The Making of: Fantasy World Dizzy
Dizzy’s original outing was a slow-burn success, but the follow-up was an overnight sensation. The Oliver twins tell Retro Gamer how they capped their trilogy with arguably Dizzy’s greatest adventure – Fantasy World Dizzy
The Oliver twins revisit their most popular game in the Dizzy series
Releasing a sequel to a popular game was far from a given in the Eighties. That’s not to say that developers were adverse to following-up charttopping titles, but this approach was tempered by the knowledge that sales of a well-reviewed original game would typically eclipse those of a poorly-reviewed sequel. That said, a follow-up with good write-ups could potentially attain bestseller status, and 8-bit coders Philip and Andrew Oliver’s Treasure Island-set successor to Dizzy had done just that. But as popular as their titular hero Dizzy’s first two adventures had been, the twins next put their egg-shaped hero in a junk food-themed Pac-man clone, as Philip explains. “It was pretty obvious from Treasure Island Dizzy being so successful that we had a lot of Dizzy fans, but Fast Food was a weird kind of accident,” the developer says of the Dizzy spin-off. “We loved Pac-man, and so one Friday night, we just said, ‘We could knock out a Pac-man game really quickly, we can have it finished by Monday morning if we just knuckle down!’ And that’s what we did. But the reason
Dizzy was popular was because of the adventures, and we wanted to move Dizzy on. We wanted to do the biggest, best Dizzy adventure that we could.”
The plan had to wait, however, as the twins’ next three games were non-dizzy projects. But once they had cleared their slate, they looked to a favourite BBC Micro title for ideas on how to begin Dizzy’s third adventure – Fantasy World Dizzy. “Dizzy being locked in a dungeon came from Castle Quest for the BBC,” Philip says. “It was an interesting game where you started in a single room where you had been imprisoned, and you had to get out, and we just thought that was a really nice intro. But we also needed to lock Dizzy in a single location to teach players to pick an object up and take it where it needed to be used. If we had allowed people to explore too much, they might not have realised what they had to do.”
The Olivers wanted to encourage players to explore, and so they designed a bigger world for their latest Dizzy project. “Our belief was that if we were going to improve on Dizzy and Treasure Island Dizzy then we needed to be a little bit bigger, but also a little bit richer in every aspect of the game,” Philip considers. “So everything had to be better, we had to improve every area. There had to be more interesting locations, more narrative and more characters.”
But rather than making these additional characters opponents for Dizzy to overcome, the twins instead decided to give him allies that could help him solve puzzles. “While working on Treasure Island we were surprising ourselves, because by being clever we could actually get a lot in, so we put in some enemies,” Andrew says of the characters in Fantasy World Dizzy’s predecessor. “But they were just things to kill, and we wanted a game that was about puzzle-solving, not killing, so for Fantasy World Dizzy we said, ‘We need to make characters that are obviously Dizzy’s friends,’ so we made them look like Dizzy.”
As well as handing out advice and items, one of Dizzy’s friends – the eternally sleepy Dozy – also added a pinch of humour, which Philip insists wasn’t inspired by a deckchair related ‘accident’ that Andrew had. “We had the idea that Dozy would be at the furthest edge of the map, and so we had to make sure that there was something there that stopped players going any further,” Philip reasons. “So we decided to make it a pier. It was Dozy at the seaside, so why not stick him in a deckchair? That made sense. Not that I’m referencing the fact that I did this to Andrew! I mean, I did horrifically injure Andrew in a deckchair once, but that’s another story. So when we put Dozy on the end of the pier, we just thought, ‘Hah! Wouldn’t it be funny if you could kick him in?’ We didn’t have room for more graphics, but it didn’t need any more, we just moved the sprite to kick him off!”
This one act of amusing violence aside, the Olivers wanted Dizzy to be a pacifist focused on puzzle-solving in order to avoid overcomplicating his latest adventure. “Dizzy was not about combat,” Philip asserts. “We had done that in Super Robin Hood and Ghost Hunters, and this was deliberately a non-combat game. We also wanted to have the fewest number of buttons, because having another button would make the game twice as complicated. The idea of somersaulting and landing on something’s head was not a concept that we had thought of – we hadn’t seen Super Mario Bros at that point.”
