We managed to get an exclusive interview with the Games Animal himself, Mr Dave Perry. Not to be confused with David Perry of Shiny and Earthworm Jim fame, Dave Perry was part of the greatest gaming television shows ever…GamesMaster.
GamesMaster ran on Channel 4 between 1992 to 1998 for seven series and was the first-ever UK television show dedicated to computer and video games. If you wish to find out more about GamesMaster then check the Wikipedia entry here. GamesMaster also spun off into a magazine which still runs to this day.
However for most 20 something UK gamers, Dave Perry is well known for his time on Games Master, his bandanas and his image as the Games Animal.
CasuallyHardcore: Dave, it’s a pleasure to speak to the man i used to watch on tv at 6pm every thursday.
Everyone will know you primarily for the GamesMaster TV show, how did you get involved with GamesMaster?
Dave Perry: Well at the time, I think it was around 1991, I was freelancing for a number of video games magazines, and also editing a couple of magazines for what was Europe’s largest mail order company Inter-Mediates. Their members all subscribed to a role-playing magazine called Special Reserve (Editors Note: Special Reserve is also known as a mail order and later shop retailer specialising in video games before their demise.), and a computer games only title called NRG. This was right at the beginning of the industry’s increasingly meteoric rise to public acceptance. The embryonic days of the Spectrum and C64 were behind us and everybody was playing Atari ST, Amiga 500, NES and Master System. With the Mega Drive and SNES on the horizon there was a genuine feeling that the games hobby was about to explode.
It was with this in mind, that after watching her son play Duck Hunt on his console one day, that Jane Hewland decided to put together the country’s first video games TV show. I was invited in to the production company’s offices in the Docklands for interview and the rest, as they say, is history.
I am proud to have been one of the five man team that started it all, yet very sad to see that since that first decade, nobody seems to have followed our lead, despite the industry being bigger than ever.
CH: Let’s step back a bit. You used to write for gaming magazines. What made you get into that line of work?
Dave Perry: I loved gaming. I was very, very good at it. But at the time I often felt let down by the quality of some of the reviews and previews that I was reading. So I decided to do something about it. To get somebody to pay me for doing what I loved, and also provide me with an endless supply of new games and hardware seemed like a perfect plan to me. And it worked.
CH: Going back a little further, what’s the stand out moment that turned you into a gamer?
Dave Perry: There were two stand out moments. Firstly there was the Space Invaders cabinet that used to sit next to the ice rink where I played Ice Hockey every week. I had to get good at that fast, or look like a right dweeb in front of the older guys in the team.
Secondly, I was sold an early Amiga set-up as a desktop publishing set-up. Needless to say it was rubbish for that purpose. But it was superb for gaming, and after messing around with the bleepy sounds and pixellated graphics of the Spectrum and Atari, the A500 seemed like a huge step forwards… and a passion that has lasted a lifetime was sparked in to life.
CH: Going back to GamesMaster, a lot of people wonder if the friction between you and Dominik Diamond for the cameras or something more? It’s obvious in later series there’s a lot of tension between you and Dom which did make for some great viewing.
Dave Perry: No, it was always for real. Never really from my side, but somewhere in the middle of the second series Dom seemed to have decided that he didn’t like me. I doubt if this was helped much when he left the show before series 3 and I stepped in to co-present with Dexter Fletcher. But there were rumours that he always wanted me off the show, but the production company always wanted me on it. Which couldn’t have help much I guess. It’s ironic really when you think that in fact I was one of the guys responsible for his first big break on series one of GamesMaster.
CH: You are well known for your bandana collection. What started it off, how many do you have, is there a favourite and where do you buy them from? Do you still wear them?
Dave Perry: The bandana thing started because I was growing my hair on Series 2 and it looked crap. It was at that in-between stage you know? So I started wearing bandanas, which were quite trendy at the time. However, the Director and Producer loved the look and told me that I should keep them… so I did. It was a wise move as it became a trademark that set me apart from everyone else in the industry, it also seemed to wind a lot of people up. Which was good. But the fact is, people still remember me for them today. And no, I don’t wear them anymore.
CH: You’re often confused with Earthworm Jim creator David Perry from Shiny, have you ever met him and do you mind being confused with him? We’ve read he is not too fond of being confused with yourself.
Dave Perry: Well, I’ve heard that as well. But we’ve always got on great when we’ve met. I went to his studios on Laguna Beach a few times, and we’ve met up at shows in the UK. I guess he wants to hog the David Perry thing… but that’s just tough. To be honest with you the confusion doesn’t always sit too well with me either… he’s released some real stinkers in his time.
CH: You used to run a website called Games Animal and you’re also known as one. Where did the Games Animal part of you come from and what happened to the website?
