Retro In­ter­view: The Oliver Twins

The Oliver Twins tell games™ about the lat­est Dizzy dis­cov­ery and re­veal why they’re ex­cited to be bring­ing the char­ac­ter back in a new ad­ven­ture

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

With a new Dizzy game in de­vel­op­ment we catch up with the fa­mous Oliver Twins to re­flect on their roughly 35 years of mak­ing games and the ex­cit­ing new chap­ter they’re now start­ing

We see you’ve found an­other un­re­leased Dizzy game. Can you tell us more about this? Philip Oliver: Sure. It’s a game called Panic! Dizzy, which we wrote in 1992 when we were look­ing for game ideas for the NES. It was based on a game called Dizzy Panic, which we’d re­leased in 1990 for the Spectrum, Am­strad, C64, ST and Amiga but since we hadn’t been en­tirely happy with that game, we felt the best way for­ward was to de­sign it from scratch and re­solve the prob­lems. Un­for­tu­nately the game wasn’t re­leased at the time so it was backed up, put in the loft and for­got­ten about. When the retro re­vival emerged in re­cent years, how­ever, we de­cided to see what we had. Panic! Dizzy was our lat­est find.

Given you’ve also re­dis­cov­ered Won­der­land Dizzy, Mys­tery World Dizzy and Dream­world Po­gie in the past, you’ve been sit­ting on some fan­tas­tic trea­sures, haven’t you? An­drew Oliver: Since we’d spent so much time on th­ese games, we didn’t want to lose them and, be­cause we’re pretty or­gan­ised, we made sure that we backed stuff up.

Un­like many de­vel­op­ers, we also archived all our work by putting all our de­signs, discs and other ma­te­ri­als in our lofts, but work­ing through all th­ese boxes of old discs has taken a lot of time and work. We sorted out an enor­mous amount a few years ago whilst col­lect­ing ev­ery­thing for our Kick­starter book, Let’s Go Dizzy. The Story of the Oliver Twins and this forced us to go through all the boxes and try and work out what ex­actly we had. That’s when we be­gan to find things. But why wasn’t Panic!

re­leased in 1992? PO: At the time we’d set up our game de­vel­op­ment stu­dios off the back of our very suc­cess­ful 8-bit com­puter games that in­cluded the Dizzy se­ries and a lot of the Sim­u­la­tors. We rented of­fices and em­ployed some game de­vel­op­ers to cre­ate new games, pri­mar­ily on the NES, which was very pop­u­lar in the US but, un­for­tu­nately, Code­mas­ters en­tered a le­gal bat­tle with Nin­tendo over the Game Ge­nie.

Code­mas­ters as­sured us that ev­ery­thing would be fine and it said it hadn’t done any­thing wrong so we should carry on writ­ing the games they’d agreed to. But although Code­mas­ters even­tu­ally won the court case and were awarded a huge pay­out, the de­lay caused the Dar­lings, who owned Code­mas­ters, to re-eval­u­ate the games they’d pub­lish. Dis­ap­point­ingly for us, they chose not to re­lease many of the games that our new stu­dio had writ­ten and we were not com­pen­sated for lost earn­ings. This left us vir­tu­ally bank­rupt since we’d in­vested ev­ery­thing we’d earned, from all our suc­cess, in pro­duc­ing th­ese games ex­clu­sively for them. We spoke to an agent, Jac­qui Lyons, who rep­re­sented other game au­thors in the in­dus­try and she helped us se­cure con­tracts with other pub­lish­ers and even ad­vanced us money to pre­vent us ac­tu­ally go­ing bank­rupt. But it did mean many games didn’t see the light of day.

Are you find­ing the old game me­dia has re­mained in­tact, though?

AO: Well, find­ing the good stuff is very dif­fi­cult be­cause we are dis­cov­er­ing old floppy discs,


Am­strad discs, tape drives, old writable CD and so on, that are not en­tirely readable, ei­ther be­cause we don’t have the hard­ware or the me­dia is slightly cor­rupted. Then we have back ups that aren’t quite the full work­ing ver­sions – it means the source code and as­sets re­quire a de­vel­op­ment en­vi­ron­ment to re­com­pile be­fore any mi­nor changes can be made so that has to be in place too. have you needed to carry out much work on Panic! Dizzy?

