| Welcome Paul! Could you please tell the readers a bit about yourself.
Howdo! I'm Paul Hughes, Paulie to everyone that knows me. I'm 40 years old and I've been writing games for over 27 years. I was at Ocean doing C64 stuff (amongst other things) in the late eighties/early nineties. I was the Chief Technology Officer at Warthog Games in Manchester developing Harry Potter on the PS2, GameCube and Xbox amongst many games. After the powers that be sold Warthog to the hardware company Gizmondo, and that exploded in a ball of flames, a few of us got together and formed a new smaller developer. To cut a long story short, we eventually got acquired by Travellers Tales/Warner Bros and thus far we've done LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones, LEGO Batman and Guinness World Records.
How did you first get started working on the C64? Was it the first machine you ever worked on?
It was a progressive thing. I learned Z80 machine code on the ZX81, then I moved on up to a Commodore PET learning 6502 Assembler. The VIC 20 came along with its glorious colour and I wrote a couple of games for that whilst I was still at school. A few years later, the C64 came along and I started putting demos together. I wrote a music driver for Pete Clarke and we used it on Scooby Doo for Elite and Repton 3 for Superior Software. After that, the Ocean gig appeared.
Tell us about everything from the first job interview at Ocean to your first day at work. Did you submit work samples or did someone recommend you?
That was an odd experience. I didn't really interview at all. I got invited to the downstairs dungeon at Ocean by Dave Collier. I got shown around, had a play on Terra Cresta and talked about my crazy stack based multiplexing. Next thing I knew, Dave introduced me to Gary Bracey and Jon Woods and I'm told he'll see me on Monday! It was a bit of a whirlwind, but, it was Ocean and I got to work with Dave C and Martin Galway. RESULT!
What was it like working at Ocean? Was it really a dungeon like so many described it? Any amusing stories you might be able to share?
Oh, yes, it was a dungeon. Development was all underground below a Quaker's Church. If you wanted to go to the bog late at night, you had to unlock a fire door and wander through the church. At one point, they got so fed up with us they bricked up behind door – and it was a bloody fire exit! Ocean was great, great fun, if disorganised and grossly underpaid. The backend of the 80's were a brilliant time. Ocean ruled the world and the charts and it was a great honour working amongst the people that created that software. Let's see how this goes down before I spill too many beans!!!
Was Ocean a well-run company?
For that time, absolutely. The industry was evolving from the bedroom to a business, and so we were all learning. No one can deny that David and Jon knew how to make money, and having Gary on board to run development was an inspired move. They were the first company to actively seek licenses to arcade properties and film tie-ins. In essence, they helped shape the industry that I still love.
Who worked there at the time?
Whilst I was there (1987-92), the main code guys were Jonathan "Joffa" Smith, Mike Lamb, John Meegan, Dave Collier, Martin Galway, Bill Barna, Allan Shortt, Zach Townsend, John Brandwood, James Higgins and Andy Deakin.
Getting in to the games business, is that something you wanted to get into at an early stage?
Absolutely. I published my first game at the age of 13, so I knew the second I walked out of school this was the life for me. I've not looked back for the last 27 years!
Out of all the work you've done, what was the hardest to work on and why?
Some of the arcade conversion we did were insane! There was no way the C64 could do them justice, so we had to come up with some radical techniques for multiplexing sprites and doing full screen, full colour map scrolls. Ironically, some of the hardest stuff to do was putting together the many, many game compilations that Ocean put out. I was basically given cassette copies of all the games and had to break the protection, hack in the Freeload multiload code and re-protect them. There were some clever loaders out there!
This is very interesting information indeed because you kind of take for granted that Ocean would have this under control. Was there no archive you could dig in?
Obviously there was an archive for our own Ocean/Imagine stuff, certainly the stuff that was written in house, but when they licensed in titles from other companies, at best I would get a master maker disk, at worst I'd get a fully protected copy on tape. It was pretty much left to me to "make it work".
Do you remember the name of those loaders and what did you learn from them?
At the time the main loaders I had to work with were the likes of Cyberload, Pavloada, Novaload and Flashloader. I wouldn't say I learned much from them "per-se" as we all used similar tricks to try an obfuscate the start address of the games and encrypt the data. A lot of the tricks that I used came from the BBC micro days, using the VIA timers to time how long parts of the loader took to execute and using that as part of the decryption. I applied a lot of that to the C64.
Did this also result in you more or less taking care of the mastering for all releases from Ocean and Imagine?
Yeah, pretty much everything that came out of Ocean/Imagine/Hit Squad post 1987 used Freeload or a variant of it. Even after I left, it carried on until the C64 market dried up.
