First and final: Ocean Software

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PeteProdge
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First and final: Ocean Software

Post by PeteProdge » Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:50 am

A look at the first and last release of a Spectrum software house, and I thought I'd go with one of the most prolific and highly commercial companies to begin this series. Ocean Software have been around for almost the entire lifetime of the ZX Spectrum and well beyond. Arguably, the ZX Spectrum games scene is how they began.

Of course, there's a bit of ambiguity to what is actually the first game released by Ocean. And I'm going right to their very first incarnation, back in 1983 as Spectrum Games Ltd, that's still the same folk as what would become Ocean (it just changed name to that as they wanted to avoid being seen as a ZX-Spectrum-only software house, what with the Vic 20 being another viable platform at the time). I could have gone with purely the Ocean brand, and it seems Kong was the first game under that label.

The trouble we have in identifying the first game, is because the first thing Spectrum Games did was to advertise four dubious arcade conversions for sale in Your Computer magazine, appealing for mail order requests and then get them sent out within 28 days (or return the cheque/PO if unavailable).

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I have the excellent Ocean - The History book and there's no single identifiable game from this bunch as the definitive first...
  • Cosmic Intruders (MIA)
  • Road Frog
  • Rocket Command
  • Monster Muncher
The MIA status of Cosmic Intruders makes me wonder if it ever existed. There's no evidence for it being on the Spectrum or even on the Vic 20. Maybe it was a case of returned cheques for those who ordered it. From the wording of the title and the advert's description, it's safe to say it was a Space Invaders clone. I'd have thought it'd have been quite heavily in demand.

All three of these games fitted into 16K. Graphics are very UDGish and really, the gameplay is just a level above those hand-held electronic games. It's all machine code, but does have that 'compiled BASIC' feel to it. Certainly, these games could pretty much be replicated in actual BASIC (albeit with a significant speed decrease of course). This feels like I'm having a go, but really, in 1983, much of the marketplace was like this, arcade knock-offs were everywhere, and this output from Ocean is fairly commendable.

Other titles listed as Spectrum Games releases - Caterpilla; Frenzy; Galaxy Invaders (MIA); Hopper (MIA) and Missile Attack (MIA). The first two are clones of arcade games Centipede and Berzerk respectively. As for the MIA stuff - was Galaxy Invaders another attempt to do Space Invaders? Hopper just seems to be Frogger again, and Missile Attack could well be Missile Command.

Road Frog
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Unsurprisingly, a Frogger clone. Sadly, I think this is the worst of the bunch, due to some questionable collision detection on the logs. I've seen myself wiped out for no reason when sitting comfortably - no moving - on a top row log and even when I'm just sitting at the bottom of the screen. Some fairly smooth scrolling from the cars and logs, although the same can't be said for your sprite, which moves across the 8x8 cells.
Interestingly, the lorries are advertising Hopper. Either this is to advertise another upcoming game or this game really was called Hopper but just got renamed.

Rocket Attack
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Here's a paradox. This appears to be a rip-off of a rip-off. It's obviously trying to be Defender, but it seems that someone out there hacked 1982's Orbiter by Silversoft and punted it over to Spectrum Games. Orbiter's programmer Andrew Glaister was unaware of this. Bizarrely, the hack has pretty much diminished the qualities of Orbiter, as there's no radar. There is an advantage in that the landscape uses higher res graphics, but that's about it.
Whether you're playing Orbiter or Rocket Attack, don't expect any improvement on the arcade inspiration from 1980. It's certainly not smooth scrolling and the speed is way down. It's a rather so-so effort. You'll have more fun with Special FX's Hyper Active on a Sinclair User cover tape, although that'd be about five years later.

Monster Muncher
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Here we go with a Pac Man clone, which must have been one of a trillion released on home computers at the time. It's a notch or two better than the infamously terrible official conversion of Pac Man on the Atari 2600, but there are certainly better versions out on the Speccy.
This one is rather odd as they cram in four pills to a space rather than just the one, also power pellets are in pairs rather than just the one. While the power pellet issue has no discernable drawback (you eat each pair as one), there are times when you end up leaving a pill or two behind in your sweep of the maze. Another annoying issue is that you can have more than one ghost occupying the same position, but it'll always look like just one ghost.