PO: Yes. The discs we found ap­peared to be ‘end of project’ discs but be­cause they con­tained source code, they needed com­pil­ing with the old Pro­gram­mer De­vel­op­ment Sys­tem, an old DOS com­piler and some spe­cial PC hard­ware. Thank­fully, the ad­vent of em­u­la­tors helped at this point, which meant once a com­piled ROM had been re­built, it could be checked rel­a­tively eas­ily. We needed to find some­one who would lo­cate and fix the bugs, though, be­cause sadly we just can’t re­mem­ber how to write 6502 as­sem­bly code any more and we just wouldn’t be able to find the time to re-learn. Luck­ily, as with the other un­re­leased NES games we found, we could call upon Lukasz Kur, to whom we are very grate­ful, to re­com­pile them and clean up a few mi­nor is­sues. so how is Panic! Dizzy on the nes dif­fer­ent to Dizzy Panic?

AO: The orig­i­nal Dizzy Panic came about after play­ing Tetris on the Game Boy. We were so amazed by its ad­dic­tive na­ture and simplicity that it led us to want­ing to cre­ate our own puz­zle game.

From that point, it was an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise in analysing what makes a puz­zle game so ad­dic­tive but the artists and I were very busy fin­ish­ing up Fan­tas­tic Dizzy on the NES at this time so Philip de­signed a game and worked with a lo­cal de­vel­oper, Big Red Soft­ware, to im­ple­ment it on the home com­put­ers. We’d worked with Big Red be­fore. Th­ese guys had been writ­ing the Dizzy games on the 8-bit com­put­ers when we were turn­ing our fo­cus to the NES. So they took our idea of bas­ing the game in a fac­tory where Dizzy was work­ing a pro­duc­tion line with con­veyor belts and got to work. The player had to control Dizzy, help­ing him sort ob­jects as fast as he could with ev­ery­thing get­ting faster un­til Dizzy and the player couldn’t keep up. The prob­lem was the de­sign, which we felt was flawed. Big Red hadn’t done a great job of im­ple­men­ta­tion but there were no risk and re­ward strate­gies.

So we picked on the for­mat of fall­ing blocks and re­moved the con­veyor belt. We then thought about pos­si­ble vari­a­tions based around this for­mat. We ex­pected one to be a clear win­ner, but we found each had their mer­its and so we de­cided we could of­fer bet­ter value for money by pol­ish­ing all of them and leav­ing them all ac­ces­si­ble in the one game.

some of your pre­vi­ous finds have been made avail­able on car­tridge for the nes. is this go­ing to be the case for Panic! Dizzy? PO: Now that we have the game fully work­ing, we would cer­tainly like to re­lease it as a real Nin­tendo car­tridge.

There are lots of fans out there of both the NES and Dizzy and Kick­starter is the per­fect plat­form for mak­ing this a re­al­ity be­cause we’re able to pro­mote the prospect of own­ing a real car­tridge and then man­u­fac­ture the num­ber of units that get or­dered. It’s only go­ing to get one pro­duc­tion run and it will be fi­nanced with the back­ers’ funds. Our profit on th­ese car­tridges will be go­ing to the char­ity, Spe­cial Ef­fect, which en­ables dis­abled chil­dren to have ac­cess to video games. We’re restor­ing th­ese games as a hobby. so are we to ex­pect any more games from the past?

AO: It’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble, but that’s for an­other time.

We can only hope. so, which of those pre­vi­ously un­re­leased games have ex­cited you the most? PO: To be hon­est, we’re re­ally pleased that all of them have fi­nally seen the light of day. We make games for peo­ple to play and en­joy, not for stor­ing in a loft, and each game has its own charm. What’s in­cred­i­ble and still hard for us to com­pre­hend though, is how we were able to squeeze such large games into just 128k of mem­ory. In the case of Panic! Dizzy – it’s only 64k, which is less than half a sec­ond of un­com­pressed MP3 mu­sic or a JPEG photo of just 128 x 128 pix­els, which is the size of a Win­dows Desk­top icon. you’re also set to re­lease Won­der­ful Dizzy, which is a new ad­ven­ture that you’ve been devel­op­ing from scratch for the new spectrum next com­puter, which is en­hance­ment of the orig­i­nal zx spectrum range from back in the day. how is work pro­gress­ing?

AO: Very well although a bit slower than we would have all liked. With ev­ery­one work­ing on it as a hobby, it’s not get­ting any­one’s full at­ten­tion and it’s worth bear­ing in mind that the orig­i­nal Dizzy games were writ­ten when we lit­er­ally spent nearly all our wak­ing hours work­ing on them. But that said, within the first few months Piotr ‘PIT’ Gratkiewicz


had cre­ated some won­der­ful new art for the char­ac­ters and box art and we had worked out the main story el­e­ments, the ar­eas, puz­zles and gen­eral flow.

