SCE Studio Liverpool

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SCE Studio Liverpool
Former type Development Branch
Industry Interactive Entertainment
Fate Closed
Predecessor(s) Psygnosis
Successor(s) Firesprite
Founded 1984 (as Psygnosis)
2001 (as SCE Studio Liverpool)
Founder(s) Ian Hetherington
David Lawson
Defunct 2012
Headquarters Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom
Key people Mick Hocking, Group Studio Director
Products Wipeout series
Formula One series
Colony Wars series
Services Video game development
Owner(s) Sony
Parent SCE Worldwide Studios
Website Official Site

SCE Studio Liverpool was a video game development house headquartered at Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool, England. It was part of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios. Founded in 1984 as Psygnosis by Jonathan Ellis, Ian Hetherington and David Lawson, the company later became a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment, and at the time of its closure employed roughly 100 individuals comprising two development teams. Mick Hocking oversaw Studio Liverpool's operations as its last Group Studio Director, a position he continues to hold within Evolution Studios.

Studio Liverpool was the oldest and second largest development house within Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's stable of developers, and is best known for the Wipeout series of futuristic racing games, with the first instalment released on the original PlayStation in 1995. The studio is also known for the Formula One series of licensed racing games, and the Colony Wars series released on the original PlayStation. As Psygnosis, they were the original publishers of the Lemmings series.

Reports of Studio Liverpool's closure surfaced on 22 August 2012, with Edge quoting staff tweets.[1] Staff were told the news by the vice president of Sony Worldwide Studios Europe, Michael Denny.[2] In a press release Sony stated that after an assessment of all European studios, it had decided to close Studio Liverpool. Sony said that the Liverpool site would remain in operation, as it is home to a number of Sony World Wide Studios and SCEE Departments.[3]


Psygnosis (1984–1993)[edit]

Psygnosis logo, designed by Roger Dean

Founded by Jonathan Ellis, Ian Hetherington and David Lawson, the Liverpool-based Psygnosis was indirectly born from the ashes of the defunct 8-bit game company Imagine Software, where Lawson was one of the founders and Hetherington was Financial Director. After the collapse of Imagine in 1984, the name and trademarks were bought by Ocean Software, while the rights of the software remained with original copyright owners. After Imagine, Lawson and Hetherington set up a new company called Finchspeed which took two unfinished games developed by Imagine, Bandersnatch (for the ZX Spectrum) and Psyclapse (for the Commodore 64), and fused them into one to become Brataccas, the first game published by Psygnosis.[4]

Psygnosis produced only one title in 1986 called Deep Space, a complex, difficult space exploration game. The box artwork was very distinctive with a black background and fantasy artwork bordered in red. This style was maintained for the best part of ten years, with a Psygnosis game being easily identifiable on a shelf of miscellaneous games. For the next few years, Psygnosis's releases contained increasingly improved graphics, but were marred by similarly difficult gameplay and control methods.

The original company headquarters were located at the Port of Liverpool Building at the Pier Head in Liverpool, but soon moved to Century Buildings in Brunswick Business Park (also in Liverpool), and later moved down the road 200 metres to South Harrington Building in South Harrington Dock.

Although Psygnosis primarily became a game publisher, some games were developed fully or partly in-house. During the early days, artists were employed full-time at the headquarters, offering third-party developers, who were often just single programmers, a very high-quality art resource. This had the result of allowing Psygnosis to maintain very high graphical standards across the board, something for which the company became most famous. The original artists were Garvan Corbett, Jeff Bramfitt, Colin Rushby and Jim Bowers, with Neil Thompson joining a little later.

Closely following in the path of 1987 hit Barbarian with what was becoming a trademark high-quality introduction, Obliterator, released in 1988, contained an opening animation by Jim Bowers (now a digital matte painter for the movie industry) with the main character looking directly into the "camera". His face is animated with bewilderment that turns into anger, at which point he drops his guns and shoots at the observer. This short scene would further pave the way for many increasingly sophisticated intro animations, starting with 2D hand drawn sequences, and then progressing into FMV and 3D rendered movies created with Sculpt 4D on the Amiga. Eventually, Psygnosis would buy many Silicon Graphics workstations for the sole purpose of creating these animations.

