The game is played between two contestants (or occasionally, two teams, usually parent/child or brothers/sisters). A video game question w/2 possible choices is asked (ex: "In Crystal Castles, what color are Bentley Bear's shoes: A, red or B, brown?"), and if the player/team who buzzes in first gives the correct answer, s/he/they get to pick which of the 5 games offered will be played first; otherwise, that privilege goes to the opponent(s).
(NOTE: One of the day's 5 games is designated the "mystery game"; if a player/team chooses it during the maingame, s/he/they recieve a bonus, originally 500 extra points early in the Richards era, but later changed to a prize)
After Name the Game, the final round is played, with the time limit being reduced to 30 seconds (later 40), and the player/team w/the highest grand total score over the 3 rounds wins, recieves a prize and goes on to the Grand Prize Round.
"The Grand Prize Round":
The winning player/team chooses one of the 2 remaining games, is given a predetermined score, and 30 seconds to meet or beat that goal; doing so wins the grand prize of a real stand-up arcade game (or occasionally other prizes, such as a robot, jukebox, or trip to Hawaii).
This show was created by the husband-and-wife team of James and Mavis Arthur (hence the company name "JM Productions"), who would later create/produce the 1984-85 syndicated series "The Video Game".
In order to freeze the contestants' scores precisely when time ran out at the end of a round, a camera was connected to a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer w/a clock that froze the tape precisely at the set time.
The original pilot was shot in 1981, and aired that same year in a limited number of markets. Hosted by Mike Eruzione (captain of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team), it featured a radically different format: 3 teams, w/8 members apiece, played whatever game was assigned to their respective team simultaneously in 30-second rounds. The 3 top scorers from each team then played against each other at Berzerk for the grand prize, w/the winner also getting the chance to play against celebrity guest Larry Wilcox at a game "neither of you have ever seen before", Donkey Kong.
A second pilot was produced for NBC a year later, in 1982, this time w/veteran emcee Alex Trebek at the helm; the network passed, but the Arthurs managed to strike a deal with Atlanta superstation WTBS, which picked it up at the very end of the year w/Mark Richards as host.
Despite being a "newbie" in the hosting field, Richards was no stranger to game shows, having appeared as a contestant on "Break the Bank" (1954), “The Big Payoff” (1956), “Play Your Hunch” (1959), “The Dating Game” (1969), “To Tell the Truth” (1975), and “Wheel of Fortune” (1981).
It was Richards' "Wheel" appearance that landed him a guest spot on a 1982 episode of "Donahue", discussing how to be a successful game show contestant; after James Caruso saw this episode (which aired not long after the aforementioned Trebek pilot had been passed on), he invited Richards to audition for the "Starcade" hosting gig. However, due to displeasure expressed by TBS head honcho Ted Turner at Richards' on-air performance, he was replaced by Geoff Edwards when the show moved into syndication.
Off-camera, Edwards became a video game enthusiast himself, and didn't hesitate to offer contestants hints before each round of play. Even in recent years, he continued to feed his addiction by playing games like "Doom" and "Quake".
The show's original theme was nothing more than an assortment of video game sound effects; this was later replaced by an actual theme (supposedly inspired by the digging music from the 1982 arcade classic "Dig-Dug") composed by the husband-and-wife team of Ed and Joanne Anderson, known as "Mindseed".
During the Edwards era, one regular feature was the "Starcade Hotline", a news update-style segment just prior to the 3rd round, showing some video game-related news, or maybe a behind-the-scenes peek at the show. The background music for this segment was the theme to the 1983 arcade game "Xevious".
Occasionally, "Starcade" would do special "one-game" shows; among the games which got this special treatment were "Dragon's Lair", "Track & Field", and "Cliffhanger".