Out of the three of them, I'd say Rocket Attack is just about the best, very closely followed by Monster Muncher. Road Frog gets the thumbs down from me for the weird death issues.

The concept of 'First and final' is to compare how well the company progressed from their first release to their last one. Obviously, in nearly all cases, this is going to be an objective improvement. And none so clear here, for a highly recognisable software house whose Speccy output spanned for nearly a decade.

Discovering their final release was a bit tricky. I don't count re-releases or compilations. Ocean had dispensed with their Imagine brand in 1989, with the utterly lamentable Renegade III being the last Speccy effort to carry the logo. In the nineties, the output from 6 Central Street had obviously decreased as they focused heavily on the rapidly increasing 16-bit market.

Ocean spat out just three Speccy games in 1992. Robocop 3, Space Gun and the Addams Family. It seems pretty clear that The Addams Family was the final release.

This powerhouse of gaming started out issuing questionable arcade knock-offs for the 16K Speccy, Vic 20 and BBC (actually, they didn't really bother with the BBC in the end as their initial feedback showed Beeb users were very thin on the ground), before rebranding about three months later as Ocean, still with some dubious arcade clones and then going legit with Hunchback, acquiring the remains of Imagine and gambling on a fairly unknown athlete called Daley Thompson who just happened to be pretty damned good at this Olympic games lark. That set the trend for Ocean's fortunes and they became a behemoth, and whether you like it or not, they took the 8-bit gaming market into a world of licensed tie-ins that spanned coin-op conversions and movies. The odd telly title would also be in there.

As the Speccy came to the end of its commercial life, it's not surprising that Ocean's output went 128K-only. (1991's Smash TV was their final 48K-compatible release, the only one of that year.) The window between full-price and the second outing on the budget re-release had gone from years to a matter of months. The Addams Family got a Hit Squad release later in the year...

The Addams Family
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I played this movie-tie-in platformer for the first time, today. It's very commendable for being so colourful, yet that is also a bit of a disadvantage as it can be very hard to learn where your sprite is, along with the enemies. Also, they've turned this flip screen across all 8-bit versions. The 16-bit incarnations are fully scrolling and highly celebrated. The levels are very different there, and so us lot on the Speccy/Amstrad/C64 side of things are in the same boat. It's pretty good for its time, but having experienced Rainbow Islands and New Zealand Story from Ocean, it makes me wonder why they couldn't have tried a multi-way scroller effort.
This feels like Jet Set Willy with the visual Halloween cliches of Ghosts N Goblins, with some baddy bashing that comes straight out of Super Mario Bros (annoying you have to jump onto their heads). The baddies reappear when you return to a screen, which gives me that 'fly-swatting' feeling that turns me away from many classic games (like Atic Atac). It's not too bad, but if Ocean were to follow the 'go out on a high' maxim, Rainbow Islands would have been their last.

I did have WWF Wrestlemania at the time, which I really enjoyed. (I'm bemused by American wrestling, and the games are nearly always fun to play.) That was largely a clone of Technos's WWF-licensed arcade efforts, albeit pretty cut-down. WWF Wrestlemania on the Speccy has you in an empty arena!

Broadly speaking, Ocean technically improved and innovated their output as they went along. I can't blame them for issuing out compilations throughout 1993. I think they deserve a hat tip for being a major player in the Spectrum's history, although I think they could have finished out on some better effort!
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Ralf » Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:57 am

Yes, Ocean was great.

There were discussion about best Spectrum publisher in the past. I would say till let's say 1985 it was ultimate but later it was Ocean.

I don't feel myself educated enough to say which was first Ocean game especially as they changed names as you say. So I'll be watching this thread ;)
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PeteProdge
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by PeteProdge » Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:07 pm

Ralf wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:57 am
There were discussion about best Spectrum publisher in the past. I would say till let's say 1985 it was ultimate but later it was Ocean.
Can't argue with that! Ultimate absolutely owned the early Spectrum gaming scene with their original and creative innovations. They probably still would have done if they decided to stick with the Speccy, but hey, they went away of their own accord, to the console market. Ocean saw which way the wind was blowing and just took off on the demand for movie and arcade licenses. And did it really well most of the time. A huge colossus of gaming across multiple platforms.
Ralf wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:57 am
I don't feel myself educated enough to say which was first Ocean game especially as they changed names as you say. So I'll be watching this thread ;)
I suppose it may be Rocket Attack, as it's pretty clear the original code existed as Silversoft's Orbiter and it was a cheap hack of that! The Ocean History book paints a picture of wheeling-and-dealing 'programmers', including one at a trade show who stiffed Ocean for a £5,000 exclusive on what was apparently his creation - which was also sold to other software labels at the same show!
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Morkin » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:32 pm

Nice thread idea.