With your C64 conversion of Operation Thunderbolt for Ocean Software, there was a rumour surrounding a different game being reviewed in Zzap!64 to what was actually released. You recently informed us that the game was rewritten in two weeks. Was the original game that bad? And how on earth did you manage it in two weeks?
It was truly, truly abysmal. Graphically, it was very nice, if totally unworkable (100's of preset raster splits do display the sprites so everything was locked in place). It just wasn't a game. The game itself only had one side scrolling level, no collision detection and no 3D sections. How did we do it? There were three programmers working 24/7 bolting together hundreds and hundreds of pre-existing routines together to form something that, well, kinda looked like the original Operation Thunderbolt. Colin Porch's Operation Wolf was a million times better!
Who worked on the game with you?
Thunderbolt was thrown together by myself, Johnny Meegan and Rick Palmer. The original version was put together by a new lad (who was literally thrown in at the deep end without any guidance) called Trevor Brown, which was more of a demo (it wasn't interactive) that showed off some big sprites with pre-positioned rasters.
Steve Thomson did the graphics for the 3D sections of Thunderbolt (and, of course, the loading screen), working with John Meegan, the side scrolling sections that I did with Rick had graphics by Brian Flanagan who had done the original graphics with Trevor. We went from nothing, to driving to the duplicators in Birmingham with a game master in three weeks flat. It was a mediocre game at best, but it got Ocean out of a hole after all the hype of the "demo".
Was there a lot of planning involved before you start programming on a game or was it something that came along the way? Did you get design manuals for the conversions?
Not really. You just kind of threw yourself into it. We had a little cubby hole called Arcade Alley that had all the arcade games we were converting and that was pretty much all the reference we had. We just had to do "visual ports" of the games. Level layouts, AI, attack patterns etc. were generally videotaped and copied from there. Generally, you had a rough idea how you would tackle the conversion, and there were a lot of very smart people working there at the time that you could bounce ideas off. So on the whole, we kind of "made it up as we went along!"
As games evolved, sprite multiplex routines were getting quite advanced. Elaborate a little bit on the subject. Did you find inspiration from C64 demos?
Ocean had been messing around with dynamic multiplexing for years. Mike Webb pioneered it on Roland's Rat Race if memory serves, and I'd been working on the stack based multiplexor before I joined Ocean. I think that was one of the reasons I got the job at Ocean! I heard, many years later, that quite a few well known games admitted to "borrowing" some of our tricks. That's not to say the demo scene didn't influence things. Certainly all the "sprites in the borders" trickery influenced Dave Collier on Rambo and again on Terra Cresta. It made it more arcade like as we had more vertical screen real estate.
One of the "clever" things I did with the multiplexor was the way I kept the raster splits sorted. Basically, all the Y split positions were indexed directly into to stack memory. I could then easily do a quick insertion sort by setting the point of insertion into the stack pointer and then pushing the position in the list – the stack magically took care of the rest.
Tell us about what setup you used when programming. Did you use an Ocean development kit?
There were many dev kits at Ocean. We started off using Crystal Computing's Zeus Assembler, and then Mike Webb hacked around with it and made it so you could hook up two C64's as send the code across to the other C64. After that came the first Ocean Dev System which was on the C128. The top 64K was used by the assembler and tokenised source, the bottom 64K was assembled into and then transmitted to the C64. After we started running out of memory, we wrote a new cross assembler for the ST (with a whole 512K of RAM!) which could cross assembler to C64, Spectrum, Amstrad, PC, Konix, NES, SNES, ST, Amiga, and Gameboy. That was a great piece of kit!
Which C64 game you programmed are you most pleased with?
Hmm... Tough one. To this day, I can still find flaws in all the stuff I do. If I'm honest, a lot of my early C64 work was "shovelware" just thrown together and I'm not hugely proud of it. If anything, I'm more proud of the technology that found its way into the games; the multiplexors, the music drivers, full screen colour scrolls, Freeload and my first early forays into vector 3D.
Was there any C64 game which you saw released, looked at the game and thought: "I could have done that much better!"?
Hell yes! There were some truly *terrible* C64 conversions out there, and some games that you just thought: "Jeez, don't even try to convert that!" Space Harrier was one of my all time favourite arcade machines. Now don't get me wrong, I couldn't have done any better than what Chris Butler did, but oh boy that was doomed from the outset!
Did any of your work cause any particular headaches, or even result in disagreements with anyone?
Well, the compilations were a pain in the arse! I worked many, many long nights and early mornings trying to get them done. Disagreement wise, only the hoo-har with Peter Clarke joining Ocean and then the black cloud that he left under. I'm quite a laid back person. I'm sure I was a bit of an ass in my early days, eager to impress and stepping on some toes of people I really should've listened more to in my formative years. All in all, it was a great time.
