One of the most memorable children’s TV shows of my generation was Knightmare. Ah, Knightmare – a show that was about role-playing games, but oddly cool to be a fan of. In Knightmare, a team of four kids would try to get through a dungeon populated by all sorts of traps, baddies and dangers.
Of course, it wasn’t a real dungeon, or even a real set – instead, one kid would put on a big helmet that covered their eyes (I’m sure there was some silly reason for this) and stand in front of a blue-screen stage. The other three kids and the audience would then see this helmeted kid transported into the fantasy land, which was mostly computer graphics, but with real actors dropped in as well.
Part of the game involved outwitting enemies, solving riddles and casting spells, but what everyone remembers most are the physical challenges. The helmeted kid would frequently be placed into situations where they had to walk very carefully in certain directions, e.g. a winding path next to a cliff, a maze where the tiles are disappearing, giant scythes swinging across the room, etc.
What with the helmet, the kid would receive directions from their three friends, who would shout out things such as ‘Turn left 90 degree and then take two paces forward! No, left!’ All of this confusion provided endless amusement to the audience at home, who typically thought (erroneously) that they could do much better.
I was recently told that halfway into the show, which lasted for a whopping eight series, some kids came up with an entirely new direction: sidestep. Apparently up until this point, no-one had thought of using this specific direction, using more ambiguous terms such as ‘step to your right’ or similar, so ‘sidestep’ was a genuinely innovative improvement. What made this even more interesting was that following this development, all the teams that followed also used the ‘sidestep’ manoeuvre. It reminds me of nothing else than the development of tool use among social animals.
I suppose there are two morals to this story, if you needed any. The first is that if you give players a broad and flexible set of tools in a game (in this case, full voice control) you can get all sorts of surprising innovations popping up that change the game for everyone.
The second is that someone should really make a knock-off of Knightmare and put it on YouTube. I would sign up for that dev team in a shot.