The Oliver Twins started young, and were just 12 years old when in their bedroom, they started creating games which were at the forefront of the industry. I hadn't achieved much by the age of 12 but these guys were programming games to bring the fun home from the Arcade and play all night.
Their first exploit, "Road Runner" was published in CVG in 1983 and they didn't rest on their egg shaped laurels. Investing their fee in a new BBC computer with a whopping 32K of RAM they started out on the road which would lead them to create the great simulators of the time, Grand Prix Simulator (published by Codemasters, who are still going with their F1 series), Robin Hood and one you may have heard me mention a few times, Dizzy.
It's been a long time since magazines printed code for games which you could type in yourself and the twins are still going and still working together. Now heading up Radiant Worlds, they are hard at work with SkySaga. It's looking good, and you can check it out down at the end of this post.
Anyway, we came up with five questions to throw at the boys, and this is what they had to say;
So, I have known your work from a very early age with classics such as Dizzy, Ghostbusters II and Grand Prix simulator being firm favourites by the time I was four years old. Looking back now through ALL the games you've created, which would you say is your favourite?
That’s like asking who your favourite child is. There are several that have special meaning to us... Super Robin Hood on Amstrad CPC was our first breakout hit, written in about 1 month, whilst the first Dizzy was very creative and opened the Dizzy Series which is still fondly remembered by so many. Fantasy World Dizzy (Dizzy III) was slick game and production (best box art too!), but Fantastic Dizzy was the culmination of so many Dizzy game ideas into one game that this has to be the winner.
You were developing games professionally with your brother, Andrew, before you even left school. At the moment, from what we understand, you are the ideas man, and Andrew is in charge of the technical side. Have you always had this left-brain / right-brain partnership while working together?
Actually we’re twins and we are very similar in skill set and divided things up pretty equally back then. As the business took off, we had to specialise more, and Andrew carried on more on the technical side whilst I ran the business, which included outreach to press & publishers.
Being at the forefront of gaming's return after the Crash of '83, you've come up with some fantastic and innovative ideas. Where do you draw inspiration from when coming up new things? Do you have a special "thinking zone" you retreat to or is it just your standard office?
We’re big fans of cartoons. In the early days that meant things like Tom & Jerry, Road Runner, Danger Mouse, He Man, ThunderCats, Count Duckula, Dogtanian, Hong Kong Fuey. Video games, like Pac-Man, Gauntlet, Mr Do, Marble Madness, Defender, and films like StarWars and Ghostbusters! The simulator games were just taking real world aspirational activities such as racing. Classic books like The Hobbit, Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland and the Grimms tales. We didn’t read Lord of the Rings – it was too big! ;-)
No special retreat! Those games were written out our bedroom – you’ve seen the picture! And the GamesHeadz video. (check out the GamesHeadz short just here)
Looking to the past is always fun, but some would say the future is important too. I know you have your new title SkySaga currently in testing and seeing the videos it looks great. Is this a title you are excited about?
Excited? ... that’s an understatement! SkySaga is an amazing game, it may be early, it may be called Alpha right now, but that’s because we intend to make it SO much better over many years. SkySaga will dwarf everything we’ve ever created by a factor of 100! The team, our publisher, the technology, the community – everything has come together perfectly! We are VERY excited by SkySaga.
You folks seem to be one of the few who are fine with Youtubers and streamers using the Alpha testing for their channels, and even monetizing them as well. Do you think more developers should be allowing videos of their work online?
We love our fans! We want to encourage them to enjoy the games, make videos, spread the word... and if they can make some money doing so ... great! Good luck! Yes other developers and publishers should embrace the community of gamers and the power of social media – especially YouTube, but that’s obvious... isn’t it?!
Last one, and a pretty heavy question. It's been 32 years since your first work was published... looking back at your journey since then, would you change anything?
We seen a lot of other people get rich from our work, whilst we haven’t. We’ve spend many years having to work on other people’s creations rather than our own to pay the bills. If we could have sorted out the money and contracts in the mid 80’s – we’d have had more control on our destiny and our games. That would have led to much better and more creative games. That said, SkySaga is fixing a lot of that now!
Safe to say it's been great chatting with the folks who made my childhood so very memorable. Mornings battling with my brother through BMX simulator or Advanced Pinball would not have been the same without these folks so we'd like to say thanks for these, as well as for taking time out of their day today. Keep an eye out for SkySaga, it's looking slick and polished, even now! Check out the videos below!