While most games companies of the mid-to-late 1980s (including Psygnosis) were releasing identical games on both the Amiga and Atari ST, Psygnosis started to use the full potential of the Amiga's more powerful hardware to produce technically stunning games. It was these technically superior titles that brought the company its early success, with the landmark title Shadow of the Beast bringing the company its greatest success so far in 1989. Its multi-layered parallax scrolling and stunning music were highly advanced for the time and as such led to the game being used as a showcase demonstration for the Amiga in many computer shops.

Later, Psygnosis consolidated its fame after publishing the DMA Design Lemmings game franchise: debuting in 1991 on the Amiga, Lemmings was soon to be ported to a plethora of different computer and video game platforms, generating many sequels and variations of its concept through the years. After that, Psygnosis put unparalleled effort in producing Microcosm, a game that debuted on Japanese system FM Towns and was to become technical showcase and flagship title for new Commodore CD32 and SMSG 3DO multimedia consoles: although gameplay was never considered on par with technical aspects, graphics, music by Rick Wakeman and long FMV introduction were among the finest in company history at the time. Phil Morris was Music Manager from 1992-1998 in Liverpool, and chose the Rick Wakeman music tracks and tracks by Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, both Sony artists at the time, for the PlayStation F1 game. Microcosm was probably the first CD-ROM game by Psygnosis to feature voice recordings, produced and directed in London by Phil Morris with Canadian voice actor Kerry Shale at The Sound Company.

Psygnosis also received top billing for creating the "Face-Off" games in the Nickelodeon 1992 television game show, Nick Arcade, with such games as "Post Haste", "Jet Jocks" and "Battle of the Bands", among others.

Acquisition by Sony (1993–2001)[edit]

In 1993, the company was acquired by Sony Electronic Publishing.[5] In preparation for the September 1995 introduction of Sony's PlayStation console in Western markets, Psygnosis started creating games using the PlayStation as primary reference hardware. Among the most famous creations of this period were Wipeout, G-Police, and the Colony Wars series, some of which were ported to PC and to other platforms.

The acquisition was rewarding for Sony in another aspect: development kits for PlayStation consoles. As it had previously published PSY-Q development kits for various consoles by SN Systems, Psygnosis arranged for them to create a development system for the PS based on cheap PC hardware. Sony evaluated the system during CES in January 1994 and decided to adopt it.[6]

As Psygnosis expanded after the Sony buyout, another satellite office was opened in Century Building with later offices opening in Stroud, England, London, Chester, Paris, Germany, and Foster City in California (as the Customer Support & Marketing with software development done in San Francisco), now the home of Sony Computer Entertainment America. The company headquarters has resided at Wavertree Technology Park since 1995.

The Stroud studio was opened in November 1993 in order to attract disgruntled MicroProse employees. Staff grew from initially about 50 to about 70 in 1997.[7] Among the titles created at Stroud are Overboard! and G-Police.[7] The Wheelhouse—its publishing name—was closed in 2000 as part of the Sony Computer Entertainment takeover of Psygnosis. Some members joined Bristol-based Rage Software, but faced a similar demise a number of years later.

In 1999, the publishing branch of the company was merged into Sony Computer Entertainment Europe as a whole, and the Psygnosis brand was dropped in favour of SCE Studio Liverpool, which marked the full integration of the studio within Sony Computer Entertainment. Psygnosis's Camden and Stroud studios were renamed Studio Camden (later merged with Team Soho to form SCE London Studio) and Studio Stroud.

Studio Liverpool (2001–2012)[edit]

The newly named SCE Studio Liverpool released its first title, Formula One 2001, in 2001. The game was also the studio's first release on the PlayStation 2, and the first entry in the Formula One series after taking over from developer Studio 33. From 2001 to 2007, Studio Liverpool released 8 instalments in the series between the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3. However, Sony Computer Entertainment's exclusive license with the Formula One Group expired, without renewal, before the 2007 season, marking the end of any further Formula One series instalments from the developer.

Studio Liverpool also created Wipeout Fusion, the first of two instalments of the series on the PlayStation 2, released in 2002. Next they developed Wipeout Pure for the PlayStation Portable, which launched alongside the handheld in 2005 to significant acclaim, with many media outlets heralding it a return to glory for the series. They followed up with the sequel Wipeout Pulse in 2007 which was later ported to the PlayStation 2 and released exclusively in Europe and the UK.