Dave Perry: I was playing a bunch of guys at my publishing company one day, and I’d been listening to some Public Enemy, so I had their songs going round in my head. As I made my way over to the console I started changing the lyrics to ‘Bring the Noize’. I shouted at my opponent ‘Once again back it’s the incredible, Games Animal, the unbeatable me’. And it stuck. Once again I figured having an alter ego would help me stand out, I was thinking WWF at the time (the wrestling not the Panda conservation). I wanted to be unique. I wanted to rattle people’s cages. Job done.
CH: Not everyone will know but you were voted as one of Britains most eligible bachelors? Did anything exciting come from having that title?
Dave Perry: Yeah baby! In 1996 the readers of Company Magazine voted me one of the UK’s 50 Most Eligible Bachelors. Nothing like that had ever happened to a member of the games industry before, and I don’t think anything like it has ever happened since. A professional games player becoming a sex symbol? Come on.
Did anything exiting come from it? Hell yeah!
CH: You’re well known for your gaming skills, what is the game you can’t be beaten at?
Dave Perry: If I’m honest, I’m not the player I was anymore. Back in the day I would practice for four to five hours and evening, after spending all day playing for my magazines. I was like a professional athlete. I had to be, because I travelled all over the country playing against all-comers. I was truly world class when it came to the Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam titles. But the one game no-one could touch me on was NHL 94. I was the king.
CH: People still talk about the moment you lost on Games Master. At the time you said you was set up. What was going through your head at the time? Were the tears real or just some expert acting?
Dave Perry: Tears? There weren’t any tears that I remember. But I was majorly pissed off what had gone on that day. We were told that if we took part in the quiz and got through to the final, then there would be a play off on a neutral game. Probably a new version of WipeOut from Psygnosis. However, when I turned up on the day, the game had been changed suspiciously to Mario 64 on the N64. I had recently spoken out in the trade press saying that I would not play Mario 64 until it was released officially in the UK, as the amount of press attention the new Nintendo console was getting was ruining the Christmas games market in the UK. So everyone new I had not played this game as it was not due out in the UK until the next year.
When I enquired if any of the finalists had played the game, it turned out that only one had… host Dominik Diamond’s best friend. Not only had he played it, he had been playing it constantly for the past few months and completed it a number of times as he was helping develop Earthworm Jim 3D. Hardly a neutral game.
When I complained to the Director, I was told not to worry because he would not get through to the final, and if he did, then the game would be changed. I should have smelled a rat.
So, I played on, and won every round. However, when we got to the semi-final, if you watch the whole show you will notice that at least one question comes up about Earthworm Jim! The game Dominik’s friend was helping develop! Coincidence?
So now he’s in the final against me, on a machine I’ve never played on, on a game I’ve never played, but he’s been playing on for the past few months.
When I went to see the Director about his promise that this wouldn’t happen, he simply told me that there wasn’t time to change anything as the crew had all run over on their scheduled time and the final had to take place immediately. He also told me that if I walked I wouldn’t be allowed to use the company’s hire car that had brought me to the shoot and would have to get home on my own. I was in the middle of an industrial estate in London on a Saturday evening. There weren’t even any cabs. I was f*cked.
Feeling set-up and really hard done by I decided to try and play my way out of it, but predictably lost by a couple of seconds. I felt betrayed that the show I’d helped create, and had served so loyally could do this to me. I should have reacted better, but I just wanted out. At least it made good TV. I quit the show there and then and never went back.
CH: What did you think of Mario 64 once you got a chance to play the full version?
Dave Perry: I’ve never played it. I have always hated those cutesy Nintendo games.
CH: Tell us some behind the scenes secrets at Games Master. We hear some challengers were given multiple goes at winning if it made for better TV.
Dave Perry: That’s true, everything was not always what it seemed. But you have to understand that first and foremost it was a television show and that became my biggest frustration in the end. I wanted gaming to be the priority, even if things went awry from time to time, but I felt that come the end of Season 6 it was no longer something I wanted to be involved with, and I wasn’t very good at just ‘going with the flow’.
CH: Not many people will know that you were on QVC for a bit, bit of a step down from being on Games Master right? What made you do it?
Dave Perry: I was getting married, and hadn’t realized just how much weddings cost. So, I went back on TV for one year to pay for it. Pretty cool huh? How many people could just do that?
The thing about QVC is that everybody looks down their noses at it. However, when I worked there I was shocked to discover that a lot of those presenters get paid way more than many bigger names do on more coveted shows. It was certainly the biggest fee I ever received!
CH: Dominik Diamond has been quoted as saying you audition for Big Brother every year, has that ever been true?
Dave Perry: Really? Where has he said that to? Listen, after Gamesmaster I returned to film Season 4 of Games World for Sky, but left halfway through the series after once again becoming disillusioned with the route another show I had been so passionate about was taking. After that I left TV completely, until QVC asked me to do some technology spots for them in 2001. Since then I haven’t been near a TV studio. It’d be a bit disturbing if he really does still talk about me, and if he really has said that, then he’s talking rubbish.
