We’ve been digging through the Retro Review archives! A few years ago, The Oliver Twins, creators of the much-adored Dizzy series were kind enough to chat with us! Are you sat comfortably? It’s a long one!
Questions for The Oliver Twins
1. The first ever game I remember playing on an addictive level was Treasure Island Dizzy on the ZX Spectrum. I loved the little dude that much that I spent most of my childhood drawing pictures of him on my school books whilst my friends were going crazy over Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario. What game characters inspired you when you were younger to get into the gaming industry?
That’s very gratifying to hear and we feel very proud that so many people still talk about Dizzy a lot, more than 25 years after its creation. It’s funny how many times we have meetings with people in the industry who comment that their earliest memories of gaming were playing Dizzy, even at meetings in America!
We have always loved cartoon characters, and are massive fans of Disney, so we wanted to create interactive versions of cartoons. (In fact, it’s been a thrill recently here at Blitz to worked directly with Disney to create Epic Mickey 2 on Xbox 360 & PS3!). When it comes to the games that inspired us at the time, we created Dizzy way before Mario and Sonic so we’d actually been playing games like Monty Mole, and of course Pac-Man.
2. How did the Yolkfolk come about and who came up with these charismatic characters? Were there any that you designed that didn’t make the final cut?
We introduced the Yolkfolk in Fantasy World Dizzy, the third in the series. We decided we wanted to give Dizzy a family and between us, we came up with a few different characters. It turned out, that we ended up giving them all names that began with D, almost by accident, and we’d actually planned out another family, all starting with an F, but they never saw the light of day sadly. It’s great that everyone took to the Yolkfolk so much but not many remember that there was also a baby character introduced in a later Dizzy game who was called Danny.
3. If you’re an egg the last thing you should be doing is somersaulting all over the place, that’s just asking for trouble. Did you design the moving mechanics like this for ironic reasons?
We didn’t actually design Dizzy as an egg originally. The intention was originally just to show a face as big as possible on screen because people tend to engage more with faces, but the restrictions of the Spectrum made the only sensible colour white so he did end up looking like an egg and we decided to go with it.
4. My favourite Yolkfolk character was Denzil (I think it was the shades and walkman). What Yolkfolk character was your favourite? Did you base them around people that you knew?
I think it has to be Dizzy, he’s THE character that is the hero and will always be the lead character. They were all based on favourite characters from TV or films in some way; Dizzy was adventurous and a problem-solver like Indiana Jones, Dora was inspired by Velma from Scooby Doo, Daisy was based on that all-American cheerleader type image, with a touch on Daisy Duke from ‘The Dukes of Hazard’! Denzil was based on Denzil from Only Fools and horses, a great British sitcom, Dylan was the name of a character in ‘The Magic Roundabout’ mixed with Neil from ‘The Young Ones’ a favourite comedy of ours at the time. Grand Dizzy was another character inspired by ‘Only Fools and Horses too. So I guess you could see the kind of TV we watched at the time!
5. I remember watching a video on YouTube of you guys talking about the first game that you created together. Does one of you still write the code down on paper and the other one writes it up?
Yes, we remember that video too, it’s funny what you say when you’re live on TV at the age of 13! It wasn’t really true though! We both coded and did the graphics. I tended to do more functional coding and editors while Philip tended to do more gameplay programming.
6. You won a computer monitor on a kids tv show for your first game design. When you made it big did you throw it out of the window like rockstars or do you still own it to this day?
It was funny that the TV program was on ITV, and we’d written the winning game on a BBC micro so the presenters tried to avoid saying what we’d written it on, and saying that we asked for a prize of a good monitor and not a C64 computer. Actually, that Commodore monitor was brilliant, compared to the portable TV we had at the time, and we were still using it in the office when we were programming the PlayStation 1. It only got replaced when we bought a digital flat screen monitor, and I believe it’s in Philip’s attic somewhere now.
7. When I got my first big job after finishing uni I spent my first pay cheque on lots of computer consoles and games (that I couldn’t previously afford, living the student dream). What did you spend your first big gaming cheque on?
Cars! The first reasonable cheque from Firebird software bought us a second hand Nissan Cherry. Not great but a lot better than our friends at the time! And then with the first cheque from Codemasters, we bought a brand new Honda Integra.
8. You are known in the gaming industry as a pair. Do you ever work on different projects outside of this partnership?
We’ve always worked together, it’s great to have someone like-minded and with the same skills to work alongside and to bounce off ideas and problems.
9. I couldn’t imagine working full time with my brother. We are both web designers and both have completely different creative tastes. Do you ever have times where one of you wants to go one way and the other wants to go in a completely different direction with a game?
Our experiences have been very similar and we generally think alike. We’ve always agreed with each other. I think we’ve always agreed on the games and the directions we want to take them and to this day at Blitz we look at all the games and have very similar thoughts on the directions we want to take them.
10. You have a massive catalogue of games you have worked on over the years. What are your favourite memories whilst working on these and out of all of them what is your favourite game?
There are so many different reasons for picking out so many of them but Dizzy would probably be the highlight because it is 100% mine and Philip’s creation and people still remember it so fondly. But we’ve loved making so many of the licensed games at Blitz too. We have massive respect for the creations from companies like Disney and DreamWorks and it’s a dream come true to be able to make games of some of these huge household named characters.
11. With a lot of retro games making a comeback on Xbox Arcade and the PlayStation Network, are we likely to be seeing our boxing glove wearing eggy friend any time soon?
