For $200, the answer is…”game shows.”
”What entertainment genre has flourished on radio, on TV, and now on the Web?”
From Uncle Jim’s Question Bee on the wireless to You Don’t Know Jack on Bezerk.com, quiz games have helped build audiences for new media in three eras. This time, the Web offers a real bonus: You can actually play from home, instead of just watching and screaming at the contestants on TV.
Which raises the question, Is that as much fun? For the answer, we tried some of the most popular games on the Net:
Jeopardy! (www.station.sony.com/jeopardy) Like all the Web game shows we tried, this spin-off of Merv Griffin’s creation (accessible on Sony’s Station site) can be played for free. Choose single-player option (you race to beat the clock) or a multiplayer mode (real-time competition with other Net contestants). Mac users get the booby prize, since multiplayers must have Windows and a 4.0 or higher browser. Real-time contestants get to pick an avatar face, which can be animated to, say, frown after a botched Daily Double wager. Of course, as with its TV counterpart, there are conspicuous ads, but they’re easy to zone out. For now, no prizes — and no Alex Trebek. B+
Wheel of Fortune (www.station.sony.com/wheel) Like its sibling Jeopardy!, Wheel offers single- and multiplayer options (but it doesn’t include a cyber Pat Sajak or Vanna White). Though multiplayer’s been available since Sept. 21, I’ve never successfully launched a game; in 10 tries I got error messages or my browser froze. And I was unable to access the help desk for guidance. The uninspiring single-player version unwittingly mirrors the sluglike pacing of the movie Quiz Show. Once the multiplayer bugs are fixed, this might be worthy of a re-spin, but until then it gets a Chuck Barris-inspired Gong. C-
You Don’t Know Jack (www. bezerk.com) This Net rendering of the popular ”irreverent quiz show” CD-ROM series asks questions not found in its offline editions, maintaining its trademark innuendo-laden humor. You’re a contestant primed to appear minutes before airtime. While wiseacre host Schmitty (Phil Ridarelli) explains the rules, the site’s cache engine conceals slow ISP connections and backlogs by posting a ”Please Stand By” bulletin over TV technical-difficulty color bars. (Windows or a PowerMac PC with a 3.0-plus browser and at least a 28.8 modem is a must.) Answer oddball queries (”If Marcia Brady skips school to get her braces tightened, what kind of doctor would write the doctor’s note?”), then scan the handful of MTV-style site-sponsor ads, from Lotus and Shockwave, shuffled between questions. Unfortunately, you’re forced to download the gawd-awfully big game installer (5 megs) before partaking in the fun. And you lose Web bragging rights, since you can’t compete with distant Net-heads in real time (though players in one house can vie using one keyboard). Despite these debits, the makers do know jack when it comes to delivering a unique, talk-out-loud-to-the-screen show. A-
BoxerJam (www.boxerjam.com) Julann Griffin, ex-wife of Merv and cocreator of Jeopardy!, is a partner in the three-year-old Net venture. BoxerJam offers three beat-the-clock-in-real-time parlor games: Out of Order (unscramble jumbled words), Strike a Match (a $ 10,000 Pyramid-type word-association game), and Take 5 (make coherent sentences from a handful of words). Windows, a 3.0-plus browser, a 28.8 modem, and a one-time-only game-module download are needed for play. (A Mac version will be available soon.) No prizes, but the real award is knowing that matches can be played in discreet coffee-break-length rounds. Just don’t let the boss catch you. B