I can’t help noticing that we the retro-gaming fraternity are very fond of ‘where are they now?’ articles. You’ll find these are totally tunnel-visioned in that they always concern people, of all things. What about the gaming-related buildings of yesteryear? Where did they go next, and what became of them once our significant others departed their hallowed grounds?
Rest assured (I know you were panicking!), today I’ll be setting the record straight by taking a trip down memory lane to visit the former offices of Manchester-quartered, games developing and publishing luminaries, Ocean Software.
‘Spectrum Software’ as they were originally known was founded in 1982 by David Ward and Jon Woods and their offices were initially situated in the Ralli building on Stanley Street, a former bonded warehouse that was also used to store props for Granada’s TV soap, Coronation Street. However, following the producer’s decision to manage their own props in-house, the building was demolished. I believe Ocean were given fair warning beforehand!
It was always intended to be a temporary arrangement lasting only six months, just long enough for the new headquarters at 6 Central Street to be completed. What set these premises apart from the crowd is that they were actually designated as a site of historical interest; a Quaker friends’ meeting house dating all the way back to 1828. Ocean were never an organisation known for ‘walking the line’ so you’d hardly expect them to rent a slick, corporate, new-build construction fashioned of mirror glass, and furnished with automatic taps and Dyson Airblade dryers… well not until much later on anyhow when the wheels kind of fell off, so to speak.
Of course, the Mancunian gaming Goliaths are no longer with us today, and the building has long since been re-purposed. Precise details of how Ocean were wound up – and why – are sketchy at best, and those in the know remain tight-lipped. What we can say for certain is that in 1996 they entered into an arrangement with the French holding company, Infogrames, which involved a figure of up to £100m changing hands. Some assert that Ocean were ‘acquired’ by Infogrames, whilst others talk of a ‘merger’. Nevertheless, in 1998 they were re-dubbed ‘Infogrames UK’, unceremoniously flushing down the toilet many years of prestigious brand recognition and goodwill.
Infogrames subsequently swallowed up Atari and in 2004 ditched their own moniker to capitalise on the cache of their bordering-on-sacrosanct insignia. Thanks to Infogrames’ reverse Midas touch influence, Atari too are now but a shadow of their former selves. Their forsaken staff consists of merely ten people, and they now solely operate within the perfidious realm of the ‘social casino gaming industry’. Oh dear.
It may come as a shock to learn that the meeting house building remains right where it always was, lodged between the junction of Mount Street and Central Street in Manchester city centre.
Today the site primarily offers meeting rooms and conferencing facilities for hire, though also rents offices to small businesses housed in the basement ‘dungeons’ in which the Ocean games developers and play-testers were formerly imprisoned… erm, I mean gleefully attended for the love of the job. A lame joke of course given that the vast majority of them revelled in the ‘Ocean Experience’ (look it up).
Amongst the organisations to usurp Ocean are the Alternatives to Violence Project, Object A art gallery, the RAPAR human rights charity, a Transcendental Meditation group, Central Manchester Osteopathy & Sports Therapy, the Greater Manchester Talent Match Agency and Intercity Accounting.
The Common Word writer’s development group still have a buzzer outside the Mount Street entrance, yet apparently have already relocated to Oldham Street over on the other side of Piccadilly.
Is anyone really interested in this? I’m going to move swiftly on.
Working in Spinningfields I walk past the Quaker building twice a day, five times a week, so thought it was about time I took some pictures of this retro-gaming Mecca and shared them with all you lovely people, so without further ado…
The main entrance and steps where the exalted group photo was taken in 1988. David Ward’s office would have been above the front door on the upper floor.
Photographic evidence that the street had – and still has – a name, and that it is ‘Central’ …he says realising too late that captions aren’t actually mandatory.
The side Central Street entrance used by the devs and other ‘non-suits’.
The rearview facing the Central Library located in St Peter’s Square. Just beyond that, Manchester looks like a bomb has hit it – it’s permanently undergoing redevelopment.
The Bootle Street side of 6 Mount Street. It all gets very confusing.
The Bootle Street entrance leading to the new businesses and charities.
A man paying to park his car …oh, and some landmark or other in the background.
Here I trespassed on private property, risking life and limb, and eluding the rabid Quaker guard dogs to bring you this shot of the inner grounds. I’m sure you’ll agree it was entirely worth it.
As above. The treacherous pit of white-hot magma (just out of shot as it happens) was no match for my sleuthing nous.
Rather than relocate the bodies to make way for the car park, the ancient graveyard was cemented over.
Chemist, meteorologist and physicist, John Dalton, is buried here fact fans! In 1993 Ocean packed up their trunks and said goodbye to the circus, relocating to brand-spankin’-new, plush, corporate offices based at 21 Castle Street, Castlefield, overlooking the Manchester ship canal where numerous Coronation Street scenes have been filmed over the years. I bet the new occupiers have Dyson Airblade dryers now.
This image was captured from Google Street View as the offices are located over on the other side of town from my own prison, though I might be able to visit personally at some point and take some pictures of my own.
My next mission (yes, I’ve already chosen to accept it) is to get some snaps of the interior of the meeting house. I fear a long trench-coat, a trilby and dark glasses may feature significantly in my not-too-distant future… possibly a Go-Go-Gadget Copter too, who knows?