We then had to put in some se­ri­ous work into de­sign­ing the whole map, which were all hand-drawn screens, just like the old days. Un­like the old days, though, th­ese were all scanned, put into Ex­cel and the puz­zles at­tached, so that it could be played out ‘vir­tu­ally’. Along­side this, Philip worked out a large, but very funny, nar­ra­tive script for all the char­ac­ters.

is it a big game?

PO: Well the full walk­through de­scrip­tion of the game is 18 pages long and we have around 68 screens in the game, which Dmitri and Jar­rod have mostly cre­ated now. Ev­geniy, the main coder, has been im­ple­ment­ing th­ese as well as the puz­zles and they’ve been in­cor­po­rat­ing some of the new fea­tures that are be­ing added to the game.

have you been get­ting your hands dirty with code too?

AO: I’m afraid that along with 6502, which was used on the Com­modore 64 and NES, and 68000 used on the Mega Drive, our

Z80 cod­ing is too rusty to be help­ful so we’d strug­gle to write games for the Spectrum or Am­strad come to that, to­day. It takes a huge amount of time to write th­ese games and there’s no way we could have found the time to fo­cus, get back into the mind­set and pro­duce all the code as well.

Are you closely fol­low­ing the for­mula of past Dizzy games?

PO: Even though it’s over 25 years since the last Dizzy game we made, we want it to be made to the same for­mula and the same re­stric­tions as those orig­i­nals. We want to make it the nat­u­ral se­quel with a whole new story, new char­ac­ters, lo­ca­tions and new fea­tures, and gen­er­ally im­prove the whole look and feel. That is what we are aim­ing to do, and we feel con­fi­dent this is the cor­rect ap­proach and what the fans of the orig­i­nal would be look­ing for. It’s go­ing very well, and we feel con­fi­dent it will be the best Dizzy game ever made on the Spectrum.

have you been im­pressed by the spectrum next?

AO: The guys be­hind the Spectrum Next are do­ing a great job. I think it’s tak­ing a lit­tle longer than they an­tic­i­pated but they re­ally care about get­ting it right and we can sym­pa­thise with that. Their am­bi­tions have also taken over a bit as many fans wanted “true spectrum em­u­la­tion” whilst oth­ers wanted ex­tra fea­tures like hard­ware scrolling and hard­ware sprites, so in try­ing to please ev­ery­one they have cre­ated an im­pres­sive com­puter with mul­ti­ple modes. For our part, we de­cided we’d de­sign a new Dizzy game, but keep to the pa­ram­e­ters of the orig­i­nal Spectrum.

GTM: so you’re not tak­ing ad­van­tage of the spectrum next’s en­hanced graph­ics and sound modes?

PO: Cur­rently we’re de­sign­ing and cod­ing the game to work on orig­i­nal hard­ware, which will look great on the Spectrum Next. It’s un­der dis­cus­sion what en­hance­ments will be made for a Spectrum Next en­hanced ver­sion but we’re sure it will have some new fea­tures. The im­por­tant thing is to get the main game de­vel­oped first.

GTM: Will you be re­leas­ing the game on other for­mats?

AO: We feel the game is very strong and it would be a shame not to get it re­leased on other for­mats in the fu­ture. But let’s see the re­ac­tion of play­ers, be­fore we in­vest heav­ily on bring­ing this to mod­ern plat­forms, which would be a lot of ad­di­tional work.

WON­DER­FUL DIZZY [2018 (TBC)] De­sign­ers

PANIC DIZZY [1992] De­sign­ers, pro­gram­mers

DIZZY [1987] De­sign­ers, pro­gram­mers, artists

All of the games in Panic! Dizzy can be played by one or two peo­ple in­clud­ing the fran­tic Four Suits op­tion. Panic! Dizzy play­ers are able to choose from a range

of Dizzy char­ac­ters with oth­ers pop­ping up in games such as Pic­ture Per­fect.

the graph­ics forWon­der­ful Dizzy will look fa­mil­iar to any­one who played the orig­i­nal Spectrum ti­tles.Won­der­ful Dizzy is be­ing writ­ten for the new Spectrum next com­puter which has a Z80 pro­ces­sor but 1MB RAM, HDMI out­put, 256 colours and hard­ware sprites.

As if to un­der­line the com­plex­ity of the game, this map by the Oliv­ers shows the var­i­ous lo­ca­tions and the links be­tween them.

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