Monday, 6 February 2012

A to Z of UK RPG in the 80s: K is for Knightmare

A player dons the helmet of Justice as Treguard looks on
In the late eighties Tim Child, a Journalist/Reporter/Producer for Anglia TV, came up with an idea for a kids TV show having been inspired by the popular 8 bit dungeon questing games such as Atic Atac and Dragontorc.

The concept was simple, a team of four children would embark on a quest to retrieve an artifact from the dungeon.  One child played as the "dungeoneer" and wore the "helmet of justice" effectively blinding them (to the primitive TV technology available at the time) whilst the remaining three acted as guides watching the action through a "magic mirror" and telling the dungeoneer where to move and what to do.

L: Treguard (Hugo Myatt) and R: Pickle (David Learner)
The guardian of the dungeon was a character called Treguard (played by Hugo Myatt) who would act as Dungeon Master, giving the players clues as they progressed through the dungeon rooms.  Other characters would appear in rooms to offer clues to the completion of puzzle or give the players a riddle which might help in the next room.  In later series some of these characters like Pickle (played by David Learner, who also wore the Marvin suit in the BBCs Hitchikers Guide to The Galaxy) became permanent fixtures.  

Spells Yes, Combat and Roleplay No

Often players would be required to cast spells in order to defeat a puzzle, these consisted of the dungeoneer spelling out a word.  I was never sure whether this mechanism was deployed due to the limitations of the technology or as an educational content element to pass the TV commissioners scrutiny.  The technology was definitely a limiting factor with regards combat and the producers eschewed the opportunity to add a roleplaying element with the dungeoneers always being known by their real names.  In essence the show was essentially a puzzle solving exercise and although there was some inspiration to be got from viewing in hindsight it was pretty limited, but nevertheless a fun show to watch. 

The Technology

The show used the chromakey tecchnology to superimose the "real" world onto the digitised matte paintings of the "virtual" dungeon, the work of airbrush artist David Rowe who had painted a few of the more popular 8bit game covers of the early 80s.

Dungeoneer Martin gets fried by Sorceress Morghanna
Behind the scenes view of a typical room which 
demonstrates the "blue screen" (chromakey)
technique that the show used extensively

Knightmare: The Boardgame and the Adventure Gamebooks

It wasn't long after the show's debut that the first of six gamebooks were released, between 1998 and 1993, in an interesting part novella part gamebook format.  The obligatory TV boardgame was released by MB in 1991 and seems lack lustre and pedestrian by comparison to other earlier MB adventure games such as Heroquest both incidentally designed by Stephen Baker. 

Groundbreaking For It's Time

Although I look back at this early attempt at an immersive TV show through rose tinted nostalgia glasses, it's hard not to be impressed with what they achieved.  An attempt at a CGI reboot (known as Knightmare VR) was attempted with a pilot in the early 00s, but to date no channel has attempted this level of immersion in a mixed media environment.  The BBC have come close with the creditable shows Trapped!, Raven and Mission 2110 which are essentially reworkings of the Crystal Maze physical challenge format with expensive sets.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow...this reminds me a great deal of a T.V. Show I'd heard of on SVT 1 in Sweden, called "Barda". Here's one of the only videos I was able to find of the show, which is supposedly one of the most popular children's shows in Sweden: Barda Trailer