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Back into the realm of PowerPoint game shows we go, with a mock-up of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in its classic, Tarrant-led incarnation. This is something I’ve attempted several times over several years, but this is definitely the best yet. Some extra sparkle is provided by renders of my now rather old 3D model of the 2001 set. I would ideally have gone for the original 1998 set, but my model of that is inferior and, frankly, the motivation to redo it isn’t there.

Hopefully it’s not too hard to see how it works from the video, but in any case: the options appear by clicking anywhere. The quizmaster then clicks on the letter at the bottom of the screen corresponding to the contestant’s final answer. Clicking on said letter a second time reveals the correct answer. Lifelines function for every question; it’s just a case of remembering to input the information beforehand. I have yet to find a way of carrying over the usage of lifelines; it might not even be possible, so as it is the contestant has all three available for every question.

Question setups for each correct answer are ready-made, and can be copied and pasted in any order to create a full stack.

It’s quite a convoluted animation setup, as anyone who’s worked with PowerPoint beyond spinning and bouncing text can probably imagine, but it works rather well and isn’t overly hard to edit. It’s implementing the sound effects which is likely to be the phone a friend moment.

A few weeks ago, I was approached on YouTube by Pacdude Games, who suggested collaborating to update his Countdown presentation package, for streams and such. This sounded exciting and I’ve always liked his work, so I said yes.

Thankfully, the majority of visual work had already been done, as I tackled the current Countdown set way back in January. This project was mostly tidying the set up, and placing cameras for rendering the clock sequence in a fashion that is somewhat faithful to the programme – making sure there is space in the lower third for the different puzzles which, helpfully, are not uniform. Also added was a retexturing for the crucial conundrum, which can now adopt mood lighting resembling that seen on the show.

This was good fun, and Cory’s coding has turned these elements into something I could only dream of creating. It’s always satisfying to see graphics actually being used.

Here’s the first Countdown Throwdown stream. It’s a good laugh! Hopefully there will be more. You can also find Pacdude Games here.

Having been in discussion with an old friend possibly even more enamoured with the game show than myself, I’d a feeling – as indeed I do on every conversation – that his unabashed delight in cheesy presenters, sparkly sets and strobe lights would rub off on me. And I was right. He’s a terrible influence.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire launched on ITV in September 1998, coming after years of developing and tweaking the format of both the quiz and the show itself. Stripped in half-hour bursts across two weeks, the show was an instant success – in subsequent series, it would boast audiences of almost twenty million, even with the rapid increase of satellite alternatives, and soon it’d have travelled the world. The computer game was the best-selling of the year 2000. It left its rivals, offering cars and a couple of grand, in the dark. Millionaire was perhaps the last ‘event’ game show, and in its favour was its universal accessibility. People used to be talking about it in the playground at first school – we simply couldn’t fathom such monstrous sums of money. I expect we weren’t alone in that view.

It was the cleverness of its construction that allowed even we, aged only six and seven when it started, to engage in the programme. Pitching the questions as multiple-choice and presenting them for the duration not only cajoled bullish contenders into chancing their arm, but it also meant that everyone at home could have a go, with a decent chance of indeed being correct whether you had the foggiest idea what the question was asking or not. Instantly, there was a connection – you were active viewers, and your thought process informed the narrative between yourself and the contestant, which might have already been dictated by their outwardly laddish tendencies or crippling nerves. Superiority or regret was amply topped up. Only fuelling this – one way or another! – was the stewardship of Chris Tarrant; invariably incensing in his lengthy pauses and stalls, he was also very good at making you care about what was going on. You couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the job.

I was most powerfully fascinated, though, by the show’s set as a child (weird kid). Designed with the show’s capacity for theatre very much in mind, the round, stepped-up nature exacerbated the isolation aspect, while also offering potential to be unitive in atmosphere. True to the game show, it had its share of shine and strobe, but they were used in a very different way, again only adding to the tension of the thing. I was fascinated by the way the lights would go up and down, the house lights dropping darker the further the player ventured, until it was just them and Chris visible.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was not only a historic game show, but really is the reason for much of the television that has followed. The dark, spotlit sets. The dramatic music scores. The focus on emotion. Big viewing figures. Indeed, the bar was only going to go up (or down, depending on what you might think!) and it wasn’t long before Millionaire‘s playbook was stolen. Once the jackpot had been bagged, though, the moment had passed rather, and interest began to wane, big wins became less of a story, certainly compared to cheating ehe-NO!-m Majors trying to con their way to the cash.

In the subsequent years, the show slipped steadily into irrelevance – shifting from stripped five days a week to early Tuesday night, and subject to several last-ditch format reversions, none of which worked. Tarrant quit in 2013, with the final show going out quietly the next year. Something of a shame really, though I won’t pretend it shouldn’t have gone many years earlier. Much better off remembered as the unstoppable force it was in its pomp.

