1982 - Spectrum Games - Developed and published versions of popular arcade games of the time. Their first game was 'Froggy' (based on Frogger).
1983 - Ocean Software - First game was 'Transversion'
1998 - Infogrames
So how did it all start?
The company was founded by David Ward and Jon Woods in 1983, and were based at 6 Central Street, Manchester, on the top floor of an old Quaker church.
The company's early releases in 1984 (Moon Alert, Hunchback, High Noon, Gilligan's Gold, etc.) were developed in-house, but later in that year Ocean acquired its former Liverpool rival, the defunct software developer Imagine, when they ran into severe financial difficulty. Imagine had produced some good titles, so Ocean bought them out, are were able to use the Imagine label. From that point on, their focus shifted from development to publication of games. The idea originally was that Ocean would concentrate on original games and film licences, and Imagine would do more of the arcade conversions when the rights were bought.
The first fruits of this came to light in late 1984 when Ocean negotiated a deal with Konami to produce conversions of their arcade games, all of which would be released under the Imagine label. So we had Hyper Sports, Ping Pong, Mikie, Green Beret, World Series Baseball, Yie Ar Kung Fu 1 and 2, and a few others. Konami decided in 1987 to set up their own label for releasing conversions, and while Nemesis was okay, Jailbreak was not so good. And after this they decided to let Ocean handle a few more.
Around 1985 came the first wave of film licences, which began with Rambo, and followed over the next few years with Short Circuit, Cobra, Miami Vice, and a disastrous conversion of Knight Rider. Street Hawk was also so appalling it has never seen the light of day - and rumour has it Ocean's very famous musician at the time (Martin Galway) did an excellent version of the TV theme!
1986 saw Ocean's lowest point, with a string of really appalling releases. Martin Galway himself said in an interview recently that his music saved a lot of games' sales and that Ocean's salesmen would repeatedly thank him for it. When you look at some of the games, he was right. And with some he didn't write the music for, even more so. Galivan, NOMAD, Madballs... The only saving graces that year was an excellent conversion of Green Beret and Sensible's game Parallax (complete with epic Martin Galway theme).
In 1986, Imagine also negotiated a deal with the arcade publisher Taito to release conversions of their games. And so the likes of Arkanoid, Legend Of Kage and Slap Fight were released - the first and last being well received. Arkanoid of course was the first Commodore 64 game to have digitised samples and music at the same time, albeit on the static title screen. It is one of Martin Galway's finest compositions. Also, it's one of only a few games that support the use of the Neos mouse, and indeed more obscurely, paddle controllers.
1987 saw Ocean completely changing around with a fine set of releases, with Head Over Heels and Wizball being all time favourite s for lots of people. For Wizball, the plot, the superb music, the whole concept was unique, and how Zzap! 64 never gave it a Gold Medal remains a mystery to this day. Well, it did until recently. Julian Rignall, who used to work at Zzap! 64 at the time, told me that it was Gary Penn (editor) that made the editorial decision not to grant it one.
The Great Escape was also atmospheric, Mutants was superbly executed with some inspiring music by Fred Gray, and with a superb conversion of Konami's Combat School, aka "Boot Camp" outside Europe (appearing on Ocean rather than Imagine) it was looking good.
Also in 1987, Imagine tied up a deal with Spanish game producers Dinamic. Their games soon had a reputation for being frustratingly difficult, with Army Moves and Game Over proving such - and eventually after the release of Basket Master in 1989, Dinamic went about releasing software in the UK themselves - and the games were still difficult!
In late 1988 the Imagine label started being phased out as Ocean thought that having two labels was seemingly damaging sales for some reason. The latter Imagine games included Salamander, Vindicator (an unofficial follow up to Green Beret), Rastan and then Renegade 3 in mid-1989. Games after this were released on Ocean only.
Also in 1988, Ocean 'poached' programming team Special FX from the hands of Software Projects after their excellent game Hysteria, with Gutz and Firefly being released in 1988. Contrary to popular belief, Ocean didn't launch Special FX as a sub-label, they just credited the programming house on the game.
Ocean also did their utmost to push sales of Commodore's C64GS console by releasing a lot of their games on cartridge only, such as Robocop 3, Chase HQ 2, and also bought the licence from Psygnosis to convert Shadow of the Beast to the C64. However as the games were £20 a cart here in the UK, they didn't sell at all well. Notable Ocean titles in their latter years included the conversion of Rainbow Islands, delayed for ages after programming house Graftgold got into legal wrangles with Firebird, and Ocean finally releasing the game, an excellent Simpsons game, Addams Family (the last Ocean game to be released on the ZX Spectrum), Hook and most notably Hudson Hawk, a great game from a not so good film. Ocean's final game on the C64 was Sleepwalker, the game for Comic Relief, in 1993.
One of Ocean's publishing tie-ins was with a software house called Canvas Software. Many think they were actually part of Ocean, since the employees were often originating from Imagine or Denton Designs (another software house Ocean used a lot).
Canvas Software was set up by Steve Cain and Ian Weatherburn, both from Imagine and Denton Designs. Many say the games from Canvas were of much poorer quality than Ocean's typical standards.
Simon Butler was Head of the Graphics Department.
Dawn Drake was also in the graphics team.
Chris Pink was a coder, ex-Imagine.
Steve Ward, ex-Imagine.
Steve Calvert was a coder.
Martin Calvert (Steve's brother) was graphics.
Scott Johnson worked there too.
Roy Gibson was later hired by Ian Weatherburn