Given the recent surge in American audiences' interest in science-fiction movies and television, it comes as no surprise that BPMC has decided to release their Sci-Fi Channel Trivia Game at this particular time. Sci-fi fans are well-known trivia enthusiasts, and trivia games have been raking in the dollars since Trivial Pursuit tapped into a storehouse of pent-up trivia mania in the mid-80s. Clearly, the science fiction genre was ripe for a trivia offering in the PC market.
Making a trivia game for today's PC games market should be simple: compile a large list of challenging questions relating to the subject at hand, create a format for dispensing the questions, devise a scoring system so players can compete against themselves and others, and pour into a CD-ROM, with all the multimedia trappings necessary to make a slick, professional PC game that a wide spectrum of people can enjoy. BPMC has done all of this, but it's obvious they cut some corners along the way.The game is designed for one or two players, in a format best described as Jeopardy-style. In a two-player game, one player is always the "champion," and the other the "challenger"; when the game is started, these coveted titles are granted, respectively, to the player sitting on the left side of the keyboard, and the player on the right. On each turn, the player with control of the board can choose a question from one of five categories - TV, Movies, Books, Comics, and "Wormhole," the last of which is a catch-all. Either player can commit to answering a question before Morphix, the game's Alex Trebek stand-in, has finished reading it. (More about the dubious virtues of Morphix later.) As you might expect, each player uses a specific key as his buzzer. The rest is standard operating procedure: whichever player buzzes first has the first opportunity to answer the question; should he answer wrong (or not at all), half the point value for that question is deducted from his score. A correct answer, naturally, augments that player's total by the question's point value.Solo gamers select from three computer-controlled opponents of various skill levels. These opponents behave like humans, buzzing in on some questions, ignoring others, and occasionally even giving wrong answers. The game developers appear to have programmed their simulacra with preferences - the opponent I played seemed to have a distinct fondness for questions about SF television.Players go through two rounds of increasingly difficult and valuable questions, during which they are likely to linger painstakingly over their category selections, hoping to avoid questions they can't answer from a more obscure category like Comics. After such careful plotting, they are likely to be disappointed when a third round begins. Called the Time Warp round, it features questions fired at strictly timed short intervals, with no category selection, and point values high enough to make the first two rounds almost completely meaningless. Fortunately, this sort of rapid-fire trivia quizzing is quite enlivening, and probably enjoyable to anyone with a love of the genre and even a modest desire to win. With 5,000 questions on the CD-ROM, it seems likely that you'll be able to play the game many times without running into the same questions.One would imagine, though, that after a few games, you would develop a preference for the earlier Jeopardy-style rounds, or the later panicked timed rounds. And perhaps the designers could have spent a little more time making the gameplay more sophisticated, and left out the Morphix character. Morphix is an animated host with all the usual hostly duties - cueing the players' interaction, explaining the game, and adding a little "personality" to the experience. This said, I'd like to add that most civilized players will want to kill Morphix, if that were possible, after their second or third play. His irritating comments, à la Don Rickles, will dissuade all but the most hardy of souls from using the Help section of the game more than once. (Luckily, the game is extremely simple, and you might not have to.) And no one is likely to leave the game waiting for long while it is activated; when left idle, Morphix begins to spew insults, and changes ("morphs," of course) from a robot-like personage to a skeletal one and on to an unspecified number of forms, none of which I plan on cataloging anytime soon. Perhaps in the future BPMC will expend more energy on gameplay and less on frills, finally giving this niche the treatment it deserves.