The Oliver Twins got their start with computers in England in 1980 with a friend?s father?s Apple IIe. ?We'd go round his house every day after school and play games late into the evening, often at the expense of homework,? laughs Philip. ?These were games like Zork, Taxman
? which looked very similar to Pac Man
and Night Mission Pinball
. This led to our parents buying us a Binatone PONG machine to plug into the family TV in 1981.?
Philip and Andrew moved into their own slice of home computing in 1981, after their older brother bought the recently released Sinclair ZX81. The twins immediately began attempting to program their own versions of games like Pong
on the computer. ?Back in those days all computers had manuals with type in listings,? explains Philip. ?We'd type them in to our ZX81, at first, then the Dragon 32 [home computer released in 1982] and modify them. We also raided the local library for copies of Popular Computing Weekly
and tried typing all those games in too. Most were for the Apple or Commodore PET, but that didn't stop us trying to get them to work!?
The twins? programming hobby began slowly developing into a career in 1984, when the entered the Design a Game competition on the Jeremy Beadle hosted kids TV series The Saturday Show
. ?We were ?geeky kids? that liked computer games, a very rare breed, and when a national TV show announced a competition to make a computer game ? we felt that was our calling!? Philip says. ?Our entry was called Strategy
, for the BBC Micro. Because we could only write BASIC we designed a slow 'board style' game that didn't require fast computing, so it did actually play okay. Obviously, we would really loved to have written an arcade action game, but we knew our limits!?
Philip recalls being ?incredibly? surprised when the twins found out some time later that they had won the competition. ?I remember feeling all faint when I answered the phone and they said, 'Hello this is Central Television',? he muses.
?The concept of being interviewed on national TV in a couple of days time was scary and exciting all at the same time!? he continues. ?We managed to keep it a secret at school prior to it being aired, because we had no idea how it would go and we were so
nervous - it was a live show too! It actually went ok, well, actually it was really embarrassing but we can laugh at it now. Most people at school caught it accidentally, so Monday morning was a strange experience!?
The twins walked away with a Commodore monitor for their troubles, which they note is still in use in their offices today. Additionally, as a result of the attention afforded to their work, Strategy
was picked up by Acornsoft, the UK?s leading publisher at the time, and released as Gambit
?Because we won The Saturday Show
competition, we got our first game published easily, that certainly gave us a good head start,? says Philip. ?The BBC contacted us to write a book on how to program computers, but when they learned our age that fell through, because we were not legally allowed to sign over our IP.?
Despite that hurdle, the twins continued writing games, though Philip notes that they didn?t see a career for themselves in the industry at that time. ?The idea of making games as a career was not in our minds at all,? he says. ?In fact, I think the idea that anyone could have a career making games would have been inconceivable to almost everyone.?
Philip suggests that the main problem faced by the twins at that point in time was in terms of graphical ability, noting that ?thankfully, the computers were as poor at graphics as we were?. In order to solve this problem, they began work on EasyArt
, an art package that allowed the Olivers to see on-screen the graphics they were working on, giving them an easy way to develop graphics that were ?good enough? at a time when ?others were still on graph paper?.
?Our ability in music and sound was non-existent, so I?m glad you didn't ask about that,? he laughs.
After releasing war-sim Battlefields
and object recognition title Telescope
, the twins decided to attempt writing arcade-style games ? not an easy task on the BBC Micro.
?Clearly, to get anything running fast you had to write Assembler Code - 6502 or Z80,? explains Philip. ?Books on the subject were rare, extremely expensive and so complex. They often tried to explain an instruction by showing you the electronic circuitry on the chip - like they thought that would help! There was no internet and no one to ask.?
?The BBC Advanced User Guide
had a brief introduction to Assembler so we trawled endlessly through that, it was well written but didn't go into any depth. Eventually we started hacking into the ROM of the BBC to try and understand what it was doing and also into several games. At least this info was free, but it was extremely hardcore, very difficult and very time consuming.?