Lights, Camera, Retro!
If you spend time on the internet thesedays you will find some very poor attempts at Videogaming shows.
Go back to the Retro years though and when TV ruled us retro gamers were treated to some superbly original shows, much like the games industry itself everything was evolving and fans wanted more than just magazine screenshots and written reviews.
Welcome the the first part of a regular series detailing some the UK's finest and lesser known moments of TV gaming heaven.
A TV show about videogames you say??? It will never work!.....Um...Wrong!
When the subject of games and television shows based on them are brought up then you are quite likely to hear all about shows like Gamesmaster and Bad Influence, these were by far the most popular of videogame related programmes and at their peaks had very impressive audience viewer figures. The main reason these two shows were in fact so popular was the network bosses at ITV and Channel 4 realising that videogames were not just a passing gimmick or fad and that they were here to stay and that because of a large core audience out there just waiting to have content thrown at them they would commission shows to fill the very important late afternoon / early evening time slots when children and teenagers would be glued to the TV.
The legacy that these videogame shows would leave endures today and will continue to entertain game lovers however at RGG we feel it important to bring attention to all the other shows that the UK produced during the gaming explosion of the 90’s especially as in this writers mind a few of them really should have gotten far more success than they had, mainly down to being in some ways better than the big 2 programmes mentioned above. Terrible choices of presenters, late time slots with a lack of consistency and time given by TV networks to allow a loyal audience to grow and right product wrong time reasons are why a lot of you may not have even heard of these shows.
Don’t panic though because that’s why we are here, it’s RGG’s mission to look a little deeper into things that make up the world of retro gaming in order to make sure every single possible part of it’s glorious history get’s talked about and shared on an internet fast moving towards ignorance in tandem with popularity. I myself have often said on other websites that although History is written by the winners it’s not always written by the best, an example of this that fits what I’m trying to say is that Betamax was better quality than VHS however VHS was cheaper and embraced the Adult industry so it won. I’m not even for one second saying that we are the best here at RGG however after searching the internet for existing articles on the subject I am about to talk about I was disgusted that so little information existed, thankfully being the age I am I have the experience of seeing them all when originally aired and with luck this can help kick-start more people talking about these lost gems of the retro gaming world. So this piece of history is written by the only ones that seem to give a crap ie. US lol.
This feature will have to be split into several sections however as the amount of information to share would be so vast that it would in fact be far too large for one sitting so today I want to start with a show that most gamers simply missed, this was mainly because unless you never went to sleep and were one of those night owl type folks then it would never have appeared on your TV screen.
Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls I give to you the longest running videogames show in UK history…… Cybernet
Games to the left of me, Games to the right of me, I'm surrounded... YES!
If wall to wall gaming footage is what you were after this was the show for you and as I type this I struggle to think of another videogames production that got this important piece right, a few got close with Gamepad being one of them however this was the total opposite to stuff like Bad Influence or Bits that gave so much time on sketches or long intros from presenters using far too much non gameplay time. I think my personal dislike of almost every internet review channel comes from having to go through my childhood and teenage years with no internet and flat magazine images then once we got TV shows I was still getting more people talking that actual seeing of games. If your media is moving image then for the love of god go away and show me the damn game, I think I can speak for all true gamers out there or maybe old cynical gits like myself.
One very nice concept displayed in this production was that it followed no real set formula regarding when things would be shown, it was entirely possible to begin each show with a review or a preview and in some cases straight to a first part of a feature. The reason I still find this fantastic is in how it kept you glued to your seat for the full 30 minutes of the show, there was no set boring time in which to escape to go to the toilet or get a snack, you had to wait for the mid-way commercial break then get whatever you needed done quick before the second part of your weekly awesome began.
Unless it’s not very clear by now Cybernet is a mis-understood almost forgotten classic that this writer absolutely adores, the fact it is mostly unheard of by a lot of gamers and retro fans is simply based on 2 very important and avoidable mistakes made by the network, but more on that later. So a Television show about games that actually shows you tons of game footage all wrapped up with some cool looking (for the time anyway) GCI animation sounds pretty fantastic right? Absolutely it does and it’s at this point that the absolutely best part of the show comes into play….. The presenter!
When Cybernet first hit the screen in 1995 it’s choice for presenter was that of simply using a voiceover, this was unheard of at that point for a show dedicated to just videogames with earlier programmes opting to use an actual walking and talking front person, for Gamesmaster this was Dominik Diamond and of course the legendary and sadly departed Sir Patrick Moore, for Bad Influence the one and only Violet Berlin with Andy Crane entertained the audience between content and a much lesser know show from SKY by the name of Games World also had several hosts depending on which day of the week you watched it.
Just who is the name behind the voice behind the machine...?
