Jonathon Harris, Game Tester
Jonathon Harris (far left, team pictured with maze designer James Dillon) has been a superfan of the Crystal Maze since its original run in the 90s. Starting in the second phase of the revival, he and his team have been invited to the studio as testers for the games that the production team have come up with - here's how they were selected for this prestigious role, and his thoughts on the new series!

CMD: Hi Jonathon! How was your team selected as testers for The Crystal Maze - how did they decide you'd be good candidates?

Jonathon: We auditioned for the second series like everyone from the public - however, we have a few Crystal Maze ties. Our team Captain, Neil, is the proud owner of the original Future Zone game timer from the original 90s show which I'm helping him to repair and restore to full functionality, and we also have Phil who designed games for the original series! Some of the other guys have salvaged props from the original show, including a medieval zone sand timer, some bomber jackets and a boiler suit too. I myself own a set of the same laser guns that were used in the series 2 game "Defeat The Crystal Defender" (which was a bloke in robot costume). We also have Adam and Liam who have played the Crystal Maze live experience several times over - I've only done it twice, but I think Neil is now on something like 20 visits!

So, we entered as team Superfans - we turned up on the day in our Bomber Jackets - Neil in his green contestant jacket from the 90s and Phil in his Blue version - the rest of us in the black, and we had a few crystals about us too ;-) So I think the major flashback would be good for the show as we have all the links to the past show and such a good knowledge of the maze - it doesn't mean we played the games well.

The problem was that with series 2, only 6 episodes of the 12 episode run were dedicated to the general public gaining entry to the maze - we'd made it so far, I think the final 10 - but obviously, 4 wouldn't go through, and we just didn't make it into the top 6. For some of us, that would be frustrating, but for me i was pleased as punch to have gotten so far! This was the first time i'd applied for a TV game show and i'd be pulled forward to auditions and then nearly becoming a contestant! So when the news was broken to us, we were then told - "This isn't game over." - they then revealed the invitation to enter the world of the maze and test the games and be games testers for a day!

CMD: So were you in the studio playing through a series of games as a broadcast team would, or was it set up differently?

Jonathon: It was played within the very zones of the maze itself, but it was a bit 'loosey goosey' - so sometimes we'd play as a team of 4 advisors and the player, sometimes we'd split into 2 groups and play a game each then swap over, sometimes we all had a go.

For example the 10 second wall button & rope swing game was very popular amongst the production team, they had a go whilst we were visiting, unfortunately for myself - I fell on the floor reaching for a button - so as we all know - ALIS! but as it was testing day, we had free buyouts. We also didn't have the monitors to use, so we were peering through the hatches, hession and even in Future Zone, all we could do was stand in the room shouting advice from our little spot in the corner, unable to physically assist. It gave the producers ideas on what worked, what needed changing, if it was too easy or too difficult.

Once we came out from our games, we were asked our thoughts and opinions, why we did things, and had a chance to ask questions, and we even made suggestions on how to improve the games. It's very much a two way process and needs a lot of communication going on, so we had to be quite precise.

We then got a message this year saying we'd been invited back as testers due to Celebs only, and we'd have a full day in the maze for Camera Blocking. I think we've made an impression because the crew remember us fondly and have read the blog, not to mention some of them wore the bomber jackets we had and got their photos in them, so it was an opportunity for them too =)

CMD: Did those conversations influence any major changes between the testing versions and the ones we saw? And were they just issues of timing (this 3-minute game should be a 2-minute game, etc) or were there larger changes? One game I've found very strange is the vine ring clamber in the Aztec Zone which is "skill" despite being very physical, and 2 minutes despite being impossible! Or so I thought until people finally did it in the last couple of episodes.

Jonathon: Yes, very much the case - The Aztec Hoops were one of the games we tested actually. When we played it, only 3 hoops were used and they were all at the same level of height - plus we were given 3 minutes if I recall correctly. As another example, Neil played our water game in Aztec where the glyphs had to be moved to the different cells in the 3 x 3 grid to match the one on the wall - Neil had a panic moment and forgot he could go under the walls in some circumstances by diving under water, so they added the red arrows pointing down.

Plus the "sort the balls by colour" game in Future Zone had me confused at first, as i didn't know which end they had to go in, so they added the colour coded arrows pointing upwards so the balls get sucked up the tube. However a major change from testing was that the balls were literally thrown over the cell wall from a black bin just after i read the sign. So i'm there... "Okay, what" (cue rustling noise and I look up to see a chromaburst of balls flying at me) "BALLS!" XD

CMD: Were there any particular favourites that you had while testing, either that we've seen already or that we'll see later in the series?

Jonathon: I think I quite enjoyed the "MoCap" game (The Knightmare meets Tron one) that we saw this year. We spent a long time on it trying to get it to recognise that we were trying to grab the hammer, but the game wouldn't let us - so it was worth it once we got the hammer, and as I'm a big Tron fan I'm very jealous of Neil our team Captain for going into VR to do that. It's very much a teamwork game, and without the clear directions from the team, you are not going to win. Very much a game of trust.