Did anything drive you insane about programming the C64?
Yup! Eight sprites on a horizontal line! Oh, the fun we had trying to get huge sprites multiplexing when you only had limited horizontal time to reposition the sprites. Also, if only the sprites were 24x24 (divisible by eight in both directions), we could've gotten away with murder! All said and done, it had a SID chip. That made up for everything.
What rules and routines did you have to prevent game code and graphics from leaking to crackers?
Over the years I did all sorts. Initially, the brief was "load the game as fast as possible", then it was "do something while they wait", thus the Ocean Loader. Bitmaps and music was born. Then it was "stop the tape to tape" copiers, stop the "freeze" cartridges and finally stop the crackers. Certainly the first few, I think, I did pretty well. Freeload was about as fast as you could get and still be duplicated in the factory at high speed. I put in all sorts of long tones and timed gaps that used to play havoc with tape-to-tape decks as their automatic gain control circuits would kick in and distort the signal. I managed to detect and/or lock up most freeze cartridges until Action Replay IV came along, which was a brilliant piece of engineering and had me on the ropes!
As for the crackers, well, as the years went on things got very sophisticated with compression, encryption and code obfuscation, but (and it still holds true to this day) if you can load a piece of software into memory and execute it, you can break it. It's just a matter of how many twists and turns you can throw up along the way.
Did cracking ever bother you?
Not at all. It was a fun little battle. Once a bunch of pokes or a trainer came out, I'd be reverse engineering the crack to see how they had worked around the protection, and then the next game out would do something a little different. It was a game of cat and mouse.
Now we asked a few members of the C64 scene if they had any questions for you, and we received a lot about your Freeload system you developed. Here are some of these questions.
Which version of Freeload were you most/least impressed with? (Richard Bayliss)
Freeload kind of evolved. The basic mastering program and the fast load routines were essentially the same on all the games. The protection part of it changed on virtually every game that went out. Thinking back, I fondly remember coming up with a bit of code to lock up Freeze Frame that Andy Braybrook put into Alleykat. I was really chuffed that I could lock that puppy up.
Least impressed, well, perversely I quite enjoyed doing all the loader stuff. If anything, I was a bit miffed with what I had to do to the Hit Squad loaders. It goes something like this: Hit Squad was Ocean's budget label. All the main titles were duplicated in Birmingham by a company called Ablex. However, in order to do the Hit Squad titles so cheaply, they used a much cheaper duplicator. For some reason, they couldn't duplicate Freeload at high speed so I had to physically slow the loader down, although the knock on effect was that Jonathan Dunn had to write new loading music as the old Ocean Loader music ran out before the load finished!
On which games were Freeload first used? (Mason)
The first title that used an early incarnation of Freeload was on Andy Braybrook's Gribbly's Day Out, then Uridium, Paradroid, Alleykat and Morpheus.
Is there any special version of Freeload out there? (Fungus)
Not that I know of.
How many different loader music's do you know of that Freeload had? (Fungus)
I think there were six different tunes. We used Fred Gray's music on the Mutants loader as we were sick to death of the old Hyper Sports loader music!
Which one do you like the best? (Richard Bayliss)
Blimey! That's like saying which is your favourite child! I did like Pete's version of Martin's Loader. Here's a bit of trivia for you: That piece of music was called Ocean Dries Up and he originally composed it on Electrosound. When Martin was about ready to leave Ocean, he ported the tune to Martin's driver. I always loved Jon D's work! He could just rattle tunes out. All you had to do was to ask for a new theme and he'd pull one out of nowhere. OK, OK! I'm sitting on the fence! I must admit I really loved Martin's Rambo loading theme (complete with a morse code parser in the driver).
Was the Mastertronic loader done by you? According to some website, they claim it's called Freeload. (Richard Bayliss)
Certainly not "officially". I did all of Ocean/Imagine's loaders, along with Andy B's titles for Hewson and Ste Ruddy's The Big KO. Actually, thinking about it, I did do one loader for a friends' company that wound up on the Masteronic label. Hmmm...
There were a lot of other companies using Freeload, either in its original state or clone. How many companies used it and how many cloned versions are there? (Mason)
I never actually sold Freeload. I worked with Andy Braybrook on the protection for his games as he was a good mate, and then ended up constantly revising it whilst at Ocean. Ironically, I didn't realise just how ripped off it was until I discovered the emulators that loaded the sampled C64 tape files and noticed that the archives claimed they were Freeload. I started sniffing around and lo-and-behold, they were line for line disassemblies of the loader/protection schemes and internal free loop (the bit where you could play music, animate sprites, do scrolls, etc.) Looking at the .TAP archive, there seems to be at least ten companies that robbed it. I can't complain though. It's nice to know that I wrote a system that people wanted to use, and worked pretty well all things considered.
