Although founded only five short years ago, Code Masters have achieved market domination on an unprecedented scale - throughout last year between 25% and 50% of software sales were for their games. So what’s the secret of their success? IAN OSBORNE finds out...
Hands up all those who haven’t got at least five Code Masters games in their collection.. no-one at all? Thought not. They’re corkers, aren’t they? Original, innovative, value-for- money, it’s not surprising the Codies were the UK’s number one publisher as early as their first year of trading.
Founded in October 1986 by the Darling brothers. Code Masters exploded onto the scene with an initial release of twelve titles across all formats. Since then, they’ve expanded from being a small family business employing four people to a large organisation with a staff of 35, retaining their position as number one publisher and steadily increasing their share of the market.
The Dizzy story
Often imitated but never bettered, the Dizzy se ries remains Codies most successfull line to date. The Oliver Twins, programmers of countless best-selling sports Sims and platform games, such as BMX 2 Simulator and Super Robin Hood had grown tired of arcade adventures that featured human sprites - they were very limiting and difficult to animate with any degree of realism.
They tabled a few ideas for Dizzy, but the Darling brothers were eggstremely sceptical - an egg in boxing gloves? You must be yolking mate, we’re not shelling out good money on that one!
Luckily computer programmers aren’t known for doing as they’re told and they decided to go ahead with it anyway, programming it behind David Darling’s back while they were supposed to be working on Pro Ski Simulator.
Eventually the two projects were delivered together - living up to their name, the Darlings published Dizzy as a reward for all the hard work put in by the Olivers. It might be difficult to believe now, but the initial sales weren’t good; the game seemed to die after a few weeks, and David Darling rubbed it in by wearing a T-shirt with 'I Told You So' written on it!
Strangely, affer about six months sales began to pick up - in a few short months it became one of Codies’ all-time best sellers! No-one’s sure why this happened, but the rest, as they say, is history - Dizzy is now firmly established as the Mario Of the 8-bit home computers, and has sold over one and-a-half million copies across all formats. (What’s on your T-shirt now David?)
And the future? With Spellbound Dizzy featuring over a hundred screens, the games couldn’t really be any bigger so instead the Oliver twins will concentrate on improved animation, better character interaction and tougher, more involved puzzles. I can hardly wait!
The goofy one
If a somersaulting egg seems a strange concept for a cartoon hero, Seymour is damn-near unbelievable! No one’s sure what he’s meant to be, but he’s certainly no oil painting - more like a paint spill with hands, feet and unfeasibly large teeth thrown in for good measure. This hasn’t stopped him from starring in his own adventure though! Although Seymour Goes TO Hollywood is a disappointing game, brilliant animation of the main sprite will win him lots of friends (but no beauty contests!).
Seymour Goes To Hollywood was orginally going to be a Dizzy game, but it was decided that Dizzy was inappropriate for a real-world adventure - instead they decided to create a whole new character, and Seymour was born! More games starring Seymour are planned, all of which will feature real-world settings and problems that depend on real rather than fantasy logic. Seymour will also star in arcade games, the first being the forthcoming Super Seymour, a platform game that plays a little like Bombjack.
‘It’s flattering’, says Codies’ marketing supremo and former CRASH editor Richard Eddy, ‘to see companies such as Zeppelin copying what we did years ago. They’re not much of a threat though - Code Masters currently enjoy 17.6% of the market share, against Zeppelin’s 2.4%.
'Although we now convert many of our games to 16-bit format, we’ll never desert the Commodore 64. Look out for Steg, an arcade puzzler starring a green slug (!), and a platform-and-ladders shoot-’em-up called Big Nose.
|It’s a family affair
Code Masters is very much a family business, Daddy Darling (Jim) controls the purse strings while owners and directors David and Richard look after creation and development of new lines. Big sis Abigail acts as operations manager, though no-one in the ZZAP! office actually knows what this is (having your picture taken in the shower? - Ed). Artie fartie Lizzie Darling draws some of the pretty pictures for the covers and handles the company photography, while the baby Darlings William (11), and twins John and Annie (7), keep the firm in touch with what’s going down in the playground.
Following on from that table-top classic Professional Pinball Simulator, Soccer Pinball combines the need for fast, furious reflexes with a novelty theme, the emphasis being on action and fun. Control the flippers as the ball hurtles around the table knocking over footballers and building up that bonus! Could be a winner, could be an own goal... we’ll have to wait till February to find out.
Needless to say, life in Codies Castle hasn’t been all plain sailing. About a year ago, they released a game called Pro Boxing Simulator, a rerelease of the old Superior game By Fair Means Or Foul. Due to an oversight, the initial batch carried no indication that the game had previously been sold under a different name, resulting in complaints from several disgruntled fight fans. Codies made good all losses suffered, though, and all cassette inlays now state its pedigrea.
More recently, they were taken to court by Nintendo who tried to prevent their releasing Nintendo dedicated products on the Code Masters label. Luckily Nintendo lost the case hands down leaving the Codies free to convert games such as Dizzy to console format.
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