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The Psygnosis logo used in later releases, designed by Roger Dean
|Industry||Video game industry|
|Founded||3 July 1985|
|Defunct||22 August 2012|
Colony Wars series
Formula One series
|Parent||Sony Computer Entertainment|
Psygnosis Limited (later known as SCE Studio Liverpool) was a video game developer and publisher headquartered at Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool, England. Founded in 1984 by Jonathan Ellis, Ian Hetherington and David Lawson. The company was known for a number of well-received games on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, among other platforms, and is best known for their Lemmings series.
In 1993, the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment and turned their attention to the original PlayStation platform. They later became known as Sony Studio Liverpool, organized as part of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide 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 in 1995. The studio is also known for the Formula One series of licensed racing games, and the Colony Wars series.
Reports of Studio Liverpool's closure surfaced on 22 August 2012, with Edge quoting staff tweets. Staff were told the news by the vice president of Sony Worldwide Studios Europe, Michael Denny. Sony said that the Liverpool site would remain in operation, as it was home to a number of Sony World Wide Studios and SCEE Departments. At the time of its closure, it employed roughly one hundred people comprising two development teams. Mick Hocking oversaw Studio Liverpool's operations as its last Group Studio Director, a position he continued to hold within Evolution Studios.
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 used Bandersnatch (one of Imagine's much-hyped but never completed "Megagames") as the basis of what became Brataccas, the first game published by Psygnosis.
The name of another Imagine Megagame – the proposed but never developed Psyclapse – was later used by Psygnosis as an alternative label for some of their releases, such as Captain Fizz Meets The Blaster-Trons and Ballistix.
Psygnosis produced only one title in 1986, 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 better part of ten years. 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 high-quality art resource. This allowed Psygnosis to maintain high graphical standards across the board. The original artists were Garvan Corbett, Jeff Bramfitt, Colin Rushby and Jim Bowers, with Neil Thompson joining a little later.
Obliterator, released in 1988, contained an opening animation by Jim Bowers. This short scene would pave the way for increasingly sophisticated intro animations, starting with 2D hand drawn sequences, and progressing into FMV and 3D rendered movies created with Sculpt 4D on the Amiga. Eventually, Psygnosis would buy 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, with the landmark title Shadow of the Beast bringing the company its greatest success so far in 1989. Its multi-layered parallax scrolling and 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.
Psygnosis consolidated its fame after publishing the DMA Design Lemmings game franchise: debuting in 1991 on the Amiga, Lemmings was ported to a plethora of different computer and video game platforms, generating many sequels and variations of its concept through the years. Microcosm, a game that appeared on the FM Towns, Amiga CD32, and 3DO furthered the company's reputation for games with excellent graphics but limited and poorly designed gameplay.
In 1993, the company was acquired by Sony Electronic Publishing. 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. Psygnosis stated that the PlayStation marked a turning point in their game design, and that their games were now moving away from the prerendered graphics and limited gameplay that the company had become associated with. This was a successful period for the company; in the 1995-96 financial year, Psygnosis games accounted for 40% of all video games sales in Europe.
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.
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. Among the titles created at Stroud are Overboard! and G-Police. 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.
Despite being owned by Sony, Psygnosis retained a degree of independence from its parent company during this period and continued to develop and publish titles for other platforms, including the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64. This caused friction between Psygnosis and Sony, and in 1996 Sony engaged SBC Warburg's services in finding a buyer for Psygnosis. However, though bids reportedly went as high as $300 million (more than ten times what Sony paid for the company just three years before), after six months Sony rescinded its decision to sell Psygnosis. Relations between the two companies had improved during this time, and Sony became reconciled to Psygnosis releasing games for competing platforms. Shortly after, Psygnosis took over distribution of its own titles, a task that Sony had been handling following the buyout.
As Studio Liverpool
In 2000, 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.
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 licence 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 in Europe.
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 available at PlayStation Network, including new game modes, new tracks, new music and new ship skins/models. In 2007 a copy of Manhunt 2 was leaked online prior to its release by an employee from the Sony Europe Liverpool office.
On 29 January 2010, Sony made a public statement. 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.
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.
In 2013 a number of former Studio Liverpool employees formed two new studios: Firesprite which worked on the visuals of The Playroom for the PlayStation 4., and Playrise Digital who had success in the mobile sector with Table Top Racing and are now working on a brand version for PS4, Xbox One and PC called "Table Top Racing: World Tour".
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!.
Games developed or published as Psygnosis
Games developed as SCE Studio Liverpool
|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|
|Wipeout Pulse||2007||PlayStation 2|
|Formula One Championship Edition||2007||PlayStation 3|
|Wipeout HD||2008||PlayStation 3|
|Wipeout HD Fury (DLC)||2009||PlayStation 3|
|Wipeout 2048||2012||PlayStation Vita|
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