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robocoparchive.com > Games > Converting RoboCop

[ Article by: Robert Mellor of Retro Gamer ]

In 1988, Manchester-based Ocean Software released what would become the biggest home computer game of the eightes. Part coin-up coversion and part unique movie license, RoboCop smashed records across the miltiformat charts and became the blueprint for movie tie-ins.

The original 1988 Data East arcade game on which Ocean's release is partially based is an epic slice of Eighties coin-up action and a contender for the greatest side-scrolling shoot-'em-up of the decade. A legendary Attract mode, graphics that are remarkably reminiscent of the film, a slew of gritty effects and speech samples plus Infuriatingly addictive gameplay perfectly encapsulate the relentless action of the explosive motion picture. With momentary respite coming only in the form of an occasional trip to the station for some FPS target practice, players must guide Robo through the criminal-infested streets of Old Detroit, from downtown to drug factories and everywhere in-between, ultimately leading to the final confrontation with Dick Jones at OCP's high-rise. Gary Bracey, the development director at the time, reveals his own thoughts on this classic release and its eventual conversion. "I thought the game was great, although a little too tough to translate directly to the home computer version. I think we made the conversion a tad easier. Also, there were some parts that were just unachievable when converting to an 8-bit computer (with measly memory). We thought we had taken the best bits and tagged on some of our own ideas. The mix was pretty good and the reviews and feedback reflected that"

With 8-bit micro versions released in 1988 and 16-bit pods the following year, Ocean Software's Robocop became the quintessential videogame success story of the decade, subsequently putting the sofware house firmly on the map and seeting it up for many prolific and profitable years that reached well into the Nineties. Having secured the electronic rights while the film itself was still considered an unknown quantity, Ocean produced a game that both converted Data East's monster coin-up hit and also added a sprinkling of originality to the game design. Pulsating action in the form of side-scrolling platform mayhem from the arcade was blended with puzzle and first-person shooter subgames to create a diverse and faithful representation of the movie in a game that sold in the millions and topped the multiformat charts for what seemed like an eternity.

Ocean Software already had a track record with profitable film licenses such as ShortCircuit and Rambo when the licence rights for Robocop became available. As the company's former development director Gary Bracey explains, he knew that a futuristic sci-fi action film with a Detroit cyborg cop out for revenge would be the perfect material for a computer game. "Being the 'movie buff', these scripts always came to me (as I was the only person who would read the damn things) As far as i was concerned the material was ideal for a videogame. Science fiction, shooting, set pieces, etc. Also, the movie itself was quite low budget, which in turn allowed us to negotiate a very preferential deal.

With the rights acquired, it was a bizarre twist of fate that would bring an arcade machine manufacturer to a software company when Data East sought to sub-license the title to Ocean in order to create its own arcade game. This would result in the rather ironic occurrence of Data East crediting Ocean Software on the Attract mode for irs RoboCop Coin-op - which Ocean would then go on to convert. Neither Orion, Paul Verhoeven nor the other film-makers were as protective over their intellectual property as Warner Brothers was with batman the following year, "We had the usual approvals process, but they weren't very precious about the property at the time (not in the way Warner was with batman, for instance) We did get a little video footage prior to the film release," says Gary. "However, keep in mind that as we were basing our game on that of Data East's then we never needed such reference. Data East visited the set a couple of times, I think, and were given access to pre-release footage and stills.

Although the most significant elements were taken from the coin-up version, it was Mike Lamb who translated and adapted it for home computers. I think the one thing that was my idea was the Photofit bit. Other than that, I just generally managed the development and oversaw the game on all the formats. Data East did the NES version, and we did the Game Boy" While the resulting game would become memorable for many reasons,one of the most notable was the way in which it deviated from the norm of being a genre-specific game and incorporated the concept of several diverse sub-games that came together to form a complete experience. This would change the way software houses and players thought about videogames, and proved instrumental in Ocean's design process for many years to come. "I think we just wanted to make our mark" says Gary. "If we had simply converted the coin-up version then it wouldn't have been terribly satisfying (creatively) for the teams involved. We therefore wanted to put our own stamp and spin on the product, as well as differentiating it from the coin-up. Keep in mind the philosophy between the formats is very different: coin-ops want you to keep plugging quarters into the machine, whereas computer (video) games are able to be a little more diverse and challenging. We wanted to take advantage of that freedom and also incorporate ideas/scenes from the film, which were not just the blasting/action elements. This became a philosophical template for future movie licences. We didn't have the same restrictions with the Atari ST that we had with the Spectrum, obviously, and so we were able to covert a more faithful adaption of the coin-op.

With the game finally wrapped and ready for release, the whole team were understandably proud of their work. But even Ocean itself had no comprehension of the titanic sucess that was to ensue. "i don't recall exact figures, but i remember we celebreated when hearing that over a million units(across all formats) had been sold. This was by far the biggest release Ocean had ever had at the time and there were a lot of smiling faces. As for sequels, much like the movie sequels themselfs, they were unable to repeat the success. "In fact," Gary says "after RoboCop2 i thought we could break some new ground with the third movie game. Note that this was not based on a movie at the time; it was "our" RoboCop3. It didn't work terribly well, but it was a genuine attempt to bring something new and innovative to a movie license. The first game remains the crown jewel in Oceans legacy of achievements. Gary concludes, "There was a great spirit of collaboration on this project. Everyone involved contributed with something of significance, without which it wouldn't have been the same.. or as successful. The morale and atmosphere was fantastic and we all believed we were part of something special. Looking back, we probably were"