The New Crystal Maze

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Graeme Cole
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The New Crystal Maze

Post by Graeme Cole » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:03 pm

(Starting a new thread on this rather than using the existing "Crystal Maze" thread, because that's about the experience in London rather than the TV show.)

Now we're a few episodes in to the reboot of the Crystal Maze, here is what started as a reply to Gevin's post in another thread, quickly grew into an essay, and ended up as this. Some observations on the New Crystal Maze.

The main figure in the debit column is the surprisingly short amount of time they spend actually playing games. They only play 10 games now - two in two zones and three in the other two. In the original series (let's take this episode as an example) they played 15. Wikipedia suggests they played between 14 and 16, later reduced to 13.

But now it's ten. Why so few? It's partly explained by the fact that modern advert breaks are longer and more numerous (no, that's not just your imagination). The 15-game episode from the original series I linked to above has a running time of 50 minutes from the start of the opening titles to the end of the closing titles, excluding adverts. Looking at the running times of other episodes from the old series on YouTube, this seems to be a typical episode length. An episode from the new series (I picked the one on 29th September, for no particular reason), has a running time of about 46 and a half minutes excluding adverts.

Episodes in the new series, then, are only about three and a half minutes shorter than they used to be. So how on earth have they lost five games? The most likely culprit is that there's more of that chit-chat and general filler nowadays. Taken to an extreme, it's the same reason the new Fifteen-to-One was bloated out to one hour when they used to play literally the exact same format in 30 minutes.

If they played at the same pace as before, or even a bit slower if they feel the original was too rushed, they could easily fit in 12 games, which neatly makes three in each zone. And if you're saying that 10 is a better number because it means each contestant gets to play two games, why not have six contestants in a team like they did before? You might argue that they want to allow more time for Richard Ayoade to sum up after each game and establish his Mazemaster character, but playing at a fast pace didn't stop Richard O'Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole from establishing their characters. Anyway, if you want to give the host more time, why not get rid of that bit at the start where they solve a mini-challenge like moving a load of boulders or scaling a wall to get in to the first zone? The show has always had that bit, but I'm not really sure what it's supposed to add.

That's the rant about the slowness of modern game shows over. On the other hand, there's plenty to be impressed with.

I can see why they chose Richard Ayoade. At first I thought he was being silly for the sake of it ("three mins", "ALIS", plastic hand on a stick), but no, in fact he's perfectly understood what's required of the role - when you present the Crystal Maze, you're not so much hosting a game show as playing a character, the "Mazemaster", which is already distinct from his predecessors.

The four "classic" zones are back - we've got Industrial rather than Ocean. All the zones have been reconstructed and adapted based on the original drawings, with one much-needed exception... the Futuristic Zone, which was originally designed to appear futuristic in 1990. The designers of the time executed that brief well... too well, in fact, because watching an old episode 27 years on, that "designed to appear futuristic in 1990" look is as clear as ever. So nowadays the Futuristic Zone is a totally new, brightly-lit, shiny, gleaming space station type thing.

The way the teams are put together has been completely redone. In the modern era a team contains five people who already know each other. The way they used to do it, a team consisted of six strangers who met each other for the first time over dinner the night before the recording. The main difference made by having a team who already know each other seems to be that a locked-in player is much more likely to be bought out by their team-mates than before - if not immediately, then certainly before they enter the Dome. I don't think an incomplete team has gone to the Dome yet this series.

Incidentally, one team in 1992 seemed to get on very well over their initial pre-show dinner and made a home video of this experience, including meeting Richard O'Brien in the bar and briefly discussing their strategy, which was "we're not going to go for crystals, we're just going to have a laugh". Richard nobly encouraged them to the contrary, to try their best to win every crystal, and have a go at beating the all-time record of ten crystals. We'll never know which strategy prevailed.... (Actually, yes, we will, in the next paragraph.)

The Middling Prize is back! Back in series 1 in 1990, you got a middling prize for scoring between 50 and 99 in the Crystal Dome. At the start of series 2 they scrapped this for reasons I never really understood, so it was 100+ or nothing. Getting 100 has always been difficult, even with a decent number of crystals, and pretty much impossible without a decent number of crystals, with the result that sometimes, if the team hadn't done particularly well, playing the Dome at all was a bit of an obviously pointless farce. (Yep, that's them again.) The middling prize gives a lower-scoring team something realistic to aim for, so I'm glad it's back.

