Ocean: The History Book

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Ocean: The History Book Review by Darren Doyle (Greyfox)

Ocean Software was one the most recognized English game developers to ever grace the computer craze in the early 1980’s, straight through to their take over in 1996 by Infogames. Known for their quench for, and love of, arcade conversions to the home computer market as well as a lot of original and classic games, Ocean was enriched by a huge portfolio of gaming IP’s. Thanks to the efforts of Chris Wilkins and Roger M. Kean, who set themselves to the incredible task of contacting key members of Ocean Software and its employees, we can now read their personal stories of what it was like to work at Ocean Software all those years ago. Personally meeting key artists, programmers, and ex-Ocean personnel was possible thanks to vintage and retro-gaming events held in the UK.  These events truly created an opportunity that made it possible for this book to come into existence, something that those of us who are fans of Ocean Software, including myself, are thankful for.  Given the stature of a company like Ocean Software, I can only say that reading about their history is a truly welcome opportunity.

The book details the workings and synergy of the company’s way of producing software, its deadlines, and the pressures that their employees endured in their time there. The book also reviews how the two bosses, David Ward and Jon Woods, envisioned how Ocean could be moulded to become a software power house. It can certainly be said that they did an amazing job turning Ocean into one of, if not the biggest, English software house. The book covers interviews with the vast majority of the staff at Ocean Software and it gives the reader the chance to get the full story of the company. Gary Bracey, Operations Director, in my opinion is one of the key members who made Ocean Software the success it was and he certainly did an amazing job while there. The book also reviews the great artwork created by Bob Walkin, the famous Ocean magazine advertisements, and adds many great anecdotes, all in one package. Also covered is the process and logistics involved in developing games for some of the movie licenses Ocean was famous for, such as Robocop, and for arcade ports from the perspective of key members that were involved in making them.  This makes for a fascinating and pleasurable read.

Now, having only received the iTunes interactive version of the book, I cannot comment on print quality but I have been assured that it is of the finest quality. With this version, however, I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities.  Throughout this interactive version, you are treated to sound bites of music from certain games and 30 second videos embedded in certain images within the book. These images, which include game box art and screenshots, have not been remastered to the quality of the rest of content and, in lot of cases, are simply downloaded low resolution images from the internet. Considering that the iTunes interactive book’s size weighs in at 367 megabytes, it begs the question of why is this download so big and why did they not have the images remastered to the quality of the literature? Another recurring factor, and a big one for me as a designer and magazine and book publisher, was the text alignments. They are both horrendous and annoying to the reader (at least, they are to me) and something whoever text-set this publication needs to address in future publications. Basic layout design also rears its head here. After all, it’s all about the reading experience. Is it not? Another issue is the continuity within the book, which changes drastically. You may find yourself reading the memories of an Ocean personnel followed by a completely different subject matter, unrelated to the storyline. Page 74 includes a memoir and then pages 75 and 76 have no connection to the memoir. Then in page 77 the memoir continues off from page 74. What was the point of this? Making the reader ask, what happened here?  Fortunately this is the only time this occurs but it threw me off-guard.

The biggest and hugely missed opportunity in Ocean: The History is that both Chris and Roger failed to discuss Ocean Software’s involvement with the 16-bit computer generation and beyond. The book covers virtually nothing on these platforms, including the Atari ST, the Commodore Amiga, the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive. What happened here lads? The book’s main premise simply revolves around the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 and in some cases the Amstrad CPC-era besides talking about the movie licenses of Batman: The Movie and Robocop, where the Amiga and Atari ST get a mention. This, to me, as a kid from back in the day purchasing Ocean Software titles and massive fan of Ocean, is unforgivable. The book is supposed to present the history of Ocean, yet leaves this vast gap in the company’s history. The 16-bit generation played a massive part in Ocean’s success but the book completely fails to deliver on that and shows favouritism to the authors’ personal ideals for the creation of such a book.

In the end, Ocean: The History is a fantastic and fascinating review and collection of all who took part in the infrastructure of Ocean Software from the 1980’s to the 1990’s and that alone justifies the purchase. If you want to learn the complete inside story or if you are a massive fan of Ocean’s 8-bit endeavours, this is the book for you. Fingers crossed that both Chris Wilkins and Roger M. Kean do the 16-bit era justice in their next book of a famous software house - U.S.GOLD: The History of. Unfortunately they missed that chance with the Ocean book.

The book costs £25 and can be purchased from Fusion Retro Books (www.fusionretrobooks.com)or nab yourself the PDF version instead.

This book review has been reviewed on the basis of been non-biased to the best of my ability and does not bear or resemble the views of others, other than my personal opinion and technical merit to which I found contained with this book. Thank you. Darren Doyle.