Your presence is requested for the ultimate test
Hop on board and turn my key
We're gonna flash back to A-T-3
Rock my controller, don't get played
You are the new master of Starcade!
In the early 1980s, Video Games were huge...and so were Game Shows. In 1981, JM Productions got the great idea to merge the two. The result was Starcade, which originally ran from 1982-83 on Superstation WTBS and 1983-84 in syndication (via Turner Program Services). Unlike most game shows, this show was recorded in San Francisco, CA, the centerpiece for technology and video games in America.
Two contestants (sometimes two teams of two) played three rounds. Each round began with a toss-up question about a video game, such as "The first event in Alpine Ski is A) Downhill Ski or B) The Slalom Race" answer . The person/team who got the question right picked which of the five arcade games they would face off on. The players then got anywhere from 40-60 seconds to score as many points as possible. After three rounds, the player/team with the higher score advanced to the final round and chose one of the two unused games; if they could beat the average score of 20 other players within 30 seconds, they won the day's grand prize.
The video game theming continued with the prizes- aside from the grand prize, runner-up and bonus prizes consisted of Colecovision consoles, home computers, Pac-Man wall clocks, handheld games, and the like.
All in all, Starcade was the first of its kind: a pioneering game show centered on video games (as announcer Kevin McMahon put it in early episodes, "a game show for today") that managed to survive The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 and inspire such shows as Video Power and Nick Arcade. USA Network was in talks about a revival in 2006, but never picked it up...thankfully, since "They Changed It, Now It Sucks!" would definitely have been heard among the Starcade community.
Years later, the G4TV cable network (before its merger with the now-defunct Tech TV) picked up the show for repeats; despite being much older than the rest of the lineup, Starcade fit in perfectly and served to plug the then-new official Web site made by the show's staff, filled with information and many full episodes plus clips of the unaired pilots. Not only does it continue to be updated from time to time, but episodes and clips are also on YouTube. Surprisingly, after having been absent from television for over 17 years, the show returned to G4's schedule upon the network's relaunch in November 2021. This would lead to talks about a proper revival in 2022... only for those plans to be quashed by G4's second shutdown that year.
Thanks to the Web site and the reruns on G4, Starcade has become popular as not only a good game show, but also a sizable chunk of 1980s gaming nostalgia for those who remember the era (and a fun history lesson for those who don't). And of course, there's always MAME. Indeed, this article puts it as the predecessor to the current E-Sports craze.
It has been announced that Shout! Factory has acquired the rights to the show, and with JM Productions is planning a reboot of the show for the near-future. To help promote their ownership of the show, Shout! Factory held a streaming marathon of the show on, appropriately enough, Twitch in late August of 2017, and have also uploaded episodes on their website.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Round: The contestant picked one of the two remaining games and had 30 seconds to beat the average score of 20 players who played the same game for 30 seconds. If successful, the contestant won either an arcade game, a 2-XL home robot or a jukebox, depending on the episode.
- Bonus Space: One of the five games was designated the "Mystery Game". If it was among the first three games chosen, the player or team who chose it won a special prize.
- To a certain extent, "Name the Game", played after the second (and originally, also the third) game. The player in the lead stood before a board which had four television screens on it; each one had footage of an arcade game, and the player/team had to identify the games one at a time (e.g., "Is this from Donkey Kong or Congo Bongo?" "Donkey Kong." "You're right!"). A prize was awarded for getting three right, and another for all four right.
- Consolation Prize: "Some of our contestants, and some of the members of the studio audience, will receive..."
- Golden Snitch: If a player decided to play a high-scoring game after playing a low-scoring one, the balance of power could switch very quickly. However, knowing which games are higher scoring than others can arguably be part of the overall strategy.
- Home Game: Life-sized arcade game for the grand prize? Sounds like the best way possible!
- The Announcer: Kevin McMahon.
- Game Show Host: The original 1981 pilot was helmed by Mike Eruzione (captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey team), while the next three (1982, for NBC's O&O stations) were hosted by Alex Trebek. Mark Richards was host when the series landed (since Trebek was busy with Battlestars), but he was quickly replaced by Geoff Edwards.
- Product Placement: Each of the five games up for play that episode was lovingly described, and kids in the 1980s were thrilled to get a peek at the Next Big Thing in the arcades.
- This trope is actually hard to avoid when you're dealing with a game show based around video gamesnote . Of note are special "showcase" shows featuring a brand-new game, which unsurprisingly was in all five positions - Star Wars (which didn't have a video game until 1983), Dragon's Lair, and Cliffhanger all had one each.
- The Starcade Hotline, a regular segment which looked at various things about either video games or the show itself. Within the latter category were such items as a look at a school play based on the show.
- Show the Folks at Home: The Mystery Game.
This show provides examples of:
- The Artifact: Note how the arcade games on the set have those dome-esque enclosures around them. This was a remnant of the Trebek pilots, where each game was hidden behind a curtain; prior to the taping, each contestant got to warm up on one of those machines, but they didn't know which was which with the curtains. They used the four-monitor board (used in the series for the "Name the Game" round) to match the screens and play the game; the middle machine was the "Mystery Game" and you would try to ID it based off the sounds it made.
- Audience Participation: When the player is down to five seconds while playing a game. "FIVE... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE...!" (buzzer)
- Converted Fanboy: Geoff Edwards was called upon to host the show after original host Mark Richards was dismissed by Ted Turner (as the show aired on Superstation WTBS) for knowing nothing about video games. Seeking to avoid that pitfall, Edwards made sure to study up on all the games Starcade had to offer... and ended up becoming a video game fanatic. He'd offer his own tips to the players during the game, and was shown on-camera during a "Starcade Hotline" segment playing, and beating, the Nintendo Hard game Sinistar. He remained a devoted gamer for the rest of his life.
- Deadpan Snarker: Geoff, as per usual for him.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: For the first few episodes with Mark Richards, the Mindseed-composed theme wasn't in place yet, the narration was different (instead of making reference to the video games, Kevin McMahon called it "A game show for today!"), and some sound-effects were different; the elements (including the opening pan over the Starcade Arcade and set) didn't stabilize until Geoff Edwards took over.
- Every Episode Ending: Geoff would always close each episode with "This is Geoff Edwards saying I hope all your troubles get zapped, bye-bye!"
- Opening Narration: "This is Starcade, TV's first video arcade game show! Starring your favorite video games! And some brand-new ones being introduced to the public for the first time anywhere! And now, here's your host for Starcade, Geoff Edwards!"
- Pilot: No fewer than four, although the first was quite different from the eventual format.
- Scenery Porn: Most episodes would start with the Starcade Arcade, where all the machines were stored when not in use for a taping; the host and contestants would then run off to the slick, neon-lit, futuristic set.
- Those Two Guys: Geoff and Kevin. Much like his comedic banter with Emile Autori on Treasure Hunt US and Judge Von Erik on Play the Percentages, he frequently poked fun at Kevin — only unlike Autori and Von Erik, Kevin could fling it back at him (being the announcer and all).
- Timed Mission: The goal is to score as highly as possible across three games in very short time limits. Depending on the game, this can radically affect strategies, to the point where Geoff would sometimes tell the players not to do certain things that would be expected in normal gameplay simply because there isn't enough time to do it.
"This is Kevin McMahon speaking. Starcade is a JM Production."