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Game shows

Well, here we are again! I am sensing polite smiles all around as we buckle up for yet another edition of Countdown. Honestly, the thinking behind this was similar to the previous pine cones. Not sure of the time I’d have, it was really just something I thought I could chip away at in short bursts without taxing my brain too much. It would just be a case of modifying my previous attempt, looking at the early nineties set.


This time, we’re in 1999, a happy time just before the millennium bug would come along and change life as we know it, blowing up all of our computers and pulling planes from the sky. Or, perhaps, not so much. Thankfully. I understand much was done behind the scenes to alleviate any potential issues, but, as a child at the time, all I remember is the media doing a good job of putting the fear of God into us. Some things don’t change, huh, or maybe it was a godsend that we all bought our Y2K-compliant watches, calculators and underwear. All this being said, I can’t have let it get to me that much, as my memories of that Christmas and New Year are entirely happy. I guess that’s how it should be when you’re seven.

Besides the obvious switch to indigo lighting, the main set really hasn’t changed much; some minor adjustments to the backdrop, and some new textures, but that’s about it. It was really a test to see how much I could do to clean up the clock’s ‘wings’ without having to redo them, because I remember they were quite the pain and I can barely even remember how I did it anyway.

cd1999-011aNew letters and numbers area! Clearly, they were going mad with the budget at this point – they might have even gone into triple figures throwing the lights in over here. The boards are the same as before, just modified, but the backdrop and numbers tray are completely new.

cd1999-010aIf you’re not a fan of the colour scheme – maybe you’d prefer it if it were blue daba dee daba die – here’s an attempt at recreating the credits, with the flashing lights and bright orange:

cd1999-lightsI feel like Countdown – with a warm presenter, at least – is a programme perfect for this time of year, whether you’re snowed in, dumfungled or just feeling lazy. Essentially a parlour game, friendly and unquestionably familiar, it seems to chime with much of the Christmas spirit of tradition. That would doubtless explains why, these days, the Christmas break is about the only time Channel 4 don’t show Countdown! It didn’t used to be this way, though; I remember when the grand final was screened on Christmas Day itself, indeed 1999 being one such year. I know it’s not as popular as it used to be, and Nick Hewer is so dour that he cannot be relied upon to big things up, but I do miss the finals actually having a sense of occasion. Ah well. I suppose hidden-away-at-two-o’clock Countdown is better than no Countdown at all.

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Having done a few pure pixel pictures lately, I ventured into three dimensions to look at transferring objects into the pixel realm; reducing resolutions, avoiding anti-aliasing and trying to create as authentic a visual as I can.

Cheating, essentially.

I began playing with some simple shapes and animations, limiting colour.

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Happy results, and certainly a time saver for designs like those above and below.

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And, having played around with hexagons, it was time for the obligatory detour to Blockbusters, which then spilled into other game shows for good measure. After all, what do pixels make?

Blockbusters is set to return on Comedy Central (yes, seriously) at some point this year. By my count, this will be the fifth time since the golden Bob era that this format has been dredged back up. Will it take off this time, I wonder? You have to admire the perseverance.

While there’s nothing especially ground-breaking here, it’s nice to have it confirmed that pixel art doesn’t have to be restricted to just Photoshop painting; the 3D alternative for reference is equally effective, and a handy cheat. Cheating is good when it saves you time!

With all the stuff I’ve done on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire previously, you’re probably not surprised in the least to see this, an attempt at modelling the revival set.

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Like most game shows these days, it’s predominantly spotlights and LED screens. The video floor replacing the old ‘bowl’ was something I was initially unsure of, but they proved me wrong – it’s used to great effect throughout the show.

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There might not be all the glass and shine of the predecessor, but there are those video panels. I’d done some basic video integration with my Million Pound Drop screens, but this required rather a lot more. The results are somewhat basic, mostly cobbled together from previous or abandoned projects; it’s not nearly so impressive as the real deal, but it’s nice to know it works.

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I’m pleasantly surprised to be enjoying the new Millionaire as much as I am. I thought it was finished a decade or so ago, so the fact that it feels even remotely special again is testament to not Jeremy Clarkson but the overall production. The show is back in March, I understand; let’s hope ITV keep it as an occasional event, stripped over a few days, and aren’t tempted to water it down (no celebrities!!) or overexpose it. As it is, it should be an attraction for some time.

