A long, long time ago in the early days of ‘multimedia’ most games available were stilted click-throughs of badly rendered 3D images. The exception was the highly successful Myst, a stilted click through of really well rendered 3D worlds with some annoyingly good puzzles thrown in. The problem was that CD-ROM drives were slow (you know that 48x written on your drive? 1 x was 150 KB/s – maybe you’re too young to remember…). Slowness meant that big graphics took ages to load or you had to transfer the contents of the CD to your hard drive, but with a hard drive not much bigger than the contents of a CD-ROM, this wasn’t always possible.
Then, in 1995, came a game called You Don’t Know Jack (YDKJ) by a company called Jellyvision that, along with Gerad Van Der Kaap’s BlindRom, was exactly the way I felt multimedia should be – swift, amusing, surprising and seamless. Jellyvision cleverly chose a TV quiz show format that wasn’t graphic intensive. Instead of tiny, stuttering video clips of a presenter, they relied on a spankingly crisp and razor sharp audio track of the quizmaster, Cookie. With some clever background loading as well as some brilliant writing, the game still feels better than many equivalents today and this was 15 years ago.
The other aspect of YDKJ that most other quiz’s missed was it’s acknowledgement of the medium. It didn’t try to pretend it was a real TV show, but used the trappings of a show while making nods to the computer it was running on. As the CD-ROM loaded we were treated to the sound of the show’s band practicing, the floor manager calling out for everyone to get ready and to “kill the Desktop”, which was the equivalent of killing the lights and, of course, your Desktop went black and you were in the world of the show. Then the title music rolled and Cookie introduced himself and the show. In terms of the interactive experience, you didn’t feel like you were outside the show, but in it. It’s a subtle difference with a huge effect on the sense of engagement.
The first CD-ROM was Mac and Windows, but then it ended up as a Windows only series for a while and I thought it had died. Then, while hoping they might make a version for iOS (it would be great), I stumbled upon the You Don’t Know Jack website, which seems to have a cult following. Best of all, they offer a (slightly cut-down) version of the game online and you can embed it, so here it is: