If you want to host your own game show, there are a lot of options ranging from Twitch, podcasting, or the ever popular YouTube. Armed with a small camera (or just a mic), software, and the guts to talk to a potential audience spanning the globe, anyone can say anything that they want and post it up for the world to see and hear.
That’s especially true for gaming. Need a walkthrough that literally shows you how to defeat that damn stone monster in Mega Man? Want to watch the latest game trailers? Want to see someone react to said trailers? Now you can thanks to the miracle of technology and enough bandwidth.
But reaching back into a yesteryear when modems called into networks from home and PC games came on floppies, a YouTube and Twitchless time had to make do with that other great medium — television.
Back in the early 80s, there was a show called Starcade which pit two players (usually set up as an adult vs. kid format) against each other in a series of rounds. A multiple choice question based on video arcade gaming would determine who would go first and choose which game they and their opponent would play for a high score. At the end of the show, and a series of other games, the winning player could come home with a neat prize such as a vacation or even an arcade game of their own.
Starcade recorded over 133 episodes over its relatively short life. It aired from 1982 – 1983 on Ted Turner’s network and then was syndicated to other channels from ’83 to ’84 when it finally ended. It’s been credited as helping pave the way for similar efforts in later years such as G4 TV’s Arena, another competitive video gaming show.
Fast forward to the early 90s and the 16-bit war about to kick off between Sega and Nintendo. The NES was still a powerhouse but Sega had raised the bar with the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. Video games were quickly exploding into living rooms across North America with more people wanting to ride the digital wave created by it.
GamePro was a popular gaming magazine back in those days. Colorful, filled with reviews, previews, screenshots, and tips on the latest titles, it was targeted largely at the younger demographic ranging from kids to teens with pages covered in custom illustrations and, later, included its own comic strip starring a hero traveling between different “game universes” to battle an evil empire.
In 1990, GamePro launched its own show on television focusing on games — GamePro TV. It aired from 1990 to 1991 and was syndicated in the US during Saturday mornings. It was a lot like the TV version of its magazine featuring a mixed format featuring game tips in its SWAT sections (Secret Weapons and Tactics, just like in the magazine), a segment featuring new games across systems ranging from the NES to the TurboGrafx-16 (sadly, no PC games…boo), “The Cutting Edge” featuring new tech, an “Ask the Pros” segment featuring game questions from pro guests such as football stars, and even recorded voice mails and pics from fans sending in their scores and video game accomplishments (if your message was featured, you won a free year’s subscription to GamePro).
There were also reviews using the famous “face” rating system used the magazine. Sometimes the hosts would even drop something a bit unexpected in the mix such as asking what games like Magician Lord and Golden Axe had in common and then proceed to talk about the medieval age and what they did for entertainment such as falconry and chess. It was hosted by the affable, kids show host J.D. Roth with a “whoaaa duuude” sidekick in Brennan Howard.
The show could come off loaded with cheese though it worth remembering that this was a show targeted at a much younger crowd (hence its Saturday morning spot in the US when it ran). It was still a neat way to actually see many different games in action outside of the mags and demonstrated tips and had interesting bits such as previews and looks at hardware right before you readied yourself for your favorite cartoons later that morning.
The show had a short life — it lasted only a year — before radically changing its format into what apparently became a paid informercial (on much fewer networks) keeping J.D. Roth but cutting back on content such as viewer mail. From what I understand, it apparently only lasted a few months before disappearing.
Then in 1996, GamePro TV came back again, this time with a new host (as a voice over), and only lasted a few months before getting axed after a few episodes. It also featured a very different format peppered with interview bites from people in the game industry ranging to players. Then it became the GamePro Minute in 2003 as part of the Game Show Network before apparently vanishing again.
Today, GamePro is largely a warm, fuzzy memory for gamers that had grown up back then, having ended its magazine run at the end of 2011 with its web presence closing down that same year.
But while it was around, its colorful pages, previews, fantastic covers, and tips made it one of the go-to picks on the newsstand for gamers, especially heading into the 16-bit era alongside others such as EGM. Its experiment with television might not have had the kind of lasting success that others like it had also hoped for, but some might say with a nostalgic smile that it might have been just another case of being too far ahead of its time.