Thursday, January 14, 2010

Still Waiting for Jack

I have written about You Don't Know Jack at least twice on this blog (here and here). Both times lamenting the fact that I can't play a current version of the irreverent trivia game on my living room TV with friends and strangers over the internets. This was brought painfully to mind again this week as I dipped my toe back into the world of trivia gameshows with 1 vs 100 on the Xbox 360.

More than a year after getting my 360, I finally upgraded my Xbox Live Account to Gold. Mostly I did this because there is a really good deal where you can get a chat pad, a headset, a year of live and a game (PGR4 in my case) for a good price. I did it for the chat pad (which is the most useful accessory for a gaming system ever).

So I was trying out some of the things I can do with a Gold account and I figured I'd give 1 vs 100 a go. My first expereince was in an Extended Play game. It's trivia, fairly straight-forward and quick paced. There is the odd add break, but the only thing they seem to advertise is themselves, so it wasn't too annoying. Not horrible, and it played smoothly, and I love me some trivia. So I figured I would try the Live game on Tuesday night.

I think I know what I'm going to be doing with my Tuesday evenings for the next while.

1 vs 100 is not perfect, but it does have something unique, especially when played live. It has a sense of being a part of a larger show. The trivia is rapid pace, there is a real host, real prizes (Microsoft Points, XBLA games, and a few other give aways), and a chance to show off to other real people (if you manage to land in the Mob or as the 1). It's quite fun, but it sadly still falls into the '90s and '00s suspense-style gameshow.

Trivia gameshows tend to fall into three categories: challenging, witty/irreverent, and suspenseful. You can guess my favourite. The first tends to attach those who are smart, like to see smart people show off, or generally like the challenge involved in the questions. Jeopardy has lasted for so long because of a solid niche audience that loves to see the smart rewarded for knowing that little bit more than their opponents (hence the popularity of Ken Jennings).

I've always found the third kind of trivia game to be rather low-brow. It substitutes challenge with cliff-hanger expectation and mass appeal questions. Now there is nothing wrong about pop-culture in a trivia game, but when the majority of players can be out-guessed by a 5th grader, then you have a problem. Fancy cutting and dramatic music try to keep the audience glued to the rather banal trivia, and drag what could be a very rapid-fire game into an hour long slog. Popularized by Who Wants to be a Millionaire, we were soon deluged by a glut of anxiety-ridden contestants on a raft of mass-consumable trivia. I'm very tired of these, and am glad to see them dissapear into third-string time slots.

Which brings me back to Jack, my favourite example of the Witty/Irreverent category (followed closely by Win Ben Stein's Money). Except for a short-lived foray into TV, YDKJ has always remained firmly in the realm of video games and yet they have always played best in a live environment. Many good times were had when mutiple people could be gathered around the keyboard, and my personal favourite installment of the game was also delivered live (sort of) to your screen every week over the net.

This begs the question: why isn't this on the Xbox right now? The technology exists to produce a high-quality game and play it live over distance. 1 vs 100 sets a precident for delivering weekly content. Jellyvision has always expressed a desire (with the right backing) to bring Jack to the masses. They are in fact long overdue. Almost a year and a half ago they brought an end to the YDKJ online experence (still playable) with an announcement that Big Things were coming for the series. This came shortly after they announced that Jellyvision was heading back into games after a long hiatus with some new leadership. So far these things have yet to materialize a Jack game.

But I hope they are working on something. I hope it's live, funny, and delivered weekly to my TV-connected console for me to play. I hope it gets here soon. Until then I'll be getting my trivia fix from 1 vs 100.


  1. A while back a buddy and I interviewed one of the founders of Jellyvision for a podcast. He said that YDKJ had a "future" and the strong hint was for XBLA.

    I'll need to see if I can find the interview online and link to it.

    Awesome guy. He sent us the ENTIRE YDKJ collection.

  2. Took me a while. (The site no longer exists but I remember hosting with odeo.)

  3. Thanks Nat, for the link. Awesome interview. It's kind of sad how many of those games I remember playing (Jack 4 and 6, and Sports are my only missing ones). Nice rant near the end too.