THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Knightmare series 3 had explored the limits to be achieved by a solitary dungeoneer being guided around a double-garage sized dungeon chamber, blindfolded by a bucket-shaped helmet.

And these limits weren’t just imposed by the number of chambers David Rowe could paint, or the number of scenes which Robert Harris and his computer graphic artists could animate.

The Greater Game demanded a greater fantasy world and the current graphic sources could not deliver it.

altSo it was to Britain’s own rich history of medieval castles and ruined abbeys that we turned. From Kent to Wales, the Knightmare team plundered, filmed and photographed. And it wasn’t just fortifications. A rich treasure of ancient dwellings was discovered at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Sussex, and then there caves and lakes and great barns.

On screen, the results, however, were mixed. Try though we might to ‘treat’ the real material with digital effects, and thereby blend them into the graphic treasures that had so far sustained Knightmare, we could not prevent the style clash which followed. The result, in terms of production design, was a disaster, but by improving the programme and game dynamics we saved Knightmare from the axe, and bought ourselves the opportunity for a further development cycle.

It is hard to explain to those who merely consume the adventure game by playing or viewing, but the biggest opposition we faced as programme-makers, was not from TV execs who thought the game too hard, but from those who thought the game too slow!

A lot of TV is about pace, much of it deliberately and cynically artificial, whereas a good adventure game is almost always slow, and must compensate for this by atmospherics.

Knightmare was accused of being ‘pedestrian’, and how could we deny it: you walked into one room; stood about for a bit, and then walked off into another.

alt

By using TV cameras to acquire new scenery, we had also acquired walkways, journeys, and of course, movement. Soon we were to commission our first dragon and Helifilms were to create the flights of Smirkenorff.

OK, so you could argue (and many have) that such location acquired journeys (we call them ‘passive paths’) offer less in terms of interactive choice, than the prospect of exploring one of DR’s painted patios, and of course, you would be right.

To compensate for this I became determined to sustain, and even improve those interactive elements that we could deliver. If it was not so important which destination you chose, then what must be critical, is how you conduct yourself when you get there. This also translated into: ‘its not where you go its who you meet.’

In adventure gaming, every new solution tends to expose a new problem. If we needed higher levels of interactive drama, then we needed stronger interactors, with powerful personalities and sub-plots to justify their activities.

That spring I auditioned in London for the new Knightmare dungeon cast. The Merlin/Mogdred scenario was exhausted (in any case I had always found it annoyingly derivative) and I was convinced that the drama game engine of Knightmare must be driven by a really solid baddy.

alt

When Mark Knight walked into the audition room, he certainly didn’t look the part. He was slightly plump, far from muscular, and of medium height. Within 10 minutes however, I became convinced that Mark was our missing weapon.

It is not just those crows-wing eyebrows, or the natural mocking, sneering tones. There is a genuine competitiveness in Mark which dictates that no scene or role is too difficult, no character part too demanding, nothing beyond him.

As a great natural competitor, the adventure game is made for Mark, and no-one, not even Hugo Myatt, attacked the tasks with such zeal. I was to discover later that this was a very genuine addiction to the interactive genre, because Mark is otherwise quite a lazy person. There was another unlooked-for bonus: Mark demanded access to and contact with, the games-players in order to engage with the production. Obviously he could not do this as Lord Fear (save for Final Encounters), so together we created a variety of other dungeon characters for him to exploit. Although comedy was not our prime ambition, the player encounters with Mark opened a rich comedic vein. Only the antics of Paul Valentine as the scurrilous Sly Hands, could compete.

And so to gaming.

Naltow we had a dungeon with narrative, conflict, and a rich cast of characters capable of delivering help, threats, larceny, mayhem and a rich colourful cocktail of comedy and corruption. Mix in a selection of bright, committed teams, and the results could get a bit interesting.

What is more we were now driving the gameplay with drama-based clues. The Spy-Glasses allowed this, and I therefore contest with anyone over the necessity for introducing them. By the way, I also hated the Eye-Shield.

Knightmare itself was a fearful taskmaster, and while it gave its creator enormous pleasure, it never provided me with satisfaction. Many of the directions which Knightmare took, were driven by a needs-must principle that was in conflict with my own ambitions for a consistent, integrated design, and a ‘no limits’ attitude towards interactive options. Writers like Phil Colvin have made some very intuitive observations about the game, remarkably so, considering they were not provided, as now, with these background details. If only they could have known the political tightropes we tip-toed across and the broken glass we walked through.

Because of the success of Knightmare, Broadsword was much in demand as a production company, to repeat that success in other areas. Accordingly we were commissioned by the new satellite company, BSB to produce a new form of TV adventure game in 1990.

Altogether we produced 38 episodes of the Sci-Fi adventure THE SATELLITE GAME, which was transmitted throughout 1990 and watched thankfully, by a tiny audience.

SG was not completely awful, but it was fairly dreadful! It suffered badly from my own attempts to make it as unlike Knightmare as possible, and from the fact that early runtime Virtual Reality images, were just not up to the task.

VR may have been capable of delivering real choice, but it looked so disappointing that the exercise really wasn’t worth the candle.

However, just by learning that VR wasn’t ready to deliver atmosphere and high fidelity virtual scenes, we learned enough to save Knightmare from a disastrous early experiment with this emerging genre.

Shortly after we completed the first pilot for our BBC adventure game, TIMEBUSTERS (nicknamed TIM-BUSTERS by the Broadsword crew - because one series almost killed me) This was intended to do for location-based role-playing, what Knightmare had done for studio-based TV.

TIMEBUSTERS ran for 3 series on BBC and provided some of the worst (not counting SG) and best adventure-gaming we had ever conducted. The principle obstacle to its achievements was the fact that each game (and each featured team) had just one show (25 minutes) and 1.5 location game days, to complete their win-or-lose allotted task. There was no rolling gameplay as invented and allowed in Knightmare. We could however exploit our Knightmare experiences, and our experienced interactors. Players such as Sam Perkins (Gundrada), Mark Knight (Lord Fear) and Michael Cule (Brother Mace), all appeared in TIMEBUSTERS.

And, despite the experiences of SG, we had not deserted Virtual Reality, because it promised too much to be ignored. In 1993 Broadsword produced CYBERZONE for BBC 2 with Craig Charles in the presenter’s role. The world’s first true virtual reality TV show was not an adventure game (the graphics were still too crude), but it was a very creditable action gameshow, which would no doubt have survived, had its commissioner, Janet Street-Porter, stayed at the BBC.

We had now arrived at what was to prove a critical point.

Knightmare – the first genuine interactive adventure game on television was 7 years old.

One of the most radical shows in British TV history had proved it had legs, but no one in Children’s ITV believed in longevity.

I was summoned to ITV Centre in London and invited to devise and produce Knightmare’s successor.

The rest is not only history – it is also politics.

Share this

DiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditNewsvineTechnorati