Dave Perry is a legendary video games journalist and was instrumental in nurturing our love for games back in the early nineties. Commentating on GamesMaster and Games World whilst also writing for Sega Pro (a personal favourite) and Mega Power, needless to say we all hold him in very high regard. We were all blown away with this interview, enjoy! Mr Perry, we salute you.
You first made your name as a commentator on the much loved Channel 4 show GamesMaster. How did this opportunity arise?
I was writing reviews for games magazines at the time, while also working as Publishing Manager for Europe’s largest video game mail order company – Special Reserve. When Jane Hewland came up with the idea of making GamesMaster it was suggested that I should go along to see if I would fit as one of the games experts on the project. I did. In the end there were five members in the original GamesMaster team: Adam Woods – Producer, Cameron McAllister – Director, Dave Perry – Games Researcher, Stephen Carsey – Games Researcher and Chris Kelly – Celebrity Booker, and together we created what would become the greatest video games TV show that the world has ever seen. Well, definitely for its first five seasons anyway.
As for actually getting in front of the camera, well, that all came down to ego and boundless ambition really. While we were conducting our extensive search for a presenter for the show, I actually realised that this might be a rare opportunity for me to grab a bit of fame for myself. And so, after a quick word with Cameron McAllister, I got screen tested, and the rest, as they say, is history… or ‘my’ story anyway. See what I did there? (Yes Dave, we saw 🙂 – Ed)
What was it like working on GamesMaster – could you explain a typical day on set?
Working on GamesMaster was always a real buzz. I would almost always turn up on my own, and the experience often differed, depending on each location, but generally it involved an hour or so of extensive research with the games testers and contestants, brushing up on the games I was about to commentate upon, and in particular the levels or challenges that we would be using that day. Then it would be off to make-up, to get rid of my pasty pallor before moving out onto set to await my signal to mic up and get in front of camera with either Dominik or Dexter. That was when things got really interesting. Trying to make an impression and be entertaining and informative in the short time allowed between links is not easy, especially when you also have the production crew talking into your earpiece while you are trying to concentrate. Good times though. Really good times.
Did you get along with both Dominik Diamond and Dexter Fletcher?
I got along great with Dominik in the early days, but then, somewhere around Season 2, something changed. Maybe he felt threatened by my growing persona, I don’t know, but after that he seemed to develop a problem with me. It was something we never got over. Which is sad, as we both got our big breaks at the same time, on the same show.
As for Dexter, I got on with him wonderfully from the very beginning. He’s a really cool guy, and when we presented the Team Challenge episodes together he used to let me use his dressing room. It sounds like a small thing, but not many ‘stars’ do that. He was just an ordinary bloke who had been put in a very stressful situation with that particular series. It’s been great to see him doing so well as an actor in recent years.
Was there any rivalry between the other co-commentators on the show?
No, no. I don’t think so. I was always the number one co-presenter and I think the others learned to accept that. But who knows? Remember, I didn’t think there was a problem between me and Dominik in the early days either.
What is your fondest memory of working on GamesMaster?
Changing in the same room as the Angels from Season 5. Mmm.
Do you actually own one of the infamous Golden Joysticks?
When we were originally piecing the first series together, I was negotiating with a number of software companies to arrange a selection of high value prizes for the show’s contestants to win. These included arcade machines, foreign holidays, cup final tickets and so on. However, due to the time slot of the show and the strict rules surrounding prize values on Channel 4, it quickly became apparent that none of these prizes would be suitable, and that something far more iconic was required.
At around the same time, I had been having a conversation with a contact of mine at Joystick manufacturer Spectravideo, called Richard Sekula. I mentioned in passing the problems we were having complying with broadcast rules and regulations and finding a suitable prize for our competitors. I couldn’t have picked a better person to call. Richard told me that Quickjoy had in fact devised ‘Golden Joysticks’ mounted in plastic cases as awards to store managers in recognition of particularly impressive retail sales, and that they still had 20 of these ‘awards’ sat in a warehouse gathering dust. Eureka! Some things are just meant to be. It was arranged that Richard would send me one of these sticks to have a look at and that if I should decide that they would make ideal prizes, then they were ours. They were perfect. I took the idea to the show’s producers and bingo! The GamesMaster Golden Joystick was born.
