Dizzy: The Egg Who Would Be King
Imprinted on my mind from the days before Sonic, Crash Bandicoot and Mario, is a tiny, pixelated egg. He lived in the land of the Yolkfolk. I loved him with all my heart so much so that I named my two cockatiels after him and his girlfriend. For a time he was king of the world, the biggest selling game franchise in UK history. Then as quickly as he arose, the cracks began to set in and in an instant he was gone. This is the story of Dizzy: The Egg Who Would Be King.
In the beginning
Dizzy was the brainchild of Somerset twins Andrew and Phillip Oliver. They would later go on to found Blitz Studios but in the late eighties, they worked for British company Codemasters. Codemasters main output was low budget, readily available titles for the ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga and other home computers. The kind of games you could buy in a newsagent at the time for £1.99. This was one of these titles.
The twins were looking to branch out from their run of simulator titles and wanted to try an adventure game. They had recently created a development tool called Panda Sprites that allowed for the rotation of images on the screen. However, the flaw was that any shape containing detail would break up. Eager to work around this, they created a simple white oval with red gloves and boots. Panda allowed the character to roll and cartwheel around the screen, eventually earning this simple egg the moniker of ‘Dizzy’.
The rise to fame
After a slow start and an ingenious marketing campaign that saw a plush Dizzy get kidnapped by a gaming magazine, the title began to pick up sales. A sequel was quick to follow. Treasure Island went straight to number 1 in the game charts upon release. The public clamoured for the excellent combination of smooth game engine, playability and the fantasy universe the brothers were creating. Dizzy had arrived.
The third installment was an odd one. Fast Food Dizzy was the first of many arcade/puzzle games in the franchise. Fast Food was a Pac-Man clone but featuring Dizzy chasing a smorgasbord of burgers, hot dogs and fried chicken. For the rest of his output, Dizzy’s adventure releases would be punctuated with puzzlers such as Kwik Snax, Bubble Dizzy, Down the Rapids and Panic Dizzy.
The fourth installment in the franchise expanded the universe to include the yolk folk, our hero’s larger family. Daisy, Denzil, Dora and Dozy all joined in Fantasyland Dizzy. This was arguably the peak of the brand before a desire to grow him overseas would backfire horribly.
Breaking the US
Although Dizzy was huge on home computers and consoles in the UK, in the US he was unheard of. Codemasters tried to gain a foothold in the North American market via the Nintendo Entertainment System. In 1989 a basic version of Treasure Island was transported to the NES. However it was decided that the console needed a full, brand new Dizzy game instead of a simple port. The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy went into planning and development.
Now working on Dizzy titles for both home consoles and abroad, the Oliver Twins and Codemasters began to contract out the games. External studios produced Magicland and the next puzzler, Dizzy Panic, with Prince of the Yolk Folk and Spellbound Dizzy following.
The cracks begin to show
After much developing and anticipation, The Fantastic Adventures was ready for it’s release in the US in Christmas 1990. However, legal battles between Codemasters and Nintendo soured the water. Their Game Genie cheat cartridge had locked them in a courtroom tussle with the Nintendo powerhouse. This meant the game was delayed until April 1991. By this time next generation consoles such as the Genesis and Super Nintendo were looming on the horizon. When combined with the mid year sales slump Dizzy’s first console outing was met with a tepid reception.
With Codemaster now realising the importance of the Christmas market to sales, they set about creating Crystal Kingdom Dizzy in 1991, ready for a festive release. It was Dizzy’s biggest and most expensive adventure yet.
Dizzy heights, crashing lows
Codemasters inability to crack the NES market was not dead and undeterred by their skirmish, Codemasters set about on another plan. The problem with producing NES games was that cartridges were expensive to create. Any game created was always retailing at over $30 due to the RAM, circuitry and lock chip in the cartridge. To get around this problem Codemasters came up with an ingenious invention. Named the Aladdin cartridge, it housed all the above and allowed you to plug in cheaper, individual game cartridges. Prince of the Yolkfolk was re-titled ‘Dizzy the Adventurer’ and bundled with the Aladdin.
The setback in North America and a lack of cashflow, despite rave reviews and ratings for Codemasters, had strained the relationship between the brothers and their employers. It was decided that a compilation of games would be ported into a cartridge for the Game Gear. Both parties argued and failed to agree on which of the catalogue should be included. The Excellent Dizzy Collection featured Dizzy the Adventurer, Panic Dizzy and Go! Dizzy Go!, much to the chagrin of the Oliver brothers who wanted a more adventure game heavy output.
The Oliver brothers promptly left Codemasters to pursue their own endeavor’s with the copyright to Dizzy firmly under their arms. Unfortunately, Codemasters still owned the trademark. It would take a huge reconciliation to put the egg back together again.
After the goldrush
And people did try. Talks were held between the parties a decade later about reviving the Dizzy franchise but Codemasters pulled out of negotiations. The Oliver’s have said that they would be open to the creation of another game but it would depend on the budget behind it.
Of the 60 number 1 games that Codemasters achieved in the mid eighties/early nineties, 12 had Dizzy in the title. It is for this reason that he is gone but not forgotten. Dizzy still has a huge cult community online, especially in the Commodore and Spectrum community. It is even possible to build your own game over at fansite www.yolkfolk.com. This is something we feel every fan should have a go at for it is in this way that we can carry on the legacy of Dizzy: The Egg Who Would Be King.
This article could not have been written without help from the following….