The History Of British Video Games Part 1 | #giffgaffgaming

(retro tune) – Hello and welcome to #giffgaffgaming. We’re here in Sheffield at
the National Videogame Museum, where we’re gonna learn
about the fascinating history of British video games, talk
to the people that made them, and maybe even play one or two of them. Like this one, or this one, or this one. In the early 1980s, home computers were slowly making their way
to British households. They were expensive at first, and seemed pretty complicated. I mean, would you know
how to programme this? And yet, many people
learned how to programme impressive software. The British-made ZX Spectrum
was the most popular computer thanks to its low price and sleek design, and thanks to the passion
of many young programmers, you could even play
games on the ZX Spectrum. Games like Manic Miner. Manic Miner was a
groundbreaking game in its day. What made it impressive
was that it was created by then 17-year-old Matthew Smith in his bedroom in just four weeks. And he wasn’t the only one. The UK was full of young
people testing their skill in game design. Meet the Oliver Twins. There was a moment in the 1980s when 7% of all UK games sales
were attributable to them. We’ve sat down with
Philip and Andrew Oliver to have a chat about gaming
in Britain in the 1980s. (laughing) We started playing games in the arcades. We just had pinball
machines and fruit machines, and suddenly hey, there’s
like a game that’s a TV, and it would’ve been
probably Space Invaders. We saved up enough
money to buy a Dragon 32. It had a proper keyboard,
32kB of memory, eight colours, what’s not to like? One of the ways which
you “transmitted” games was to actually have them
published in a magazine, so that other people could type them in. Crazy slow, usually never worked, but it did kind of teach programming. This was a time where
actually most of the games were being written by older teenagers, so, the fact that we were at
school writing these things, we were aware that even Matthew
Smith, who’s written this, it looks as though he’s
literally just left school and writing these things. Our dad made the throwaway
comment, “If you can make “more money than me in your first year, “you won’t have to go to university.” We kind of racked our brains
as to what we could do, and we came up with
the idea of Robin Hood. Nobody owns it, it’s a
pretty obvious thing, you’re the hero character,
you’ve got projectile weapons, and you’ve got an obvious
goal, rescue Maid Marian. It all seemed to add up to us. The game became a number one
bestseller for that Christmas. It sold spectacularly well. They had it converted to the
Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. We, at that point, thought,
“Well this could go ballistic, “we just need to keep doing
that again and again and again.” And for the next five years, we did. We set ourselves a month
timeline on every single game. It was funny, because newspapers
would say, “Hey, these guys lead a rockstar lifestyle.” Really haven’t seen– We were sitting in front
of the computer all the time. Apart from the occasional interview. Philip: I was drawing the graphics, and I was very frustrated
that the head of the guy, I had three pixels by three
pixels, and three colours I was allowed to use. If I put the nose on a single pixel, it looks like Pinocchio, and if I don’t, it looks like he’s been
punched and he’s got no nose. As an off-hand thing, I just
drew a really large face in the sprite space that I had. Big eyes, and I was
kind of showing Andrew, I go, “Look I can make
him blink, I can do this” and for just a couple
of hours, I just started messing around with this big head. We decided rather than
doing a regular jump, we’d actually spin him
every time he jumped, but then our dad made the
funny comment, he goes, “Your character, he’s gonna
be dizzy if you just keep “spinning like that all the time.” Aoife: So how many
of these were there in total? 12 or 13 originally, but
then we were a few more on the Nintendo, the Mega Drive. They just hit the right
notes at the right time with the right technology,
and the look is very iconic because the limitations
more than anything. Aoife: As the
decade was coming to an end, Peter Molyneux’s studio
Bullfrog released Populous. The game gave you god-like
powers to fight for control of the world’s population
against other powerful deities. Way to tickle our ego, huh? As hardware and software developed, so too did the games,
and by the mid 1990s, it was almost unfathomable
how far we’d come. Gaming was a bit less
DIY, most studios worked from an office, rather
than someone’s bedroom, and with gaming going
mainstream, small UK studios were working hard to compete
with global powerhouses. Jake: It changed a lot in the 90s. You’d gone from an
industry that was very much a cottage industry where
game developers were working in their own bedrooms and creating titles in just one or two people teams, to actually having some kind of company, a place that you went to work. A place with its own headed