In 2008, they released Wipeout HD, a downloadable title for the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network service, consisting of various courses taken from both Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse remade in high definition. An expansion pack for Wipeout HD named Wipeout HD Fury is currently available at PlayStation Network, including new game modes, new tracks, new music and new ship skins/models.[8]

On 29 January 2010, Sony made the following public statement: "It has been decided that production on a number of projects within Studio Liverpool will cease immediately due to project prioritisation. Our North West Studio Group has been and will continue to be a vital cog in the WWS family, with a history of producing genre defining games such as MotorStorm, WipEout, Formula 1 and WRC and this decision will have no impact of the role that the North West Studio Group will play in the future of all PlayStation platforms".[9]

The closure of Studio Liverpool was announced on 22 August 2012. In a press release Sony stated that after an assessment of all European studios, it had decided to close Studio Liverpool. Sony said that the Liverpool site would remain in operation, as it is home to a number of Sony World Wide Studios and SCEE Departments.[3]

Eurogamer was told by an unnamed source, that at the time of its closure, Studio Liverpool was working on two PlayStation 4 launch titles. One was a Wipeout title described as "dramatically different", the other was a motion capture based game along the lines of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell.[10] Because of the closure, it is unknown if the two games will go to other studios.

In 2013 a number of former Studio Liverpool employees formed a new studio called Firesprite.[11] They worked on the visuals of The Playroom for the PlayStation 4.[12]


XDev, Sony's external development studio is responsible for managing the development of titles at developers that are outside of Sony's own developer group. It has won 8 British Academy (BAFTA) video game awards and AIAS awards for LittleBigPlanet, 3 BAFTA awards for the Buzz! series and Develop Industry Excellence Awards for MotorStorm and Buzz!.[13]


Games developed or published as Psygnosis[edit]

Games developed as SCE Studio Liverpool[edit]

Game title Year released Platform(s)
Formula One 2001 2001 PlayStation 2
Wipeout Fusion 2002 PlayStation 2
Formula One 2002 2002 PlayStation 2
Formula One 2003 2003 PlayStation 2
F1 04 2004 PlayStation 2
Wipeout Pure 2005 PlayStation Portable
F1 05 2005 PlayStation 2
F1 06 2006 PlayStation 2
PlayStation Portable
Wipeout Pulse 2007 PlayStation 2
PlayStation Portable
Formula One Championship Edition 2007 PlayStation 3
Wipeout HD 2008 PlayStation 3
Wipeout HD Fury (DLC) 2009 PlayStation 3
Wipeout 2048 2012 PlayStation Vita

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Nathan (22 August 2012). "Sony to close Studio Liverpool – Edge Magazine". Retrieved 7 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Crossley, Rob. "PlayStation News: Sony to axe Liverpool studio". Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Yin-Poole, Wesley. "Sony closes WipEout developer Sony Liverpool • News •". Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  4. ^ "The Making Of: Bandersnatch – Edge Magazine". 4 September 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "SCE Worldwide Studios – SCE Studio Liverpool". 20 February 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  6. ^ "History of the PlayStation – PSX Feature at IGN". 28 August 1998. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "E3: Psygnosis Co-founder Speaks: part 2 – PSX News at IGN". 19 June 1997. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Buckley, Tony (1 June 2009). "WipEout HD Fury Expansion Pack – PlayStation.Blog.Europe". Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Elliott, Phil (28 January 2010). "Sony to restructure Liverpool studio | GamesIndustry International". Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Yin-Poole, Wesley. "Sources: Sony Liverpool was working on WipEout PS4 and a Splinter Cell style game for PS4 • News •". Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Wawro, Alex (5 December 2013). "Former Psygnosis/Studio Liverpool devs unite to form Firesprite". Gamasutra. Think Services. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  12. ^ Yin-Poole, Wesley (6 December 2013). "From the ashes of WipEout dev Studio Liverpool rises Firesprite". Eurogamer. Gamer Network. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  13. ^ "SCE Worldwide Studios – Publishing Europe". 25 February 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 

External links[edit]