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CRYSTALDOME-2019-45-2Somewhere in that between-Christmas-and-New-Year smudge, I found myself watching not Going for Gold with Henry Kelly, but The Crystal Maze with Ed Tudor-Pole. This won’t surprise anybody who’s been here for any length of time; indeed, the surprise will probably come from the fact that it’s been a while – at least a year! Coming straight after Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. But the hit of nostalgia was perfect for the time of year.

It was the final Christmas special I happened across, where the Maze was opened up to not the celebrities who seem to plague the revival, but children. Loud, obnoxious, ridiculously fortunate children. Though they might have me dropping the volume at times, or otherwise just downright jealous, it was a very sweet thing for the show to do. Indeed, it became all the sweeter when these kids made short work of puzzles which stumped the so-called ‘grown-ups’.

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Anyway, after taking another look at the set I thought I’d have another go at recreating the Crystal Dome stage, the heart of the Crystal Maze. I would hope to be better equipped than three years ago, when I last attempted this. Certainly, it’s much more realistic in terms of scale; the sixteen-foot dome now rather more snug but still commanding the space. The endearingly naff scaffold decoration is also more carefully done. The tokens are, as previously, a balancing act, trying to get a neat texture whilst going easy on CPU. Fun revisit overall, though, and certainly simpler than last time.

Still waiting for The Crystal Maze VR, by the way.

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Happy New Year to all who visit, especially to those who continue to do so. Let’s hope 2019 is a year of grabbing those golden tokens with minimal deduction of silver. Let’s win that murder mystery weekend!

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I may not have been posting much since completing the Twenty-Six Spins challenge – indeed, by that, I mean I haven’t posted at all. But I have been keeping busy, on a daily basis no less, with several pieces, and hopefully these will be ready to show soon. I’ve certainly felt more awake creatively since the challenge, such that this exercise was my idea of letting off some steam. Hopefully, it’ll last. I pushed it enough while it was running, but I’ll say one more time: do give it a whirl. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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You could say that the aforementioned series was a lifeline for me – see what I did there? I found myself playing with my Who Wants To Be A Millionaire model from earlier in the year, with a view to bringing its nineties complexion up to date – well, 2010 anyway. There wasn’t much to like about the series from that year, which introduced a ‘big bad clock’ for questions and essentially killed the show. They did, however, use more pink and purple around the set, and that’s never a bad thing. I’ve dialled that up here, and though I’ll probably always favour the original set, I’m enjoying the heightened neon-retro feel here.

The new curvy columns aren’t great, but will do and shouldn’t be hard to tweak. What does bother me somewhat is the bumpy decoration on the backing panels, not looking particularly accurate; wouldn’t you know it, a simple tweak made it vastly better – a shame this came after the eight-hour render session, huh. Still, as its essentially the same set as that of my first Millionaire attempt in 2016, it’s pleasing to see a much more accurate reconstruction overall.

It was great to see Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Win Enough for The Parking Meter While They’re In Here back last month with Jeremy Clarkson at the helm. Not being a massive fan, knowing his reputation and having never run into Top Gear, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Jezza. As it happens, I was pleasantly surprised; he was very funny and, though he mocked, you could tell he really wanted the contestants to do well – even when it was clear they probably weren’t. His appointment gave Millionaire an air of unpredictability and intrigue that it probably hasn’t had since 2000. I gather it was a success, holding its audience across the series, so hopefully we’ll get another run soon, since that would mean all the more opportunity for stuff like this!

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So guys, time for another question. Choose your category: People or Places? I’m going to have to hurry you. I’m really going to have to push you for an answer guys, we’re live, sorry guys. Sorry guys, would you like me to toss a coin? You have to go with a category guys…

…Places it is. Which of these places is not in the UK?

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Never mind Millionaire, that’s yesterday’s news! The next in this year’s veritable feast of brand new quiz reboots is The Million Pound Drop, though not without its purse-strings being tightened considerably. Shifted to afternoons, it is now rather awkwardly dubbed The 100k Drop and appears on Channel 4 from tomorrow.

