Press 6 to move right – the world of phone in video games (Part 2, Total Control Media)

Click here for Part 1.

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Blur and Oasis. Swap Shop and Tiswas. X Factor and Strictly. For every stand out success, there is always a rival up against it, conflicting and complementing. Aside from blatant SEO, the analogy extends to phone in games, with ITE matched against Total Control Media based in Horsham in the UK.

TCM was derived from a media bartering firm (providing a non cash means for funding advertising etc), for which the idea of offering segments to TV shows ready made seemed a logical step. Their approach was very different to the ITE titles in that, while virtual hosts, phone interactivity etc were achieved in the same manner as before (mainframes connected to the studio), the actual games had a very different feel. Take their figurehead, the SoftImage rendered ‘cool dude’ Joe Razz, shown here in “Adventures in Time” from one of the last episodes of What’s Up Doc?.

Those who remember laserdisc arcade games like Super Don Quixote or Space Ace will see a similarity in the construct of these to the Joe Razz games. The player is not directly manipulating the character, rather reacting to external events with ‘success’ and ‘failure’ clips played in as appropriate.

A flowchart of the TCM game loop
The Total Control Media titles follow a very simple game flow, lasting approx. 2 mins 30 seconds

The TCM setup was based around PC hardware and a digital video player that could cut up the appropriate video as needed (in fact, up until its demise, CD-ROM versions of the many Joe Razz titles were available for domestic release). Other titles produced took advantage of this simple engine, replacing the Softimage rendered footage with, for example, grabbed footage from football matches, or a hybrid of 3D CGI images and scanned photographs for the mechas in Showdown.

This setup could be used with an actor and control system, or automatic voice tracked  ‘Real Time Presenters’, capable of hosting entire channels via pre-scripted interactions.

TCM company survived until 2017, although there’s little evidence of activity beyond 2014. The digital television adoption with its subsequent delays posed problems, as well as improvements in home systems making the less interactive titles look rather old hat.

Of course, the combination of the more interactive/simplistic ITE and flashier TCM titles did sit side by side on T.I.G.S. on CITV. Connoisseurs of the genre no doubt have their favourites – personally the less flashy but more functional ITE titles are mine, to the extent that on my Android tablet to this day I have a touch control version of the very first Hugo adventure. However, the games with a far more lasting effect on me came from neither company, and had no traction whatsoever outside the UK. In Part 3, I’ll talk about those in house titles made by the TV channels themselves, in particular the BBC Special projects division.


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