CH: We’ve all got a soft spot for Patrick Moore as the GamesMaster. I remember a year after GamesMaster first aired, going to the London Planetarium on a school trip and seeing a wax work of Partick Moore. None of us had an idea why the GamesMaster was at the planetarium at the time. What is Patrick like, does he even play games?
Dave Perry: I don’t think he ever really had any interest in games. I think he was always amused at his association with the hobby, and was ultimately just a consummate professional doing his job.
CH: GamesMaster had competition in the form of Bad Influence, hosted by Andy Crane and Violet Berlin. What did you think of the show compared to the mighty GM? You must have fancied Violet Berlin like every other gamer at the time.
Dave Perry: Not really. I never watched the show, though I did go with Violet to an Oasis concert at Maine Road once, courtesy of some software producer. Nice girl.
CH: Near to the death of GamesMaster, Games World appeared which focused much more on challenges and even starred Big Boy Barry who was a contestant in an early episode of GamesMaster. Do you think the showed lived up to its potential or was it an also ran? And how comes you wasn’t a videator?
Dave Perry: They did ask me to be a Videator at one point, as well as asking me to be a presenter on the first season, but I turned both offers down, choosing instead to play on the show against the champions of the country’s top games magazines in a televised tournament. It was the only time something like this had ever been done… and naturally I won.
After that I was asked again to be a presenter, this time with a much bigger role on the second season and I decided to do it. I loved Games World. It was extremely ambitious being on five nights a week for 26 weeks a season but it always had a great vibe, and Bob Mills is the funniest man I have ever worked with.
CH: It’s been mentioned by yourself and the guys over at Future Publishing that GamesMaster might be coming back, with you becoming the Games Master. Do you have any updates for us on that?
Dave Perry: I have been spoken to a few times in recent years by various production companies about my willingness to be involved with GamesMaster again, should it make a comeback. And yes, one of those conversations was about me becoming the GamesMaster himself in a kind of Doctor Who passing of the torch. But all those conversations have been in confidence, so I’m afraid that is all I can tell you for the moment.
CH: If you could do Games Master again for the 2010’s how would you change it? Top Gear shows you can have challenges and be a huge rating success, would you look to emulate them?
Dave Perry: I’d ask the production team to take a long look at the first season and compare it to the last season… to see where it all went wrong. It would need to take a few more chances than the later shows did. I would make it much more raw and edgy like those first shows. More about games and less about ‘comedy’. Do you remember those first shows? We built an arcade in a church! Complete with Lasers and smoke machines. That’s risk taking. That’s what grabs people’s attention. The balls to do something different, not an endless stream of daft innuendo.
CH: On the ntsc-uk forums – http://ntsc-uk.domino.org/showthread.php?t=31066 – you had a bet on for £50, did you ever get your money?
Dave Perry: Trust me. I have just checked out that thread, and no it wasn’t me. I have been plagued through the years by people on forums claiming to be me. I guess in a way it’s an underhanded compliment of sorts.
CH: At ECTS and other trade shows in the 90’s, surely everyone knew who you were. Do people still know who you are today or do you enjoy the low profile?
Dave Perry: Ah ECTS, those were the days. Believe it or not I still get recognized at least once a week. It amazes me how big those TV shows were and just what they meant to people. On the whole though, I like to keep my head down these days. I’m proud of what I achieved, but it really is all firmly in the past.
Dave Perry: No, I was busy that night. Really. I still kick myself thinking about that one. Still I went out with a lot of big name models, singers and TV presenters through the years, some of whom are now parts of A-List celebrity couples, so it would be inappropriate to name them now. It was quite a ride though during those years. Excuse the pun.
CH: When was the last time you went to an arcade? Do you ever challenge people for the fun of it?
Dave Perry: I was in an arcade about a month ago, but I don’t challenge people in public any more… not unless there are some really old machines at the back of the building. These days I just play for fun. I’d love to get an original Mortal Kombat unit for my studio.
I was asked to take part in a Street Fighter challenge about three years or so ago, and I told the people behind it that if they could get a TV crew there and raise £30,000 for charity, then I’d do it. But I’m not coming out of retirement for nothing.
CH: We’d love to know about your games collection. It must be huge and full of rare bits and pieces.
Dave Perry: Got to admit I broke my collection up a bit a few years ago and sold some pieces off, like my Neo Geo CD and beat-em-up collection. I have a special edition limited print of Tekken 2, that was given to me at the Sony Plant in Austria, after I won a competition over there. I still have my Amiga 500, along with my competition pro joysticks and collection of Kick Off games… what else? Two Eliminator jackets from Games World, the one I won, and the one I was given from the second season. One of the original 10 Golden Joysticks from the first season of GamesMaster, a Phillips CDi, 3DO, Jaguar, etc. etc. Lots of dusty boxes in the attic, full of long forgotten gems.
CH: Do you have a message for us 20 somethings who remember you from GM?
Dave Perry: Yeah, thanks for the kudos. Loved or hated, it’s always nice to be remembered.