist brings about a new, distinct, emotion in reaction. To appreciate it fully you need the context of the episode: an entire hour during which instead of actually playing the round's game, everyone has been negotiating over whether the dominant Sangmin-led team can engineer a foe-v-foe deathmatch, to such an extent that I recommend S2E6 as a taster episode if you are new to The Genius (although you will spoil the preceding episodes).

Dohee has agreed to betray his weak team in exchange for the token of life, which will allow him to dodge the deathmatch he is headed for. Then, and all set against a music bed iconically recognisable from BBC's Sherlock, Dohee fakes the betrayal, before revealing that he is actually betraying Sangmin. Dismay from Sangmin's team. Then, Dohee reveals the token of life to his team. Surprise and bemusement from them. cue Moby. The situation is compounded: Dohee will use the token of life to attack further, setting two of Sangmin's team against each other. One of them is upset by the prospect, the other is impressed by Dohee's inventiveness. Then, it is revealed that Dohee doesn't actually have the token of life. Cue explosion from everyone.

"You did it first, you bastard!" Sangmin can be heard shouting over the verbal fracas.

"A match beyond your imagination" -- delivered as advertised.

Impressiveness: 8/10
Unpredictability: 10/10
Impact: 9/10

#2 Open, Pass.

Part of the reason Eunji's impressive win over Poong was eclipsed in S1E7, was that the episode's Mainmatch had already given out the best moments in the first series of The Genius. The skill of the game designer, to hide such a large hack so well in the rules of open, pass (in a way that the series 2 imitator with the dice didn't manage to replicate) should be hugely admired. Jinho's perception and creativity in finding the hack are hugely impressive: one suspects he used a bit of metagaming to convince himself there was a twist to be found before going looking for it - or perhaps he just noticed the subtlety to the shuffle initially - either way it was a realisation which cemented his position as a fan-favourite.

The presentation of the reveal, including as always the music, was excellent, and compounded by the way the episode built a narrative to support it: the players' tactical discussions getting more and more nuanced, before finally being blown out of the water by Jinho's hack.
Impressiveness: 10/10
Unpredictability: 10/10
Impact: 9/10

It's all about the hexagons.

#1 "Five people went in there, and I know four of them"

Three key elements come together at once in S3E2's Citizens v Criminals Resistance reskin for this perfect example of The Genius at its best:

1. The Criminal team (in particular Kang) make a terrible mistake. The moment they all identify, they reveal their leader, and will instantly lose the game.
2. Oh Hynmin plays a perfect game as the Citizen leader, managing to play just enough of a quiet-but-not-too-quiet game to totally fool all of the other players.
3. Oh Hynmin sees the way to convert his likely victory to a certain victory and in a moment of perfect drama, reveals himself and seizes it.

The tripwire of the criminal leader revealing themselves and instantly being vulnerable was a cleverly hidden twist that was deliberately and cleverly built into the game, although it is not unreasonable to have expected a decent player to see it in advance. Hynmin's skill in maintaining such a good profile should not be understated, he subtly pushes the game to the citizen's advantage, whist simultaniously accosiating closely with some of his enemies in order to hold their trust. Indeed, that might have been glossed over due to the speed of the reveal here, but is carefully emphasised in a good montage just afterwards. Finally, Hynmin's initiative to quickly turn the scene around and change course in the brief moment he has alone with his team is simply phenomenal. This author wondered whether such a tactic might be deployed carefully if the citizen leader was sufficiently clever, but to push it through almost instantaneously was amazing play. 

Impressiveness: 10/10
Unpredictability: 9/10
Impact: 10/10

A very excited citizen.

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.