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But we don’t want to give you that! Into the next dimension – 27 June 2012

The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire set was, I believe, the very first thing I tried to build in 3D nearly half a decade ago now – mainly because I thought it looked simple. I soon realised it was far from such, but nevertheless, the way that shapes actually seemed to be, and the ease in which colours and textures were falling into the view-port, made me want to explore the subject in greater depth.

With my confidence increasing recently, and with this quizzy shot in the arm, I thought I’d give Millionaire another go, to see if I could master the whole lighting business, a practice in which I’m lagging slightly. The floor would also be a challenge.

millionaire03aThe build was refreshingly simple, if laborious at times. Lots and lots of radial cloning. As I thought, replicating the glass-and-dish construct of the floor was tough; all about achieving the right texture – namely, that crooked, shard motif. It didn’t turn out quite as I hoped, but I think it’s at least on the right lines.

millionaire01The lights were rather more difficult than expected. I did not know how to get the snazzy pattern to show on the floor, nor could I find anywhere that told me; this suggests that either I’m insane in wanting to do this, or it’s so blindingly simple that no advice is necessary. In the end, I put a disc with the pattern cut out of it, directly in front of the spotlight falloff, and grouped it. It worked a charm, and once I’d started setting them properly, the stage began to really look Millionaire-ish in appearance.

millionaire02aI even rendered a quick video of the lights going down – as mentioned earlier, one of the most vivid draws of the show for me when I was little. There’s something rather stilted about the animation compared to the routine on TV, and I’m not quite sure why that is, but it was nice to try and the descent into darkness is very satisfying. In that hobbled-together effort, I intertwined my 3D with some graphics I made back in 2012, which were created with a view to actually recording a couple of ‘academic’ Millionaire episodes for a sixth form. Purple was their colour, so purple was what they got! Sadly it never happened – perhaps they realised it was out of their budget? – but I still have the visuals, I suppose now merely fan art:

So that’s Millionaire. Given that I’ve only spent a couple of days on this, and it took me three years to complete the Countdown set, I think I fared rather well. I at least learnt a lot in setting up and animating spot lights. Now I just need to explore glassy stuff in more detail, and try and preferably come up with a solution that doesn’t take three-quarters of an hour to render one frame.

Constructing the set did give me greater appreciation for the efforts of the old games, which generally were well done, especially looking back after fifteen years. The PlayStation 2 version, which came complete with a CGI Chris Tarrant was, quite naturally, hilarious.

bob-1A birthday shout-out to the late Robert Wentworth John ‘Bob’ Holness, who would have been eighty-seven today.

I’ve recently found myself watching episodes of Blockbusters; leave it to he to make me chuckle, looking on fondly at his comedic faux-pas in the presence of cocky sixth-formers. And to be honest, the show is worth watching for the theme tune and title sequence alone:

It was much the same format as the American parent: contestants play on the hexagonal grid of letters, answering general knowledge questions whose answers begin with said letters, competing to string a line of hexagons from one side to the other. We did something a bit different with it, though – Blockbusters was (and to my knowledge still is) unique in that it was an intelligent (but never elitist) quiz show exclusively for sixteen to eighteen-year old geeks; its audience, though, given the teatime transmission and lack of an alternative, spanned from toddlers to pensioners. Bob presided over the proceedings with a mix of debonair and bumbling (he was James Bond, dontcha know); like a schoolmaster from a different era who had lost all control of his cohort of smart-arses. He epitomised the avuncular; whether you found his manner sweet or slightly embarrassing, you couldn’t not warm to him.

As well as a magnificently tacky Blockbusters sweatshirt, and leather-bound dictionary, the major prizes (Bob quite honestly says ‘major prize’ about fifty times per show, each as hyperbolic as the last) these kids win are pretty bloody awesome for 1983, too: trips to New York (by Concorde!) and Venice, twenty-five driving lessons, and ZX Spectrum computers. Just the other day, I saw a contestant blaze their Gold Run and bag a ‘compact portable stereo’ which appeared the size of a small car.

You can see the very first episode of Blockbusters here. And if you weren’t convinced that the show would evolve out of its infancy to become so adorably, awkwardly nerdy, well, look no further than here. The stellar theme tune is totally deserving of a dedicated dance number, but seeing them doing that makes even me cringe… you will certainly never see me executing the Blockbusters hand jive, unless it’s very late or I’m extortionately drunk – even then, it’d be a push. if you want to do the moves yourself (don’t pretend you’re not curious), I have included the routine below. You’d look so cool.

Knee-clap
Hand-clap
Hand-over-hand (x2)
Potato-hands (x2)
Elbow-point-twirl (x2)
(Repeat x3)

Knee-clap
Hand-clap
Clap in the air manically.

Well, there we are. What did I tell you…? Who needs pick-up lines when you have the Blockbusters hand jive?