The four game types (Physical, Skill, Mental, Mystery) are unchanged, but the contestants no longer get to choose which one they want. Instead, the order is pre-determined and the team captain chooses who will play the game after Richard reveals what type it is. I can see why this change would help the programme-makers enormously - they can set up all the games they need before filming, without having to set up games that don't get used or stop recording while they build the one that's just been asked for.

In the original series I believe they set up the games on-demand, which meant that before every game there was a 20 minute break in filming while they built it, so it would have been hard for the contestants to keep the excitable-running-between-games momentum going. Also I'd be surprised if they had an entirely free choice before - I'd expect they were encouraged or required to pick at least a certain number of each. You couldn't have all Mental games, for example. So overall, not a hugely significant change.

Where the new series excels, in my opinion, with the possible exception of the choice of host, is in the game designs. They're generally of a very high standard, with some very neat and original ideas. The 1990s series had some well thought-out and enjoyable games too, but they seemed to resort to Yet Another Sliding Block Puzzle a little too often, and they were also quite fond of their growing collection of Industrial games called Chatsworth Accidentally Ordered Fifty Thousand Ball Bearings. And in the case of one old Aztec game, thankfully not representative of the games in the original series as a whole, let's just say that if you have to put a caption up for the viewers explaining the rules, unseen by the contestant, you've probably pitched the difficulty way too high. There's none of this in the new series - barring the odd questionable design decision here and there, it's clear the games have had a lot of thought go into them.


[edit] One of the best games in the Maze.

There's an Industrial Zone game where you have a pipe sloping down towards you, cut into sections, and each section is moving left and right. You have to stop them in turn so they line up. If you mess it up you have to start again. When you've stopped all the sections of pipe and you're happy they're lined up enough with the crystal, you get one attempt to release the crystal.

I've picked this game as an example because, in my opinion, it illustrates everything that makes a good Crystal Maze game. In terms of difficulty, it's got the best of both worlds - it's very easy to work out what you have to do, but difficult to actually do it. In some games, you often get the contestant staring blankly at the walls for a minute or so with no idea what the object of the game is or how they're supposed to proceed, which is no good to either the team or the viewer. There's none of that here - the contestant goes from never having seen the machine before to getting stuck in with a clear objective in mind in about 10-15 seconds.

Some games that have a very linear "open this, collect that, put it in the other" path, such as the very tricky and fiddly Futuristic Zone puzzle where you have to pass a capsule containing the crystal between a series of pairs of tongs without it touching the rock on the sides. A linear game isn't necessarily a bad game, but if the contestant struggles on one of the early stages, you can end up with the situation where there's 30-40 seconds left but there's so much left to do that the viewer and contestants know there's no chance of victory and the rest of the time is pointless. The Industrial Zone's line-up-the-pipes puzzle doesn't even have this problem - in theory you can do the whole thing in about 10-15 seconds, so even if you don't do very well to start with, there's still a reason to play on.


You may not skip any slots!

The Medieval Zone has an interesting Disappearing Bridge Game where the contestant crosses a bridge and takes the crystal, then the bridge disappears and they need to take a pair of planks and slot them into holes on the wall to get back. The novel thing about this game is that the usual pattern of it being hard to get the crystal but easy to get out of the room is turned on its head. They even seem to have got rid of the stupid rule that you can't skip any slots, which to me just smacked of Fake Difficulty.



You may need to go for a swim, but nothing else does.

In the Aztec Zone, there's a water-based game with red and blue blocks either side of a pool. You have to read and memorise the blue diagram of symbols on the near side, swim across to the far side of the room, pick up the blue blocks showing those symbols and stick them in the nearby blue frame, then memorise the suddenly-revealed grid of red symbols, swim back, and put the correct red blocks in the red frame on the near side.

So far pretty much every team has failed to notice the faded colours on the blocks and diagrams, realised that the diagrams refer to symbols which aren't on the nearby blocks, and made the incorrect assumption that the blocks need transporting over the water. The only exception was in one case when Richard gave the team a hint at the start: "you may need to go for a swim, but nothing else does", which made the team realise that the diagram refers to the blocks and frame on the opposite side of the pool. Perhaps the episodes are being broadcast in a different order than they were filmed, and they decided to give that hint after they realised everyone was making the same wrong assumption?

