Knightmare Lexicon - A Knightmare Encyclopædia

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1. Cyberzone
 [Related Image] In 1993, Broadsword - the production team behind Knightmare, The Satellite Game, TimeBusters and later Virtually Impossible - gave us Cyberzone, proudly declaring it to be the world's first Virtual Reality gameshow. Lasting for just a single series of 10 half-hour episodes, the programme has nevertheless lingered in the memories of many who saw it, though not always with a great deal of fondness.
 [Related Image] The Satellite Game's animated sequences had been generated by Incentive Software's 3D engine Freescape. Impressed by the capabilities of its successor, Superscape (developed by VR specialists Dimension International, an offshoot of Incentive), Tim Child was inspired to create Cyberzone. Dimension started work on the show in February 1990, tasked with designing a realistic humanoid figure that could move around in a virtual environment. Two pilot episodes (one for adults, one for children) were filmed at Anglia TV's Norwich studios in March 1991, with several games magazines running enthusiastic previews; it was suggested that a computer game might follow if the TV show proved a success. Cyberzone was subsequently commissioned by the BBC's Head of Youth Programming, Janet Street-Porter, for her DEF II early evening strand on BBC2. The series was filmed in Manchester around the autumn of 1992 and first broadcast on 4th January 1993, going out on Mondays at 6:50pm.
 [Related Image] Red Dwarf star Craig Charles was the host, or 'Zone Warden' (the Cyberzone equivalent of Dungeon Master), who addressed the viewers as 'Cybernauts' rather than watchers of illusion. He was named as the fourth Honorary Member of the KAC in the Winter 1992 issue of The Quest. James Grout played the character Thesp, an artificial intelligence in a white suit and cowboy hat, who ruled the virtual world and introduced the games.
 [Related Image] The show featured two rival teams dressed in green and yellow. Sports personalities including John Barnes, John Fashanu, Tessa Sanderson, Colin Jackson and recent Olympic medallists Jonny & Greg Searle were pitted against members of organisations such as the Dangerous Sports Club, the Manchester Fire Service, Ranger Girl Guides and Arsenal Ladies football team. After his guest appearance, John Fashanu infamously stole Craig Charles' "Awooga!" chant (imitating the game's warning sirens) for his own use as a catchphrase on Gladiators.

Cyberzone was filmed in front of a studio audience surrounded by chain-link fencing. One notable audience member was Jason Karl, a.k.a. winning dungeoneer Julian Smith (Team 10 of Series 2), who had also been a contestant on The Satellite Game. He told The Eye Shield it was "great when we were filming but very boring in between", as a particular VR sequence kept crashing the computers; "However, 'Thesp' kept us amused, and I had a nice chat with Craig Charles!" Advisor Brett from Team 8 of Series 4 revealed on the Knightmare Discussion Forum that he was also in the audience for two episodes of Cyberzone: "You can see me bashing my friend over the head with a cyber cushion during a celebratory moment!"
 [Related Image] As in KMVR and TimeGate years later, each team consisted of a player operating a virtual avatar or 'cyborg' ("Thesp... build me a 'borg!") and an advisor who guided them, using an overhead map of the environment and its hazards. The cyborgs' actions were controlled via a 'mobility station'. Tim Child explained: "We'd had experience of using running machines from Knightmare but found them too noisy, and we settled for pressure pads." When the player kneeled, walked or ran on the spot, these pads would detect the movement and reproduce it in the 'borg. There was also a small steering wheel to change direction, and a hand-held pointer was used to perform actions such as activating switches. Instead of the player wearing a stereoscopic headset, the cyborg's view of the Zone was displayed on large videowalls in front of the team, allowing the audience to share the VR experience.
 [Related Image] There were three different scenarios in the game world: a town nicknamed CyberSwindon, the Medieval Citadel and the futuristic Technotraz. Players had to explore the location, avoid rogue vehicles and complete puzzles in order to gain Survival Points. The rooms contained simple skill games such as shooting ducks, navigating a maze, or strategic placement of an object.
 [Related Image] Each round had a time limit ("Start the clock - run the Zone!"), and the runner's progress could be hampered by the opposing team who would drive around in a virtual buggy. The teams switched roles for the second round, and both 'borgs competed in the final round, with the ability to deduct points by shooting and freezing one another.

A network of six 486 PCs were employed: two to generate the cyborgs' first-person views, one for the advisors' map view, one allowing the unseen 'Zone Master' to generate events as the game progressed, one to control roving shots (enabling the director to switch between 20 virtual camera angles on the action), and one to synchronise the other five computers. Sound effects (such as collisions or gunshots) were generated in real time by sending a MIDI stream to a synth, rather than adding them in post-production.
 [Related Image] Cyberzone's main flaw was the quality of the VR graphics, which were extremely crude and slow, described by as "a classic example of trying to utilise a technology in a TV show miles too early". Another article calls the programme "undoubtedly innovative in theory" but "laughably limited" in practice. The novelty of Virtual Reality held a certain fascination for this 9-year-old viewer, but the memorably clunky visuals were frustrating even at the time - it was clear that the difficulty arose from awkward gameplay rather than challenging games. The rudimentary puzzles have been criticised for being dull to watch and unrelated to the show's cyberpunk theme. Tim Child admits that "Graphically and in realtime rendering terms we just didn't have enough grunt", and says the failure of Superscape for TV production prompted Televirtual to develop their own software, which became the RAP system used for Knightmare VR.
 [Related Image] When it launched, one TV reviewer described Cyberzone as "Bizarre enough to win instant cult status" and erroneously predicted: "Some day all game shows will be like this. Cyberzone is the first drop in what will surely turn into a torrent of Virtual Reality programmes." suggests that in fact it did more harm than good to future VR projects. Tim Child, however, maintains that it was "a very creditable action gameshow" and that "a second series would have really explored VR". It never had the opportunity, as the show was cancelled when Janet Street-Porter left the BBC in 1994.

Only a single 1½ minute clip of Cyberzone exists on YouTube, and can be found here.

Provided By: Canadanne, 2017-01-22 21:42:38
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