Preview: BBC FightBox – Let the Fighting Commence

By Heidi Jacoby-Ackland

Program your Tivo now. Fightbox, the BBC’s new cross-platform interactive programme, is coming to a TV near you.  Robot Wars meets The Sims-on-performance-enhancing-drugs, the BBC publicity machine is very keen to emphasise that Fightbox is a TV first.  What, exactly, is Fightbox though?  Is it the logical future of entertainment?  In development for nearly four years at a reported cost of £3-4 million, Fightbox was conceived from start to finish to cross from the net to television and then into the PC/PlayStation 2/Game Boy Advanced game environments.  Early indications for Fightbox are fairly positive and the promotional trails look fantastic. 

Initially launched online a few months ago, gamers were drawn in their thousands to the Fightbox downloadable kit for creating their own warriors from a variety of different parts: arms, legs, weaponry, hair colour and even tattoos.  Contestants “trained” their self-created warriors on their own PC’s before downloading a set of qualifying battles to practice controlling their creation and gaining a score – the higher the score the stronger the warrior.  Then the best scoring virtual warriors (and their real creators) were invited to take part in the production of a television programme.  According to the BBC, approximately 200,000 people registered their warriors and uploaded scores in the six-week qualifying period.  As a demonstration of the interest in the game, apparently clans have emerged in the online community although they can’t play each other. Yet.  It’s all gone a bit D&D. 

The nay-sayers complain that the PC controls are, well, hard to control.  There’s a rumour that the television production had to be put back a week because the software still had some glitches.  And, although the BBC claims that twenty percent of the gamers were women, there’s a rumour that the Fightbox producers were so desperate to attract women that an online appeal was made especially to female gamers.  Nonetheless, there’s a low hum of anticipation in the gaming community.  Those gamers whose warriors made it to the television round report that the controls are better and the virtual studio experience was wicked.  They claim that, as with all the best computer games, practice was key to their success.  In the 30-minute television programmes, filmed as-live in front of a studio-audience, the virtual warriors have been transformed by the magic of computer graphics and a new type of filming into, um, virtual warriors in a real arena with real hosts (Trevor Nelson and Lisa Snowdon).  The contestant warriors fight the Sentients (the virtual equivalent of the House Robots in Robot Wars) then, finally, go on to fight each other to find a winner.  It’s a knock-out competition until just one of the audience-created warriors is left.  And for those who participated the ultimate prize was on offer.  No, not a million quid record contract for singing out-of-tune but the chance to have their warrior return as a Sentient in the next (yet-to-be-commissioned) series.  The final champion may not get rich from Fightbox but he (or she) will get the satisfaction of directly creating a part of the game’s future.

When we asked, the BBC spokeswoman refused either to anticipate viewing figures for Fightbox or even to elaborate on what would constitute a successful outcome to this cross-platform interactive experiment.  But it is not inconceivable that the programme could bomb as a television show while, at the same time, creating an enormous buzz for the game itself, either online or at the shop.  Then what???  Having already spent the equivalent of some countries’ GDPs on development, it would be imprudent for the BBC to completely bale on the TV programme after just one series even if the ratings are poor.  After all, the most costly and time-consuming bit of creating Fightbox, the development, is already done and dusted.  Aside from the new Sentient, most of the future content will come from the audience who, in true interactive style, are not voting for a winner but creating the characters and altering the outcomes.  The online kit is still available for download at the FightBox site.  Although it is too late to qualify for Series One, now would be a good time to start practicing for Series Two.

BBC FightBox

Amazon – Buy the FightBox game on PC, PS2 or GBA

Fightbox Ltd is a joint-venture between Bomb Productions and Ricochet DigitalFightbox, the TV programme, airs on BBC3 at 19.30 from 13-17 October and continues in that slot for three weeks thereafter.  [Episodes will be repeated on BBC3 the following morning at 3.30 and are due to run on BBC2 in November.]  Fightbox, the PC/PS2/GMA games, are due for release on 7 November.

Pioneer First to Support WMA9Pro in High-end AV Amplifier

Pioneer has announced a new AV amplifier which transfers audio content using an optical digital S/PDIF interface and marks the start of a wave of high-end AV amps that will support the Microsoft Windows Media Audio 9 Pro (WMA9Pro) CODEC.

The amplifier, with the oh-so-catchy name, VSA-AX10Ai-N, is planned to be release in Japan in December 2003 and then in the US in January 2004 as the VSX-59TXi.

It will be able to pull audio from a PC via an S/PDIF interface and play back, in Dolby 5.1 surround sound audio, the correctly encoded audio files and films delivered on physical media or via a broadband connection. S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) is an optical connection that transfers digital audio between devices without downgrading to analog.

Right is a photo of what we believe is rear of the VSX-59TXi, which like many AV amps looks truly frightening. It makes us long for the day when Ethernet and Firewire ports are the standard connectors.

D-Link announce 1st UPnP standalone home network storage unit

D-Link have released a device, the DSM-602H, that they are call a Storage Media Central Home Drive. We think there are a couple of things about this product that are of note and are a signpost to the future.

Utilising an idea from business computing, where networked hard drive storage is separated from the server – a Storage Area Network (SAN) – this device is just for file storage. It doesn’t perform any other function. It just receives files, holds them and dispatches them on request of the processing machine, be that a Digital Media Adaptor, computer or another device.

While it’s not the first device to do this, the Martian NetDrive has been gathering fans for a while, it’s the first from a major manufacturer. We feel this will be a continuing trend – as consumers digitise and hold greater amounts of media, they will just add storage units to cope. There are two models for this, single standalone units like this the DSM-602H, and units that have a empty drive bays for a number of hard drives to be held.

The other significant development is that this is the first storage device that utilises Universal Plug-n-Play (UPnP). UPnP allows the user to just plug the device into any UPnP-friendly network, and without any manual configuration, it will sort out it’s own IP address, network name, announce its capabilities and make itself available to any other device on the network. UPnP or Apple’s similar Rendezvous are great advances for the home user, removing the unnecessary complexity of setup.

We imagine the only extension that this type of device will require in the future would be an interface to handle the drives contents Digital Rights Management (DRM). Rights holders of content won’t be distributing their products onto home networks that store their content without this.

It is disappointing to see that this first release is only 20Gb, which when put in the perspective of the Apple’s 40Gb iPod, sound pretty feeble. It’s no surprise that D-Link don’t mention storing video.

Available from mid-October at a surprisingly high $249.99, it’s interesting to see it comes with free 24/7 technical support – one of the essential features for Digital Lifestyle products.

Expect plenty more devices like this in the future.

Links: D-Link, Martian NetDrive, Apple Rendezvous & UPnP