Also in the Aztec Zone... you know that game with the balls on the circular tray suspended by four pulleys? I'm not sure if it's a nice idea with the difficulty pitched wrong, or if the teams have just been rubbish at it. It seems infuriatingly fiddly. You decide: [1] [2]

THIS POST IS ALREADY FAR TOO LONG AND IT IS STOPPING HERE
Last edited by Graeme Cole on Sat Oct 21, 2017 11:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Matt Morrison
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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Matt Morrison » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:13 pm

Haha. I enjoyed this but I'm going to wait for you to finish. I'm off on holiday on Saturday so hoping to read the rest when I return!

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm

Graeme Cole wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:03 pm
Also in the Aztec Zone... you know that game with the balls on the circular tray suspended by four pulleys? I'm not sure if it's a nice idea with the difficulty pitched wrong, or if the teams have just been rubbish at it. It seems infuriatingly fiddly. You decide: [1] [2]
I think this game is ridiculous. There was a team where the person doing it seemed to be quite "good" at it, gradually moving each bit at a time, and they were still nowhere near completing it. It's not even clear looking at it what's supposed to actually happen.

Also, I'm not sure I even knew that the old teams didn't know each other beforehand.

And I agree that 10 games doesn't seem enough. Doesn't that make it harder for them as well? More games = more chances to get crystals = more time in the dome.

And by the way, what happened to Stephen Merchant? I thought he was the new host. Wasn't that a thing? Did I imagine a whole episode of this new Crystal Maze?

I also find it a bit odd that they have two separate "riddle" games in different zones. OK, one is more of a maths problem, but they're a bit too similar to both exist I think.

Oh, and the Crystal Dome is still shit. Have I mentioned that before?

And, yes, very good post, Graeme. I look forward to more.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Graeme Cole » Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:20 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm
Graeme Cole wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:03 pm
Also in the Aztec Zone... you know that game with the balls on the circular tray suspended by four pulleys? I'm not sure if it's a nice idea with the difficulty pitched wrong, or if the teams have just been rubbish at it. It seems infuriatingly fiddly. You decide: [1] [2]
I think this game is ridiculous. There was a team where the person doing it seemed to be quite "good" at it, gradually moving each bit at a time, and they were still nowhere near completing it. It's not even clear looking at it what's supposed to actually happen.
I think that was Heather, who had been on the old show. It seems like the kind of puzzle which would be easy to do if you're already familiar with it, but the contestants have to do it having never seen it before and with no practice.
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm
Also, I'm not sure I even knew that the old teams didn't know each other beforehand.
I don't think it was ever explicitly referred to except for the fact that members in a team were usually all from different parts of the country, this being before internet forums could bring together geographically-sparse groups of people sharing an interest in a game show.
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm
And I agree that 10 games doesn't seem enough. Doesn't that make it harder for them as well? More games = more chances to get crystals = more time in the dome.
Yes. Also one fewer person to collect tokens.
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm
And by the way, what happened to Stephen Merchant? I thought he was the new host. Wasn't that a thing? Did I imagine a whole episode of this new Crystal Maze?
Stephen Merchant hosted a one-off celebrity special last year in aid of Stand Up To Cancer. It was filmed in the crowdfunded Live Experience thing in London, and it was so successful that Channel 4 brought back the series in an actual studio. Stephen Merchant didn't want to do any more than the one-off show, though, so they got Richard Ayoade.
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm
I also find it a bit odd that they have two separate "riddle" games in different zones. OK, one is more of a maths problem, but they're a bit too similar to both exist I think.
They've made those games harder as well - you have to get two out of three, when Mumsie would have been happy with just one (content warning: wrong aspect ratio). For the new maths game, the Jailer puzzle in the Medieval zone, it looks like they're still tinkering with the format. In most cases the rest of the team could assist, but in one episode they couldn't.
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:10 pm
Oh, and the Crystal Dome is still shit. Have I mentioned that before?
Oh yes, that's what my post was supposed to be a reply to.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Conor » Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:57 pm