When I finished working at Hewland, to go back into magazines in 1991, the team took me out for a goodbye lunch and presented me with the last of the original 20 joysticks from Season 1 as a thank you for my part in it and the show’s creation. It was a great honour, and I kept it safe until this year, when I passed it on to a collector. It deserved to be given a much better home than a box in my garage. I know it will be taken care of and appreciated.
Do you know if the golden joysticks actually work as a fully functioning joystick?
During the first series the stick itself was a gold sprayed Quickjoy III Supercharger flight controller that still contained many of the working parts of its less illustrious counterparts, but had since had the wires to connect it to a computer removed. However, if somebody industrious had repaired it, the controller itself still would have worked! On later shows however, it was just the casing of the stick inside the presentation case.
You famously walked off GamesMaster live on air during the Super Mario 64 challenge – could you explain exactly what happened?
Ah, this story is gaming folklore now. In short, I felt I had been treated disgracefully by the very show I had always thought of as my baby. Stabbed in the back. Certain promises were made to me that day that were broken, but there was nothing I could do about it. What was supposed to be a neutral game in the final, turned out to be one my opponent (the presenter’s best friend at the time) had been playing for three months, on an unreleased games system that I had said in the national games press that I would not even consider playing until its official release in this country. There was even a question in the quick-fire semi-final round on the game series that my eventual opponent was working on at the time (Earthworm Jim). Make of that what you will. Ha, ha. All the clues are in there. I should have walked off the set once I smelled a rat, but tried to do the honourable thing… and that’s what gutted me most in the end I think. Once the final challenge was finished I couldn’t hide my frustration and disappointment at all involved. I did what needed to be done to finish the show and then left. Done. Never to work on GamesMaster again. And to be honest, when I saw the show’s final season, I was very glad that I wasn’t a part of it. Just awful. Damn shame. All of it.
If you could turn back the clock would you have done anything differently regarding your exit from GamesMaster?
It would have been nice to have left on a high. I’d like to think I could have behaved in a more dignified manner, but under the circumstances it was probably impossible. At least it was a memorable exit.
You soon went on to working on Games World – a rival video game TV show on Sky 1. How weird was it to work on a direct rival to GamesMaster?
Not weird at all, they were both produced by the same production company. In fact it was brilliant. I actually turned down the chance to work on the first season of Games World, choosing instead to appear in a live challenge against the games champions of many of the UK’s leading magazines. I won of course. Then when I actually accepted another offer to work on the next season of the show, it was as a fully contracted presenter while I was still co-commentating on GamesMaster. Presenting on Games World was like a breath of fresh air for me whereas GamesMaster had become very formulaic and more than a little claustrophobic. It was much more fun, and when I presented on this show I knew exactly what it was like to be a competitor, because I had done exactly that the year before. Real deal baby. Always.
Which show did you prefer working on; GamesMaster or Games World?
Games World, definitely. Filming slots for me would normally involve several days and nights away from home and I would be able to totally immerse myself in everything on set and off. Games World was on five nights a week, so we all had much more creative freedom. It was also filmed in front of a crowd for the sections I presented on and I love working in front of a live audience. Great sets, wonderful audiences and a proper role to play in all that was going on around me. Games World was like living in an alternate universe for me. One where gamers really were kings.
What was Bob Mills and Andy Collins like to work with and how did they compare with the hosts on GamesMaster?
Bob Mills was something of a comedic genius in my eyes. Extremely funny. A very quick and cruel wit. Absolutely hilarious. Did you ever see his show ‘In Bed With M’Dinner?’ Absolutely brilliant. The forerunner of Harry Hill’s TV Burp by quite a few years.
Andy Collins was a lovely guy. I stayed over with him and his family a few times whilst filming. Such a huge and infectious personality. He was originally the show’s Warm Up Man, so I had been used to working with him during Seasons 2 and 3, before he got the main presenting role for Season 4. It was a shame for him though, that that final season was so poor. I would have loved for him to have been a huge success on the show.
What is your fondest memory of working on Games World?
Every time I sat on that stage during Fight Night was a magical feeling. I loved being in front of that crowd.
What is your favourite video game you had to commentate over for either GamesMaster or Games World?
My favourite game was always Street Fighter 2, in any of its incarnations. It was the perfect one on one test of skill, nerve and brains. These days they have missed the point massively with fighting games. By overcomplicating them you take the human element out of the experience. The more we have to remember, memorize and thread together, the more the game is in control and not the player. The Street Fighter games had just enough moves and subtleties to them to allow the player to form a strategy… but the secret to success always lay with the player’s timing and experience, which made it far more rewarding than simply sitting and watching a 32 hit sequence unfold in a CGI sequence that you can do nothing to stop. Dull, dull, dull.
