Thanks to the Internet, as well as the sophistication and ever-shrinking nature of portable entertainment, we’re nearing a time when we can watch any movie, hear any song or play any game wherever we want, whenever we want. You can fire up 1997’s “Final Fantasy VII” on your PlayStation Portable while you wait for the bus, or watch “The X-Files” on your iPhone during a meeting.
With its free, online Xbox 360 game “1 vs. 100” (rated T), Microsoft has cut against the grain with a scheduled entertainment experience that revives those pre-VCR days when you’d clear your schedule to watch your favorite shows.
See, “1 vs. 100” isn’t a game you can play anytime you want. As part of Microsoft’s Xbox Live Primetime, it’s on a schedule. The game is free for Xbox Live Gold subscribers, who already pay between $35 and $60 a year to game online. (Just like a televised game show, it’ll have advertising and corporate sponsors.) The eventual plan is to schedule the game for Friday and Saturday nights, but “1 vs. 100,” still in beta testing, has been taking place on many weeknight and weekend evenings since early June. (Scheduling info for the next couple of nights is at the end of this post.)
If you’ve seen “1 vs. 100” on TV, Microsoft’s version works much the same way. A live host, comedian Chris Cashman, runs the proceedings, in which one player competes against the Mob, 100 players who are eliminated if they wrongly answer questions the One gets right. As is common in our post-“Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” world, several lifelines are available to the One. Because the game is in beta, there aren’t any prizes to be won yet, but the plan is to have the One and the Mob compete for Microsoft Points, the currency you use to by downloads from the Xbox Live Marketplace. In addition to Cashman, the
One and the Mob, the game will feature a studio audience made up of thousands of other players, represented by their Xbox Live avatars.
You can play along and answer questions, but unless you’re one of the top three crowd scorers, you won’t win anything other than a better chance at qualifying to be a member of the Mob in a later show.
While my evenings-and-weekends schedule at The Press Democrat has prevented me from diving in full-bore and becoming a “1 vs. 100” addict, I finally got a chance to try the game last week. The night I played, Thursday, was an Extended Play night. Rather than the regular setup, all players were part of the Mob, there was no One and nobody could be eliminated. Instead, you just answered trivia questions and compared your performance with the Mob at large and the three other players in your group of four.
Even with the automated host (voiced by Jen Taylor, aka Cortana in “Halo”), I got sucked into competing against my fellow contestants and found myself wishing I could free up a little time to participate in the main game. But the little taste I got suggested “1 vs. 100” is the kind of easy but fun game a family could get into. Up to four people on one console can participate online at once, and the control scheme consists of using the four face buttons to answer. Even someone who’s never played video games could quickly grasp the concept.
Part of my Extended Play session was based around the news, a topic I deemed a surefire ticket to virtual fame and fortune, thanks to the decade or so I’ve spent working in the media. Imagine my disappointment, then, once I realized that most of the “news” came from the entertainment and sports world. Because I work a couple of nights a week in the sports department, and because I’m a huge baseball nut, I did fairly well on sports questions. But once I got the very first question of the night, something about Kim Kardashian giving Heidi Montag tips on posing for Playboy, I quickly realized that knowing how to spell Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wasn’t going to get me nearly as far as I thought it was.
This topical incongruity was odd, at best. While the question about NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth getting suspended for a season for his role in a fatal DUI crash was most definitely “news,” there was a high enough percentage of sports questions that made me think the topic deserved its own night. Look, either you’re a sports person or you aren’t, and it’s not really fair to punish non-sports fans who show up for a trivia game based on the news by giving them 30 percent sports questions. Ditto the celebrity gossip stuff. (Full disclosure: These categories actually didn’t hurt me too much, as I was able to nail about 80 percent of the questions regardless. I even embarrassed myself somewhat in front of my wife by guessing which of Hugh Hefner’s “Girls Next Door” was pregnant.)
Despite this minor quibble, “1 vs. 100” felt incredibly polished and nearly ready for primetime, so to speak. There are a few folks on the leaderboard with suspiciously high scores, so someone may have found a way to cheat. But I’d guess it’d be way more difficult to pull off cheating in a virtual audience of thousands than on a “Halo 3” multiplayer map with seven other players. (Side note: How dumb do these cheaters have to be? If you’re going to cheat in an online game show, don’t you at least wait until the beta is over, and they’re awarding prizes? It’s like drilling into a bank vault two months before it opens for business. [Edit: One commenter suggests these folks could be looking for flaws to exploit precisely because “1 vs. 100” is in beta and they hope to help close a loophole. Good point.])
“1 vs. 100” took root from a simple idea, and the game show format and audience participation should provide plenty of addictive drama as time goes forward. Honestly, I’m amazed no one’s launched something like this sooner. With a little care, a solid marketing campaign and an effort to keep out cheaters, a time-honored TV format could become gaming’s next killer app.
Interested in playing “1 vs. 100?” The hostless Extended Play mode kicks off at 4:30 tonight, while a regular episode of the game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. To launch the game, check out the Events menu from your Xbox 360 dashboard. You’ll have to download a small app to play, so you may want to log on a few minutes before the scheduled start time. If you’re already going to be online, there’s also an option to have your console remind you when “1 vs. 100” is about to start. You know, just in case you’re playing “Kung-Fu Panda” when the time comes.