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Jason Bradbury of Mercenaries

Interview - we chat to Jason Bradbury, presenter of the novel computer games TV series Mercenaries, which is due to air in August

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

August should see the arrival of an innovative new computer games TV show in the UK, with the debut of Mercenaries on satellite and cable channel Bravo. We spoke to the show's presenter and associate producer Jason Bradbury, who was in Brighton checking the first edited episode of the show this week, to find out more...

Operation Flashpoint, one of the many games to be featured in the show


Traditionally computer games and television haven't mixed very well, and although Jason was a fan of Gamesmaster, a classic series co-presented by TV astronomer Patrick Moore of all people, most gaming-related shows in the past have turned out to be late night schedule filler or thinly veiled adverts.

"When I conceived Mercenaries, it was imagined in an angry moment! I was feeling particularly sensitive about the fact that TV seems only to review games. These multi-million dollar projects get a three minute review - it's crazy. Plus, there's a world of underground armies and hacker activity that I think fits perfectly with the imaginary settings for many contemporary military gaming titles. So anger and innovation gave birth to Mercenaries."

Mercenaries is hoping to buck the trend, with a novel format featuring team-based competitions using hardcore games like Operation Flashpoint, Counter-Strike, Steel Beasts and Falcon 4. The various games are linked as part of an overall contemporary military campaign which the two teams wage against each other during the half hour show to determine the ultimate winner.

"The rounds don't just fall in after each other, they are linked to a unique setting for each show - Russia, Oil, Middle East", Jason revealed. "What Mercenaries is attempting to do with its fictionalised context is to recreate that saucy and solitary feeling we all get in a game. 'Right now I'm the only sniper who can pull this off' or 'thank god they chose me to land this plane - I'm the only guy who can do it'."

EuroFigher Typhoon, another recent release set to appear in Mercenaries

Pick And Mix

In keeping with the theme of the campaigns, the games which will be used in the show are all modern military sims, with EuroFighter Typhoon, Covert Ops, Flanker 2.5, X-Plane and even the recently released real-time strategy game Conflict Zone apparently on the cards. But instead of using the same handful of games each week, viewers will get to see a variety of titles in action over the course of the series.

"We have to be careful not to over feature games - I feel that would be taking the mick", Jason told us. "Plus variety is the spice and all that. Some games will make it into the fifteen episodes of the series more than once, but on the whole we'd like to minimise repeats. Our official games list is currently 40 seperate titles."

Depending on the nature of the game, different combinations of players will be used in each event, with a variety of team and individual games ranging from all-out six-on-six matches through two-on-two battles to individual Commander Challenges for the team leaders to complete solo. "Anything with a real world setting and networkability is considered. Some single player stuff [is included] too for the Commander Challenge. Old, new - it doesn't really bother me, as long as it plays well."

Conflict Zone, another possible game for the series


While all six members of each team will take part in one or more of the matches during the course of a show, the sixth member is actually a little different from the others. He plays the role of a hacker, with "personally designed hacker challenges that use real world underground software".

How is this part of the show going to work? Well, Jason is keeping a tight lid on things at this early stage in production, but describes it as "pretty ground breaking stuff". What we do know is that hackers will be given servers to hack and other tasks to accomplish, and that success can give their team an advantage in weaponry or information for the next in-game challenge. The games themselves are more loosely linked though, and as Jason explained "it's a difficult path to tread".

"What I originally created was a strict storyline, almost like the campaign structure of many games. That soon proved unworkable, especially when certain games proved unworkable on our network, and I've now relaxed the storyline into a fictional setting. The Hacker challenges however have direct impact on the rounds that follow them - [for example], hack a satellite's controlling computer and you'll be able to see your opponents' position in the next round."

Rogue Spear, another possibility, and sporting a highly appropriate TV studio level

Game On

What seems to set Mercenaries apart from other shows is that Jason is himself a hardcore gamer and so understands multiplayer gaming better than most TV producers, something which should lift Mercenaries above the patronising tat we've come to expect from television coverage of computer games in the past.

"You bet I'm a gamer! I've been playing for 20 years", he told us when we questioned his credentials. "I write the simulation column each month for PC Gamer and another column for Zap! magazine. I'm a total addict of flight sims and first person shooters. My current favourite is Operation Flashpoint, then Counter-Strike. The rest of the team are not really gamers, but our technical researcher Tim is - I'm looking forward to whoopin' his butt on CS as soon as the series is over."

The show also had input from Cat Channon, formerly of Official PlayStation Magazine and "the greatest lady gamer I know" according to Jason. "She simply phoned her mates, and in turn all the clans and informal teams around the UK banged on our door". Meanwhile the developers and publishers of many of the games which are going to be used in the show have been getting in on the act. "Companies like Codemasters and Rage have even designed unique levels for our show. The industry is so willing to help - they put the TV lot to shame."

There's a certainly a level of enthusiasm surrounding Mercenaries which has been woefully lacking in many recent gaming shows, and hopefully we should see the end result on Bravo starting in August. With plans for a prime time 8pm weekend slot on the channel, it may just prove to be the hardcore games show we've all been waiting for.


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Wham Blam!!! thank you ma'am

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