The smash-hit videogaming TV show Dara O’Briain’s Go 8 Bit returns to our screens next Monday at 10pm, along with a brand new spin-off show, Go 8 Bit DLC, immediately afterwards. Ahead of the series’ premieres, we grabbed an exclusive chat with show co-creator, and team captain, Steve McNeil.
So, first of all, for anyone who’s not seen the show before – what is it?
It’s a comedy panel show, hosted by Dara O’Briain. We have two celebrity guests each week – one on my team, one on Sam Pamphilon’s [Steve’s long-time double-act partner] – and we all compete on videogames. The final ingredient is Ellie Gibson, a brilliant games journalist and comedian that explains the rules and tells us more about the games.
And the spin-off show?
That one’s hosted by Ellie. It’s a more casual chat show, with me, Sam and a different guest each week having a chat about what we’re playing, and arguing over which games are best. I think the total budget was about four quid so it’s slightly less shiny than the main show but, if you enjoy the main show and want to stick around for another half hour afterwards to have a chat, hopefully it’s a nice warm, fun and incredibly stupid show. Dara gets to play games on it, too.
Series 2 is about to air, as is DLC, but you’ve already shot Series 3, is that right?
Yeah, it’s insane – we had six episodes on the channel last autumn and I think it surprised all of us how well it did. In the last two and a half months we’ve made 30 episodes of telly – 20 episodes of the main show and 10 of the spin-off. It’s been pretty full on.
Did you ever expect the show to be so successful?
I mean, I’m a big gamer, and I’d worked on a bunch of other videogaming shows (Videogame Nation, Console Yourself, Minecraft: Digging Deeper and many others on the videogaming TV channel Ginx TV) so I hoped people would enjoy it, but it certainly wasn’t Sam’s or my intention. When we first did the show live at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, we genuinely just did it for a bit of fun on Friday and Saturday nights. We figured if we got comedians drunk and got them to swear at each other while they played Mario Kart or Bomberman, that’d probably be a laugh, but we never expected it to go anywhere. The received wisdom at the time was videogames didn’t work on telly.
Has the show changed much since those days?
Yep. I mean, for a start, we’re all sober. The live show also had forfeits so, if our team lost, me and Sam had to do something horrible.
Oh God…there was ‘Pac Lunch’ – for that one you had to complete a level of Pac Man as quick as you could, then the audience were all given mini cheddars to hold up and we had to eat them faster than Pac Man had eaten his dots. At the very first show, we had to eat a bowl of jalapenos, and the crowd took it upon themselves to chant “drink the brine”. Then there was ‘Fruit Ninja’, where a selection of ingredients were ‘randomly’ selected and put in a blender. From memory, you were far more likely to get a tuna smoothie than anything fruity.
I imagine you don’t miss that!
Tuna drinks aren’t great, but there was something lovely about the camaraderie on those early shows. There was no money, we had different guests every round (so maybe 10 guest comedians, some of which also did stand-up sets/sketches about games), and there was a team of six of us on stage. Sam and I were team captains, but we also had Will Hartley – he was the resident ‘Punishment Twat’, in charge of administering our forfeits, two great improvisers Paul Foxcroft and Richard Soames did commentary for the games, and Guy Kelly – aka Video Game Guy – came out in a mask and did insane gaming things – his best one was completing the first level of Sonic 2 in under a minute. Blindfolded. With his feet. I’ve never seen a crowd roar so loudly before or since.
So Ellie wasn’t part of the original team? I can’t imagine the show without her.
Yeah, no, we met Ellie at one of our live nights and then, when Go 8 Bit had a stage at EGX in 2014 we got her to be part of the team to interview gaming celebs because that wasn’t really what we did. She’s been a games journalist for 15 or more years, and is a great comedian too (one half of the successful podcast Scummy Mummies). When the TV show got commissioned and we knew the show needed someone to fill that role, we knew it had to be Ellie.
Now that you’ve finished filming for a bit, what’s next?
Spending time with my wife and kid is the number one priority. I don’t live in London so when we’re in pre-production or filming I’ll often be staying in hotels or getting home late. So a bit of a break and some family time, then I’ll be back gigging with my other show WiFi Wars.
Is this the show where the audience play too?
That’s right, yeah. Back in the early days of Go 8 Bit, a genius called Rob Sedgebeer approached us and offered us this tech he’d created. Basically, it allows the entire audience to log into a wifi network we setup and then, through their browser, we can beam controls for games (or entire videogames) to their phones. They compete on teams, but they also get individual scores so, at the end of the night, an audience member ‘wins’ the show.
What sort of games?
Everything from Pong to first person shooters and virtual reality. Rob actually broke the world record for most people playing a single game of Pong last year – 286 people all logged in and battling it out at the same time. That was a great day!
Lastly, what should people expect from the new show? Anything to particularly look out for?
It’s more of the same really. They put a load more LEDs on the stage so it looks even snazzier, and we combined the revolve of the stage with the audience vote to save time, so we can fit more chat and games in. Other than that, it’s exactly as it was before. Round one’s a classic/iconic game, Round two and three are picked by the guests, Round four’s a AAA or indie game, and the final round takes an existing game and adds a load of stupid telly theatrics to it. Each round, we have a chat, then play a game. Despite Dara’s proclivities, it’s not rocket science.
Would it be fair to say you’re the luckiest person on telly? You get paid to play computer games and be stupid.
It’s ridiculous. My passport’s up for renewal soon and I have absolutely no idea what to put on it.
Dara O’Briain’s Go 8 Bit returns to the channel Dave at 10pm on Monday 15th May. It’s followed at 11pm by the spin-off show Go 8 Bit DLC. If you can’t wait, you can already watch the first episodes online at UKTV Play.
You can also watch Steve’s contributions to previous shows (including his entire series about Minecraft) at stevemcneil.co.uk and, if you want to go along to the live show WiFi Wars, latest dates can be found at wifiwars.co.uk.