GamesMaster: Snapshots of a Decade

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I can’t be delving into the cultural lawlessness of the 1990s without looking at GamesMaster; a jumbled package of clunky ‘modern’ tech, confused celebrities, and a revered elderly astronomer and ‘Sir’ who’d been digitised into a giant, Zardoz-style head; all held together by a presenter who seemed like he was trying to get fired. Each of GamesMaster‘s 126 episodes are a treasure trove of 90’s weirdness; a tracking-lined time capsule of history’s dumbest era — until the one we’re in now.

I figure the best way is to just dive into a random selection, so let’s kick off with a series 2 episode from December 17th, 1992. GamesMaster was notable for changing up settings every year, and its second series opens with a wireframe helicopter rushing us to our destination; an oil rig — or as named in the Terminator-vision subtitles, a GAMESRIG, with a theme tune which evokes a half-faced phantom hammering away on a church organ. It’s an enormous set, not unlike that of Scavengers, with metal pipes and dials, gantries and grills, and row upon row of cheering children lined up on three levels of balconies. In reality, filming for series 2 took place at an abandoned pumping station — no, not your bed — which had also featured in an episode of Red Dwarf.

01

Dominik Diamond, in his red suit and neckerchief, enormous white collar and white pocket rose, plus 90’s hair-curtains and little round glasses, looks like the manager who signs your band to a contract before later revealing himself to be the Devil. Handing out the challenges is the titular GamesMaster, aka the head of Sir Patrick Moore, wearing a pixelated helmet and surrounded by pistons. My God, if only the raw greenscreen footage would find its way online. First choice for the role was Nicholas Parsons, but Moore’s the perfect fit, falling into my repertoire of impressions when I was an annoying-as-shit teenager. Mostly, this involved sticking out my lips, closing one eye while holding the other open so it was massive, and spluttering out a cheat code for Lemmings. Eventually, half a ping-pong ball made its way into the routine. Like every celebrity who steps foot on this show, there’s a real joy in how plainly he doesn’t give a single shit about computer games.

The first guest is like those bits at the British Comedy Awards when Jonathan Ross brings out the sponsors, and a roomful of drunken comedians climb on the tables to start sarcastically whooping a nervous 50-year-old from a phone company. Diamond asks the assembled children for a big round of applause for… the managing director of Commodore UK, which with a first name of Kelly, is surprisingly a man in a suit who looks like George Costanza. Having confirmed that he never plays the games, Kelly seems confused even by the joystick, holding it in the palm of his hand from underneath, with the Amiga resting on his lap like a dinner tray.

02

The whole time this middle-aged businessman runs through the first level of Humans, a choir of kids are cheering him on like they’re watching two big year-tens hit each other with their backpacks outside the staff room — “G’wan! G’wan!” As an onscreen character lowers a long rope, which Diamond intimates looks like piss, Commodore Kelly beats it right on the buzzer. After a post-game interview filled with more rope-based innuendo, joking about his problems with length etc, he’s awarded the GamesMaster Golden Joystick by — in fitting with the theme — a women in full scuba gear. Kelly would go onto front the development of the Guitar Hero franchise, probably while trying to blow into the controller like a flute.

Like everything else on this show, the review sections are riddled with filth, with Diamond bringing up “gleaming helmets” for Robocop 3, and regarding Universal Soldier on the Gameboy, a rude-but-honestly-nonsensical “Julian Clary and Claire Rayner fondle their weapons and blow each other away.” Bored-looking game journos drop lines like “it’s an awful lot of Robo, but not much cop,” while the £45 price tags remind you that the cost of games has gone unchanged for 25 years.

This week’s celebrity challenge finally brings someone from the telly, as Moore sets Baseball Stars 2 on the Neo Geo as the battleground between a child and Todd Carty off Eastenders. The pair clank rather gingerly down an enormous metal staircase, which is half-hidden in smoke and weird green lighting, with Carty in his trademark Mark Fowler leather jacket, and his opponent one of those exuberant 90’s kids, like on adverts for McCain Microchips. Even Diamond’s co-commentator’s at it, suggesting, with a Carry On twinkle in her eye, to hit with “the meaty part of your bat,” but despite Carty’s claims of being a gamer who likes a bit of Italia ’90, with pained looks of concentration throughout, he’s as badly crushed as his Eastenders character was when he got the results back from the clinic.

03

The thing people most remember from GamesMaster is the Consultation Zone; i.e. the bit where some kid puts on a VR helmet to be transported into a digitized hellscape in front of the looming face of Patrick Moore, to beg advice on how to get extra lives in Sonic. This week, they want the secrets of how to kill Lord Chaos in Dungeon Master, and to get the key in Super Mario 4. For the latter, a knight of the realm’s now getting in on the constant smut, telling a small boy “what the hand can’t reach, the tongue can touch,” and suggesting he use Yoshi to “penetrate the seemingly impervious wall with his probing proboscis!