The first Ocean game that used Freeload was Wizball IIRC around 1987/88 as the previous Ocean tape loader was allegedly stolen from another well known fast loader of the time. The guy that did the loaders had left and someone mentioned that I had done "some tape protection" to Gazza Bracey and the rest is history.
Incidentally, it was called Freeload as it was all driven with NMI's (Non Maskable Interrupts), so the "main loop" was pretty much free to do what it liked; rastersplits for the smooth scroll messages, run sprite anims, and of course play the music. The last version I did played Space Invaders whilst it loaded in the background.
Can I have the source code, please? :-) (Fungus)
:o) Mate, if I ever get off my arse and dig out my ST hard drive and write a converter for the source file format then, yes, I'll put the source out, along with my music player that Jon Dunn, Matthew Cannon and Keith Tinman used.
Were there any C64 games that you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Oh, yes! There were a couple of games I was tinkering with that never came out of the broom cupboard. They were both shoot'em up's. One was Storm Warrior which was an Armalyte-a-like; huge sprites, full screen, full colour scroll, zillions of bullets. The other was called Epsilon and was a vertical scrolling shoot'em-in in the same vane as Terra Cresta/Slap Fight. The C64 was coming to the end of its life, and I was getting involved with the Nintendo NES and ST/Amiga.
You told me that you were churning through a bazillion old C64 development disks. As you did the mastering for loads of Ocean games, is there a chance that there's some forgotten gems on the disks?
Its quite possible! When I left Ocean, I get sent a tonne of my old disks back. Along with those were some boxes of old disks from yesteryear. I just discovered them in the attic and so when I've got a spare moment, I'll start churning through them to see what's there.
In what way were you involved in Batman the Movie, Arkanoid 2, Double Take, Scooby Doo and Repton 3?
I was more involved with the tech of the 68000 versions of Batman the Movie, although I did have the unenviable task of cramming the C64 version (by Zach Townsend) onto a cartridge which involved a big chunk of code rework and a lot of compression.
About Arkanoid 2, I had been playing around with vector graphics on the C64 and cobbled together the morphing high score table for Allan Shortt (top 100 scores, plus name entry was done in vectors and morphed from character to character). The sound system I provided was the infamous Ocean Music/SFX Driver that we used on a tone of games.
For Double Take, Scooby Doo and Repton 3, I provided the music drivers and SFX, whilst Peter Clarke provided the music. Scooby was composed on Electrosound and I wrote a customer player for it (as the runtime Electrosound SDK was as slow as molasses!)
There was a humungous misunderstanding with Double Take. I wrote the first of many music drivers for that game with Colin Porch, and I demo'ed a tune that Pete had composed in Electrosound. We ported it to the new driver and the idea was that Ocean would buy the music from Pete, who at the time I had hooked up with Software Creations to do music for them. One thing lead to another and the game went out before they had contacted Pete, who was understandably a bit "ticked off". However, Martin Galway was looking to leave Ocean, and they needed a replacement and so Pete came on board to fill his shoes, and I paid Pete for the music out of my own pocket!!! (Incidentally - I got in touch with the guys at HVSC and made sure they credited Double Take correctly - and that Pete was the author of Scooby Doo and not Mark Cooksey). Colin credited me in the manual as I had programmed the music. Luckily, when it all kicked off about the music and who wrote it, Colin stood by me and defended the fact that everyone was aware of the composition's author.
Was there talk about Peter joining Ocean after Martin decided to leave?
My plan always was to get Pete into Ocean. When Martin announced he was thinking of leaving, that's when they got him in to help out. Unfortunately, it didn't work out too well. Pete vanished after a bit of a run in with managment, and Jon Dunn was brought in as Martin's replacement.
In an attempt to cover everybody that once worked for Ocean during the glory days, here's a huge list of names. Tell us something about each and everyone of them.
Alex was a real stunner! She worked in the art department upstairs putting the covers and instructions together. She spent quite a bit of time downstairs with the developers as she used to take all the screenshots for the adverts/back of the box.
Big Al as we used to call him! A gentle giant and as hard as nails. A great C64 programmer, and did a cracking job reverse engineering the Mega Drive.
One of the great Spectrum programmers along with Mike Lamb, James Higgins and Joffa.
Not the greatest C64 artist (but them back in those days our artists were exceptional), but a lovely lad. Mainly worked with Zach (but also worked with Colin on Double Take).
