Philip Oliver (Codemasters) – Interview

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2016 signals us stepping up our game here at Arcade Attack. We’re hoping you’re enjoying the new layout as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together. And of course we needed to launch with a bang and Adrian has certainly delivered here. Please enjoy our interview with co-creator of Dizzy and all round retro gaming legend – Philip Oliver!

 

How did you first get into the video game industry and what was the first game you ever worked on?

Our older brother bought a second hand ZX 81 when we were just 13. We loved the ability to be able to control pictures on the family TV. It was slow, blocky and had very little memory and a terrible papery keyboard. It taught us that we loved computing but needed a computer with colour, more speed, memory and a decent keyboard. We saved up and bought a Dragon 32 in September 82. We typed in everything in the book and then sought out more listed to type from magainzes. We’d always try to modify and improve them. Then we thought we should try and get our own listing published, and that was Road Runner for Dragon 32 in C&VG published in the January ‘84 edition, a year after we wrote it.

 

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Dizzy was one of the most popular game series of the 1980’s (I have really fond memories of playing Dizzy games on the ZX Spectrum+) how does it feel to have created such an iconic and popular game series?

We’re extremely proud to have created a game that has given so many people such fond and lasting memories. It obviously was very creative and enabled us to go on and have long successful careers in the games industry making many more character based games.

 

In 2012 you were unfortunately unsuccessful in launching a Kickstarter project for a brand new Dizzy adventure. Is there still any chance we will see a brand new Dizzy game in the near future?

Whilst people love Dizzy, and so do we, we are now focused on SkySaga which takes fantasy character adventures games into the future. There is nothing, even with infinite money, that we could do with a Dizzy game that would be better than SkySaga.

 

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Last year you released Wonderland Dizzy (originally scheduled for a NES release in 1993). Can you tell us the story of how you discovered this hidden gem and how you managed to finally release the game to your fans?

It began at Play Blackpool in May 2015.  When we were delivering a talk about their early games…

One of the props used was a hand drawn map titled Wonderland Dizzy Philip found in his loft. We wondered if it was a finished game and went and searched the loft a bit more and found a disk with the words…. ‘Wonderland Dizzy Nintendo Source Complete’.

We needed to compile it and Andrew Joseph of Yolkfolk.com – the biggest Dizzy Fan site, said one of the Dizzy fans he knew would be able to compile it, a guy called Lukasz Kur, from Poland.

Lukasz not only compiled it, he added a ‘fun mode’, fixed a couple of bugs and added a bunch of languages.

We felt we needed to share this with Dizzy fans and on Saturday 24th October 2015 we announced Wonderland was available for anyone to play for free at www.WonderlandDizzy.com

And it’s still there now if you’d like to play it – although the competition ended a long time ago.

 

You must have heard/come up with numerous egg related puns throughout your years working on Dizzy titles. What is your favourite egg related pun? I am looking for a cracking answer…

We had no idea when we came up with the character, what an eggcellent name it would prove to be… The great thing is that all the words that you can swap in ‘egg’ – tend to be positive superlatives, meaning people cracking jokes do so via positive comments.  We often sign Dizzy games and posters adding words like “Eggcellent times”. So you want a cracking answer…. “We’re eggcited that Arcade Attack are going to write an eggciting, eggcellent review of everyone’s favour egg – Dizzy!” (there’s no topping that… – Ed)

 

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You and your brother Andrew have obviously built up a really good working relationship in the video game industry for many years – how would you describe working with your brother over the years and has it helped you both in the video game industry?

We have similar ideas, ambitions and ways to approach creative problems. Therefore little time is wasted on debating or communicating – meaning we just get more done!

Things don’t always go well, we’re good at pulling each other through the low times and the tough times, which is just as well as there have been many. People in the industry always remember us because we’re twins. Sadly, many get confused as to which one they meant and know, so often we find ourselves speaking to people that we’ve never met before – with them sure they know us really well, but they actually know the other one.

 

Have you or your brother ever disagreed on a potential game idea or created a game on your own?

We very rarely disagree on anything, and we want each other’s support, so we’re unlikely to go off and do projects separately, although Andrew did work through the night a few years ago to prove to his son that it was possible to write a good game in Scratch.  Andrew had only seen Scratch for the first time an hour earlier.

 

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You and your brother started your own company in 1990 by launching Interactive Studios – what made you decide to leave Codemasters and how much work was involved in starting your own company?

Games were getting bigger, and required a team of people to write them by the time of the late 80’s. We had to make the decision to either join a team or start a team. We decided to set up a company and start employing talented game developers. The early 90s saw massive shifts in the industry and the need to create games for a global audience, with larger budgets, teams and the dominance of consoles, so we sought contracts with the richer American publishers for the next stage of our journey.

 

If you could travel back in time and work on any video game, which game would you have loved to be involved in?

Easy – Mario! But largely due to its global success. We actually only saw Super Mario Bros. in 1990 at CES in Las Vegas, well after writing games like Super Robin Hood. We had seen Donkey Kong when it first came out in 1982. Clearly Miyamoto had the support of the mighty Nintendo and powered it through to being the most famous and respected video game character ever.

 

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If you could give one piece of advice to anyone who wanted to program video games – what would you say?

Don’t just want to make video games, don’t talk about it – just do it (yesterday you said tomorrow – Ed)!   Your first efforts are unlikely to be commercially successful, but the fastest way to learn – is to start, try and ship something. Then keep repeating and your skills will improve and so will the quality of your games. Don’t start attempting unrealistic goals of games that are too ambitious. Do something simple, make it polished, ship it and learn. Start with something as simple as Flappy Bird, then move onto more complex 2D games before attempting 3D games. Look for advice on the internet, look at college and university courses and if you get a break working in a games company – take it, it’s the fastest way to learn.

 

If you could share a few pints with a video game character who would you choose?

Lara (Croft) – she’s hot!

 

A popular choice! We’ll see if Ms Croft can clear some space in her schedule… Thanks so much for swinging by Philip, we wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

Talking about future endeavours, we will shortly be reviewing the upcoming book about the Oliver Twins – The Story of the Oliver Twins by Fusion Books.  You can check out the pre-order info here.

 

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And if you are reading this before 15th December ’16, you might be interested in attending their book launch at The National VideoGame Arcade in Nottingham!

Adrian