The Holness era ended in 1994 after the show, seemingly fed up of being shunted around the ITV schedules to make way for Australian soaps, jumped ship to Sky One, who I can’t imagine enjoyed quite as large a reach back then. Indeed, it only ran for one series on Sky before being axed. Blockbusters has been revived so many times since, on so many channels, and, while there are things you can credit the new versions for, there’s one thing they’re all missing: there ain’t no Bob. Holness went on to present ITV’s ropey Raise the Roof – a game show in which the star prize was a house! – before settling into the BBC’s revival of panel game Call My Bluff, which he hosted for several years until persistent ill-health forced his retirement. His death in 2012 was a sad day for the industry, just as it was for the generations who grew up with him on screen.

Did you know that Bob played the saxophone on the Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit, Baker Street? This was printed somewhere in the 80s, and for many years was circulated as fact. What a shame it wasn’t true!

jennyryan-1

I was a little apprehensive when there was talk of The Chase recruiting a fifth Chaser. I was wrong to be apprehensive. Jenny Ryan is fantastic and in her two appearances so far seems to be a marvellous addition to the programme.

In this drawing, I learnt that achieving a believable leopard print is much harder than anticipated. The hair, which initially filled me with dread (as it always does, especially when it’s long), went better than expected, though.

“Nine in a line, thirty seconds is the time!”

I’ve been a fan of Countdown for quite literally as long as I can remember. I’m told I watched it avidly at eighteen months, and learnt the alphabet from Carol Vorderman as she placed the letters on the board… likewise, I’m in no doubt that late great Richard Whiteley had a lasting influence on me too, such is my fondness for a weak pun, naff slogan or abhorrent tie, or perhaps all three together.

I’m sure, however, I was most taken by the iconic centrepiece and true star of the programme: the clock, and its hypnotic signature tune… it was only when I was quite considerably older that I could possibly appreciate the engaging game of which it is an integral part. I was obsessed with clocks as a child, so the Countdown timepiece was always going to capture me. About seven years ago now I began replicating the mechanics of the clock on my computer, beginning with a simple PowerPoint. Later, I found I could actually work rounds into these programs, and it morphed into what could be a very useful educational tool for teachers; at school there were few games played more in maths than the Countdown numbers round. Rounds and puzzles could be stacked and tinkered with to their heart’s content. I uploaded the presentation to a teaching site, and no end of users contacted me about using the graphics; all came back with positive words. Parents spoke quite movingly of how their child has recalled letters in a similar way to I presume I did. Rachel Riley, the hostess on the show, even used them for some of her school visits. It was incredibly rewarding to hear of something having such a positive impact. It was just a basic PowerPoint presentation! How wonderful, and testament to the real value of Countdown.

In 2012 I began working with Cinema 4D, a very exciting 3D design package. I’ve been chipping away intermittently at the Countdown set since then, purely for recreational purposes, though they were later used in annual New Year quizzes and charity events. But in the past couple of days I’ve turned the clock back – chiefly through boredom, I must confess, and because I have to split up my David Pevsner posts somehow… – and have rebuilt them to look like the Countdown of its infancy in the 1980s, before I was even invented. With the rather basic make-up of the original set, I thought it would be easy. I was wrong! It took quite a bit of graft, and some parts are quite rickety as it’s very much in progress. Redressing the various boards was a nightmare. Why did I inflict it on myself? Who knows. Oh well.

Here we go then. Tick tock! I’ve included a brief overview of the rules for each discipline, for those who may be outside the UK, or those that have just been under a rock for the last thirty-odd years.

Head to the very foot of this post for the answers.

The Letters Game: The contestant selects nine letters, requesting either a consonant or a vowel. When all nine are picked, the clock is started and there’s thirty seconds to make a word. You may only use a letter as often as it appears.

The Numbers Game: The contestant asks for six numbers, requesting up to 0-4 ‘big’ numbers (25, 50, 75, 100) and the rest ‘small’ numbers (1-10 twice over). When these have been picked, a three-digit target number is generated. Thirty seconds is given to make that number using the tiles selected; you can only use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and you must keep to whole numbers. You don’t have to use all of the numbers, but you can only use each tile once.

Countdown Conundrum: A simple buzzer round where the first to unearth the nine-letter word wins the points. The answer is given at the end of the video.

I was originally going to set a conundrum with JACOB in it somewhere, just to be self-centred. Thank goodness the conundrum used doesn’t describe me in any way. Oi. I see that look. Don’t say anything.

If you’d like to see what I was using as my guide, see below… it’s quite startling to see how stilted Richard seems here, and generally how stuffy and slightly po-faced the whole thing appears in comparison to the Countdown I loved growing up. And the music is atrocious. Thankfully, it was up all round from here!

And you can’t mention Countdown without this:

So, there we are. Something different from drawings, anyway.

If you actually had a go at the puzzles in the videos, here are some solutions for you:

Letters (also SEXISTS; probably no need to define either of these words for you)
Numbers (according to a solver, there are twenty-two ways of reaching 649)