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More about your favourite new Children's BBC sort-of-fantasy-reality game show - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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December 18th, 2002

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03:42 am - More about your favourite new Children's BBC sort-of-fantasy-reality game show
Raven's day two is already starting to show the classic signs of the sub-genre, the sub-genre being "pretentious, pseudo-fantastic retrieval-based game shows". Today we had a repetitive game, a weird game, two regular features and the ever-popular unpredictable, illogical rule which appears out of nowhere for no good reason whatsoever. A heady mix indeed.

Repetitive game: one at a time, the six young warriors (suspended to a safety line) climb a tree; the first platform is reached by a rope ladder, the second platform by stakes and handholds driven into the tree. Upon reaching the top platform, jump off - take the Leap Of Faith after which the challenge is named - and grab the treasure ring hanging in mid-air. Contestants free-fall for about half a second before the safety line takes their weight. All the time, the Raven comments encouragingly and even speaks of the courage of the single non-jumping contestant. The contestants were very positive about the experience immediately afterwards in the only interesting post-game interview so far, especially the contestant who might reasonably have been expected to be least positive of the successful ones.

Weird game: the six contestants are divided into two teams of three. In turn, one member from each team climbs into a roughly sumo-ish rope ring, with a neutral stripe down a diametric segment. The contestants, armed with buckler shields, throw flour bombs (effectively, chalky bags of flour) at each other and attempt to deflect the opponent's thrown bomb. One contestant discovers the effective tactic is to throw at the opponent while they are distracted collecting the next bomb. One contestant on one team wins 2-0, the second contestant on the same team wins 1-0 and the third match is not held. All three members on the losing team lose a life. No information on how the teams or the match-ups were decided, making this part of the show faintly dissatisfactory as well as somewhat violent.

Game three: the cleverest piece of game design so far in the show. The leading contestant must play the game (we had co-leaders, so the tie was broken by "which hand is the black raven's feather in?") and must choose an accomplice. The main player stands to lose a life if they fail the game; success brings two rings, which they may or may not choose to share. The game is to solve a riddle and then spell it out by stepping on a series of lettered stones, which is a very familiar game show mechanic indeed. The cunning thing is that there was too little information to solve the riddle today, but it was implied that tomorrow we will return and get the same riddle with a little more information. A good technique to peg back the leader.

Finally, we had the "The Way of the Warrior" obstacle course again. The contestant who was in clear last place volunteered to play, but so did the contestant who played the TWotW course yesterday. At this point we were all informed that if someone plays TWotW twice and loses both times then they are out of the game immediately, regardless of how many or how few lives they have left. No, I don't understand either. A "which hand" draw saw the leader taking part in it; today, he didn't get quite as far as he did yesterday before erring. This second loss at TWotW earned instant dismissal and an unpredictable reprieve for the contestant with fewest lives.

This clearly isn't a great show. It has nice touches - good contestants, good clothing, pretty good camerawork, decent incidental music, a well-suited and positive host who remains firmly in character, a few nice props and a good atmosphere - but suffers from not infusing its games with the required atmosphere nearly enough to convince. It conveys the image of "a fun day out on a children's activity holiday at Center Parcs in medieval garb" far more convincingly than its "mammoth quest" epic fantasy pretensions.

Fifteen years ago, probably even only ten, I would have been all over this show, designing a home game (incorporating six differently-shaped dice) based on only the first day's challenges, coming up with advanced rules for ways contestants can purchase useful items and extra skills with their treasure rings, coming up with ways that the young warriors might eventually replace the host and guide other young warriors through the challenges in the future, coming up with parallel challenges for young would-be wizards instead of young would-be warriors and so forth. There probably is an effective everything-you-might-like-to-do-in-a-RPG-minus-the-role-playing system in Raven yet. (I'd also be trying to work out a proto-live-action-role-playing Raven home game, too.) However in 2002 I'm rather more ehhh about the whole proceedings; there's not much to play along with, let along fan along with, and the whole result is unambitious and underwhelming. Bah. I guess I must just be getting old.