Was there any celebrities you really enjoyed meeting when working on both GamesMaster and Games World?
Frank Bruno was always a lovely bloke, and Vinnie Jones was an interesting character. It was the first time I’d actually watched someone screaming abuse at his own goalkeeper on FIFA for the Mega Drive. I always enjoyed meeting celebrities though, it was just so cool to chat with Robbie, or hang out with Denise Van Outen. There’s always something so magical about a celeb isn’t there?
You helped launch numerous video game magazines including Mega Power, Games World and PowerStation – which magazine are you most proud to have been involved in?
Out of all the Videogames magazines I launched, my proudest moment would have to be launching the highest selling independent single format magazine of all time. STATION. With an initial ABC figure of 132,645, it entered the UK’s Top 100 magazine list. A hell of an achievement, and a magazine everyone said could never be launched. There was so much drama during the build up to its launch that I almost had a mini breakdown. In the end I had to take over as Editor in order to get it out on time. I never missed a deadline. Ever. I was made a director by the publishing house shortly afterwards.
Which was the most successful video game magazine you helped launch?
Success can be measured in many ways. Circulation wise it would have been STATION, but for sheer longevity, the PlayStation title PLAY would have to win out. I believe it is still on sale even today. An extremely satisfying legacy that.
Did you prefer working on video game magazines or TV shows?
I liked the fame that the TV shows brought me and the doors that they opened, but my heart was always deeply rooted in the world of publishing. I enjoy being a part of a tightly knit team, working towards deadlines, attempting to beat our rivals to exclusives and always battling to give our readers the best information and features before anyone else. There is something gritty and satisfying about the written word. Especially when printed on paper. The internet is a poor substitute, but unfortunately its immediacy really does seem to be killing print in this millennium. Being a games journalist in the 90s really was as good as it gets.
Have you always been a gamer?
I remember playing Space Invaders, Asteroids and Gorf in the late 70s and early 80s after Ice Hockey Training, but initially I wanted to play in a Punk band. I kind of fell into gaming when I realised that my guitar skills were a bit crap.
What is your favourite video game of all time?
Without doubt the original Player Manager by Anco on the Commodore Amiga. Released in 1990 its genius was its simplicity. And, when combined with sister games like the rest of the Kick Off series it was so versatile and gripping in a way that football games have never been since. Perfection. Those early Anco games and a couple of Competition Pro joysticks and BOOM! Best times ever.
Do you still play video games today?
Yes, on the 360, PC and PSP. But only occasionally. I just don’t have the time any more, my days are so full. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Which games console / computer system do you have the fondest memories of?
Unquestionably the Commodore Amiga 500. I absolutely loved everything about that machine and without a doubt had all of my greatest gaming experiences on it. Great times. A real golden age of gaming. Nothing else has ever come close.
What are your views on the video game industry of today?
Dull. Bland. Grey. Like one big spreadsheet-driven corporate machine. The sparkle seems to have gone out of everything. To me it looks just like with the music industry, with people being spoon fed without even realising it is happening. What is escapism worth if someone else is constantly planning your journey for you?
The biggest problem that the games industry has always failed to solve, is the fact that the outside world just doesn’t give a fuck about it. I was very vocal about that in the 90s and tried to impress the importance of developing personalities within our ranks that the ‘real’ world could identify with. I appeared in the Independent, Company Magazine, on Radio One, opened stores all over the country… but instead of following my lead, everyone just seemed to want to shut me up. LOL! Now there is nothing. No shows, no recognisable personalities, no news stories. Mario and Sonic cannot be interviewed, or appear on TV, so if that is all you have to offer the outside world… then you will always find yourself running down a dead end in a world where you have to buy your own publicity.
Which video game character would you most like to share a few pints with?
You now run your own tattoo parlour called Revolver Tattoo Rooms – please tell us a little about the business and what made you move from one industry to a completely different one?
Revolver is my own Tattoo Studio and represents a complete break away from the world of Videogames and Movies for me, and a return to my artistic roots. These days I draw, paint and tattoo for a living. These are gifts I was given from a very early age and there is something very rewarding about relying upon your natural talents to support yourself and your family. It’s good to move away from the pressures and paranoia of the media world. I still have my stories to tell, but these days I just share them with my customers (and us! – Ed).