Once home to the biggest gaming company in the world.
Artwork by Mark R. Jones
Resembling a Civil War fortress, 6 Central Street hides a past that involves Batman, dungeons, killer worms, and of course, that little fella with the hat on the front of the Quaker Oats box.
Before I get to all of those interesting tidbits, it’s important to start on the history of the building itself and its particular use as a Quaker church. If you don’t know what a Quaker is then I’m going to try to explain it all in the best way I can right now.
Becoming a ‘thing’ in the 17th Century, early Quakers were Christians who rejected the structures and offices of the established church. Believing in the concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ they rejected professional priests, turned their backs on rituals, and sacked off all of the churches in which these things were carried out.
Instead they created ‘meeting houses’, which in the beginning were just someone’s gaff, and later became actual structures, much like the one you’ll see at number 6 Central Street.
Built in 1828, the Meeting House here was designed by Richard Lane, a Quaker whose pupil was Alfred Waterhouse – the geezer responsible for designing the Town Hall and Manchester University. Famous Quakers who attended at the beginning included Waterhouse himself, as well as scientist and Atomic Theory thinker John Dalton.
So the question is now raised – “Who cares?”. Why am I telling you about a Quaker Meeting House in the city centre?
Well, around the early 80’s, the basement of the building became home to one of the most famous game developers ever – a group of people who defined and enhanced most of our lives growing up.
Ocean Software was one of the biggest names in games throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and all of their games were devised, coded and signed off in a little basement office of the Quaker Meeting House. The business bods were all on the top floor, while the programmers, artists and musicians were located in the basement in an office that became commonly referred to as ‘the dungeon’.
As the video game industry moved from people’s bedrooms into fully-fledged businesses, The Dungeon was at the forefront of these changes, often to the detriment of many of the Quakers in the Meeting House.
At one point they got so sick and tired of the developers wandering through the church in the middle of the night to go for a pee that they eventually bricked up a fire exit. Safety first! I’m not sure where they went to the toilet after that – probably into the 2 litre bottles of Coke that were presumably knocking about all over the place.
Founded by David Ward and Jon Woods, Ocean developed games for loads of systems, and became a household name when they decided to buy up movie and TV licences and make games from them.
A pretty shrewd move, this ensured that they had the perfect audience already willing and waiting to spend money on their games – regardless of how good they actually were.
To be fair to Ocean though, many of the games they made were actually quite good, including Robocop, Batman The Movie and Hook – all proper decent games for the time and actually still enjoyable today.
Robocop was a particular favourite of mine growing up, especially considering you had the chance to shoot that bloke in the knob through the woman’s skirt – just like in the film.
In fact, the Hook game is probably actually better than the film itself – although that doesn’t take too much of an effort really. It was Ocean’s first ever graphic adventure point and click, much in the vein of the supremely popular Monkey Island series by LucasArts and if you get the chance to try it – you won’t be disappointed.
It wasn’t just movies and TV shows that were Ocean’s bread and butter – they also developed and published new games, one of which – Worms – became a worldwide phenomenon (and is still played by millions today). Created by Team17 from Wakefield, Ocean published and distributed Worms to millions, across a load of different platforms – ensuring it became one of the biggest games of the 90’s.
Other Ocean winners include WWF WrestleMania, Total Recall, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and Wetrix on the Nintendo 64 – quite possibly one of the best and most addictive puzzle games ever made.
By 1996 the Ocean lot announced that they’d be merging with French publisher Infogrames for a cool £100 million. A couple of years later, Ocean officially became Infogrames UK, which then became Atari UK, and then seemingly went bust. It all gets rather complicated from here on in – with company’s acquiring each other, changing names and moving offices all over the place.
Remember this though. Next time you’re walking past that seemingly unassuming Quaker Meeting House on Central Street, think of that dedicated gang of nerds, furiously coding and designing some of your favourite games as a kid.
In fact – get up in your loft, pull out your Amiga and give them another go. I’d give Highlander a miss though – they really dropped a bollock there.