Category Archives: Gaming History

It’s curtains for Dizzy at the National Videogame Arcade!

Dizzy 30th logo

Last Saturday, the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, England saw an eggciting celebration of thirty years of a most eggcellent example of the very best of 8-bit home computer gaming – the Dizzy franchise!

Way back in 1987, the legendary Oliver Twins, two of England’s most prominent ‘bedroom coders’ who went on to become software publishers in their own right, remaining in the business right up to the present day, brought to life a tiny but fun cartoon character who was to become so popular that even today his name is known far and wide across the internet – that crazy little egg-shaped adventurer, Dizzy.

The Oliver Twins - then and now (courtesy The Oliver Twins)
The Oliver Twins – then and now (courtesy The Oliver Twins)

Philip and Andrew Oliver began to professionally develop computer games in their bedrooms while they were still at school, contributing their first type-in game to a magazine in 1983.  Starting with the Amstrad CPC664, which they also used to port their games to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, as a partnership named Complex Software they worked with software publishers Codemasters for a number of years following their first collaboration, Super Robin Hood, most notably creating the Dizzy series of games and many of Codemasters popular Simulator Series.

Later, they had their games converted to the Commodore 64 and other machines including, eventually, the 16-bit Atari ST, Amiga, and PC, and apart from their own games, the Oliver Twins were also responsible for porting a number of other prominent games to the Sega and Nintendo platforms, including Theme Park and Syndicate. At one point during the 1980s, it was reported that 7% of all UK games sales were attributable to the Oliver Twins.

Moving on from their bedroom coding days, in 1990 at the age of 22 they founded Interactive Studios which later became Blitz Games Studios. In October 2013, working with with long time friend and colleague Richard Smithies, they founded Radiant Worlds, based in Leamington Spa, UK.  Today they are often found at major hobbyist events in the UK retro gaming calendar, talking to fans about those heady days and the work they are doing today, such as SkySaga.

A bizzy day for Dizzy!
Talkin' 'bout Dizzy - The Oliver Twins
Talkin’ ’bout Dizzy – The Oliver Twins

Saturday’s special anniversary event, however, marking International Dizzy Day, was a singular and very busy occasion for a select group of the keenest of those keen to celebrate the birthday of their digital gaming pal Dizzy, and there was a buzzingly  full house in the lecture room at the National Videogame Arcade (NVA), which was not only the venue for this very special event organised by the Oliver Twins working with Chris Wilkins’ Retro Now! magazine and Fusion Retro Books, with the assistance of Andrew Joseph of the popular Dizzy fansite Yolkfolk.com, but also the official launch of a unique exhibition hosted by the NVA and dedicated to Dizzy and the twins’ work – the ‘Dizzy Room‘.

Maps and more in the Dizzy Room
Maps and more in the Dizzy Room

The exhibition, which is on now and is expected to run till at least the end of this summer, is housed in its own dedicated room, which has been deliberately made reminiscent of the twins’ bedroom where they did so much of the early work that made them famous. And apart from many showcased souvenirs of Dizzy, visitors can also view many photographs and  game maps, as well as play actual Dizzy games on a variety of home computers and consoles.

Shall we play a game? Philip left) and Andrew Oliver in the Dizzy Room
Shall we play a game? Philip left) and Andrew Oliver in the Dizzy Room

Continue reading It’s curtains for Dizzy at the National Videogame Arcade!

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Commodore Story documentary heads for stardom

The Blu-rayA new techno-nostalgia film production is headed for Kickstarter stardom – and is set to become an essential addition to the collections of fans of classic Commodore computers, games and software, including as it does, many of the charismatic creators and movers and shakers who feature in the dramatic tale of so much of that seminal computer industry and hobby community history.

The Commodore Story is a cram packed two hour documentary that will take us through American home and business computer company Commodore’s evolution from the 1970s to the 1990s, and from the PET, Vic20 and Commodore 64 to the Amiga and beyond, including many game makers and composers from the 80s and early 90s.

Well-supported already, the soon-to-be-classic crowd-funded flick has now broken its own latest £32,500 goal target and is rapidly heading for the next level – funding of £35,000 – meaning that it will hopefully be published as a double Blu-ray package alongside The Chiptune Story – Creating retro music 8-bits and 16-bits at a time.

Major Commodore collaboration
Steven Fletcher, Director - recording his Behind The Scenes Video Diary
Steven Fletcher, Director – recording his Behind The Scenes Video Diary

Produced by Wavem Studios, a feature and short film company based in London and Essex, The Commodore Story is helmed by Director Steven Fletcher, a passionate advocate for Commodore, and boasts an impressive number of 30+ collaborators, interviewees and contributors, including Commodore and Amiga Legends Leonard Tramiel, Dave Haynie, Michael Tomczyk, Greg Berlin, Randell Jesup, Hedley Davis, Ronald Nicholson and David John Pleasance with more to come as well as games programmers, 8-bit music composers, and Commodore book and magazine authors.

Pages of history
A 150 page companion book and a free copy of Wavem's DeVoid feature film are also options
A 150 page companion book and a free copy of Wavem’s DeVoid feature film are also options

Not only a documentary, the film, which will have special features and has a range of options for pledges from £10 (digital download) up to £1,850 (offering Executive Producer status, no less!) will also be published alongside a complementary full colour book. The book has its own separate starter pledge (ebook for a tenner) to upward of £25 for a printed book and ebook package.  There are also other pledge possibilities including limited-edition t-shirts, additional films, and London premiere and aftershow party tickets!

4K wahey!

