Craig Charles as "Zone Warden"


James Grout as "Thesp"


Broadsword and BBC North for BBC2, 4 January to 8 March 1993 (10 episodes in 1 series)


Set in the same cyber-punk studio environment that seems to follow him round like a bad smell, Craig Charles tries to whoop up excitement from an indifferent crowd of 20-somethings by periodically ratting the chain fencing and shouting "Awooga!" (long before John Fashanu of Gladiators used exactly the same chant).

While this happens, two contestants are looking at giant screens in front of them and stamping on pressure pads to traverse around a virtual reality game world. Rather rubbishly, contestants could either move or perform an action (done via a hand-held pointer), but not both at once. There were only three scenarios used during the whole series.

Thesp, essentially a Gamesmaster-type character that was supposedly living inside the computer world, didn't really do very much other than introduce the games in a rather morose fashion, shout out "One minute warning! One minute!" and wear a ten gallon hat.

In each scenario, there are a number of game rooms to play in, each one containing a "so simple it's insulting" game that go along the lines of "shoot the duck" or "make the mouse run up the clock".

You may have already spotted that the games themselves weren't particularly interesting to watch, nor were they tied-in to the cyberpunk theme of the show. In addition, you may well have deduced that Virtual Reality in 1993 wasn't really up to anything like standards that look acceptable on television. 3 or 4 frames per second, in fact. This might have been fine for Flight Simulator 3.0, or whatever it was at the time, because you were taking part in the game. But to watch it was just dull.

When one player was trying to complete the games, the opposing player could hamper the runner's progress by blocking off the paths with a kind of bicycle machine, which was at least original if not perhaps well-integrated. Then they changed around for the second round.

In the final round, both sides ran but you could knock points off your opponent and freeze them by shooting them when they were in the same room. This wasn't nearly as good as it could have been.

This is a classic example of trying to utilise a technology in a TV show miles too early. Certainly, Cyberzone was without doubt the world's first virtual reality game show. However, it may well have done more harm to future VR projects than good.

No doubt the same thing will happen soon with, say, an Internet-based show that is no more than a treasure hunt game based on finding information from the Internet to solve clues. Sure, such a show will be groundbreaking in that sense, but it will probably be as dull as dishwater to watch. This is the best analogy we can think of to explain why Cyberzone was what it was.



"Build me a borg!"


Tim Child. 'Superscape' VR system by Dimension International.

Theme music

Ed Welch


The computers used were a cluster of 486 PCs, each with an astounding 8Mb of memory - the most tasty machine you could buy at the time. The VR software was an early version of Superscape - which had previously been used for another Broadsword production, The Satellite Game.

One of the scenarios was nicknamed "CyberSwindon" owing to its alleged likeness to the little-regarded Wiltshire town.


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