My good mate Andy! We spent many years banging around ideas for multiplexors, tape loaders and blocking Freeze Frame. Andy's games were the first to use the initial variant of Freeload. He was the guy that pushed me to lose all the split screen scroll glitches you used to see on early games. Uridium and Paradroid were brilliant!
I only worked with Bill briefly. At the time, he was more focused on tape mastering and tinkering with new bits of technology. He suddenly left Ocean for reasons unknown (but lots of unsubstantiated rumours).
Bill was a hoot! Another brilliant caricature artist and creator of the Ocean "Naff Mag". A very talented pixel artist that I used to share an office with. We worked on a couple of killed projects; one was Robocop for the NES (Data East ended up doing a version which was pants), and an isometric version of The Simspons for the ST and Amiga which was dropped in favor of a port of the NES version. Bill's graphics for that in particular were brilliant. Bill also did the brillaint graphics on ST/Amiga Batman the Movie.
Another one of the great pixel pushing artists (and is still doing it to do this day). I beleive his first job was a junior artist at Ocean, working on Thunderbolt, and he just got better and better. He worked with us at Warthog where he was one of the best pixel pushers we had.
One of the PR/Marketing girls from "upstairs". She was an absolute scream to be around, and was the life and soul of the parties, and pub outings (of which there were many).
I knew Colin first from his programming days. His company used to port games for Ocean (he did a particularly brilliant port of New Zealand Story) then he came in house to look after the external developers. A very clued up guy.
Good old Colin! We rather childishly named him Fossil as he was a lot older than us, but, he was an excellent programmer. I worked with him on Double Take writing the music driver and then he just kept on knocking the games "out of the park." His Operation Wolf was light years ahead of Thunderbolt. And Gryzor was a great port, although I still to this day think using the spacebar to jump was a bad idea. Then he did the brilliant, line for line port of Head over Heels on the C64 which was a stunning achievement! Then, just for the hell of it, learned 68000 and ported it to ST and Amiga. He probably doesn't realise it, but I learned a hell of a lot about code structure from him.
Didn't have too much day to day with David. He only stayed at Ocean for a little while. At the time, I think he was a little out of his depth. Ocean in the early days certainly threw you in at the deep and so you either sank or swam, there wasn't any time to really learn on the job. He did some bits and pieces for Gryzor and then Operation Wolf (the latter being a bit of a disaster, and so Colin had to re-write it all).
Good old Dave! One of the true great eccentrics. An excellent programmer who just "knew" how to make things work on the C64. Also a complete electronics whizz. He came up with all kinds of crazy gadgets (inlcuding the first ever car immobiliser). Apart from all the countless C64 games, he also was instrumental in all the Ocean Dev kits and the hardware they required.
Day to day I didn't speak much to David. I had a few meetings with him about protecting our games and issues of compilations. Oh, and I had to present a rationale with Dave Collier for investing in a whole bunch of Atari ST systems for our next gen dev system. In actual fact, I had programmed the ST and knew how easy it was to develop for, so was dragged upstairs to say as much!
Dawny! I think everyone had a soft spot for Dawn. She was "one of the lads" and Mike Lamb's artist for many years working on Target Renegade, Batman and of course Robocop. I don't think there was a red blooded male that didn't fancy the pants off her. :o)
Didn't actualy work with Fred. He just popped in one day to drop off the code to the Mag Max music (sorry, I shudder everytime I utter those words). Seemed like a nice guy, and did some absolutely classic C64 music. If not as technical on the driver front, he certainly made up with excellent compositions.
Worked with Gary for a short while when he programmed Basket Master (and wrote the music for Target Renegade). He was actually my inspiration for writing the Ocean music driver. As he was a bit of a musician, they asked Gary to write some music to help out, and no one except Martin really understood his driver, so we started chewing the fat on what he would need. Jon Dunn then came on board and slowly but surely the driver evolved with their input.
I don't think people appreciated Gary as much as they should at the time. Don't get me wrong, everybody liked Gary, but I think people underestimate how important he was to the success of Ocean. Yes, there were some brilliant developers, and without those you are dead in the water, but Gary had his finger on the pulse when it came to the film licenses and arcade releases. He just knew what was going to work.
I didn't work with him at Ocean, although at the time he was a great artist doing C64 art at Special FX. Ivan worked for us at Warthog were he was Head of Production. The nicest guy you could ever want to meet and without a doubt the single best Producer I've ever worked with. Firm but fair – that was Ivan.
Ivan was and still is a super star. He's one of those real techy artists that "just gets it". I've worked with Ivan for years, and still natter with him to this day. Whether it was working out pre-shifted block pairs for Spectrum scrolls, to optimising the triangle stripping for a PS2 game, Ive is always at the bleeding edge.