4K

An earlier stretch goal now means that the production will be in 4K ultra HD definition video resolution, meaning that the highest quality will be maintained, with downloads in full resolution, and you might actually find yourself with something good to show on that expensive 4K telly you bought at last!

Come on, make your pledge

There’s just 15 days to go on Kickstarter with £33,402
pledged of the original £17,500 goal.  Why not join our editor, former Amiga User International writer Stuart Williams, and the other 855 backers in supporting the project now?

To make your own pledge and help push that top end stretch goal over £35,000, or to find out more information, beat a path to this exciting retro computing project’s Kickstarter page and get in on the act with the latest major contribution to recording the amazing boom and bust story of one of the world’s top, and it has to be said life-changing, computer companies ever.

Follow this link:  The Commodore Story

 

Images courtesy Wavem Studios

Codemasters Birmingham move to Custard Factory

The Codemasters team (pic Codemasters)
The Codemasters team (pic Codemasters)

An award-winning West Midlands game developer, today best known for the Formula One series, but with a rich retro gaming heritage stretching right back to the heady days of the British home computer revolution, has revealed plans to move its Birmingham studio to the Custard Factory.

Code Masters logo 1986-1991
Code Masters logo 1986-1991

Famous Warwickshire-headquartered Codemasters, founded in 1986 as Code Masters by Richard Darling and David Darling (who worked previously for Mastertronic), currently has an operation at Tricorn House on Hagley Road in the city, where it employs a 120-strong team.

Codemasters is one of the oldest surviving British game studios, and in 2005 was named the top independent games developer by Develop magazine.

It has now taken a lease on a 9,000 sq ft unit at the creative quarter in Digbeth and will begin work on a three-month renovation programme to modernise the 100-year-old building

Nick Craig, Codemasters’ studio manager in Birmingham, said:

“We’re looking forward to becoming part of the vibrant community that the Custard Factory has created.

“This will move the studio to an area of the city much more suited to our unique business and company personality. From our new home we will continue to create some of the most successful racing games in the world and expand our successful portfolio of products onto mobile later this year.”

Lucan Gray, owner of the Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios, added:

“Each time a business joins our working community the whole gets stronger, giving more employment opportunities and expanding the talent pool.

“Codemasters is a particularly exciting company, combining cutting edge art, design, programming and much more to achieve international commercial success.”

The Custard Factory quarterof Birmingham is currently home to more than 500 creative and digital businesses.

Some history of Codemasters:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codemasters

For more information on Codemasters today: http://www.codemasters.com/

And on the Custard Factory: http://www.custardfactory.co.uk/

Fergus McGovern, co-founder of Probe Software, has passed away

Fergus McGovern with some of Hotgen's products
Fergus McGovern with some of Hotgen’s products

Reports are coming in from various sources that Fergus McGovern, co-founder of Probe Software founded in 1984 with Vakis Paraskeva, has died.

Probing into Probe

Probe Software, later renamed Probe Entertainment, was one of the UK’s top games software houses, being acquired by Acclaim Entertainment Inc. on October 10, 1995.

Fergus McGovern in Probe days (pic Amstrad Computer User)
Fergus McGovern in Probe days (pic Amstrad Computer User)

Probe developed games on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64/128, Amiga, Sega Master System, Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive/Genesis, NES, Super NES, Saturn, PlayStation, N64 and PC before moving to Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, Xbox, PS2 and PC as well, after becoming  Acclaim Studios (see below).

Probe Software closing logo

An article in Amstrad Computer User magazine (issue 45, August 1988) tells much of the early story of Probe and Fergus McGovern, and is reproduced below – click to enlarge for reading.

 

ACU Aug 1988 p24 (click to enlarge)
ACU Aug 1988 p24 (click to enlarge)

 

ACU Aug 1988 p25 (click to enlarge)
ACU Aug 1988 p25 (click to enlarge)
 Acclaim Studios

In 1999, Probe Entertainment became Acclaim Studios London and a year later, changed to Acclaim Studios Cheltenham. Their USA based parent company, Acclaim, declared bankruptcy in 2004.

It was responsible for developing Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II for theSega Mega Drive and Extreme-G and Extreme-G 2 for Nintendo 64. They were also well known for successful licensed games such as Die Hard Trilogy and Alien Trilogy.

HotGen

HotGen Ltd logo

After Acclaim, Mr. McGovern went on to found HotGen Ltd (formerly HotGen Sudios Ltd), the London-based veteran videogame and interactive toy developers, and creators of To-Fu Fury, which today announced his passing away on Twitter:

HotGen Ltd on Twitter earlier this evening
HotGen Ltd on Twitter earlier this evening
Condolences

Retro Computing News would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mr. McGovern’s family, friends and colleagues on this sad occasion.

Messages of sympathy have been coming in to his Facebook page this evening.

New Oliver Twins video interview

New Oliver Twins video interview

Working on the Viva Computer project
Working on the Viva Computer project

The Centre for Computing History has posted a new video on YouTube  from the Cambridge, England museum’s  Heritage Lottery funded Viva Computer project.

In the video, Andrew Oliver (seen below) talks about the early days when he and his brother became legendary UK games programmers and pioneers in the 1980s. They became known to their legion of fans simply as The Oliver Twins, and decades later are still active today in the industry and the retro community.

Andrew Oliver speaks
Andrew Oliver speaks

At around the age of 12 the twins began their careers writing games for the UK games market, including the highly regarded Dizzy franchise, which is still popular with retro computing fans today.

In 1990 they founded Blitz Games Studios which at its height employed 235 people.

In 2013 they set up a new studio called Radiant Worlds along with their long term friend Richard Smithies, focusing on games as a service.

The new video can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/z1EzM4OgxZY

Images courtesy the Centre for Computing History.