I’m never not amazed at the human mind when it’s aware that it’s acting. Take celebrity cameos in movies, say, Simon Cowell popping up with a scripted “that was brilliant” to a fictional character in a talent show. It’s the exact same thing he does on a Saturday night, but somehow the brain’s all “this is fake, say it weird.” Here, the kids are stood against a green screen, having to imagine a gigantic Patrick Moore bellowing across the sky, which renders them completely incapable of saying even the word “thanks” in a believable way.

04

They all warp out of there as kid-shaped static like in Star Trek, and it’s onto the final challenge, which is the semi-final of GamesMaster‘s Street Fighter II tournament between games journos. Diamond’s co-commentator, with a hand nervously stuffed under his armpit, explains what Dragon Punches and Sonic Booms are, all shot at a lopsided Dutch angle, before a journalist in an American football top — who rather unfairly is the reigning SF2 world champion — destroys his opponent. “The force wasn’t with me,” says the loser, “I think I had too many pints last night!” Well, it is the nineties. And with a flashing GAME OVER at the end of the credits, we’re done.

Next, we’re sampling a series 6 episode, from November 21st, 1996. This year’s opener sees a tiny Dominik Diamond screaming as he falls flailing through the sky, landing in a shark-infested sea and being rescued by sexy mermaids, who swim their boobs right into the lens before kissing him back to life on the beach, as we crash-zoom on him giving us a wink and thumbs up. Wahey! In this incarnation, Patrick Moore is Poseidon, with his disembodied bonce rising out of the waves in a golden crown and long, blue-grey beard. Our setting is down in the undersea ruins of Atlantis, with crumbling, seaweed-covered statues and a viewing window through which sharks and fish can be seen. Like previous series, children can be heard cheering and clapping throughout, only this time, you don’t see them, and they’re clearly not there. Is there such a thing as canned children? Albert Fish, don’t answer that.

05

Keeping with the theme, Diamond’s accompanied by the hot mermaids, and sits on a giant shell like the Birth of Venus. He seems to have aged twenty years in the last four, and gone is the baby face and blond curtains, since devoured by encroaching male pattern baldness. So too, his manner’s stripped back from chipper-yet-sarcastic to a gruffer misanthropy, which seems to hold the whole enterprise in utter contempt. It’s like in prison films, when the innocent soft-boy’s put away for a twelve stretch and comes out all hardened, with bedspring tattoos and grim stories about biting someone’s bollock off. Diamond’s innuendos come at an alarming rate — just like his dick — and everything’s twisted into a barely-hidden allusion to piss and wanking, or firing wads of spunk out of his nob-hole, finally giving me some understanding of what it must be like for my own family and friends. Within the opening seconds, he’s reading out fanmail, with the phrases “blow me,” and “tickle my pink.”

05b

Tonight’s first challenge, signalled by Moore’s face popping up through a porthole, sees a magazine writer attempting two simultaneous games of light-gun arcade shooter, Virtua Cop 2, without taking a single hit. Martin’s got one of those front-combed spider-leg fringes, soaked in gel, and because it was illegal in the 90s for a man to be seen onscreen without a girl on each arm, he’s flanked by a pair of mermaids. In something that’d be blown up in the press nowadays as a ‘feud’, Diamond takes a pop at “insincere and cheesy host,” Andi Peters, while Martin shares an anecdote about being dared at the pub to shave off all his body hair. Co-commentator is the ‘Games Animal’ Dave Perry, whom I’m sure I’ll be writing plenty about if this becomes a regular thing, while Diamond’s smuttiest line, regarding Virtual Cop’s ‘shoot offscreen to reload function’, is an innocent “so the idea is to try not to knock one off both wrists at the same time?” Martin loses when he accidentally blasts a hostage, joking that he shot him because he looked like Peter Andre. “A very unselfish act,” says Diamond.

06

Bearing in mind this is a show aimed at kids in the tea-time slot, even in the news sections, Diamond’s making you think about his jizzy cock — “like me, Sega arcade machines just keep on cumming…” while a new Japanese TV’s “sporting the sort of price tag only I can afford.” In this week’s reviews, which, unlike the easy scores in magazines, “are tougher, like Sgt. Cryer in The Bill,” a guy with a dyed-orange Lloyd Christmas haircut slags Killer Instinct‘s overly complex button combos. The ad break links to the Channel 4 website, which apparently existed in 1996, with its stone-age interface giving me flashbacks to pictures of naked ladies that took so long to load, by the time the bottom half showed up, you were ready for another go.

