So here it is, the eagerly anticipated story of The Oliver Twins by Fusion Retro Books. I suppose the only question I have at this stage is why someone didn’t do this earlier. Presented in a magazine-style format, which has its advantages and disadvantages, the book tells the tale of the two “Computer Whizzkids” from Birkenhead up to 1994. That’s over ten years of retro gaming goodness. Being primarily Dizzy fans here at Arcade Attack it was astonishing to see just how many titles they were responsible for.
Their beginnings were humble and the interview-style of the book works well. Chris Wilkins and Roger Kean tell their story very matter-of-factly which is a much more different approach than something like Console Wars (which attempts to create events that happened at the time through interviews). The story is continually broken up by interview segments from both twins, so you’re hearing it exactly as it was. From submitting code for the humble Dragon 32 through to Dizzy’s first conception, it’s all riveting stuff.
For a man born in the eighties, the photos that have been sourced for the book bring back some fond memories. Needless to say that the Oliver Twins’ dress sense was bang on the money. Not restricted to just home snaps, the book is also generous with pictures of popular films, TV programs and arcade cabinets. It’s a retro feast for the eyes. And this is where the magazine format works best. You could in theory skip the text and gawp at all the pictures like a child.
It’s fascinating to see the story of the Oliver Twins in almost picture format. All box art has been sourced, including all of the Codemasters tape inlays with “The Famous Oliver Twins”, “The Bestselling Oliver Twins” etc… There are exclusive drawings and plans the twins have dug out from their loft. And yes, Pogie makes an appearance here and there. At their height, the twins worked fifteen hour days. And I get annoyed at an eight. There is a lot of material here and it’s all easy to consume.
In a time when there were no construct programs to thrash out a prototype, the amount of titles they managed to rack up was nothing short of miraculous. Yes, they reused code from earlier games to make new titles but they were exactly that, new. Given their success, It was good sense to do so.
What’s my favourite part of the book? Their first interaction with the legendary Codemasters of course (Arcade Attack tribute to follow later in the year – Ed). All we saw were the games. We had no idea that the twins were freezing off their extremities in portacabins outside Richard Darling’s house making them. The book is excellently rounded off by testimonials from Mr Darling himself as well as Ivan Link, Ash Hogg and even their parents as well as many others. There’s also a Dizzy fan section (woohoo! – Ed) for us here at the blog.
The mini-stories throughout the book are fascinating. One of my favourites is the tale of the twins and the Codemasters boat (I won’t leave mooring of my boat to the twins…) which actually takes up a two page spread. The magazine style of the book often means that paragraphs run off the page which means flicking back to the mini-story. This wouldn’t be a problem but a lot of the time the current story doesn’t come to a logical end until two pages later. I was often suspending the current story halfway to ensure I didn’t miss the intriguing mini-story. I think with a little more planning the subsections could have been edited to finish at the end of a two-page spread or be broken up a little more with sub headers. It’s a minor gripe with what is a great book.
Not only for retro gamers, this book is a must have for any current or aspiring game developer. These days, thanks to social media and the general accessibility of media, overnight success is possible (Flappy Bird, I’m looking at you). But what the story of the Oliver Twins demonstrates is that to be truly successful you have to wake up and work hard at it. Nothing is impossible. The presentation, content and price make the book a must-have for your collection.
Buy it here.