The MoCap game did work slightly differently when we were there. If you watch the episode with Gemma Collins, you'll notice that as soon as the Mirror is destroyed, a safe pathway with arrows appears before she's collected the Crystal, and a gap appears in the virtual barrier to simulate the doors opening - I think they may have listened in on my Mic at the time because i said they needed a virtual door to guide the player to the exit.

During our time there, the pathway only appeared after we collected the crystal, and there was no door - so Neil ran straight through the game's boundary wall.

Also a little fun thing to note, you may have seen that Gemma walked out of boundary coming towards the camera. In order to debug the game quickly and overcome the obstacles, you could 'cheat' a little, and side step LEFT out of the game area without penalty, walk to the other end of the room, and then side step right back into the room and then grab the hammer.

CMD: There are several games that were never completed by anyone when shown in the series - did you encounter any of these while testing, how much success did you have and were they changed at all from testing to production?

Jonathon: The pressure maze (officially called "Air Maze") was one we got close to, but just shy of the finish goal. Crystal Pathway 2 was played by myself and Neil, our team Cap. Whilst I unfortunately did NOT win the crystal, Neil DID! Our last section was only out of alignment ever so slightly but the crystal still had enough momentum from it's roll to overcome the lip and bounce it's way into the Win box. So the pieces don't necessarily need to line up 100% to get the crystal through. It's an incredibly noisy game and is well known for chipping Crystals quite badly with them bouncing around. There is a delay on the "Crystal Release" button, between press and the actuator pushing the crystal out.

CMD: Were there any games you played which didn't make it into the broadcast versions?

Jonathon: All the games we played made it into the broadcast version, I'm not aware of any that didn't otherwise.

CMD: I already love the Eastern Zone as a way to refresh the maze. During testing, were there any favourite games that stood out to you?

Jonathon: Sadly, whilst we did go into the Eastern Zone, we didn't get to play any of the games. I think this was more down to scheduling for the day, as we were only expected to play the Aztec and Future zone games. However, we were doing so well we knocked out Industrial (bar one game) as well. The Zone is wonderful - it's interesting that the main entrance from the outer rim of the maze is right adjacent to one of the interzone entry points. If you notice, you can tell the lilypads are set up in the same "moat" that was between Medieval and Future ;-)

CMD: Speaking of which, how is the Maze laid out physically in the studio?

Jonathon: The Maze's physical structure... as we all know, the connections between the zones are long gone, but the zones are still roughly set up in the four corners of the studios. However, because of Future's new layout, the Entrance Bulkhead and Aztec Cave Entrance are like next-door neighbours. This why when you pass "Simpson's Folly" (ie, the small waterfall) when exiting the Aztec Zone, you'll actually find the cell used for the Airlock based games in Future Zone. In the center of all 4 zones, you've got where the sound guys live and you can see all the sound and audio mixers and so on, and this where we got assigned mics and player colours for the day.

During the episode with Gemma Collins, you may have seen a full wall and a door in the background during the team running in the main entrance - that's actually the studio's outer wall and the door leads to the loos. (3 minute physical/mystery?)

CMD: Any non-game-specific strategies you could share for future contestants?

Jonathon: Non-game-specific strategies eh.... hmm... For me, leave your inhibitions at home. I always treat each visit to the Maze as a very distinct privilege - because I may not get another go! This is why I literally made a jump leap into the water game that Vic Reeves plays later on in Aztec Zone. I got this massive cheer from the team and crew when I landed! (I got drenched in that game because I fell over on landing, and I also forgot to pack a spare T-Shirt! XD) - and just enjoy the games, and your time in the zones. I actually managed to kill a pair of trainers on my last visit XD.

Also, have a bit of fun with the props, if you're waiting on the Crystal to release - an example here will be when Ellie Taylor did the Aztec Crossword puzzle as did I, I went down on my knees and kind of 'praised the god' until it was fully up and I could collect the crystal.

CMD: And finally - we know shouting at those contestants through the screen is a big part of The Crystal Maze, but do you have a greater respect for the hapless people we watch each week having experienced this first-hand?

Jonathon: I'm open minded and try to think about what it would be like if were in place of the folks on the TV, so i already had an appreciation for them - and the fact they also have to deal with cameramen obscuring the view at times for certain shots! We also had to deal without the monitors in Future and Industrial, so a LOT of shouting was done whilst we were testing! Just proves a big thing of it is communication, sometimes the player has to pick out and filter the correct information from the jumble, or the team has to help the player and really guide them step by step when they feel lost amongst all the information they've just absorbed.

You can read more about Jonathon and his team's visit to the Crystal Maze studio on the fan blog here, and you can find even more insights on Jonathan's Twitter at @jaydrive2000!