Ocean Software

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Ocean Software Limited
TypeVideo game developer, video game publisher
PredecessorSpectrum Games
SuccessorInfogrames UK (1998)
Atari UK (2003)
Bandai Namco Entertainment UK Limited (2009)
FounderDavid Ward
Jon Woods
Defunct1998; 23 years ago (1998)
FateAcquired by Infogrames in 1996 and merged with parent company. Later renamed to Infogrames United Kingdom Limited in 1998, and later renamed again as Atari United Kingdom Limited.
Acquired by Bandai Namco in 2009 and renamed as Bandai Namco Entertainment UK Limited
Headquarters6 Central Street, Manchester, England
Key people
Paul Patterson
Gary Bracey
Marc Djan (Ocean France)
ParentOcean International Ltd.

Ocean Software Ltd was a British software development company, that became one of the biggest European video game developers and publishers of the 1980s and 1990s.

The company was founded by David Ward and Jon Woods and was based in Manchester. Ocean developed dozens of games for a variety of systems such as the ZX Spectrum, Oric 1, Commodore 64, Dragon 32, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 16, Atari ST, Amiga, PC, BBC micro and video game consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Master System and Sega Genesis.


Jon Woods and David Ward created Spectrum Games as a mail-order business in 1983 after being inspired by the success of Liverpool based software houses Imagine Software, Bug Byte and Software Projects.[1]:13–14 Their initial catalogue was based around clones of arcade games like Frogger and Missile Command[1]:13 for various home computers including the ZX81, ZX Spectrum and VIC 20.[2]

While trying to sell their titles into high street stores it became clear that the company name was confusing to owners of machines other than the ZX Spectrum.[1]:16 The company was renamed Ocean Software leading to some of their games being re-released with different titles so the Berzerk clone Frenzy was reissued as the Robotics and Missile Attack became Armageddon.

By September 1984 the success of Ocean allowed Woods and Ward to invest £50,000 in a new software house in return for a 50% stake in the company. US Gold was created by Geoff Brown, owner of Centresoft software distribution, and specialised in importing American Commodore 64 games for the UK market. US Gold had no developers to port the Commodore games for the UK's most popular home computer, the ZX Spectrum, so Ocean produced the conversions of titles such as Beach Head, Raid Over Moscow and Tapper through their external development team, Platinum Productions.[3]:37[4]

In October 1984 Ocean bought the name and branding of Imagine Software from the liquidators of the failed software house. Although originally intended to be a label exclusively for arcade conversions,[5] the Imagine logo would also be used on a number of original titles, as well as on UK releases of games licensed from Spanish developers Dinamic.

In 1985 Ocean and US Gold collaborated again to launch a new label, The Hit Squad for releasing compilation packages.[3]:69 The first featured Ocean's Daley Thompson's Decathlon, US Gold's Beach Head, Jet Set Willy from Software Projects and Sabre Wulf by Ultimate Play the Game - all titles which had sold over a million copies - which led to the title They Sold A Million. The compilation went on to sell over a million copies itself as did the second and third instalments in the series.

Over half of Ocean's releases for 8-bit home computers were coin-op conversions and licensed games.[5] While initially focused on British licenses, such as Hunchback from Manchester's Century Electronics,[6] Liverpool's Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Olympic decathlete Daley Thompson their attention soon shifted to film licences with The NeverEnding Story becoming their first movie tie-in in 1985.[1]:16

The following year would produce titles based on Rambo, Short Circuit and Cobra, as well as the first licensed Batman game, but it would be their 1988 game based on Robocop which would go on to become the most successful movie license in history by the end of the decade.[7]

In 1986, a deal was signed with Taito and Data East for home versions of their arcade games such as Arkanoid, Renegade, Operation Wolf and The NewZealand Story. Also in 1986, Ocean Software created with Marc DJAN Ocean Software France. This studio would create most of the 16-bit arcade conversions between 1986 and 1991, which then became the French marketing and sales subsidiary of Ocean Software Ltd.

In 1989, The Hit Squad branding reappeared as new budget re-release label for Ocean's 8-bit back catalogue.[1]:72[8] The entire series consisted of 122 titles over seven 8-bit formats. Their uniform style and numbering has led to them becoming highly collectable.[8] Meanwhile, the company was working on it's next big film tie-in which would be specifically aimed at the new graphically superior 16-bit computers, the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.[1]:53

The success of Robocop established Ocean globally,[7][1]:52 and it would be Warner Brothers who suggested to Ocean that they produce a tie-in based on their forthcoming Batman movie.[1]:58 The resulting game was another massive hit for the company and is now regarded as one of the greatest video game/film tie-ins.[9] The game was used as the basis of the Commodore Amiga 500 "Batman Pack"[1]:58 which became one of the most successful hardware/software bundles of all time.

Ocean was voted Best 8-bit Software House of the Year at the 1989 Golden Joystick Awards,[10] along with awards for their 8-bit and 16-bit conversions of Operation Wolf.