But while Philip and Andrew hadn’t yet encountered Nintendo’s seminal platformer, the brothers had been exposed to classics from a different medium, and these helped inform their ideas for Fantasy World Dizzy’s puzzles. “We wanted to make the puzzles relevant to a story, and the Looney Tunes cartoons set out very clear objectives,” Philip recollects. “So in Tweety Pie, Sylvester had to catch the bird. But the thing that made the comedy was that what you thought would happen didn’t, and Sylvester’s failure opened up other opportunities.” Andrew agrees, and explains how these opportunities inspired the twins to link their game’s puzzles together, “We thought, ‘What we’ve got to do is link opportunities together so that when you do one thing it will enable something else.’ That was a chain, and it became far more interesting when you had a chain of events.”
Many of Fantasy World Dizzy ’s chained puzzles boiled down to unlocking access to more of the game, but the Olivers decided to compliment these with a core challenge that channelled a classic
fairytale. “Obviously the big chain of events in Fantasy World Dizzy was Jack And The Beanstalk,” Philip points out. “So you needed the cow and had to swap it for a magic bean, plant it, grow a beanstalk and climb it to get into the Cloud Castle so that you could rescue Daisy and get out.” Andrew qualifies his brother’s summation, “But you would be thinking halfway through: ‘Why do I need a bucket?’ You thought you had beaten the puzzle by planting the magic bean, but that didn’t work. The bucket was empty, but there was water. So very quickly we could make little stories out of key-and-lock puzzles chained together.”
iven that their game’s puzzles relied on carrying objects to obstacles, the twins realised that by putting a limit on the items that Dizzy could carry they could add tactics and additional platforming to Fantasy World Dizzy’s challenge. “Players had to think when they found a new object: ‘Do I want to take it?’ So they had to use strategy,” Philip argues. “It also allowed the player to think that Dizzy’s pocket was only a certain size – even if it could fit ladders and buckets in it, and a cow! Although we did call it a Pygmy Cow, because were you really going to fit a cow in your pocket? So it was an attempt to make people think: ‘Do I need it now?’ And if they did pick it up what did they have to put down, plus the thought: ‘Am I going to screw myself putting it down in the wrong place?’”
In addition to limiting Dizzy’s inventory, the Oliver twins also differentiated Fantasy World Dizzy from its predecessors by turning some of the game upside-down. “It was the right way up when we hand-drew it,” Philip recollects. “It was only later that we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if the well was really deep, and then you fall out onto the other side of the world? We can do it upside-down!’ It made everything look interesting, but it also played differently because we changed the controls around so that ‘up’ was ‘down’. We were putting the market down there, so we needed a shopkeeper. It was the other side of the world, so we made him an Aussie and put one of those hats on him with corks on strings! It was a cheap trick, but it provided comical entertainment.”
Perhaps less amusing was that the twins were under pressure to complete Fantasy World Dizzy in time for the festive sales period, and although it wasn’t reviewed until the new year, the quality of Dizzy’s previous adventures ensured that this didn’t affect his latest game’s sales. “It was pretty important to hit the deadline and get it out quickly because that was the last good Christmas for the 8-bit machines,” Philip says of gaming’s changing landscape at the dawn of the Nineties. “The sales were spectacular, as expected. Codemasters, the distributors, retail and both of us knew that it would be a bestseller.”
Decades after the release of their third – and likely best – Dizzy adventure, the Oliver twins look back on the puzzle-filled platformer with pride. Andrew views the game as an evolution that marked the end of an era. “It moved Dizzy on significantly, and it was pretty much all our work,” he says. “Beyond that, we started getting more teams and we moved to an office, so we’re really proud that we did Fantasy World Dizzy at home in our bedrooms.” Philip gets the last word on Fantasy World Dizzy, and singles the game out as a career high. “I’m fond of and proud of what we managed to create. It was one of our best,” the designer enthuses. “It was a really enjoyable time where there were no distractions. Our heads were down working long hours but loving it and loving the feedback and the praise. Everything was awesome; Fantasy World Dizzy just hit the sweet spot, really.”
» A more complicated plan forFantasy World Dizzy’s beanstalk is the game’s design documents. detailed in
» The Olivers’ original map for Fantasy World Dizzy shows a right-way-up Aussie section.
» The Olivers are listed in 2019’s Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition as the most prolific 8-bit developers.
notes suggest subduing » Fantasy World Dizzy’s development with a drugged apple. the game’s wide-eyed dragon
» [Amstrad CPC] Dizzy encounters a problem that we’ve all likely had, in some form or another.
» [Amstrad CPC] We never knew Dizzy had a soft spot for hard boozing, no wonder he rolls everywhere.