TV show aimed at games addicts is virtually real

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The Independent Online
'AWOOGA AWOOGA]]', the irritating battle cry of the latest in gameshow hosts, somehow sums up the world's first virtual reality television programme, scheduled for broadcast this evening.

A made-up word for a made- up game played in a made-up world. . . with a scouse presenter. Craig Charles, better known as Lister in Red Dwarf, says that for computer games addicts, his Cyberzone programme is the next best thing: 'After all, even they've got to give their fingers a rest sometime.'

Towards the end of the 1980s, proponents of virtual reality (VR) donned strange helmets, goggles incorporating tiny video screens and gloves bristling with electronic sensors. A virtual world projected on to the miniature screens in front of their eyes by computer created the impression that they were totally immersed in that world, and the glove let them manipulate objects within it.

More recent VR systems let people share the experience by projecting virtual scenes on to a screen. Cyberzone uses this approach, projecting 'Cyber Swindon' on to a huge bank of video screens so that audiences in the studio and at home can watch the computer-generated alter egos of the competing teams, 'borgs', in action.

According to the BBC, 'VR is sexy, young, the magic of the moment'. Cyberzone is aimed at teenagers, but is expected to attract viewers up to 35 years old.

The studio audience appears to be largely teenage, male, vaguely heavy-metal in style, and sounds like a group of mild-mannered football supporters.

The game involves two teams, sports superstars pitched against ordinary people. The first game sees the footballers John Barnes and John Fashanu grapple, not unconvincingly, with the latest in computer technology. One team member stands on a platform which is wired into a network of five personal computers. These create and control the virtual scenes in which the contestant's borg can walk, run and manipulate objects; the borg has to solve puzzles and perform tasks, and exactly mimics movements made by the player. The second player guides his team mate using a computer map.

The second team sits in a buggy and 'drives' its virtual image around the same map in pursuit of their opponents' borg, hoping to chase and harass it.

Broadsword, the production company behind the series, teamed up with British VR specialists, Dimension International, to create the programme. Broadsword's managing director, Tim Child, explained that the programme had only recently become possible with advances in VR technology.

'The criticism that many parents have of computer gaming is that it is a solitary and sometimes passive behavioural form. Cyberzone is the opposite - it's a theatrical use of VR.'

Cyberzone is scheduled for broadcast at 6.50pm tonight on BBC 2.

(Photograph omitted)