Last Commanders

Last Commanders is a new game show from Objective Media Group Scotland for CBBC.  Groups of children across the UK have answered a distress call from the Kaladian rebel leader, Skye.  Skye and her agents have enlisted the help of the children to defeat the evil supercomputer Sciron and protect the population of Kaladia from the Perfection Virus, which makes them immune to all disease but with the consequence of becoming emotionless husks.

Across the course of 10 episodes, we get to be part of the story of the Kaladian’s rebellion against the evil Sciron and her henchmen.  Each episode sees four groups of children choose their avatar, interact with Skye, then play their game by giving the avatar directions over Skype.  The children see a feed of the avatar’s wireless head-mounted camera as a first-person point of view.  The feed is overlaid with a real-time Heads-Up Display (HUD) graphic, giving the illusion that the children are playing a video game where they are controlling the action simply by giving verbal commands.  The children are free to direct the avatar as they wish, and there are multiple ways to solve many of the puzzles and challenges, but they must move quickly as a ‘Game Over’ screen could be around any corner!

The show’s producers presented us with a number of technical challenges, the biggest one being how to reliably enable the children to Skype in to the show and ensure high quality of service every time.  We supplied and configured 20 laptops with webcams, microphones, LED panel lamps and clear child-friendly instructions covering the setup and pack-down of the kit.  Our engineering team designed smart software that managed the complete startup process, meaning all the children had to do was plug in the colour-coded cables, power on, and type in their Wi-Fi password.

Our team in studio received notifications giving the status of each laptop, and could initiate Skype calls and production could assist with the setup and staging of the room ready for the record.  More bespoke software allowed us to control the recording of the raw web-cam feed to the local laptop drive.  These rushes were then either delivered via an automated process as soon as the game was over, or copied off the laptop when it was returned to base.

In studio, we drew upon our experience with the Skype workflow for Embarrassing Bodies : Live From The Clinic, creating a process where our operators and the producers could setup and brief each caller while the previous caller was playing the game in studio.  Multi-channel Quicklink TX units allowed us to queue up and transfer contributors from the ‘green room’ to the ‘gallery’ and keep the show moving.

Our Skype TX technology and the laptops kits helped lower the barrier for participation in the show, so enabled the production to cast children from all backgrounds, from all parts of the UK.  To make the experience as immersive as possible, we were required to build a set of real-time Heads-Up Display (HUD) graphics that reacted to the gameplay. These graphics, designed by our regular collaborators at Jump Design and Direction, had to mirror as many of the avatar’s actions, and the children’s directions, as closely as possible.  The nature of each game is unstructured and unique. and the children would always do things no-one expects!  We designed a show control system that allowed our graphics operator to ‘play’ the game, performing pickups, using items, and matching the actions and timings of the avatar so the graphics would animate to reflect the game state – and just like a first person video game, the operator’s control was overlaid on top of the live avatar head-mounted camera to keep everything as tightly synchronised as possible.

We’re also responsible for the visualisation of the story’s evil villain….Sciron.  Being trapped inside a self-aware malevolent super-computer, Sciron’s presence can only be felt on screens around the space station, and her monologues and dialogue with the avatar and the children are a key part of the plot development. We worked closely with Jump Design and Direction and took audio from the actress who played the part of Sciron.  Using a suite of off-the-shelf tools, we created a real-time visualisation that constantly evolves and animates on the on-set screens, and reacts in real-time to the dialogue giving the impression that Sciron is ‘speaking’ to the avatar and the children.

The entire service was delivered on a tight budget with 40 games recorded for 10 episodes on location in Film City, Glasgow across 2 weeks.  Kinetic Pixel are the only broadcast technology provider in the UK who can leverage extensive experience with both the Skype TX hardware and of creating efficient Skype production workflows.  Couple this with our peerless real-time graphics and automation systems, core technologies and robust platform meant Last Commanders benefited from the same level of reliability, adaptability and high quality production values as any of our portfolio of long running daytime or prime time quiz shows.

Watch the teaser trailer on iPlayer here.  Episode One airs on CBBC at 5:30 on Tuesday 30th January.


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