Good essay.
Graeme Cole wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:20 pm
They've made those games harder as well - you have to get two out of three, when Mumsie would have been happy with just one (content warning: wrong aspect ratio). For the new maths game, the Jailer puzzle in the Medieval zone, it looks like they're still tinkering with the format. In most cases the rest of the team could assist, but in one episode they couldn't.
Watching the Jailer puzzle, I don't see how a team can fail to solve such a puzzle with the knowledge/wisdom of the group. And no time limit either. Plus there's no point one person actually going in if it'll be solved by the group as the whole. At least with other game types the team can give hints, but the person inside still has to execute it.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Matt Morrison » Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:08 am

They had Adam Buxton as a severed head doing one of the riddle games, which is fucking brilliant because I love him. Another interesting thing happened in this one where he basically gave one of the riddle answers to the girl as she was - I don't even know if this is the politically correct way of saying this these days - so stupid.

I seem to recall the team as a whole was doing quiet badly and I've always thought the amount of help they give to people generally depends on how well the team is progressing as a whole.

It could have even been the same show (the cheerleaders one I think, hope I'm not stereotyping) where Richard straight up gave them an answer in another game. Possibly the game where they have to connect objects to make a series of compound words. He literally said "It's <complete answer, not even a hint>, I can't take it anymore" when the player was having so much trouble with something simple.

Basically I feel like they are slightly more willing to give away bigger clues these days, but have very little evidence to draw that conclusion from.

I wonder if "bring your own mates" generally is not going to produce such wide-rangingly-skilled and cover-all-bases teams as the producers putting individuals together into a team according to personality and talent.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Gavin Chipper » Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:31 am

Matt Morrison wrote:
Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:08 am
They had Adam Buxton as a severed head doing one of the riddle games, which is fucking brilliant because I love him. Another interesting thing happened in this one where he basically gave one of the riddle answers to the girl as she was - I don't even know if this is the politically correct way of saying this these days - so stupid.
I like Adam Buxton too. Interestingly, the Adam And Joe forum on the old Channel 4 forums was the first internet forum I used to post on, back in the late 90s. And it was skipping across from there that I found the Reach 4 forum, which had the Countdown thread on. And that thread is basically what the Countdown online community stemmed from.

Maybe "so female" would be more politically correct? (Late edit - #MeNeither)
I seem to recall the team as a whole was doing quiet badly and I've always thought the amount of help they give to people generally depends on how well the team is progressing as a whole.

It could have even been the same show (the cheerleaders one I think, hope I'm not stereotyping) where Richard straight up gave them an answer in another game. Possibly the game where they have to connect objects to make a series of compound words. He literally said "It's <complete answer, not even a hint>, I can't take it anymore" when the player was having so much trouble with something simple.

Basically I feel like they are slightly more willing to give away bigger clues these days, but have very little evidence to draw that conclusion from.

I wonder if "bring your own mates" generally is not going to produce such wide-rangingly-skilled and cover-all-bases teams as the producers putting individuals together into a team according to personality and talent.
I can't imagine Richard O'Brien being so generous. Do you think they actually put people together to form well-balanced teams in the past?
Last edited by Gavin Chipper on Fri Oct 20, 2017 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Ben Wilson » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:33 am

Matt Morrison wrote:
Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:08 am
It could have even been the same show (the cheerleaders one I think, hope I'm not stereotyping) where Richard straight up gave them an answer in another game. Possibly the game where they have to connect objects to make a series of compound words. He literally said "It's <complete answer, not even a hint>, I can't take it anymore" when the player was having so much trouble with something simple.
If memory serves that was the chlorophyll=green question involving phones in the Industrial zone. Got the impression the producers actually gave Moss a bollocking for that one.
Matt Morrison wrote:
Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:08 am
I wonder if "bring your own mates" generally is not going to produce such wide-rangingly-skilled and cover-all-bases teams as the producers putting individuals together into a team according to personality and talent.
I dunno, it does provide for some entertainment. The team where the guy spectacularly failed on the planets game, for example, while his mates jeered him on. :D

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Graeme Cole » Fri Oct 20, 2017 8:02 pm

Conor wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:57 pm
Good essay.
Graeme Cole wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:20 pm
They've made those games harder as well - you have to get two out of three, when Mumsie would have been happy with just one (content warning: wrong aspect ratio). For the new maths game, the Jailer puzzle in the Medieval zone, it looks like they're still tinkering with the format. In most cases the rest of the team could assist, but in one episode they couldn't.
Watching the Jailer puzzle, I don't see how a team can fail to solve such a puzzle with the knowledge/wisdom of the group. And no time limit either. Plus there's no point one person actually going in if it'll be solved by the group as the whole. At least with other game types the team can give hints, but the person inside still has to execute it.
If you allow conferring and have no time limit, the team will almost certainly win the crystal unless they've got one of those people whose ignorance of mathematics is only matched by their mastery of dominating a discussion. Sure, you could make the questions harder, but that will just make the game take even longer while the team argue about how to solve it, and a question that's challenging for a team of five is likely to be very hard for the average viewer.

