Philip Oliver makes up half of the UK’s famous Spectrum design masters, the Oliver Twins, originally known for the Dizzy line of games. Now heading up Blitz Games, Philip Oliver recently came into a deal with Burger King to do three Xbox/Xbox 360 titles as promotional tools for the company. Gamasutra spoke with Oliver about the deal, Blitz’s future work in next-gen, the company’s new Blitz Arcade initiative, and investigated the reasons why we haven’t seen a new Dizzy game in years. We also snuck in some vegetarian propaganda while we were at it.
Gamasutra: Who proposed the Burger King deal?
Philip Oliver: Well, I think Burger King obviously has been looking at the fact that they’re trying to connect with today’s youth, and that means gamers, fundamentally. Certainly they’re not after the sub-ten-year-olds, because the competition does that, without mentioning any names. But they want to get the 12-18 or 20 year olds, and those people play video games, and that’s cool and that’s trendy and that’s where they want to spend their advertising money - hence doing things like Fight Night. So they were already active in this market, basically just trying to be more in this area. So that’s one end.
We at the other end were talking to Microsoft, saying we’d like to do something like Fusion Frenzy again. And ideally it would’ve been Fusion Frenzy itself, but Hudson Soft nipped it and took the license from Microsoft, which was like, 'hmmm. That was our game! Not sure if that’s right.'
GS: Yeah, I was a little confused about that.
PO: So were we! We said, 'that’s our game, if you’re going to make it, you’ve got to make it with us!' But we went back and checked the contract, and they do own the IP. We completely created that thing from scratch, from just a brief document that said ‘can you make us a party game for mature gamers, sort of 18+’and that’s what we did for Microsoft, and it did pretty well. But it was a work for hire, which means they do own the IP, which means if they want to go and license it to Hudson Soft, they can, but it was a bit of a shame because we’d have loved to have done the next one.
But anyway, we were talking to them about the fact it was a bit of a shame we weren’t getting to do this, and we really wanted to do another party-style game. We were talking to (Xbox Live Arcade portfolio manager) Ross Erickson and he said his new role in life was Live Arcade, and basically that that would fit perfectly. So, we were having lots of conversations with him, and he came over to visit our studio because we said we were going to get into Live Arcade in a big way, and then during out conversation we said ‘well who funds this?’We’re an independent developer, and we need funding! And he said ‘yeah, well the problem is the Live Arcade division doesn’t have a lot of money to give out for funding.’So we said what about advertisers? Are their advertisers out there who would like to get product placement within video games? He said there might be, and that he’d look out for us.
A week or two later, he gave us a call and said ‘we’ve just had Burger King in touch with us, saying they’d like to fund some games, and they’ve come to me in Live Arcade, and feel they’re not going to be the size of Halo or Project Gotham or something, and in fact it links up well with Live –do you guys want to talk to them?’
So that’s kind of where it started, and it sounded like a pretty good idea. It started as Xbox Live Arcade games, just for the 360, and we bought into that. Three games, Live Arcade, they’d get some good product placement, we’d get some good games out on the system, and it’d be great. It got more interesting as time went along, because we started committing people to the project, and time was moving on, and we started getting to seven months, which eventually fell to six months, when they started saying ‘we want them to be boxed games!’Well, more accurately, they said they wanted them to be Xbox games as well.
So we said, hang on a minute, that doesn’t work with Xbox Live Arcade, and they said “we’ll just put them in a box. ”That makes sure they have to walk into the store, they can’t just pull it off the Xbox Live service, they actually have to come in-store. And we said ‘surely that’s a problem, cost of goods and everything,’ and they said ‘we have a good history with Microsoft, we can work out a deal with them, and we may as well put the 360 and Xbox games on the same disc!’ And we said ‘this sounds quite scary now, because you’re going to ask us for much bigger games!’ Well, that came next (laughs).
So at this point we were committed, and we had fifteen or twenty people at this point into it, working on the designs for 360. We were quite into it, then they upped the size of the contract, so they raised the budget, and we raised the team size considerably. We got up to about 60 people in all.
PO: And we wound up pumping out something good –even though at times we thought, ‘Jesus, what have we got ourselves into, this is tough.’We managed to get an extra month out of them, because we thought it was just too challenging, and just too tight. We got another month out of them by Microsoft basically agreeing to fast-track them through their QA process, so that was good, and helpful. But we still had to effectively do three original games, two SKUs of each, in seven months. Scary, but we did it! They’re all mastered, they’re all in production, and there’s going to be two million units of each disc.