Ocean Software :: Rise and Fall of a Giant | Ep. 4

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Guys! Today’s theme is about Ocean Software, possibly
the greatest software house of the eighties. Let’s see how and why this giant fell. Repeatedly named the Software House of the
Year, Ocean Software was one of the largest and most respected producers in the gaming
world, a company that adapted and converted, in a masterful manner, the most successful
Hollywood flics and arcade titles for the various platforms, ranging from the ZX Spectrum
to Commodore Amiga and also for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Mega
Drive, aka as Genesis is the US. We were, for 14 years, bombarded with
adds of their latest releases in all gaming magazines. Ocean’s logo stamped on the cover was all
that it took for the game to sell millions of copies. This shows the strength and the quality of
the brand. It all started in the early ’80s when its
founder David Ward, after a visit to the United States, realized that videogames would be
a good business to invest in, as shown by the emerging potential of the industry in
that country. Thus, in 1982, he founded the company Ocean
Software and slowly started hiring programmers for its headquarters at Manchester. At the end of the first year, Ocean had already
achieved profits of 500 thousand pounds and more than 200 thousand games sold. Then, David Ward became president of the company
and his partner, Jon Woods, commercial director. By that time, Ocean had already 60 developers
from across England with an average age of around 19 years. In addition to its talents within the company,
Ocean was also proud of its external sources, including Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond,
Denton Designs, Sensible Software and Digital Image Design. David Ward once said: “The key to selling many games
is to make them identifiable to the public” and, thus, Ocean assured licenses for major
film successes, television series and arcade games despite their first titles were total
flops: like Knight Rider, Street Hawk and Transformers were examples of bad conversions. However, in 1987, profits of Ocean already
ascended to £10 million with over three million games sold. By this time, Ocean acquires the “defunct”
rival Imagine Software, the company responsible for two classic hits like Renegade and Yie
Ar Kung Fu, cementing its international reputation through the Ocean brand with excellent conversions
for Konami 8-bit arcade machines. Ocean grew exponentially and its influence
reached its peak. The developers were able to create fantastic
games and started having fun while doing them. By this time, Ocean decides to reward their
employees putting their names in the credits of each game. Programmers, artists and musicians were now
more motivated than ever and, thus, wanted the title to be the best possible, ’cause their
name was now exposed to the world. Obtaining licenses to create games from movies
was, at that time, very easy and cheap. Movie studios did not have the perception
of the potential that videogame industry had started to have. There were attempts, by Atari, to recreate
the movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial, spent £22 million and the results were much
lower than expected. Ocean was determined to do it as it really
should be done and Gary Bracey was responsible for acquiring the rights. One of the best licenses was Robocop. This low-budget movie had a huge acceptance
from the public and the game sold millions of copies in different platforms. It was probably one of Ocean’s most profitable
games and its license was insignificant in monetary terms. Between all this success and popularity, there
was also room for failure. One of the worst acquired licenses was Hudson
Hawk. The film, written and performed by Bruce Willis,
was genuine garbage and the game does not go beyond that. Anyway, more than 100 games have comfortably
placed Ocean on top of the charts through the years. However, tension began to rise. There was the need to release the game simultaneously
with the premiere of the movie and, sometimes, that forced programmers to work 24 consecutive
hours in order to obtain the final product on time to be sent to the duplicating machines. The arcade licenses were also very important
to Ocean. Between 1983 and 1992 half of the games published
by the company were based on movies or on arcade games. Simon Butler worked on many film and arcade
successes, such as Total Recall, Platoon, Darkman, The Adams Family and Combat School,
and recalls that the conversion to 8-bit machines – Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad – were
always the most challenging and complicated to perform. One of the most successful conversions of
arcades was Chase HQ. Bill Harbison, who joined the team in 1988,
confessed that, to do an arcade game conversion, he needed to have the machine itself in the
office and, while playing, he would draw sketches of the scenarios as reference. There has always been competition and Ocean
wanted to be the best. Its biggest opponent was initially U.S. Gold. Later, when the first consoles started to
emerge, the extinct Acclaim also became Ocean’s largest rival. Even internally, healthy competition also
existed. The various teams were always wanting to better
themselves and exceed expectations. The evolution and changing time eventually
came with the 16-bit machines. Programming for these new machines now takes
twice as long and Ocean was not afraid of the challenge. They were excited! The early 90s were, for Ocean, times for reflection. Remained the question of how the industry
would develop. Then, in 1994, a new company within Ocean,
Tribe, was formed to meet future challenges that had to be overcome: the giant leap from
8/16-bit for the 32/64-bit. Were then created separate teams, each comprising
a team leader, programmer and main designer. Games began to be planned six months before
any programming was initiated and, in 1996, Tribe was already composed by 80 members. That same year, the company ended up bought
by French Infogrames. The headquarters remained in Manchester until
Infogrames also purchase Gremlin Graphics in 1999, which led them to change the entire
base of operations to Sheffield. Shortly after, Ocean brand was extinguished. GT 64 Championship Edition, for Nintendo 64,
was Ocean’s last game. Who is between 30 and 40 years old, recall
with some sadness and nostalgia the disappearance of Ocean. They left a remarkable legacy that, even today,
still manages to impress. Thank you for watching! See ya next time!

35 COMMENTS

  1. Nice video.
    Cool to get a name-check.
    Imagine did not develop titles for Ocean. Ocean simply bought the name and published titles as Imagine.
    The Liverpool company Imagine went bankrupt but the name still had good memories for the players.
     

  2. Really great video and channel, well done and thanks for all the info. Ocean were indeed a seal of quality and excitement. I'll only disagree about Hudson Hawk which was quite a challenging game – it's strange you like Rick Dangerous and not HH! Can you please tell me what's the music between 6:44–6:48?

  3. Awesome video, I hope you will do more of these videos about old videogames companies, I still wonder what happened to Rainbow Arts, Gremlin, Domark, Krisalis, Simulmondo, Silmarils and many more

  4. Very interesting. I am from Manchester and used to buy lots of Ocean software games for the spectrum and Amiga. I'm nearly 41 now and always wondered what happened to ocean software. Thank you for the detailed insight.

  5. To summarize, the rise was due arcade and film licensing, and plenty of investment funds. The fall is not so clear. Why did it have to be brought out and then later restructured away? Also, Mission Impossible was released between July 1998 and 2000, beofore and after GT.

  6. Thank you for this, Ocean were the stuff of my chilghood and I as a Speccy child miss them very much.

  7. The conversions from arcade down to spectrum were always top quality, I was never disappointed with any game I bought with Ocean on the front.

  8. I remember, certainly in my circle, Ocean being seen as license hacks that now and again stumbled on a good game. I don't have a lot of fond memories of the company personally. It's always nice to look back over these things though, so thanks for the video.

  9. The end is sad. Is nothing left of Ocean today? Is there nobody making games today who can trace their heritage back to Manchester?

  10. Absolutely brilliant video thank you so much. I am go into through all your videos and love them all. I wish I had a games player like you as a friend. Take care. Steven.

  11. era um "gigante" do mundo dos videojogos que nos brindou com tantos jogos míticos . pessoalmente gosto de realçar ( Robocop ) para as Arcadas ! imortal para mim .

  12. Ok, I like your videos, and I know this is an old one, but please, it's a ZED X Spectrum not a ZEE X Spectrum. And as it was made, invented and loved in the UK ZED X Spectrum it should be everywhere in the world, you can't just pronounce Z how you want. So there…. 🤓

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