What can I say about James (or BJ – as in Big Jim)? Very direct, very assured, very blunt, but also an incredibly talented programmer. Always well ahead of the curve.
The first real bit of glammer we had at Ocean. Great artist and rather cute to boot.
Jason was one of the QA dept and actually jolly good at breaking our games!
Johnny Amstrad as we used to call him! He was the master of the Amstrad. Everything he did was just spot on. The same applied to anything he turned his hand to; ST, Amiga, Gameboy. One of the more metoculous programmers who liked to thoroughly understand a problem. One of the best programmers Ocean had. He probably doesn't know it, but I learned more from John than anyone else at Ocean.
One word: "Brilliant!" The finest animator we had at Ocean bar none. John and Ste Thomson were absolutely brilliant on the C64. No one could touch them.
Without a doubt the best C64 programmer at Ocean. Very straight forward, very blunt, and extrememly talented. His work with Ste Thompson was unparalleled. Once Dave Collier stepped away from day to day writing of games, John became the number one C64 programmer by a nautical mile.
I didn't have many dealings with Jon. I'd have the odd natter when he came to see Colin about the Head over Heels port and talk about level compression and isometric rendering. I recall going through the HoH code with Colin one evening looking for a bug, and was really impressed by how well structured (and commented) his code was.
I spoke to Jon more than David. He was a big scary man! He could put the fear of God in you, but actually was a lovely bloke who was very, very switched on. Along with Gary B and David was the secret to Ocean's success. When there was something of a FUBAR with the manufacture of the C64 cartridges, Jon rolled up his sleeves and stuck in drilling out each and every cartridge to make it work. Fair play.
Good old Jon... He could write music at the speed of light. If I ever lost the will to live with one of the Ocean Loading music tracks, you could always count on Jon to rattle out a new tune. Like all the great C64 musicians, he had a sound all of his own. He pushed the driver and then later took it to different levels with his own code. Jon came up with the crazy method of doing SID drums that I wrote. I still have no idea how he thought it would work – but it did!
Jonathan "Joffa" Smith
Best Spectrum programmer. Ever. I must admit there was something of hero worship going on when I first met him. He could rattle games out in weeks and they all played well, had great graphics and ran like a bat out of hell. His scrolling on Spectrum Cobra was nothing short of genius.
I didn't really work with Keith as he was working for Special FX at the time, which more or less published all their games, and so he used my driver. Yet another great Ocean musician. Boy we could find them!
Kane was a lovely bloke. He started as the Ocean tea boy, making brews for the dev teams. He then went on to QA and support.
Lee ran the in house QA department and dealt with the support calls. I spent many a day at Ablex (the duplicators) in Birmingham with Lee waiting for the proofs to come through and then driving back to Manhester with a van full of games!
Lorraine was Gary's right hand lady. She was the Assistant Software Manager who organised development and basically looked after the developers in the dungeon. She threw wicked parties too!
Mark K. Jones
"Senior" as he was known (as there were two Mark Jones' at Ocean, named Junior and Senior respectively!). He was John Brandwood's right hand man. A better Amstrad artist you could not find. He went on to do some incredible visuals on ST and Amiga games.
Mark R. Jones
Mark Jones Junior – a cracking Spectrum artist (and one time musician for Spectrum Arkanoid) – joined Ocean straight from school and was the subject of a TV documentary with Keith Chegwin. Talented and as mad as a brush! He did tonnes of Spectrum loading screens too.
What can you say about Martin that everyone doesn't already know? The first man to really push the SID chip for all its worth. Martin was definitely a secret wannabee game programmer as his driver was a work of art technically (although he was the only one the really understood it). I still love his stuff to this day and still chat to him regularly.
Big Mac. Another of the great C64 artists. One of the few that could give Ste Thompson a run for his money on loading screens.
Matt was a superb musician! Classically trained. His compositions were sublime, and he was much underused IMHO as he had incredible potential. Matt wrote the loading music for Hit Squad games (again, like Jon, he could compose and program a tune at light speed).
After Joffa left Ocean to start Special FX, Mike became the Daddy of the Spectrum. A very serious chap, but another of those real geniuses that are so rare. His Robocop was a brilliant piece of code.
Nick used to port Ocean games to the PC in the very early days on personal computers. He basically knocked them out in his summer break from University. He was a very smart lad. His conversion of Wizball was one of the best ports of the C64 classic.
Another one of the real brains behind Ocean. The man that put the games out there on the shelves. Another one of those really nice blokes who knows how to make money.
