I've been meaning to visit the Cambridge Museum for Computing History since I first came across their website a while ago, but knowing that the Oliver Twins (of Codemasters and Dizzy fame) were going to be doing a talk there was all the impetus I needed to finally get down there.
The museum is located in an industrial area, usually the preserve of out of town shopping centres and shops like B & Q and Carpet Right, but for a collection of vast proportions it makes sense that the computing centre is here. The centres collection explores the historical, social and cultural impact of personal computing. What makes this museum so special is that unlike many other museums the displays are not behind glass, instead most of the old computers and game consoles are plugged in and working, ready for use by visitors (Only the very rarest items have a 'do not touch' sign on them or are behind glass).
Being a retro gaming geek, this museum has the perfect blend of interactive exhibits and informative knowledge displays. As an avid gamer I felt that I knew a lot about computing but boy was I wrong, there were so many machines which I didn't even know about, the one that really surprised me was the Amstrad/ Sega Megadrive hybrid, that was a thing apparently! Who's fevered mind dreamed that one up?
The centre had it all; Macintoshes, Sinclairs, Microcomputers as well as all the Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft consoles. The museum had gadgets and peripheries and even a Sinclair Electric car.
Although the centre had only been open for exactly a year, it had plenty to see and do and was packed. There had been a school group earlier in the day and as the time ticked on closer to the Oliver Twins talk more of a crowd started to build. I played many of the game on show including Super Robin Hood, Fantasy World Dizzy, Cybermorph on the Atari Jaguar (the controller is horrendous to hold), Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive and a shmup on the Turbo Grafx 16. Also I saw the graveyard of arcade machines, there were 13 in total and whilst some were fixed many are in need of major renovations. The museum is hoping to get them back online soon and that would be special!
Just after 3 o'clock the Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew arrived and had a look around the centre. Once they had a look around they went into the conference room and after a few technical hitches, started their talk. The talk was relaxed and illuminating, they talked about their interest in gaming from a young age and their enthusiasm for coding right up to their relationship with Codemasters. They discussed Dizzy of course but this was much more than just that, they talked about starting their own company and the founding of Blitz Games, its closing and the emergence of Radiant Games, their newest venture. They spoke with enthusiasm and candour and it was refreshing to see such honesty and lack of hyperbole.
After the talk, which lasted just over an hour and a half, there was a chance to ask questions. I learnt that the brothers enjoy the works of Nintendo and respect their fun way of producing games that engage people of all ages. Also the brothers thought that Fantasy World Dizzy had the best art of their games, anything with a dragon is cool apparently!
There was a short break for drinks and refreshments and this provided me with an opportunity to get things signed and discuss gaming further with the Philip Oliver. He signed my Fantastic Dizzy Master System poster and my Quattro Games cassette from Codemasters, both of which I'd had since my childhood.
After a time Adam Oliver, the 15 year old son of Andrew, spoke about game designing and the challenges of making a game. He discussed learning coding in Scratch and then moving onto GameMaker and then producing Alien X, the BAFTA Young Game Designer of the Year 2014 Award winning game. Andrew answered questions and offered an interesting take on the changes to the ICT Curriculum. I asked him how schools were coping with the new curriculum and he spoke openly how things had shifted from consuming to constructing, there was a notable shift in his school from proprietary Office packages to creative software where the pupils were given creative freedom under a remit. It seems like computing is finally moving in the right direction and the Olivers are helping by being involved in such initiatives as 'Made in Creative UK.'
I left the centre after having been in there for over 6 hours and I have to say that I had the most fantastic time. I played games I hadn't touched in years, met fellow gamers and enthusiasts an met my childhood game heroes and got my swag signed. All in all an amazing day!