Gamesmaster: The greatest videogame TV show ever made!

The year is 1992 and I’m a teenage boy who spends way too much time playing videogames on my Commodore Amiga 500 and Super Nintendo. At the time, I didn’t watch much TV; with only 4 channels to view and with numerous games at my disposal, I had little use for the latest episode of Baywatch, no matter how much I adored Erika Eleniak.

But then things changed. British broadcaster Channel 4 hit upon the idea to put gaming on TV in a format familiar to the people playing the games – the magazine show. Each week, the host Dominik Diammond, would present a series of gaming challenges, reviews, tips & cheats and a feature, all in a half-hour episode. To give the show more gravitas they hired the venerable Sir Patrick Moore to act as the titular “Gamesmaster”, a character who was part man, part machine. The show also featured celebrities each week who were often terrible at the games they tried to play.

This new show immediately peaked my interest and I watched every week for the 7 seasons that the show aired, right through to 1998. Years later, I still think of Gamesmaster, and ponder what the show might look like if it were made today. Judging by the first episode (below), probably not much different. Super Mario Bros. 3 would be replaced with New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, the soccer game of choice would now be the latest FIFA iteration and it shouldn’t be too hard to replace Mad Dog McCree with the latest arcade shooter! And of course, Nintendo still dominate with handhelds so the feature about modding the Gameboy is easily transposed to use the 3DS.

For me, Gamesmaster was a classic show, and now I’ve rediscovered it on YouTube, I’ll be re-watching it like the teenager that I once was!

The Bat Mitt

Bat Mitt

Over the past week I’ve scanned in roughly 300 ads from some of my old computer and videogame magazines. I’ll be sharing some of my favorites (and some of the oddest ones) here on the Retroist.

The Bat Mitt, apparently, was a glove designed to make playing videogames more comfortable. “Atari thumb” was a common ailment among kids in the late 70s and early 80s, and I knew more than one kid that developed calluses from playing too many videogames, so I suppose there may have been a market for the Bat Mitt. As a kid, had I seen an advertisement for “a Video Game Glove Comfortable Improving Your Scores!” I’m sure I would have owned one.

According to the ad, Bat Mitts came in left and right handed versions and were available in two colors, yellow and red. They also came in three sizes: small (for ages 10-11), medium (for ages 12-15), and large (ages 16 to adult). I suppose if you had freakishly small or large hands you might have to wing it. Each Bat Mitt cost $2.50 plus an additional 50 cents per item for shipping and handling with a maximum S&H of $3, for six mitts. If you wanted one for every day of the week or for everyone on your little league team, well, lucky you.

I can find no hits for “Bat Mitt” on Google. If anyone had one of these or knows what happened to the Koal Sales company, I’d love to hear from you.

Oil’s Well (Sierra, 1983)

Oil's Well

In 1983’s Oil’s Well by Sierra (before they were Sierra Online), players control a drill bit and must “devour” pellets of oil. Your drill bit can be broken by hitting land mines and various critters roaming the tunnels beneath the earth. The game is almost identical to another popular game released for home computers in 1983, Datamost’s Ardy the Aardvark, which apparently was based on the 1982 arcade game Anteater.

The dinosaur seen above is Slater the Petrosaur, as seen in the 1990 PC version of the manual. Slater has essentially nothing to do with the game. I guess they just needed a cute mascot to put in the manual for marketing purposes.

Oil’s Well was released for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, MSX, and the IBM PC. I spent some time playing the Apple II version this week and it’s really addictive. Your drill bit is controlled by the joystick, while the button retracts it quickly. If a critter touches any part of your drill bit it breaks, so getting all the oil located on the bottom levels is quite challenging.

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My current “retrocomputing desk” consists of two Raspberry Pi computers, a Commodore 64, an Apple IIe, and a MiST (Amiga and Atari ST) machine. I had hoped to try out a few more games last night but all I did was play Oil’s Well for a couple of hours.

Here’s some footage of the Commodore 64 version of Oil’s Well…

…and here’s some footage from the 1990 MS-DOS version. Keep an eye out for Slater!

Test Drive II: The Duel

Several months ago while digging through the book section of a local thrift store I found several incorrectly placed software boxes. How several unopened computer games from the 1980s ended up in the book section of a local thrift store 30 years later… it’ll hurt your head if you think about it too long.

While Test Drive II: The Duel was released for many different systems (including the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple IIgs, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, Genesis, Macintosh, MSX, SNES, and ZX Spectrum) the Amiga version has always been my favorite (although the Genesis and SNES versions give it a run for its money). Check out that stereo sound during the intro of this video!