The show somehow needs something more - perhaps a definite enemy that the team can band together against in occasional co-operative games, perhaps something to do with the treasure rings, perhaps some other positive sort of sense of progression other than the "well, you haven't been eliminated yet" aspect. Possibly something as simple as a sidekick for the Raven himself - an Android, a Pickle or a Majieda - might spice things up. That's already a lot to fit into a six-contestants-down-to-two-in-one-week show, though; I do regret that it couldn't have been that bit more ambitious and stuck with the same (decreasing) band of contestants throughout all four weeks. Admittedly the (presumed) repetition of games does allow for a greater budget on them, but there doesn't appear to have been a particularly great sum spent on the games in the first place. Perhaps the show has been shot on a budget befitting its "off-Broadway" status after all.

Definitely more interesting than Ice Warriors, though.

It was the Middlesbrough Gamers Club's Christmas party tonight; I co-marshaled a game of Fuzzy Heroes for about thirty players. It's now got so late that I shall tell you about it - and also about an interesting survey of British sporting preferences - at some other point.
Current Mood: having an overused voicebox
Current Music: "Chorlton and the Wheelies" theme tune

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2002 01:34 am (UTC)
One thing the struck me about yesterday's was a feeling of unfairness. Given Darla's (sp?) obvious acrophobia, there's no way she was going to be able to do the first game - it's just not possible to overcome such a fear "just like that" - and IMO she was far more deserving just for getting up the tree (and how did they really get her down?). Follow this with the second game where she loses a life without even getting a chance to play, and I was getting somewhat narked with the show. I like the idea of the puzzle path to tighten the game up - the leader has to risk a life for what gain (what the point of these treasure rings is has yet to be explained AFAIR).

I actually don't have a problem with the 'Two Strikes and You're Out' policy on the Way of the Warrior - it made perfect sense to me: if the reward is greater (getting a life back), so should the risks. What annoyed me was the kid going for his second attempt and stopping Darla from having the chance to get a life back and avoid elimination, so I'll admit I was cheering when the shield pushed him off the track ;-)

I think your most telling comment is the one about age - we need to remember that this is, after all, a show on a Kids TV, so it's perhaps unsurprising that it doesn't play quite so well with adults. Non game-show example: Battle of the Planets was - at the time it was showing - the absolute bee's knees of kids TV, and pretty much every discussion of kid's TV ends up there (kind-of like the old USENET & Nazis thing), but watching it now it seems laughably poor.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2002 03:13 am (UTC)


I've not seen the show, but just a quick comment based on what you've said:

With all the forms of game design I've ever seen, the key thing is to have a single really strong core concept around which the game is built. I don't see why game shows should be any exception and Raven seems to be lacking such a thing.

There is a difference between theme and actual gameplay. Raven sounds like it's been set up with a fantasy theme as a commercial strategic decision. Tacking a few elements of random gameplay onto such a theme was always unlikely to work.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2002 08:13 am (UTC)

Re: Raven

That's true - there isn't much connection between the theme and the activities involved. I am idly thinking about why Knightmare was better in this regard and whether it really was all that much better or not.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2002 08:58 am (UTC)

Re: Raven

Well the thing I liked about Knightmare was that it did have a strong concept. The idea of a player who can't see being guided through realtime tasks by teammates who can was both original and interesting.

I felt that the series often underexploited the potential of the idea, but I watched a good few dozen episodes at the time which isn't bad given I don't watch much TV.

In fact, the loose D&D theme was the worst thing about the show for me. I think it would have worked better based on some less contemporary source. Greek mythology would be my choice, I think.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2002 08:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Raven

(Which icon should I use? Ooh, I know, this one...)

Probably better if I reply to you here than in a new post.

The one particular advantage of the traditional Tolkein-esque D&D setting is that it constrained the action to a dungeon. Dungeons are convenient, they imply a series of self-contained rooms and encounters and give a sense of structure and progression to the show. In later series they had far more "wandering around castles, around forests and flying on dragons' backs" and so forth, but this was less true to the original concept and generally less popular. (Remember the eye-shield and the "walking through the forest" sequences? Dead air.)

What sort of environment would greek-mythology!Knightmare be set in? Would it look good? Would it be practical? (You might recall there were short Knightmare sequences in later series where the dungeoneer did wander through some physical caverns; these would have walls apparently made out of polystyrene tiles, which looked very naff.) Could you railroad the contestants through it as effectively as through a dungeon?
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2002 11:07 am (UTC)
I like the sound of Fuzzy Heroes.


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