These days, you need only turn on your phone or open up a laptop to gain access to video game news, reviews and footage, but back in the pre-internet early '90s, you either had magazines or GamesMaster. For those of you outside the UK, that name might not mean anything, but trust us, it was amazing. GamesMaster was a conduit to a world of video game news and features, presented by the one and only Dominik Diamond – the undisputed master of the double entendre.
GamesMaster ran from 1992 to 1998, and spawned a best-selling magazine to boot. Now, two fans are aiming to chart the history of the show on an episode-by-episode basis. Luke Owen and Ash Versus are the dynamic duo behind the excellent Under Consoletation Podcast, which is running through each series in chronological order.
Keen to know more about this noble venture, we tracked the pair down for a quick chat.
Nintendo Life: Can you give us some background on yourselves? What's your gaming history, and what jobs do you do 'in the real world'?
Luke: In the real world, I’m a writer and presenter for a wrestling YouTube channel called WrestleTalk and host their podcast, and I also wrote the book Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made. As for my gaming history, my older brother had a Commodore which I played a bit, but my first console was the Mega Drive in 1991, when I got Sonic The Hedgehog, Taz-Mania, Castle of Illusion and Quackshot. From there I was hooked! I think I got my Game Boy the following Christmas with Tetris and Super Mario Land.
Ash: I’m an IT Contractor by day, but also moonlight as an events organiser and part-time Technical Director for Pro Wrestling: EVE. Unfortunately, I’ve not written a book, but I have read Luke's. As for my gaming history? It started with an Amstrad CPC 464 and being terrified by Roland on the Ropes. It then escalated to the Game Boy, which was my first taste of ‘console’ gaming. This would lead me to the Super Nintendo and even though I’ve strayed to Sega and Sony, I think I’m still a Nintendo kid at heart. At school, Luke and I would have been on opposing sides of the "Playground Wars".
What's your history with the GamesMaster TV show? How instrumental was it in shaping your perspective on video games?
Ash: I was definitely following from the start and whilst I’m fairly confident I was watching off and on until the end of its run, the strongest memories I have of the show are from those first two seasons. At the time I think I’d have said it completely changed how I saw video games, as suddenly I wanted to be good enough to be on this show. So for a while, I wasn’t just playing games for fun, I was playing games with some sort of mythical end goal. It was fleeting, however, as pretty soon I resumed just playing for fun, which I still do to this day.
Luke: I recall watching from the start, but I was six and I wonder if some of my memories have come from watching them back on YouTube. I have far clearer memories of watching from series 3 up until the end. I was a huge reader of the magazine, too, so I must have been watching from pretty early on.
Ash: It definitely cemented in my mind how amusing the word joystick is, because at the end of the day adjective + verb + ‘Joystick’ = Penis joke.
There was also a big buzz for video games when it started airing. So I think it was a culmination of things. The GamesMaster himself quickly became iconic, and everything else felt like an imitator
What do you think made GamesMaster such a success, whereas rival shows have failed?
Luke: I think being on Channel 4 at a teatime slot helped a lot. Not only that, but it was first. There was also a big buzz for video games when it started airing. So I think it was a culmination of things. The GamesMaster himself quickly became iconic, and everything else felt like an imitator.
Ash: It was amazing as, despite Patrick Moore being such a recognisable public figure, the suspension of disbelief that he was the GamesMaster was complete during that show. He wasn’t even playing a character really; he was just playing his normal public persona with a few occasional references and cracks to other dimensions and the weird trappings surrounding him.
Covering every episode is a huge undertaking. What inspired you to create this podcast?
Ash: From my perspective, Luke tweeted about how he’d love to hear a podcast retrospective on GamesMaster, and I think I quote-tweeted him saying this would be an amazing idea. Then a short while later, Luke messaged me asking if I’d be interested in doing the podcast with him..
Luke: And he said ‘no’. Which derailed my plans to do the podcast somewhat!
Ash: And then my partner Sol asked ‘why did you say no?’ and so less than 24 hours later I went back to Luke with ‘Well, actually…’ Things escalated from there.
Luke: I was very glad Sol intervened. Way back when, I was a short-time host of The Twilight Zone podcast, and I’m a huge fan of Talking Simpsons and – more recently – Sonic The Comic The Podcast. So I’ve always wanted to do an ‘episode-by-episode’ podcast series, but never had a friend who wanted to do it with me! I tried to do a couple on my own (there are never-to-be-heard pilots of podcasts on That 70s Show and the Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I’m quite embarrassed by). GamesMaster seemed like the perfect crossover of Talking Simpsons and STCTP, and it all just came together. Thankfully Ash saw the error of his ways and saved the project!
Ash: I just assumed you’d have a little black book of people to call upon as co-hosts. To be honest, I was surprised you asked me, and kind of remain surprised to this day!
It’s fun to revisit the soundtracks of these great (or not great) games, and getting the TV adverts to put in the middle has also been a wonderful trip down nostalgia lane
Could you talk us through the production of a typical episode? How long does it take to record and how much preparation goes into it?
