The Crystal Maze Cyberdrome

CRYSTAL MAZE - The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze

Article by Chris M. Dickson.

There was a way that you could experience the frantic fun to be had on a trip around the time zones without qualifying to appear on the show itself. It's called 'hiring the maze out for corporate hospitality' and cost (allegedly) 400 pounds per player - yipe! There is a slightly more realistic option, and it's all due to top enterpreneurs Cyberdrome Operations Ltd.

If you have ever seen the TV show, you can surely imagine the difficulties of an exact replica for the public. The set is as large as two football pitches, involves about 200,000 litres of water, and the 50 games available are reset for each team coming through the Maze. Also there are (not on TV but certainly so during filming) appreciable gaps after each team goes through the Dome to count the silver and gold tokens posted, and between games (needing to change camera positions and the like). Lastly, it would be decidedly poor value for money for a player who got locked in during his first game and was not bought back at all by the rest of the team.

So what Cyberdrome have done is essentially a video game version of the Crystal Maze. There is no restriction on needing a team of six; teams can have from two to six players. The Maze building itself is substantially smaller but intricately detailed and full of secret passages and hidden doorways. There is no delay between playing the Dome game and learning your score (I'll say more about the Dome later). You don't actually go into cells for the games with the risk of someone locking you in for taking too long, sentencing you to boredom until rescue occurs, and there's no water to soak you. However, you (generally) can't win prizes!

Once a team pays to play their game (which lasts about 30-40 minutes) they are given an identity card, for use in that game only. They then go around the building to the central control and login area, and can use their card to pick a name to identify their team (something like "Dream Team", "Nerve Axis", "Ravers" or whatever) and the level of difficulty of their game. They then are directed by the computer which of the many (typically 20-25) games to play and where to go in the arena to find the game. The actual logistics of the game does vary from site to site considerably; some sites have three zones, others four (and note that each zone is decorated appropriately for its theme, the sets are very evocative of the appropriate zone). Some sites have lots of stairs to climb, tunnels and slides to negotiate and ropes to use; others are rather more on the flat. As well as lots of games played on terminals, there are some physical games which work in the same way; just instead of moving things around on a screen, you're dealing with real-life, physical objects in front of you.

The team then dashes off around the arena to find the terminal on which to play their game. It can be quite well hidden (behind a pillar, up a flight of stairs, through a door) but accurate directions are provided and staff will help if you're lost. They then swipe their card through some sort of card reader, depending on the site, to prove that they have arrived. Merlin the computerised "Maze Master" then provides instructions for the game they are about to play, both written on the screen and spoken by the human voice of Martin Jarvis. The team pick a member to play the game, who goes to a second terminal, physically separated from the rest of the team. If they're playing a physical game, the player is sent around to the other room or place containing the obstacle or task.

The player then plays the game. The team shout advice - helpful or otherwise - and can choose when the player "runs out of the cell" as in the TV show. If the game is won, a time crystal is earned. If the game is not won but not quit before the time limit expires, which would lead to a lock-in in the TV series, a crystal already earned is lost by the team. (In effect, someone is locked in but are immediately and without choice bought out.) This is the thing that most teams forget to do, which results in a lot of needless lock-ins; if time is running low, or you feel that you won't be able to complete the task, then there's no penalty at all for pressing the QUIT button and moving on to the next game.

After this, the team rush round to the next game, which may be in another zone, requiring a run to the other side of the site, and so on until their time runs out. At this point, they take the time crystals they have earned (not physically! Time crystals only exist as images on the screen) to the Crystal Dome. There are no actual tokens blown about by fans in the Dome, but dozens of buttons, round and about two inches in diameter, of different colours on the walls. After one last card swipe, the time crystals earned are turned into time spent trying to press gold token buttons.

The buttons flash on and off at random for perhaps 2 or 3 seconds per flash, to represent the fact that not all tokens are within reach at the same time. If you hit a button which is 'lit' this acts as a gold token. Hitting any button which is not 'lit' will act as a silver token. If you are playing in 'expert' or 'fiendish' levels then all of the lights will go out and a siren will start. You then have to press two of the small 'panic' buttons at the bottom of the dome to restart them. Final score is number of gold token buttons hit less number of silver token buttons hit, in the time earned with time crystals; just like the Real Thing. The object is to get as high a score as possible.

And that is a very dry description of what the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze is all about. Why I think it is so good is because it accurately captures the manic, rushed, hasty feel of the TV show, whilst having games that are enjoyable to play and pitched generally at a challenging level of difficulty. Not only is there mental effort, to work out how to complete the games and win crystals, there is the rush from one game to the next in order to fit more games in (to give more chances to win more crystals). And in the Dome itself, the atmosphere is so race-against-time, it's unlike any other activity readily available - to my knowledge.

There are a couple of differences between show and this concerning the crystals won themselves. In the show five seconds in the dome are earned for each crystal won; in this, you get fifteen seconds irrespective of crystals won plus only three seconds per crystal. So a team who ends up with the remarkable sum of zero crystals still gets fifteen seconds of activity to get any sort of actual score.

A team that fancies itself to do well in the crystal-garnering games can elect at the start to play at the "Expert" level of difficulty which does lead to a harder game with less time allowed before crystal loss. However, instead of winning one crystal for success in a game, they can win up to three for a particularly quick performance. That said, not quitting games before the time runs out leads to a deduction of not one crystal but three. A particularly gifted team can play on "Fiendish" level which is much faster and much harder but allows six crystals per game to be won or lost.


Unfortunately, if you want to play the Crystal Maze Cyberdrome for yourself... you're too late. The last British cyberdrome, in Pembrokeshire, closed at the end of June 2010. There's still one in Dubai, though (yes, that Dubai, the one with the enormously flash skyscrapers and mind-bogglingly ambitious land reclamation projects), if you happen to be passing.

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