As if any further proof was necessary, Channel 4 has confirmed that we are indeed living in the bizzaro timeline by revealing plans to bring back GamesMaster later this year.
“What on earth is GamesMaster?” I hear all the under 30s amongst you ask. Well, believe it or not, back in the 1990s people actually used to watch other people play videogames for entertainment. As unfathomable as that concept is today, the television programme developed something of cult audience during its 1993-1998 run, with children from across the nation tuning in to watch their fellow kid-folk attempt to overcome arbitrary challenges set by amateur astronomer and UKIP campaigner Patrick Moore. These might include things like collecting 150 rings in under two minutes in Sonic the Hedgehog or shooting 17 moles in Mole Patrol, the pack-in mini game for the Super Nintendo’s Super Scope accessory.
New era, new Patrick?
According to Channel 4, the new version will retain the “challenges, races and fights” of the classic GamesMaster, but with a Big Brother twist. While GamesMaster did have celebrity cameos (here’s Robbie schooling the rest of Take That in Bomberman), kent faces will be the focus of the new edition, with five celebrities competing across various games to avoid weekly eliminations. The programme will be shown on E4 and repackaged on YouTube and social media platforms.
There’s no word yet as to who will replace Moore in the titular GamesMaster role, but internet rumours are already swirling around Sir Patrick Stewart, the acclaimed actor best known for his role as Zobek in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Sir Stewart appears alongside the programme’s logo in a jpg buried deep in Channel 4’s server directory, lending some credence to the speculation.
Who will replace Scotland’s own Dominik Diamond as the programme’s presenter is also unknown as of yet – as is whether his replacement will share his stiff grip on low-hanging innuendo.
That said, as easy as it is to poke fun at a programme in which school boys donned a VR headset to enter the Consoletation Chamber and ask a mangled floating head how to reach a whistle in Super Mario World, a new version of GamesMaster does make some kind of sense. In a world where millions watch strangers play videogames every single day, why shouldn’t a celebrity driven videogames show be a hit? More than 400,000 people recently turned up to watch a politician play Among Us, after all.
While we wait to see what’s instore for GamesMaster 2.0, why not join us on a trip down memory lane while we recount some of British television’s more bizarre attempts at videogame programming.
(Note: In the spirit of GamesMaster we’ve chose to focus specifically on game shows, so need to renounce us forever for not including VideoGaiden)
CyberZone – 1993
Hosted by the singular Craig Charles, CyberZone was a gameshow centred around a fantastically jankey VR game that was nonetheless way ahead of its time. Two teams clad in coloured boiler suits (clearly an inspiration on Scrap Heap Challenge) would battle it out in one of three rudimentary virtual worlds – a town, a medieval citadel, or a futuristic city.
One team would explore the map on foot by running on the spot on a set of pressure pads called the Mobility Station. Their job was to find and solve as many puzzles as possible, scoring a point for each successful solve. The opposing team, meanwhile, were seated inside a cockpit in another room, where they drove around a buggy in an attempt to trap and sabotage them.
The programme premiered on the BBC in 1993 and was cancelled just ten episodes later in 1994. One whole episode is available on YouTube, featuring rally driver and Scottish Sports Hall of Fame member Louise Aitken-Walker.
Gamezville – 2003-2004
Having racked up just shy of 200 episodes, Sky’s Gamezville is far and away the most prolific videogame programme to have appeared on British telly. Each hour-long episode contained head-to-head gaming segments as well as previews of upcoming titles and heartwarmingly mundane reviews of long-forgotten Java mobile phone games by awkward teens.
Gamezville was hosted by the eminently charismatic Jamie Atiko and Darren Malcolm, who managed to both not sound utterly cringeworthy while dishing out family-friendly smack talk and appear genuinely interested while speculating about what games EA might have instore for the N-Gage’s launch line-up.
Apparently GamesMaster’s producer Johnny Ffinch disagreed however, who said of Atiko and Malcolm to Edge magazine, “these guys can’t even speak f**king English”. Between Ffinch and his UKIP pal Moore, the GamesMaster guys were clearly a friendly bunch…
Time Commanders – 2003-2005, 2016
Not only did the BBC manage to wring three whole series out of watching punters play Rome: Total War, they also managed to make it educational and even mildly entertaining. Though any explicit mention of the classic RTS game was strictly forbidden, the programme used more or less the same version of Creative Assembly’s game as the one viewers could play at home, only with different troops added to allow for various historical time periods.
The contestants did not control the game directly, however. Assuming the role of generals and lieutenants, they worked together to devise strategies that were then input by programme assistants, focusing the attention of the show purely on strategy rather than mouse and keyboard prowess.
Genuine historians like Professor Saul David and Dr David Adrian Goldsworthy were involved and would interject to give historical context for the battles being fought or explain how particular weapons might be used in certain situations.
Improbably, the series returned for a brief three episode stint in 2016, this time based on a specially updated version of Napoleon: Total War and hosted by legitimate Total War fan Gregg Wallace.
So, are you intrigued by a new GamesMaster? Have a favourite UK videogames programme we didn’t mention? Let us know below or on social media.