Ocean weren't my favourite software house, though I did enjoy a few of their 8,000,182 or so releases.

Would be interesting to see the average ratings of a software house's games, year on year. Any volunteers to create a line graph? :lol:
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Juan F. Ramirez » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:33 pm

Ocean was a very important company in Spectrum history. Prolific, but also full of arguable movie licenses, mostly in the last years. I prefer their 1984-87 games, in which only one of them based on a film: Cobra. Others: Decathlon, The Great Escape, Batman, Super Test...

For me, there are companies with less output, but an average higher quality, for example Vortex, Hewson or, of course, Ultimate.

Edit: The Great Escape is also supposed to be based on a film, sorry! :roll:
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Rorthron » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:56 pm

Morkin's right: this is a great idea for a thread.

I guess Ultimate's first and last looks a bit different from Ocean's: from Jetpac to Bubbler.
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Pegaz
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Pegaz » Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:36 pm

I like the idea, too. :)
In fact, we might first need to clarify the long-standing dilemma, which is the first and the latest commercially released Spectrum game?
I remember my friend (big c64 fan, btw) asked me this question and I didnt know how to answer it.
He told me that the first c64 game is Jupiter Lander (on cartridge) and the last was Lemmings from 1994.
Can we also reliably detect the first and last Spectrum released game?
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Juan F. Ramirez
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Juan F. Ramirez » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:29 pm

As to the what's the first released commercial game, the book 'El Mundo del Spectrum' (by Manuel J. Rico et al) mentions that the Spectrum was released in april '82 with no commercial released programs. In the beginning of this sumner (always according to this book) the two first commercial releases for the Spectrum were Spectral Invaders by Bug Byte and Fortune by AVC Software. This last game is MIA:

https://spectrumcomputing.co.uk/index ... &id=18960

A curious story.
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Juan F. Ramirez
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by Juan F. Ramirez » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:32 pm

And it's difficult to stablish the final of the commercial era, as it's supposed to be 1993, but there was a company that sold text adventure games by mail in 1994, 95...
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Re: First and final: Ocean Software

Post by PeteProdge » Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:55 pm

Pegaz wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:36 pm
I like the idea, too. :)
In fact, we might first need to clarify the long-standing dilemma, which is the first and the latest commercially released Spectrum game?
I remember my friend (big c64 fan, btw) asked me this question and I didnt know how to answer it.
He told me that the first c64 game is Jupiter Lander (on cartridge) and the last was Lemmings from 1994.
Can we also reliably detect the first and last Spectrum released game?
Lemmings was out for the Spectrum in 1991, as was the Commodore 64 version. I have to grit my teeth and say the Commodore 64's game scene may have gone further than the Speccy. Certainly, it had Commodore Format magazine being published right until October 1995. A lot of it did resemble the dying era of Your Sinclair and so it was largely hobbyist. (Also looked up the Amstrad out of curiosity - Amstrad Action breathed its late in June 1995, which is really eye-opening!)

I believe the last full price game for the ZX Spectrum that you would find in a UK mainstream shop was Nigel Mansell's World Championship by Gremlin, released in Spring 1993.

Mind you, there's also Doctor Who: Dalek Attack from Admiral Software, listed as a 1992 game as it was probably coded then, but due for release in early 1993... It got canned, then a readers' petition from YS (I think) got it a kind of commercial release in late 1993. It was certainly reviewed by YS in July of that year.

Budget label Beyond Belief, based in Rushden in Northamptonshire, certainly put out original games in 1993. They may well have put out the final original ZX Spectrum games to actual brick-and-mortar shops in the UK.

Aside from compilations and budget-priced re-releases of full price games (fairly sure a few of Ocean and US Gold's final offerings got spat out by Hit Squad/Kixx in that post-Your-Sinclair time of 1993), I'd say the last commercial game was Doctor Who: Dalek Attack.
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