In 1996, Ocean Software announced a merge with French publisher Infogrames[11] for £100 million. After the merger Infogrames kept Ocean as a separate division publishing their own games until 1998, when they were rebranded to Infogrames United Kingdom Limited[12] and Ocean's last titles would end up being published by Infogrames' European subsidiary, Infogrames Multimedia SA. The company is now named Bandai Namco Entertainment UK Limited after Bandai Namco's purchase of Atari, SA's European assets in 2009.

Tape loaders[edit]

One of the most recognisable features of Ocean games on the Commodore 64 was the Ocean Loader. Since cassettes were the most popular storage medium used in Europe for 8-bit computers, loading a game could take around 6 minutes. Ocean used a special loading system that displayed a picture based on the game and played music while the game was loading. Five versions of the tune exist; 1 and 2 were composed by Martin Galway, 3 by Peter Clarke, 4 and 5 by Jonathan Dunn. The Ocean Loader was first used in the game Hyper Sports.[13] Up to 1987 the Ocean Loader was written by the in-house Ocean programmer Bill Barna, from 1987 to the end of the Commodore 64's commercial life the loader was replaced by "Freeload" written by in house programmer Paul Hughes.[14][15] Freeload also featured a copyright protection mechanism.[14]

On the ZX Spectrum, games after 1984 generally used the Speedlock protection system, which eventually included a countdown timer showing the time left to load a game.[16]

In 2004, Paul Hughes released the 6502 source code of some of Ocean's development tools, among them Freeload, into the public domain.[14][17][18]


Licensed games[edit]

Screenshot of Highlander for the Commodore 64

Ocean was famous for often buying the rights to make video games from different arcade, film and television franchises.[19] Many license games combined several styles for example featuring platform action and car driving. These include RoboCop (1988), Batman The Movie (1989) and RoboCop 3 (1991), which featured 3D graphics in 16-bit versions. The adventure game Hook (1992) also received positive reviews. The 1986 game Batman got a rating of 93% in Crash magazine.[20] Among Ocean's licensed games are:

Arcade conversions[edit]

Ocean also acquired several licenses to develop and publish conversions of arcade games for home computers. The year next to each game corresponds to the year of first release of a computer conversion.

Other titles[edit]

Although Ocean was known for its licensed games, it had many other releases.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wilkins, Chris; Kean, Roger M (2013). Ocean - The History. Revival Retro Events.
  2. ^ "Spectrum Games ad". Home Computing Weekly. No. 1. March 1983. p. 47.
  3. ^ a b Wilkins, Chris; Kean, Roger M (2015). The Story Of U.S. Gold. Fusion Retro Books. p. 69. ISBN 9780993131530.
  4. ^ "Going Platinum". Crash. No. 32. Newsfield. October 1985. pp. 124–126.
  5. ^ a b Stuart Hunt. "A Life On The Ocean Wave". Retro Gamer. No. 101. pp. 53–62.
  6. ^ Martyn Carroll. "The History Of Hunchback". Retro Gamer. No. 151. p. 65.
  7. ^ a b Robert Mellor. "The Making Of Robocop". Retro Gamer. No. 46. pp. 62–65.
  8. ^ a b Martyn Carroll. "The Hit Squad". Retro Gamer. No. 160. pp. 38–43.
  9. ^ Robert Mellor. "The Making Of Batman The Movie". Retro Gamer. No. 41. pp. 64–67.
  10. ^ "Golden Joysticks 1989". Computer & Video Games (92). EMAP. June 1989. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  11. ^ "Infogrames Entertainment S.A. History". Funding Universe. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  12. ^ "BANDAI NAMCO ENTERTAINMENT UK LTD. - Overview (free company information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  13. ^ "Hyper Sports". ZZap!64. No. 5. September 1985. p. 14.
  14. ^ a b c Hughes, Paul. "Freeload". pauliehughes.com. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  15. ^ "Interview with Paul Hughes". c64.com. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  16. ^ Eddy, Richard (September 1987). "The One David". No. 44. Crash. p. 44. Retrieved 9 January 2013. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  17. ^ Gasking, Frank (2004). "Ocean Sources". homepage.ntlworld.com/frank.gasking. Archived from the original on 16 March 2005. Retrieved 25 October 2013. And as a result, Paul has kindly agreed to release sources to the public, for people to check out, to learn from, and to preserve and enjoy.
  18. ^ Hughes, Paul. "Downloads". pauliehughes.com. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  19. ^ Hosie, Ewen (20 May 2015). "How Ocean Software Finally Made Movie-License Video Games Worth Playing". Vice. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  20. ^ "Batman". Crash. No. 28. Newsfield Publications Ltd. May 1986. p. 120. Retrieved 11 February 2009.
  21. ^ "DALEY THOMPSON'S SUPERTEST". Your Spectrum. No. 20. November 1985. p. 57.
  22. ^ "Return of the Heroes". Your Spectrum. No. 13. April 1985. p. 36.
  23. ^ Computer conversion of PC Engine game
  24. ^ http://www.crashonline.org.uk/03/lguide10.htm

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