Ocean buys Imagine: Conversions and film licences
However in late 1984 Imagine ran into severe financial problems and were on the point of liquidation. Ocean saw that they had released a few good titles and so bought Imagine out, with Ocean then being able to use the name as an associated label to themselves. The idea originally was that Ocean would concentrate on original games and film licences, and Imagine would do more of the arcade conversions when the rights were bought.
The first fruits of this came to light in late 1984 when Ocean negotiated a deal with Konami to produce conversions of their arcade games, all of which would be released under the Imagine label. So we had Hyper Sports, Ping Pong, Mikie, Green Beret, World Series Baseball, Yie Ar Kung Fu 1 and 2, and a few others. Konami decided in 1987 to set up their own label for releasing conversions, and while Nemesis was okay, Jailbreak was not so good. And after this they decided to let Ocean handle a few more.
Around about 1985 came the first wave of film licences, and so we had Rambo, with in the years to come Short Circuit, Cobra, Miami Vice, and a disastrous conversion of Knight Rider. Street Hawk was also so appalling it has never seen the light of day - and rumour has it Ocean's very famous musician at the time (Martin Galway) did an excellent version of the TV theme!
1986: Rubbish games and a conversion deal with Taito
1986 saw Ocean's lowest point, with a string of really appalling releases. Martin Galway himself said in an interview recently that his music saved a lot of games' sales and that Ocean's salesmen would repeatedly thank him for it. When you look at some of the games, he was right. And with some he didn't write the music for, even more so. Look at Galivan, NOMAD, Madballs... Utter rubbish! The only saving graces that year was an excellent conversion of Green Beret and Sensible's game Parallax (complete with epic Martin Galway theme).
In 1986, Imagine also negotiated a deal with the arcade publisher Taito to release conversions of their games. And so the likes of Arkanoid, Legend Of Kage and Slap Fight were released - the first and last being well received. Arkanoid of course was the first C64 game to have digitised samples and music at the same time, albeit on the static title screen. It is one of Martin Galway's finest compositions. Also, it's one of only a few games that support the use of the Neos mouse, and indeed more obscurely, paddle controllers. If you have a pair of Atari paddles like me, you'll find this is even better than the mouse for Arkanoid - seriously.
More quality games, Dinamic, Special FX
1987 saw Ocean completely changing around with a fine set of releases, with Head Over Heels being a superb conversion from a Spectrum classic, and Wizball being an all time favourite for lots of people. The plot, the superb music, the whole concept was unique, and how Zzap! 64 never gave it a Gold Medal remains a mystery to this day. Well, it did until recently. Julian Rignall, who used to work at Zzap! 64 at the time, told me that it was Gary Penn (editor) that made the editorial decision not to grant it one.
The Great Escape was also atmospheric, Mutants was superbly executed with some inspiring music by Fred Gray, and with a superb conversion of Konami's Combat School (appearing on Ocean rather than Imagine) it was looking good.
Also in 1987, Imagine tied up a deal with Spanish game
producers Dinamic. Their games soon had a reputation
for being frustratingly difficult, with Army Moves and
Game Over proving such (cool Galway tune though) - and
eventually after the release of Basket Master in 1989,
Dinamic went about releasing software in the UK themselves
- and the games were still difficult!
In late 1988 the Imagine label started being phased out as Ocean thought that having two labels was seemingly damaging sales for some reason. The latter Imagine games included Salamander, Vindicator (an unofficial follow up to Green Beret), Rastan and then Renegade 3 in mid-1989. As far as I know, games after this were released on Ocean only.
Also in 1988, Ocean 'poached' programming team Special FX from the hands of Software Projects after their excellent game Hysteria, with Gutz and Firefly being released in 1988. Contrary to popular belief, Ocean didn't launch Special FX as a sub-label, they just credited the programming house on the game.
Ocean's final games on the C64
Ocean also did their utmost to push sales of Commodore's C64GS console by releasing a lot of their games on cartridge only, such as Robocop 3, Chase HQ 2, and also bought the licence from Psygnosis to convert Shadow of the Beast to the C64. However as the games were £20 a cart here in the UK, they didn't sell at all well. Notable Ocean titles in their latter years included the conversion of Rainbow Islands, delayed for ages after programming house Graftgold got into legal wrangles with Firebird, and Ocean finally releasing the game, an excellent Simpsons game, Addams Family, Hook and most notably Hudson Hawk, a great game from a not so good film. Ocean's final game on the C64 was Sleepwalker, the game for Comic Relief, in 1993.
Ocean's Loading Themes - The Updated and Definitive Guide
If you were to load a cassette game by Ocean or Imagine, the chances are you would have heard one of the five generic loading themes that were used. After recently checking with Martin Galway, I can now present the official word regarding Ocean Loader 1 and 2.
