Behind the Scuff That Makes “Scuffle Shuffle”
At 12am I open my folder titled Game Challenges feverishly to begin creating new text files titled “alteredbeast f1” through “alteredbeast f6.” I fill them with various tasks like “Defeat the eyeball boss,” or “Become a bear” as I play through the Arcade classic that made waves on the SEGA Genesis. Once I’m satisfied, I head onto Google and search for the retail box art of PlayStation 1 games so that I can collect this week’s challenge of identifying the game based on the description on the back of the box. This all happens while periodically noticing things are off by a few pixels when inserting new player’s names or changing around the cards that will be flipped on Tuesday night. By 4am I feel exhausted and satisfied with my progress. “I’ll finish it tomorrow,” I think to myself as I head to bed.
Since the first run of my gameshow in May this has been basically what my evenings have been like. It doesn’t help that I’ve reiterated the design of Scuffle Shuffle about 4 times since then and only recently realized I was doing twice the amount of work needed. The hope is that eventually the process gets very automated, but until then I diligently craft the show for at least 6 hours each week. The outcome is worth it. Players come on, see brand new events even if they didn’t watch last week’s show, and there are happy faces on the stage and in the audience. The show is a hit, but this article isn’t here for me to take a victory lap on how much I do to make it happen. It is here to pay respect to where it came from. I couldn’t have thought of this, created this, or hosted this without a number of inspirations so allow me to tell you about the journey that started all the way back in 1992.
Mikey’s Going Left
As a child of the 90s, born in 1989, I was quickly hooked onto things like Sonic the Hedgehog, pogs, and Nickelodeon. The latter provided me the life lessons of Rugrats (like “Don’t steal your grandpa’s teeth,”) and the spirit of jumping around on rocks and solving puzzles from Legends of the Hidden Temple. It also provided me with a tangible way to feel like my video game hobby was a valid thing. After all, they wouldn’t make an entire gameshow about video games if other people didn’t play video games, would they? Cue Nick Arcade.
In Nick Arcade two teams of two children went head to head moving a virtual kid named Mikey around on a board. When Mikey reached a new spot there would be an activity to do for the contestants to win points such as trivia, identifying a blurry photo, guessing how many eggs someone can eat in a minute, and (most importantly) the Video Challenge. Kids would step up to various arcade cabinets and wager points on their ability to complete a challenge. It was thrilling to see Sonic the Hedgehog 2 played competitively! They would also build really low-budget games that was always either an auto-runner or pong, but the real treasure awaited at the end of the game. After one team defeated the other that team would get a chance to be put INSIDE a video game to fight a wizard. It was ultimately like what the Xbox Kinect ended up being where you moved around “interacting” with a video game in real time. At the time it was the coolest thing ever and if you succeeded then you got to go to Space Camp, the ultimate prize for a 90’s kid.
Looking back on it now the show definitely had a lot of problems. For starters, very little of it involved video games. I don’t really know what I expect from a television show. It doesn’t make sense to ask in-depth questions like “Who does Ryu scar for life,” or “What is unique about one of the whales in Super Mario Bros. 2 level 4–2,” but I want it anyway. Also, literally some of these challenges are just “guess how many balloons I can pop.” I wanted more of a video game element to it. That’s what probably led me down the rabbit hole of watching the television station G4 a lot as a teenager. I wasn’t really ever able to find anything like the Nick Arcade experience on TV again. Fortunately, the Internet has picked up the slack.
It was around the advent of the Nintendo Wii’s rereleasing of now classic games through the Virtual Console that I fell back in love with the games I actively discarded as a teenager to make a quick buck (I’ll always regret selling my SEGA CD). Playing things like Castlevania, Sonic Spinball, and Kirby Super Star once again really reignited my passion for retro gaming to the point where I began collecting them so I could play them the way they originally released. I was the perfect audience for Replay, a weekly show released on GameInformer.com where the writers of GameInformer magazine, a periodical that I had subscribed to for almost a decade at that point, would sit down with a game from their Vault™ for less than an hour.