Starting in 2010 and running until 2015, Million Pound Drop was broadcast live, usually around 9 or 10PM on Friday and Saturday nights for a few weeks at a time. Confronted by four drops, pairs of contestants had to answer questions by gambling a real million pounds (in £25k bundles) on the drop – ideally all on the right answer, but they could split their money if they were unsure, with the caveat of leaving at least one clear at all times. Any money placed on the wrong answers, well, dropped, plummeting through the trapdoor and rumbling like thunder down a chute and into the clutches of security guards. If they made it through eight (later seven) of these gruelling questions, they got to keep whatever was left.

It was an energetic show and perfect for the weekend. It was also quite fascinating to see contestants handling a physical cash prize, which doubtless had an impact even though it wasn’t remotely theirs unless they made it to the last question. I used to quite enjoy it – at one stage, I even survived the online play-along game to unlock application for the programme. The urge didn’t last, though. Being greeted with a form that was almost forty pages long, and realising I probably couldn’t have written that much for a life story at that point, I decided they could keep their million pounds.

I likely wouldn’t have made it on anyway; I may have met one requirement of being under-35, but sadly I’m not photogenic, nor am I perma-smiley and hyperactive, which were seemingly hard and fast rules. I always thought it a bit rich of Davina McCall to shout out to the over-60s for leading the online game – as they often were – because you knew they were never going to get due representation on the programme.

Million Pound Drop all got a bit samey after a while, and meddling with the format rather than where change was actually needed likely accelerated its downfall. I’m actually curious about The 100k Drop, though. One presumes the policies of prime-time will be relaxed, and that should mean more diverse questions, and that should mean a more diverse programme. Yay for diversity. It could end up being a better show. We’ll see!

Anyway, all of this rambling at a ridiculous hour in the morning is because I wanted to do a quick sim test with the drop. It’s a compelling set piece, with an aura of ‘boss battle’ about it. It’s still satisfyingly intense when it kicks into life and the wonga falls.

I originally created bundles of cash with individual notes – the most rigid notes you’ve ever seen! – but simulating any more than a handful of these was a bit too much for my computer, so I had to go with forty blocks instead. It was relatively simple from thereon in, throwing a Rigid Body tag onto the bundles, Colliders on the trapdoors and then animating them in sequence. The scale and surroundings may be slightly off as most of it was done purely from memory – perhaps I’ll come back to MPD and give it Millionaire-esque treatment with a full set model. Or perhaps not, who knows. I don’t. It’s late. I’m going to have to hurry you guys – let’s see what’s gonna drop.

(Spunkie is in Scotland, Crapstone in Devon, and Loose Bottom in Lewes. Fucking is a village in Austria. So, now you know!)

With the announcement that Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is coming back for a week of twentieth anniversary specials, I was compelled to get in on this and throw a revival of my own. Almost two years ago now, I had a go at making a 3D model of the Millionaire set. I hoped I could do better this time!

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I’ve gone for a more 1998 look, or at least the early days in general. It’s always been a fairly intimate arena, but here we have a wider range of colours besides just blue, and with those wonderfully bulky screens and a big case of wonga making the centrepiece.

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The 2016 attempt now looks pretty terrible, so I’m guessing that’s a marked improvement! With what I’d like to think was a more informed approach, creating the model and animation was a much happier experience this time around. No friends needed to be phoned… though, I should give credit to my friend Christopher Jamin; shots of his own Millionaire models helped me no end with the make-up of more intricate elements.

I’m always curious with revivals; it seems there is a very fine line to tread when bringing back an established show. Some are spoilt with unnecessary ‘tweaks’ (Crystal Maze, Krypton Factor) while others just can’t seem to escape the shadow of previous presenters (Blockbusters, Robot Wars, Crystal Maze again). Indeed, it will be strange having Millionaire mark its twentieth anniversary without Chris Tarrant. Jeremy Clarkson probably wouldn’t have been my first choice to succeed him, but he will undoubtedly attract others, and there’s nothing to suggest he won’t do a decent job.

The £64,000 question will of course be whether viewers want Millionaire back just four years after it limped into retirement virtually unnoticed. Should things go down well, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more. If it’s used sparingly and goes back to the basics that made it gripping in the first place, I think Millionaire could well flourish again, twenty years later. We’ll have to ask the audience and see…

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Oh, and ITV: it’s the thirtieth anniversary of Interceptor next year. Celebratory revival please.