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[personal profile] davidn
If you know me, you'll know how obsessive a fan I am of the 80s and early 90s programme Knightmare. And if you know how much of a fan of that I am, you'll be extremely surprised to learn that I haven't ever actually seen the whole thing. It used to be pretty much unobtainable for people who didn't have recordings from the time - in the first year of university I remember compiling my own videos of the later series by running two VCRs simultaneously and copying individual episodes from my parents' video archive - but it's only relatively recently that the entire collection has been uploaded to Youtube.

Knightmare was a Dungeons and Dragons computer game come to life - a blindfolded player known as a "dungeoneer" was put into a virtual dungeon with the aid of a bluescreen, and was guided through by three friends as they dodged superimposed creatures and obstacles and interacted with the strange inhabitants. As cheesy as it might look today, it's hard to remember that this technology was revolutionary at the time - it had unusually high production values for a children's programme, and was incredible to watch.

I went through the entire first series of eight episodes this week, with six quests of very little success. Looking at it as an adult, I can now appreciate that a lot of the feeling is due to the performance of Hugo Myatt, who had had only one television appearance before despite his sheer brilliance at playing the role of the dungeon master Treguard - he was working as a news producer in the mid-eighties, and creator Tim Child thought he looked and sounded sufficiently mediaeval to be perfect for the role. It's impossible not to smile as he gets so into it, really selling the flowery fantasy speech, rolling his Rs as well as any Bishop Brennan (who needs to be in Rrrrrrrrome tomorrow) and ad libbing perfectly along with the seasoned actors around him.

In these early episodes, the dungeon backgrounds were constructed out of really very beautiful painted backgrounds by artist David Rowe, which gives them even more of an eighties charm today - they really evoke the feeling of early gamebox or rulebook artwork. Some of the animations and superimposed monsters - all orchestrated by Tim Child upstairs on an Amiga as the games progressed - looks a bit less authentic, but overall I honestly think the scenery has aged pretty well.

The other thing I noticed is that - even though I'll have to wait until I get to the 90s episodes I know to confirm this - it seems a lot faster than later series were, with the player going from avoiding a snake to facing a wall monster to running from a bomb very rapidly. Later episodes tried to expand beyond the scope of the dungeon and had longer periods of walking around forests and talking to other characters, so it's interesting having none of that and going back to much tighter quests.

Despite being only eight episodes long (which, yes, is very long for a British series, but game shows typically had 13 to 16), the first series suffers a bit from repetition. It might not have been as bad when watching it with a gap of a week between episodes, but the majority of the quests went through the same few rooms with a couple of them appearing every single time. Again, I might have misremembered the variety of rooms in later series - I'll have to see when I get there.

In the meantime, I took down some notes on the order of rooms that each teams went through, and completely overdid things as usual - here is a map of every team's route through the game in the first series. To be fair, 23 full-screen paintings isn't a bad collection, but quests were short as players didn't really know what they were doing at this stage, so the early rooms are seen a lot and only half the teams made it beyond the first level. The brown room with the four square doors leading from it is also interesting, with the same artwork appearing at least four times in different contexts to make new obstacles. I'll have to see if artwork gets further reuse as the series go on!

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