Lucy Longhurst was the lady who just made everything come together perfectly when Cybernet began, from the moment the first intro kicked in her incredible voice seemed to almost hypnotise you into staring at the screen, to the point where footage of a game that looked utterly rubbish seemed to almost look better if Lucy said it was great. At the time I was convinced that this woman knew everything about everything because the passion she delivered with each item for me made me want to actually try more games, it was a perfect choice in both style and actual chosen host and once a week I counted down the minutes until it was on, although a lot of the time Cybernet had to be recorded and watched the next day, the reason for this is explained later.
Lucy Longhurst would continue to front this show for several years 1995 - 2002 in fact with a short spell in 1998 where a guy some of you may know called Steve Priestly took over for a short while because the programme he fronted called Movies, Games Video was produced in the same offices and even though I cannot confirm the reason I suspect Lucy was either off on maternity leave or had some form of serious illness, if anyone can tell me the real reason I would be very grateful.
During the period of 1995 through 2002 would in fact easily be the glory years for this programme as Lucy would talk all of us through such amazing times like the N64 launch and of course the mighty Dreamcast and the world consuming Playstation 2.
Here are three episodes including the very first show from 1995 as well as the second episode that featured NBA Jam and a racing game special from 1996 that featured greats like Super Mario Kart and Ridge Racer. These episodes are from the period I shall refer to as ’The time of Lucy’
Times.... They be-a-changing, out with the good and in with the not so good!
During 2002 Cybernet switched to a brand new vocal host, the same format of CGI robot and intro sequences were all the same however now we had a guy doing the speaking parts, an American at that as well, it wasn’t the same at all, in fact….. It kinda sucked. Compared to Lucy his flat tone just sounded like noise and it annoyed the hell out of me personally and I remember at the time none of my friends liked the change either, Cybernet was Lucy’s show so who exactly was this guy? His name in case you even remotely care was Steve Truitt and from 2002 - 2004 he proceeded to ruin the Xbox, Gamecube and PS2 era superbly for me.
If for one moment I step outside my personal disappointment over all of this and analyse why so many people were upset it’s because the original presenter had been removed, the perfect analogy would be when Dominik Diamond left GamesMaster for a season and Dexter Fletcher took over, result being a complete and total Shambles! This time however the original host would not return and after these near 2 years of pain the producers switched back to a female voice in order to repair some of the damage. For the next 6 years until it was shelved Catherine Fox (2004-07) and Fran Stafford (2008-10) would be in charge, again it wasn’t the same, they were better than Steve Truitt for sure but neither voice was as distinct or sounded so knowledgeable as the legend that was Lucy. On top of this the main problem that had always plagued the show still remained and with the increase in internet news sites and public rejection of gaming based shows everything ceased in 2010.… In the UK at least.
In countries like Portugal Cybernet carried on for longer, I have myself found programmes broadcast in 2012 however as I don’t speak the languages they are transmitted in it’s impossible for me to watch and rate, the format still feels the same though mainly due to the fact that it was so good to begin with, if it isn’t broke…… As they say. Below are two non-Lucy episodes of Cybernet.
In my investigations into this programme I have found that very little solid information exists regarding what happened to Lucy during 1998 and even why she left, even less is known about the later hosts based purely on the tiny audience by then simply not caring I expect, for them it was just another voice over on a show, nothing more nothing less. Whilst I was trying to source information from the lady herself I hit brick wall after brick wall as her digital footprint is extremely small, with the exception of a single bio page and a closed Linkedln page I could only find one actual image for her, this lady sure is a mystery.
What I did find however were two very interesting stories from people who used to work for Capricorn themselves who remember her presence being that of someone very well liked that left people in awe when she would visit the offices to perform the voice over in the sound booth area. Through this forum thread it was also discovered that Lucy was more vocal talent than game enthusiast which kinda destroyed my image of her being the all knowing expert I assumed she was however I also found reports of her working for other actual game developing companies so this is all very cloudy. Along the way I found a summary on another website not connected with gaming about her work history, here is the text….
Lucy has worked extensively as a radio presenter for many years in local & national radio including GLR & Five Live. She has wide-ranging experience in voice-overs having voiced major advertising campaigns for products such as Garnier & Nurofen. Lucy has also narrated a number of documentaries on subjects ranging from Shark Hunting to Ronald Reagan.
Lucy has voiced TV shows such as The Album Show & Movie Chart Show as well as C4’s Women’s Tennis; sports films, TV promos, CD Roms and corporate films. Lucy also writes & presents promotional & continuity material for TV including the Discovery Channel. Lucy has also been an editor on Q Magazine.
It's 3.A.M..... 3.A.M..... It's 3.A.M...... Eternal..... ITV are gonna rock ya!