Paul was the first programmer at Ocean (then Spectrum Games) and wrote a lot of the early classics. Once the likes of Joffa and Mike Lamb came on board, he started to get a little out of his depth as Junior would tell you after working on Gryzor and Dragon Ninja with him. In those games, you'll see the letters "BTF" appearing which stood for "Bugged to F**k" as by this point his nickname had become Paul "Bug" Owens. A lot of people got rightly annoyed with him when he did an interview with a Spectrum magazine claiming to have written the scroll and sprite routines used in Joffa's Cobra. Shame as he was a genuinely nice guy, but was quickly outclassed by the likes of Joff and Mike.
Paul was Steve Lavache's assistant. Anything that needed dealing with electronics-wise Paul dealt with, whether it was building arcade games in a briefcase to soldering up the development boards, Paul was your man.
I worked with Pete briefly (over the phone as it happens) when he was contracted to do Salamander for Imagine. For some reason I ended up bug fixing Salamander. Pete provided me with all the source and graphics and a PDS dev kit. I'm not sure why it happened, just Gary arrived with a PC and a phone number for Pete one day. There were a couple of bugs in there, but it was a brilliantly written piece of code. He was a very, very good programmer!
I'm a bit in two minds. Undoubtedly a great musician, and one of the few people that got to grips with Martin's driver – and for a time a very close friend of mine. Once he was in Ocean however, he changed. His true colours came out and he left Ocean under a very dark cloud. A real shame as he was a genuine talent.
John Palmer's younger brother who had a bit of a rough ride at Ocean. He did WEC Le Mans which was a tough one for the C64 at the time, then pulled off an excellent version of New Zealand Story with a new multiplexor I'd come up with. He left soon after that. I hooked up again with Rich in about 2003 and he had blosomed into an excellent tech programmer. He worked for us at Warthog on the Harry Potter games.
Robbie was one of the Special FX gang so I didn't have much day-to-day work with him. But boy oh boy, his games were good. His Midnight Resistance on the C64 was a cracking conversion.
Rocky was another of the QA/support guys. He gained noteriety from being the first Black Robocop seen wandering around at the PCW show as he was a really tall lad, and the only person that could fit into the Robocop suit that Orion had sent us!
Roger was a short lived audio programmer that did the music on Amstrad Gryzor for Johh Brandwood.
Ronnie was Mike Lamb's original artist before Dawn supplying graphics for the original Renegade and the two Arkanoid games on Spectrum.
I think he was an artist friend of Dave Collier that didn't last too long at Ocean as by that time we had some incredible artists who had set the benchmark so high.
Good old Simon! A man that kept me laughing all day! He had a one liner for everything. He was an incredible caricaturist. A lot of Ocean in the 80's and 90's were captured by Simon with his caricatures. A truly brilliant pixel artist, and a dab hand at design too. Still going strong!
A good friend of mine from my home town of Sunny Wigan! Probably the best C64 programmer I've ever known. We used to go to and from work together on the train; I dropped off at Ocean whilst Ste went a bit further down the road to Software Creations. His version of Bubble Bobble is one of the finest arcade conversions ever to grace the C64. A genuinely nice guy, oozing with talent and not at all big headed about it.
The best C64 artist! Ever. Fact. I was just in awe of what Ste could make the C64 do. His loading screens in particular were works of genius. If you ever get the chance check out all the screens he did for the cartridge version of Navy Seals. My lord they were good! His use of strange chromatic blending was genius.
Dave Collier's right hand man who became the Art Manager at Ocean through the 90's. A great guy, with a big smile and an eye for the ladeees!
Steve headed up the art department upstairs that did all the packaging, adverts and instruction books. He was also a director of the company. (And creator of the famous Imagine logo!)
Only worked with Steve briefly, mainly through knowing Simon Butler. Another one of the great old school pixel artists and bloody nice bloke to boot. He is sadly missed.
Steve was the electronics guy at Ocean that made up the dev boards, EPROM programmes, arcade machines, etc.
Steve Watson, or Catweasel as he was lovingly nick named due to his rather "hippy" appearance. Short lived Spectrum programmer that did the abysmal port of Wizball. He drove Mark Jones nuts on that project and once told me off for "typing too loud". :o) Not Ocean's finiest hour!
Tim was the Daddy of QA, taking over from Lee. There was no one that could break a game like Tim and figure out why it was breaking. I still work with him today on the LEGO games where he has been the producer on the last three.
Good old TP! The Ying to Dave Collier's Yang. A very bright bloke who always gave Dave C and Mike Webb a run for their money on the clever stakes! An absolute laugh to be around from morning to night.
Poor Trev. Another victim of Ocean throwing people in at the deep end. He was a decent programmer but very inexperienced and it showed with the original Operation Thunderbolt as he was just totally out of his depth. And it didn't help that there were so many brilliant C64 programmers around him banging out hit after hit.