Ocean Loader 1
The first ever Ocean loader theme by Martin Galway was only used in a handful of games in 1985, notably Hyper Sports (Imagine) and Transformers (Ocean). After the initial introduction, the tune plays quite fast, and indeed later on at the two minute mark there's some intentional delay between two of the channels. This continues for most of the tune. Now, this led several people (me included) to believe that the tune was bugged and out of synch, but this was actually not the case at all. Over to Martin Galway himself who said to me: "The "version 1" is a real tune, it was really like that on Hyper Sports and maybe one or two other games before Comic Bakery (Cyclone would have used it, for example, but it was never released by Ocean). I think you're just too used to listening to version two, which does sound a great deal more polished - which is all it really is. The delay you speak of at 02:03 really is supposed to be a delay of 4 beats. Some of the releases on the ADSRs don't sound exactly as I remember them, but maybe too much time is passing."
Do bear in mind though what led some of us to believe it was a possible bug was the fact that Ocean had had problems with their tape mastering at the time. Over to Andrew Oakley, whom when he was younger worked at Ablex, a company that specialised in tape mastering (which included occasional programming of the tape loader!) for software companies. For years they mastered the tapes of Ocean games, and he distinctly recalls the fact that the mastering of Hyper Sports was severely rushed to get it in time for the Christmas 1985 market. "We had trouble and it got very close to the line regarding the proposed pre-Christmas release date. I know I didn't write the loader for it, 'cos if we had any trouble we'd use the company's own loader adding utility." This probably explains why the title screen for Hyper Sports appears half way through loading. Nevertheless, this loading tune is valid and has been stated by Martin himself to be so.
Ocean Loader 2
The revised version is slowed down after the initial part, and was slightly tweaked so the later part had no delay, either. This was widely used in almost every Ocean/Imagine game bar a few exceptions between late 1985 to mid-1987 and is probably the most familiar version that is known. As it turns out, this was to be part of a plan to have a different loading music for every Ocean game (now that would have been nice) but time, as ever, was the determining factor. Over to Martin Galway again: "Version two was a reworking of that tune that I did in late 1985 for Comic Bakery. There was actually supposed to be separate loading music for every game - that was my plan. However, I was running out of time on projects and in the case of Comic Bakery I simply reworked an older piece. After that I really didn't have time to mess with it, and it stuck in universal use. Rambo was the only one that got its own loading music as part of this plan."
Ocean Loader 3
When Slap Fight (Imagine) was released in mid-1987, this was the first to have the new theme, which started off like a remix of the intro section of Ocean Loader 1 and 2 but then developed into a catchy theme of its own with filtered bass. Contrary to popular belief, this was not written by Martin Galway but instead was by Peter Clarke, who was composing music for Ocean at this time. This lasted till around March/April 1988.
Ocean Loader 4
Around April 1988, Target Renegade (Imagine) was released and we were treated to a new loading theme. Although initially thought to be a loading theme just for that game, it soon became Ocean Loader 4. Completely a new tune made by Ocean's new in-house musician Jonathan Dunn, it had a gritty start and then a good funky main section with infectious bass line and a useful lead voice.
Ocean Loader 5
This was basically a reworking of Ocean Loader 4 with an awful start bit that just sounded out of tune. The main theme was then slightly remixed from Ocean Loader 4. This was done in late 1988 with Operation Wolf being one of the first to use it.
Ocean's programming team were mostly in-house, and this separated them at the time from a lot of software houses in that they had the people working their developing all the time. As well as the musicians Martin Galway, Jonathan Dunn, Fred Gray and Peter Clarke, they also had famous game graphic artists such as Steve Wahid (many a loading screen was his), and programmers, with Dave Collier being their best known. Every game he programmed was a great one. If I told you he was the one behind the C64 versions of Rambo, Terra Cresta, Target Renegade, Arkanoid and Combat School then those of you who have played them will know what I mean.
Ocean is sold to Infogrames
Ocean moved offices in 1994 to Castle Quay in Manchester (the old building is now a second hand bookshop). Sadly though, Ocean are no more. Infogrames have bought them out and now Ocean's Castle Quay building has a huge Infogrames logo adorning the glass wall and the Ocean logo has been removed, but only from the glass wall.
Yes, Ocean still lives on, albeit underneath that stupid
Infogrames armadillo. Still you can't have everything
and at least you can see the logo in full view. I was
very tempted to ask the people in reception if they
could prise off the Ocean logo and give it to me, so
I could preserve the legend forever. Incidentally, one
of Ocean's former head honchos, Gary Bracey, is no less
than one of the top people at a company called Digimask,
a company which specialises in lifelike 3D recreations
of human faces etc. for PC games. So at least some of
the former employees are still working in the industry
An old employee?
If anyone reading this ever worked for Ocean, or indeed
produced any games for them, feel free to let
your experiences of working there.
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