What’s important is the show though and for 15 years Cybernet was the longest running videogames show this country has ever seen, this fact in itself is the reason it astounds me that nobody seems to care enough to even make a decent Wikipedia page regarding it although I expect down the road after someone reads this article that will change. It did loads of cool stuff and was genuinely one of the better videogame shows that was ever produced, a lot of trash that is on that horrible Ginx TV channel right now is so trying to be like it in so many ways, the presenters however….. All utterly terrible! Earlier I mentioned that Cybernet was always destined to be a show most people would never see and now I shall tell you why…. It was shown in the middle of the night on ITV for their night time schedule, after realising people wanted more gaming TV shows, doing the research, paying Capricorn to get it all done some complete and total moron made the decision that 3 a.m. was the perfect time slot. Considering Bad Influence was shown during children’s TV hours which was from 3.30 - 5.30 in the afternoon the same ITV network decided this new show would fare better when everyone in the country was asleep.
My brain hurts….. In fairness for a while it was also shown on Saturdays during the day however unless your an early morning actual feature show Saturdays are very hard to retain high viewing figures, the second midday hits people are either out of the house or more focused on sports programs such as Football etc.
Had Cybernet in it’s early days when Lucy was doing the voice over been shown at a proper time during the week people would easily talk about it to the same level as Games Master, mainly because as an actual videogames show it was miles better, no challenges, no stupid tips section, it was wall to wall games. If you don’t believe me pick an episode of Cybernet to watch then try to watch an episode of Games Master afterwards, you won’t make it all the way through without skipping parts, that’s a promise! With luck over the next few years more and more people will discover this fantastic old show via mediums like this article and of course Youtube where some people have uploaded the odd episode and maybe one of the so called bigger websites will one day reach out and interview those connected to it, I remain highly sceptical about it all because the mainstream websites tend to focus on the safe options.....oh look another feature about the best Mario game ever….YAY....Snore!
Bottom line….Cybernet. It was fantastic, it’s aged really well, Lucy Longhurst was the boss, ITV were idiots and history and retro fans better start showing some respect because a 15 year running TV show deserves it. Again if Lucy Longhurst ever reads this please contact us as you deserve a much bigger mention in the history of videogaming, those who saw the show loved it, we hung on every word you spoke and I promise you lots of women in media today would most certainly cite you as a hugley posiive role model.
Cyber-what now? Never heard of it, sounds like a Terminator spin-off...
Commissioned by Yorkshire Television and created by Capricorn Programmes Cybernet was a 30 minute time slot show that first broadcast in the UK in 1995 although there are conflicting reports of this as this was a programme produced in the same studio offices as another show I will talk about and used the same presenter in Steve Priestly at one point and when checking into this I found that some sources state 1994 as the shows start and others as 1995, it’s reasons like this that we exist at RGG as this entire period of gaming history seems to have very few archive’s to preserve the facts for future generations.
Obviously seeing that GamesMaster and Bad Influence were drawing in the numbers the often forward thinking folks at Yorkshire Television sensed that they too could get in on this action especially as a whole new generation of technology was upon us and the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation were also about to arrive.
The format of the show’s opening would be simple, a cool intro that looked futuristic with modern dance style music and a character of sorts or mascot would be included to let the audience know that this was both modern, cool and gaming related, the title of the show would be displayed on this mascot’s face as would text displaying things like reviews or features etc. Cybernet’s mascot was that of a robot that very much looked like something from an 80’s movie mixed ever so slightly with Alpha from power rangers, his face was that of a TV screen, in fact the more you look at it it’s clearly designed to be a living TV connected to the pulse of the games industry feeding you information, for me it’s kinda perfect and sums up the show in such a clever and obvious way, full marks to Capricorn for this.
Having your mascot be able to display which part of the show your about to see was something the previous TV hits of Bad Influence and GamesMaster had done superbly, for GamesMaster they would use the cool graphics that pulled together to form the GamesMaster himself and overlay graphics such as REVIEWS to maintain a design style and it worked, Bad influence had the cartoon avatar’s of presenters Andy Crane and Violet Berlin do a high five that resulted in what you would see as a message explosion of sorts, I will go into both of these in more detail on their own articles so don’t panic if none of this makes any real sense right now.
Cybernet fully embraced the robot TV mascot and every section would include the really catchy music which was actually just Library stock and not custom written for them (cool fact eh?) So for a review you would see a cut down section of the original opening sequence of the show but instead of the words Cybernet appearing on the robot’s face the word REVIEW would be on display, this may seem like a common sense thing and it absolutely is but Cybernet’s mascot made their announcements and links simply feel better than almost every other games show I have ever seen.
As you may expect this videogames show had all the usual suspects regarding content from previews to reviews, features and interviews to reports on large events such as trade shows in the UK, Europe and of course America. However where this differed massively from other shows before and after was in that no time was wasted at all on looking at the presenters or the field journalists, as a gamer and a total geek all I ever cared about were the games and it’s here that Cybernet trounces almost every single games show ever made.