I never really thought about old video games as something you should show people as a form of entertainment. This opened up a lot of video viewing habits for me such as watching Let’s Plays (I’ll get back to this later) and scathing reviews of bad games from notably “Angry Nerds.” However, Replay always held a special place in my heart. I found the regulars to be witty and hilarious and I became a big fan of their work on videos. I started enjoying their other video content where they would discuss games and do games such as their “Back of the Box” challenge and of course the Replay Showdown. This tournament was all of their staff going head to head in games that they had no idea what they were until they were to begin playing. GameInformer didn’t invent the concept of a Mystery Game Tournament, but it was my first exposure to it and I wanted to recreate that for myself. I was never able to find the right crowd in person to do it, but as a streamer in the mid 2010s I ran a tournament or two and always had a great time doing so.
At some point when staff began departing for other website or ventures I fell off of GameInformer’s work and began enjoying content in other places such as various Twitch streams, GiantBomb.com, and even Game Grumps for a time. However, Replay left an imprint on me that told said I would love to be able to sit down with folks, share some old video games, and laugh it up together. Hanging out with pals either in front of a stream audience or just amongst ourselves while we try to figure out how to defeat the robot dinosaur (the answer is a “super lightsaber,” which is usually the correct answer when you have access to a super lightsaber). However, I was never really able to capture the essence of what Replay’s original crew of Dan Ryckert, Tim Turi, and Andrew Reiner accomplished. These ideas laid somewhat dormant for a long time until it was the aforementioned GiantBomb that led me to Scuffle Shuffle’s true catalyst.
Test Your Smight
While it was only this year that I had heard of Arcade Pit, you would have to imagine my surprise that it has a long history that tied back to Let’s Plays. I won’t get into a history of the Let’s Play because I am not well enough versed to get it correct, but the scathing content of users slowbeef and Diabeetus truly entertained me for a few years. They come from the same circle of folks over at SomethingAwful, but I did not know at first that Arcade Pit also spawned from the same wellspring. The creator, Smight, also made Let’s Play videos for a long time before creating Arcade Pit and running it for over half a decade as of this writing. The show features players going head to head in video game challenges and has the structure of Nick Arcade, but deviates in being entirely based on video games almost to a point of cruelty. I love it. It is so well put together, funny, and entertaining. Watching this show first on GiantBomb and then on my own when it airs on Sunday nights at 8pm ET every week or catching old episodes on the YouTube page truly inspired me. Why couldn’t I do this?
It took me a moment to get over the guilt of being a copycat because I haven’t met the guy but I’m willing to bet that as long as I didn’t directly copy what Smight was doing then he’d probably be chill with it (maybe I should ask him). So I needed to do three things from here:
- Learn what I could about hosting a gameshow through Arcade Pit’s format.
- Use my own experiences and ideas to keep it different.
- Build a database of 10,000 challenges, questions, activities, etc.
Seemed easy enough, but here I am spending over 5 hours each week editing things and changing details trying to build it into my own thing. I still worry that I haven’t deviated enough at times, but I think that I am getting the hang of making my own thing. Using my inspirations from Smight’s Arcade Pit, GameInformer’s Replay, and Nickelodeon’s Nick Arcade aren’t things I cannot do. They are things that I can build something from. It’s ok to be inspired.
One day Scuffle Shuffle may have a different name, may have a completely different format, or may just stop entirely. Regardless of what happens, it feels to me like a culmination of my interests in video games since I was a kid. It is a show that celebrates video games. It is a chance to sit around with people I want to spend time with as we play games and laugh about them. It is an opportunity to create a fun competition that people get excited to be a part of. That all makes the hours of preparation each week worth it. I’m glad that I made this thing and I could not have done it without my 30+ years of experience loving video games and the content that celebrates them.