note paper where you could turn up and actually do a
day’s work as a game developer. On the old 8-bit machines,
it was me and Andrew pretty much doing everything. The minute you had to
move to 16-bit machines, you had to have teams
of five or six people with different disciplines. It started getting very expensive. Aoife: The hard
work of small British studios did not go unnoticed by the
big players around the world. When Nintendo was looking to
release a new Donkey Kong game, they decided to go with
a UK based studio, Rare. With Donkey Kong Country,
Rare created a game considered by many as the best in the franchise, partly thanks to 3D graphics
that were incredibly impressive for the time. But Rare wasn’t the only
small studio getting noticed by a global brand. When the Playstation
came out, Sony needed a launch title to go with it. Something that could really show what the console was capable of. That game was WipeOut. It was a fast-paced racing experience in a futuristic setting. A soundtrack by The Chemical
Brothers, The Prodigy and others helped Playstation bring
gaming to the mainstream. Nice one. Throughout the 90s,
particularly Sony I think did a really good job of
marketing the Playstation and making gaming just
feel like it was part of the sort of diet of
the things that you do. You listen to music, you
go out with your friends, and you come back and play a Playstation. Yeah, we had to up our
game very very quickly. Over-night pretty much. When I started, it was chip systems. Basically a six voice chip, so you got six notes simultaneously, and then of course, in
1994, when the first CD consoles came out, yeah, it
was a massive game changer. Now we can put live guitars on there, we can do singing, we
can do anything we want. Announcer: Nice variation,
mixing the short and the long. They’re bringing commentators
and recording voices as part of Actua Soccer, so that you
could hear realistic sounding commentary as you played the game. The disk space system
gave you the capacity to be able to do that kind of thing. Anything you could record
in a recording studio could then become the
soundtrack for a game. So that could be dance music
by The Chemical Brothers, it could be a big orchestral
score like in Tomb Raider. When Tomb Raider came out,
it made a big sort of buzz. Nathan: I always wanted to put more emotional content into games, and I was waiting for the right
opportunity to do that, and I felt that Tomb Raider was that. It’s the beginning of what
could be an interactive movie, and there certainly wasn’t
time to script music for the entire game. It wasn’t possible, and
it didn’t make sense to do it like that. Old movies in the past, when
you got the guy on the piano playing for the entire
length of the movie, well of course as movies got better, they stopped doing that. Aoife: In 1997,
Bullfrog and Peter Molyneux released another hit with Dungeon Keeper. It takes the god game genre they invented, and turns it on its head. You’re still powerful, sure, but now you play the bad guy. This was a time for chasing dreams, but also for laying the
groundwork for gaming. Thanks to the hard work of the pioneers of the British gaming
industry, games eventually became a cherished part of our culture. When you suddenly walk into a nightclub, and there were Playstations. For me, that really marked
the moment that we went as an industry from being a bunch of geeks into part of popular culture. So yeah, the 1990s were
pretty great for gaming, but things were just getting started. We’ll be back with part two of The History of British Video Games with giffgaff and the
National Videogame Museum. Stay tuned. (chill music)

Comments 12

  • Whoa, highly animated Aoife. It's just like when the Playstation came out.

  • Fab that you got Aoife to do this series 😁 She's a great presenter, full of energy and did a great job on Videogame Nation! (And still does on Eurogamer!)

  • Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Thanks for the video and I'll be looking forward to part 2. 🙂

  • It should be named as a mini brief history because there is definitely a lot more to the history of British video games here and a lot has been missed out, especially jumping from 8bit to almost 32bit straight away and also not mentioning the style of video games on how they evolved too in terms of graphics, music, intros and animations and more and how it produced massively onto TV shows like Gamesmaster and Bad Influence. Nevertheless great to see my good friends The Oliver Twins on here and Nathan.


  • Looking forward to part to and loving the 80's and 90's presenting style 👍

  • Not sure id call Manic Miner a game.. games are meant to be fun.

  • Aoife! 😀

  • Ofc Aoife brings the extra and dresses for each decade!😂😂

  • Oh snap! Sheffield the place to be! Went to this museum a few weeks back, great fun.

  • Watching this for the second time because it’s just so interesting. It’s also brilliantly edited and presented! Hats off to the production team. Can’t wait for part 2.

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