Another one of those geniuses that is not only a brilliant technical artist but also a very capable designer and programmer. He was James Higgin's right hand man on many, many titles including the sublime Addams Family on the SNES. Like Tim, Warren still works with me over at Travellers Tales.
Zach did some great games for Ocean. He started out a bit shaky with Cobra on the C64 but got better and better with some great little games like Platoon and Army Moves. He was a nice lad, who was massively confident in his own ability – sometimes a little too much!
That's great information, thanks! As you know, we want to preserve as much as possible so I think it's time to preserve some Ocean gossip as well. Spill the beans! :)
OK, so I've been doing a bit of research, and thus can offer you a rather interesting piece of previously unheard Ocean gossip! Remember the original Ocean Loader, the one used on the like of Hyper Sports and Rambo II? When I first joined Ocean, I was there to make games (and it just so happened that I had dabbled a lot in tape protection previously). At that time, Bill Barna did all the mastering, though I'm not sure who actually "wrote" the Ocean Loader.
At the time, I do remember looking at the source code to the Hyper Sports loader and thinking it looked more like a disassembly than a piece of traditional source code. The labels were just numbers (just like an address oddly enough) and there was only one label in there that was a word; "JSR Genitals", which I always found amusing. One thing lead to another, Bill left and I ended up doing the mastering using my own Freeload system for many, many years.
Then moving on to around 2002, I was interviewing candidates for a programming job at Warthog, when who should appear but the great Paul Woakes! We started chatting about "the good old days", about Encounter, Mercenary and of course Novaload, to whit he dropped a bombshell... Prior to Hyper Sports, Ocean used Novaload for every title they shipped, and then suddenly stopped using it, and thus cutting off a lucrative revenue stream for Paul's company Novagen. He was absolutely convinced that someone at Ocean had ripped off his Novaload load and save routines, so much so that there was a monument in Mercenary called "NovaBill". "The symbol of my old adversary Novabill. He'd sell his grandmother for five credits."
Now, I've no idea if Bill was to blame for this alleged borrowing of code, after all, he was a decent and very clever chap. However, it did make me wonder after recollecting about the source code to the load/save routines whether someone had "borrowed" a big chunk of the Novaload mastering tools in order to save some money.
Anyway, several years on, I'm doing my bit writing about Freeload and how it all works when I came across a bunch of articles by Tom Skauen. It was all about the archiving of the old C64 tape loaders (it was then I realised just how many people ripped off my Freeload code!), and amongst all that data was information about the pulse timings on Novaload/Novaload Special and the original, short lived Ocean Loader. In that document he points out that the data format and pulse timings in those old loaders were virtually identical to Novaload.
I don't know what is the truth about it, but it surely looks fishy all these years on. Maybe I've got the source lying around on those floppies I found in my Dad's attic. The plot thickens!
Talking about the attic, do you still own a C64 today?
Oh yes! I've got a couple along with just about every other computer/console on earth!
Was the C64 was just a step in your gaming life or was it a major inspiration?
It sounds all American, but it really did make you think outside of the box in order to achieve some of the arcade conversions. After all, it had a grossly underpowered CPU and limited resources. The new game programmers of today just don't realise what you had to squeeze into those machines. I loved that machine! I knew it inside and out. Sigh!
What impressed you most about the C64 at the time and for what reasons?
Two things. 1) Sound! There is nothing like SID. It took a few years and one Martin Galway to realise what it was capable off. Hardware sprites! Although they were quite limited until the advent of a decent multiplexor.
What was your favourite game on the C64?
Heck, there's a few... Bubble Bobble was just a work of genius. Software-masking all the bubble "sprites" in order to get soooo many on screen was brilliant. I loved Armalyte! That was a good looking game that played like a dream. We were always jealous of games like that, as we had on average three to four months from concept to duplication of our games internally.
What are your current activities? Are you working on systems of today for anyone?
Yeah, I'm still at it! I'm currently working on the Nintendo DS, Wii, PSP, PS3 and 360. Still refining the tools and tech, but mainly still writing games.
Thanks for your patience with all the questions Paul. Please feel free to send any greetings to anyone who might remember you. It has been a pleasure to quiz you!
Thanks to Facebook and LinkedIn, I've hooked up with many of the old gang, and there's been a couple of reunions too. So, errr, hello to anyone that knows me/knew me. Do get in touch for a natter!
» Back to the other interviews
|» Paulie Hughes –
Visit Paulie's own homepage if you want more info. Download source code to Freeload and the Ocean Music Driver used by Jon Dunn et al.
» The Ocean Experience – Read and see pictures and movies of the people who worked at Ocean.