Luke: I watch each episode 3 or 4 times before we record. One is just a general watch through, then I’ll take notes, then I take more detailed notes and pause to do research, and then a final general watch through to refresh my memory. We record 2 episodes in a session...
Ash: ...which feels like a good goal to have to keep us running to some sort of time limit. Most episodes ‘raw’ are about 60-90 minutes. The first run of editing for content usually brings that down to around 45-55 minutes, at which point I throw it over to Luke who adds the clips, music, samples… and also covers up any swear words I may have left in.
Luke: Adding in the music and finishing up the edit is my favourite part of the process. It’s fun to revisit the soundtracks of these great (or not great) games, and getting the TV adverts to put in the middle has also been a wonderful trip down nostalgia lane. People seemed to get a kick out of the episode where I added in a Toys R Us advert for the Mega Drive.
Have you had any feedback from the original GamesMaster team on the podcast yet?
Ash: Not yet – not that I’ve noticed, anyway. I think a number of them are at least aware we’re out there, simply through social media mentions, tags and follows.
Luke: Rik Henderson follows us on Twitter, as does Big Boy Barry who was on episode 2. I don’t think they’ve listened to the show, though!
Ash: There’s that worry that no one will listen. Then there’s the fear when you realise people are listening, this is followed by the abject terror at the concept that one of the people being discussed may listen to what you’re saying about them. It’s a rollercoaster.
I’d love to speak with Dominik Diamond but I think his days of talking about the show are behind him
Do you plan on having any guests on the show, perhaps former contestants, or maybe even Dom himself? Or perhaps even Dave Perry, who has returned to the gaming arena recently with his Games Animal persona?
Luke: We have interviewed someone who was on the show, and have got some other potential guests lined up. I’d love to speak with Dominik Diamond but I think his days of talking about the show are behind him. Dave Perry would be interesting, I’ll say that much!
Ash: He’d be a polarizing figure to interview, for certain. I’d also love to speak with Dominik about his time on the show, but my personal ‘White Whale’ would be to speak to Dexter Fletcher. I’d love to get his side of the story of what was a fairly tumultuous year for the show.
What would you say is your favourite GamesMaster moment of all time?
Ash: It’s difficult to speak for the entire run of the show, as when reviewing an episode it's 50/50 on whether I remember a segment or if it feels all new. So for what we’ve covered thus far, I’ll have to go with Eric Bristow's axe-throwing technique on Heimdall, and the kid in the Consoletation Zone asking for help on Robocop. Both fairly bloodthirsty moments, in retrospect.
Luke: It’s almost too obvious to say the Super Mario 64 incident with Dave Perry, but that is one that’s been mentioned to us a lot since we launched the show! There’s an episode in series 3 where the stunt actors who played Johnny Cage and Sonya play Mortal Kombat which I remember being really cool back in the day, but I fear might be a bit cringy now!
You've got quite a few seasons to get through – is the plan to do them all back-to-back, or will you be taking breaks between seasons to retain your sanity?
Luke: We’ve got plans to do series end wrap-up episodes and potential interviews to break between seasons. There are also some bonus episodes which we’ll cover in the timeline when we reach them...
Ash: …if we were so inclined, I think there’s a lot of tangents we could go off on as well; movies, music, contemporary shows, things we already touch upon during the open segment of each episode. Who knows though? Maybe this show that started as a light-hearted nostalgic look back at a '90s television show will actually document us losing our grip on reality. It’ll be exciting to find out.
Much like magazines have suffered at the hands of the ‘always on’ aspect of the internet, so would the magazine-type parts of GamesMaster. So any revival would need to play to its strengths and use them to create something unique
Luke: I certainly think we’ll have a bonus episode looking at the first issue of the GamesMaster magazine, and probably the live event they did at the end of ‘92. There are ideas we’ve spoken about.
There have been rumours over the years that the show is going to be making a comeback; would you welcome that, or do you think it was 'of its time' and that a video game TV show wouldn't work in the age of YouTube and the internet?
Ash: Personally I think some elements of the original would work, some wouldn’t. Competitive gaming? Absolutely would work. The rise of eSports has shown that, as well as shows like Go 8-Bit and the growing popularity of social gaming. Reviews? Tips? News? Less so. Much like magazines have suffered at the hands of the ‘always on’ aspect of the internet, so would the magazine-type parts of GamesMaster. So any revival would need to play to its strengths and use them to create something unique.
Luke: Yeah, I think you would have to focus on the gaming challenge aspect of it if it was to work in 2020. For as much flak as it gets, the format of series 3 with Dexter Fletcher – where episodes are tournaments based around certain games – would actually work really well in today’s market, particularly online. Do games even have cheats these days? GameFAQs has really killed the Consoletation Zone!
Ash: Yet now, here we are, where GameFAQs has in itself has taken a back seat to YouTube videos, Vloggers, Twitch streamers and the like. For every game out there you might be stuck on there’s a high chance someone will have done a Long Play video which shows exactly how you can get past that forklift driver...