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Knightmare was as almost immediate success, but the programmes proved painstakingly difficult to make. Despite the quick interchangeability of dungeon scenes (remember the grid pattern overlay), gameplay was slow, and the players were spending several days in the dungeon, even on an unsuccessful quest.

At first, Tim Child wrote and planned each adventure, together with all its options, various paths, and clues as a single unbroken interactive narrative. But this approach proved extremely wasteful and finally, impractical. The dungeon was already divided into three layers; Level One, easy/introductory; Two, tricky/eliminatory; Three hard/final proving ground.

The problem being experienced in studio was that Knightmare’s interactive dungeon cast had to learn each adventure from top to bottom, and so, when a team failed in Level One, the entire adventure (script) was immediately jettisoned. This proved quite disruptive to older cast members such as John Woodnutt (Merlin), because it was unclear which speeches they should be learning next. Tim solved this problem by plotting each new game on a level-by-level basis. A new team in the game started with the next (unused) Level One game. When they completed it, the games masters picked up the next available Level Two game, etc. No Clues or Objects were carried over from Level to Level, and the gameplay improved accordingly.

The cast were a lot happier too!

altMeanwhile, Robert Harris, whose Travelling Matte company had hitherto played a minor role in proceedings (remember David Rowe was hand-painting all the scenes), made a breakthrough.

Harris had recently taken delivery of a 16-bit Spaceward Computer and found that if you placed a (black) colour overlay across the frame-grabbed dungeon picture, you could airbrush through the black to progressively reveal the scene beneath. In much the same fashion picture restorers delve beneath relatively modern paintings to see if the canvas has been previously used for an Old Master.

altRobert Harris, who had trained as a conventional theatre and TV set designer, found that he could use this technique to 're-light' the computer-hosted scenes. The results were moody and atmospheric and just what Knightmare needed. The technique was also one of many 'World-Firsts' that Knightmare was to be credited with.


From that point onwards, David Rowe produced all his new dungeon scenes with deliberately 'bland and even' lighting plots, allowing the new computer technique to fully exploit the graphics. Cyclic colour animation routines were also used by The Travelling Matte to add animated content to the scenes, but the dungeons themselves remained, frustratingly static.

altGameplay and programme making flourished, and a young British audience was getting used to the only game on television, where losing was counted as more natural than winning!

By now, Knightmare had enjoyed its third series, and the first French version, Le Chevalier du Labyrinth had been commissioned and recorded, but Tim Child was becoming increasingly frustrated with the room-by-room format.

The Knightmare adventures demanded movement, danger, atmosphere and a complex variety of scenes in which to stage the game. The Greater Game was becoming ever more hungry - ever more demanding of scenic complexity, and Harris and Rowe were at the limit of what could be achieved either with computer or paintbrush.

Virtual Reality offered a possible solution, but when Tim Child tried VR in his Sci-Fi adventure show (The Satellite Game) for British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), the results from the early runtime images were so poor, that they were never even considered for integration into Knightmare. No, Knightmare had started as Hi-Fidelity imaging, and had to remain that way.

So - if Virtual Reality wouldn't do the trick, how about plain Reality? Britain was rich in real castles with real crumbling dungeons. Harris's relighting techniques could be used with any images, real or painted, so why not acquire a huge dungeon database by looting history?

The famed Knightmare studio grid pattern was duly reverse-engineered as an acquisition method, and the team went on location, equipped with video cameras, in search of castles.

And what a rich treasure they discovered......

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