Some of the more observant readers will have seen that Codemasters remade one of the older Dizzy games, ‘Prince of the Yolkfolk’ last year, on the iOS and Android phones. We think that these platforms could be great for a Dizzy comeback, but we’d have a lot of work to do to bring a lot of things up to date so that it could compete in its own right, without relying on just reminiscing fans. But watch this space… you never know!
12. I remember a parody game on the Amiga that ripped off the Dizzy franchise called Giddy. In fairness it wasn’t a terrible game but when you guys saw it for the first time what were your initial reactions?
We have seen a lot of copies over the years and actually find it very touching that people spend this time copying our creation, it’s flattering. Obviously, some efforts of copying are better than others and in fact, there are lots created by fans collated on www.Yolkfolk.com.
13. I love the fact that after all these years you are still going strong in the industry. How did it come about setting up your own company, Blitz Games Studios?
We love making games and wanted to make competitive games, so we had to bring in help. We’d been successful working with Codemasters and along the way had started paying artists and musicians but decided that we should set up an office and employ people as many didn’t like the hand-to-mouth, ad hoc payments and wanted to know they could get on with ‘full time’ game creation without the worry of where the next cheque was coming from. That suited us too so that’s how Blitz, or Interactive Studios as it was called back then, came into being.
14. A lot of your back catalogue of games were published by Codemasters. How did that relationship start?
We’d written many games while at school for publishers like Players, Interceptor, Firebird and Argos Press, but as we came to the end of the Sixth Form our parents wanted us to go to university. We were keen to keep writing games though so we had an agreement with our parents that we’d take a year out to try and make a real go of just writing games full time and if it didn’t work out then we’d go to uni then.
We went to our first ECTS Trade Show in Sept 1985 where we met Richard and David Darling there, who had been working at Mastertronics but were going to break away and set up their own software company, and as 2 brother programmers, we really clicked straight away so started making games for Codemasters. The rest is history and we never quite made it to university! It was a real honour a few years ago though when Coventry University awarded us Honourary Degrees, so I guess you could say we got there in the end!
15. Codemasters used to create some brilliant games but now only seem to focus on racing games. Would you ever work alongside them again on a joint project or do you just create games for your own studio now?
The industry has changed a lot and people used to publish so many games and hit so many different genres and markets, but as time goes on people find what really works for them and go with it. They had huge successes with Colin McCrae Racing and Toca and that made them globally recognised in that very lucrative area of the market. Our passion has always been for character-based games and we’re very happy making these. Codemasters is a great publisher and we’d be more than happy to make games with them again in the future if a project that suited us both came up.
16. There is a big boom in “Buy British” in the media this year. This has yet to be seen in the games industry. If you had to choose some of your favourite British games studios and developers who would make your shortlist?
We are loyalists and very much believe in the British spirit and its creativity and innovation, and want to embrace and enhance it. Sadly, our higher taxes, difficulty raising funds and inherent difficulties selling globally make it challenging but we have all the skills to make world-beating games right here. We love the British games industry and all our peers, we’re founder members of TIGA and were instrumental in setting it up to bring all of us together. We have a great respect for fellow developers and all those in TIGA that help the industry.
17. Finally, have you got any games in the pipeline that the Retro Review readers might be interested in?
As mentioned, we have just finished working with Disney on Epic Mickey 2, and this is a traditional console game but on an epic scale and with some great game mechanics. We’re now working on several new games, both console and mobile, but these are currently still under wraps. But who knows, Dizzy may return! 😉
Dizzy Returns Interview 30/11/2012
1. I have read through all of the Kickstarter info with great excitement! With some of the big gameplay and puzzle changes are you worried that some people will want their old hero to remain like the original retro Dizzy?
We’ve got big things in store for Dizzy Returns certainly, but we also are very aware that we’re dealing with nostalgia here! We don’t want to trample over all the memories people have of Dizzy, remember he has a very special place in our hearts too. We want to take all the things the fans loved about the original series, all the things that make Dizzy great and build on those to create a brand new Dizzy adventure! What is very important to us is that we capture the spirit and adventure of the original Dizzy games whilst bringing the series bang up-to-date with all the cool stuff we couldn’t do back then.
2. Some of the pledges on your Kickstarter have some EPIC rewards. If I was to go out and rob a bank, other than 20 years in Wakefield prison, what could I get for the full £350,000 asking price?
You’d end up with the first brand new Dizzy game in 20 years of course! It’s a good question though, if someone were to fund the entire project in one go we’d have to offer something pretty spectacular!
3. How are you going to make use out of Kickstarter to allow your sponsors to get involved with the build of this new Dizzy game?
As well as offering beta access as part of the reward tiers, we want our backers to be involved in elements of the design process throughout development too. We’ll be using our regular updates to ask how best they think certain aspects of the game should work, which characters they’d like to see and so on. It’s one of the reasons we chose Kickstarter as it enables us to collaborate directly with the fans.
4. As a console gamer at heart could we be expecting our egg hero to come to Xbox, PlayStation or even the Wii U if you go over your target goal?
We’d love to bring Dizzy Returns to as many platforms as we can, but as you say that depends not only if the project is successfully funded, but also if we’re lucky enough to go over it too!
5. I am really excited about the retro-styled boxed edition of the game… Do you have any details on this yet?
We’re still working on concept images at the moment! They will be reminiscent of the square, shallow cardboard boxes that games such as Fantasy World Dizzy in the early 90s came in, complete with screenshots and blurb on the bottom!