Ocean Software Ltd (also known in the United States as Ocean of America, Inc.), commonly referred to as Ocean, was a British software development company, that became one of the biggest European video game developers and publishers of the 1980s and 1990s. It was acquired by a French holding company, Infogrames in 1996 and renamed to Infogrames UK in 1998, and again in 2004 to Atari UK, and once again in 2009 now known as Atari, Inc.
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, and video game consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Master System and Mega Drive.
The company started out as Spectrum Software in 1983 selling arcade clones for various home computers including the ZX81, ZX Spectrum and VIC 20. Although not named after the ZX Spectrum, the name became confusing and had to be changed so the company became Ocean Software. Some of their Spectrum Software games were re-released on Ocean with different titles so the Berzerk clone Frenzy was reissued as the Ocean game Robotics and Missile Attack became Armageddon. Their early releases (Moon Alert, Hunchback, High Noon, Gilligan's Gold, Daley Thompson's Decathlon etc.) were developed in-house, but later in 1984 Ocean Software acquired its former Liverpool rival, the defunct software developer Imagine, and focus shifted from development to publication of games. Also in 1984, Ocean struck a deal with Konami to publish their arcade games for home computers.
In 1985, Ocean Software managed to secure the first movie licences, such as Rambo, Short Circuit and Cobra, as well as the TV show Miami Vice and RoboCop which spent about a year on the top of the charts.
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 16-bit studio would create most of the 16-bit arcade conversions between 1986 and 1991 then became the French marketing and sales subsidiary of Ocean Software Ltd.
In 1987, Ocean Software published original games again, after a marginal season filled with licences, resulting in Head over Heels, Match Day II and Wizball. Ocean was voted Best 8-bit Software House of the Year 1988 at the Golden Joystick Awards.
In 1996, Ocean Software published Cheesy for the PlayStation. Ocean was acquired by Infogrames in 1996 for £100,000,000 and renamed to Infogrames UK in 1998. Ocean acquired Digital Image Design in 1998. The last games released by Ocean were GT 64: Championship Edition and Mission: Impossible, between mid 1998 and early 2000.
One of the most recognisable features of Ocean games on the Commodore 64 was the Ocean Loader. Since this computer used cassettes as storage, loading a game could take several minutes. Ocean used a special loading system that displayed a picture based on the game and played music while the game was loading. The Ocean loader music is still popular by fans of chiptunes. 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. 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. Freeload served also as a copyright protection mechanism.
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.
In 2004 for some of the Ocean development tools, among them Freeload, the 6502 source code was released by Paul Hughes into the public domain.
Ocean was famous for often buying the rights to make video games from different arcade, movie and television franchises. Many license games combined several styles for example featuring platform action and car driving. The most well received license games by Ocean were RoboCop (1988), Batman The Movie (1989) and Robocop 3 (1992), which featured 3D graphics in 16-bit versions. Also the adventure game, Hook (1992) got positive reviews. The 1986 game Batman got a rating of 93% in Crash magazine. Among Ocean's license games are:
Although Ocean was best known for its licensed games, it had many other releases.