If you have no time limit but don't allow conferring, a player who doesn't have any idea about the answer will stand and stare at the wall for ages, unwilling to guess, instead waiting for the answer to magically pop into their mind, until Richard makes some comment like "I know I said no time limit, but this show is only an hour long". It looks like that's what happened when the Futuristic Riddle Master game was played by a contestant who, in her own words, physically can't do riddles.

If you want to increase the excitement in the Medieval Jailer game, I think it should be three minutes, no conferring, and make the clock (or sand timer, or whatever) visible to the contestant. Then you can have easy-ish questions that the contestant and the viewer have a good chance of being able to answer, but which are still wrong-answerable under the time pressure.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Tim Down » Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:28 pm

Ben Wilson wrote:
Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:33 am
I dunno, it does provide for some entertainment. The team where the guy spectacularly failed on the planets game, for example, while his mates jeered him on. :D
I know it's cruel but I laughed my head off at that one. Possibly my favourite moment of the series.

I love Adam Buxton. I miss his BBC 6 Music show with Joe. Whatever it is Joe is doing now, it's highly unlikely to entertain me anything like as much.

[googles...]

Oh, he's shooting a new film with Patrick Stewart. I'm a bit interested.

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Graeme Cole » Sun Oct 22, 2017 7:40 pm

If you want even more commentary on the New Crystal Maze, Iain Weaver's Weaver's Week article has done a similar analysis of the series. The main difference is that he realised the series was over at the time he wrote his article, and when I started this thread on Thursday I thought we were still in the middle of it.

In summary, he strongly agrees that they could and should play more games in one episode, he's appreciative of the set design, disagrees about the merits of the Industrial line-up-the-pipes puzzle, apparently called Crystal Pathway ("just the wrong side of frustrating" - later he says "tough but fair" but I'm not sure whether he's talking about the same game), and he's a little bit more critical of the game designs in general.


Is this the Toughest Crystal Maze Game? To be honest, not really.

That article reminds me of another game I didn't mention earlier, the Medieval Zone's game with the cannon. There are six targets on the wall, and you're seated at a spring-loaded cannon. When you hit a target, it reveals a letter. When you've got six letters, they form an anagram of what is depicted on one of six cabinets all with different pictures on. The contestant opens that cabinet and finds the crystal. It's unclear why the contestant can't just try all six cabinets without bothering with the cannon - presumably opening the wrong cabinet is an instant game over. You could even make it an ALIS if you wanted to increase the jeopardy.

The title of that YouTube video, "Is this the Toughest Crystal Maze Game?", is somewhat over-egging it, in fact it's a good example of Betteridge's Law. It's been solved at least twice that I can remember, and the line-up-the-pipes game (ahem, "Crystal Pathway"), which received a similar number of plays, wasn't solved at all, despite a couple of contestants coming close. It's a neat game, though, testing both marksmanship and anagrams. Crucially, it allows a trade-off between the two skills - if you've only revealed, say, four or five letters, and you think you've guessed the anagram, you're allowed to open the cabinet early. There's no arbitrary Fake Difficulty rule requiring the contestant to continue firing pointless shots for letters they don't need. However, Iain Weaver is right that the room could do with being a metre or two longer. A well-designed and interesting game is let down by the cramped space in which the contestant has to pull back the spring on the cannon.

I happen to agree with Weaver's conclusion, "Worth another series? Very much so."

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Re: The New Crystal Maze

Post by Gavin Chipper » Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:33 pm

I think that the "Crystal Pathway" game doesn't actually look that hard, but contestants are too impatient with it. They'll line one up correctly and then just press the button for the next thing on its very next run past rather than trying to get a sense of timing. I suppose it's the sense of time pressure, but in this case they just need to take a step back.

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