But after the break, it’s time for the celebrity, and it’s someone who’s slap-bang in the middle of my wheelhouse. Diamond warns us “lock up mum’s and dad’s puppies and pussies,” as this man’s powers “could quite literally make them all bent.” It could only be the very real and definitely not fraudulent or deluded Uri Geller; Michael Jackson’s bff. Surely, surely, we won’t get to the end of the show without Dominik Diamond referring to Geller as a bender? I feel genuine concern for putting the ultra-sarcastic Diamond with such a character, like leaving a dog alone with a birthday cake. “I feel a presence entering inside my body,” he says, introducing Geller as “the man with the most powerful mind in the world,” entering while bathed in spooky green light, with a background bed of pseudo theremin music.

07

Geller’s in a t-shirt bearing the logo of his new magazine, Uri Geller’s Encounters, “the most paranormal magazine in the world.” Reader, I can’t lie; not only do I remember this tome, but legitimately bought every issue until it went out of business. Access to paranormal materials were few and far between back then, particularly those whose first issue had a free crystal sellotaped to the front cover, which was guaranteed to have been touched by Uri Geller, and infused with his magic healing energies. As to whether the impressionable 17-year-old me ever went through a vague nu-age phase and took to wearing said crystal around his neck, who can say?

But then, it seems like Diamond’s going to pull a James Randi, and expose him on TV. He drew a picture before the show, which Geller had no way of seeing, and which he’ll now attempt to beam straight into Geller’s mind while he replicates it. It’s probably a big, ejaculating stiffy, isn’t it? At least three rivulets of cum and some pubes? Geller calls him “Doom-in-ick,” and plays up how risky this is, with the potential of failing in front of millions, but humours him regardless. “Begin!” Geller orders, “stare onto my face!” He gives it the big psychic sell “yes… yes… I’m getting something,” but is unsure what the finished sketch is meant to be as he holds it up. In an instant, Dominik Diamond’s sneering persona falls away, mouth agape, and taking on a look of boyish wonder.

08

He removes his own picture from his inside pocket, unfolding and holding it up next to Geller’s, demonstrating both are identical — child-like sketches of a pair of scissors. The drawings are even the same size, and can be placed exactly atop each other. Now, a cynic might say that the paper’s the same size too, and that Geller handed Diamond the pad backstage, and after he tore off and pocketed his sketch, Geller simply traced the indents in the sheet of paper below. But not me, who’s thoroughly convinced and digging out that crystal as we speak. We’re definitely not getting the bender joke now though.

Geller’s challenge involves the MindDrive controller; a plastic thing the player slides over their finger, allowing them to move a controller with their brain waves, steering a skier between flags down a slow slalom. He blasts through, winning easily, and describes the experience as “thrilling, quite amazing, and entertaining,” and is able only to repeat the word “wow!” as the mermaids present him with a Golden Joystick, which he jokingly threatens to bend.

09

The final feature begins with Steven Spielberg greenscreened against a hilariously basic graphic of a movie studio, to promote the CD Rom game, Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, which in delving a little further, I simply cannot believe exists. The aim is to make a movie out of pre-shot footage, picking camera angles and different takes, either dramatic or comedic, while tackling various Hollywood type problems, from script editing, to budget, to Penn and Teller fucking with you for some reason. Along with Spielberg, the game landed two huge name actors for the player to ‘direct’. It’s the nineties, so… Winona? Keanu? The Cruiser? Almost. Quentin Tarantino plays a wrongly-convicted death row inmate awaiting his imminent execution (complete with Reservoir Dogs poster on the wall of his cell), while Jennifer Aniston hunts for the real killer.

10

Incredibly, Spielberg himself shot over two hours of footage for this; two hours of Spielberg-directed Tarantino, overacting in prison stripes; some of which can be found on Youtube. Quentin should bring this back for the current gaming market, letting players choose between various angles of women’s bare feet. Judging by how many feet guys there are now, he’d probably hoover up most of the world’s cash. Anyway, Diamond sneers all over the footage, and ends the episode on a question — “if Uri Geller was a spoon, would he be bent?” Never doubt me again.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on February 27, 2020.

3 Responses to “GamesMaster: Snapshots of a Decade”

  1. […] out — every one of its live hours is packed with dozens more that have gotten lost. Like GamesMaster, its scattershot nature perfectly captures a moment in time, and I’ll be sifting though a […]

  2. I liked the Teletext tie in with Digitiser, with “live streaming” page 888 subtitles from Digi users excited to see Diamond giving Dave Perry an eyeball.

  3. […] [Part One] […]

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