RIP Psygnosis, aka SCE Studio Liverpool

Sony ends a UK gaming legacy almost three decades long.

If you have fond memories associated with the very distinct logo above then I’m afraid  this news is going to be something of a kick in the balls (or ovaries if you’re a lady). Yesterday on August 22nd 2012 the studio now known as SCE Studio Liverpool has been officially closed by parent company Sony, ending almost 30 years of British gaming history that began when Ian Hetherington and David Lawson founded Psygnosis back in 1984. Sony’s official reason for the closure is to focus investment on other studios “currently working on exciting new projects” to be  in “a stronger position to offer the best possible content for our consumers”, and other such corporate moonspeak.

If you’re British and grew up with games in the late 80s and early 90s then Psygnosis needs no introduction. Born from the collapse of Liverpool-based publisher Imagine Software, Psygnosis was a publisher and a developer best known for some of the most visually coherent and stunning games of the 8bit and 16bit home computer era, particularly on the Commodore Amiga. This even applied to games they published from third party developers, or lone bedroom programmers with as much traditional artistic skill as a walrus with a crayon sellotaped to his flipper: Psygnosis employed a stable of full-time artists they would lend out to devs whose games needed a graphical polish.

Graphics don’t make the game of course and more than a few Psygnosis games suffered from insanely complex gameplay, ridiculous difficulty or tempremental controls. In general however seeing the distinctive Psygnosis owl logo on the cover of a box, often sporting artwork from celebrated British fantasy artist Roger Dean, was a solid indicator of fun like the Bitmap Brothers or Cinemaware logos. As well as classic titles like the Shadow of the Beast series Psygnosis also published the fondly remembered Lemmings and its sequels, from a small developer called DMA Design that would eventually become gaming juggernaut Rockstar North.

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Sony bought Psygnosis for a huge $48 million in 1993 in the run up to the 1995 western launch of the Sony PlayStation. WipEout was the first game they developed for the console and one of the most iconic PlayStation games, being one of its European launch titles alongside Ridge Racer and Battle Arena Toshinden. Did you also know however that Psygnosis played a hand in creating the PS1’s development tools? As a publisher Psygnosis had previously published development kits from a company called SN Systems for various earlier consoles, and they arranged a similar development toolkit for the PS1 running on cheap PC hardware. They then showed the whole set-up to Sony during CES in 1994 and Sony loved it so much they adopted it as their official development kit.

In 1999 the publishing branch of Psygnosis was merged into Sony Computer Entertainment and the Psygnosis name was discarded for the less-memorable SCE Liverpool. From here SCE Liverpool’s talents were turned almost exclusively to WipEout and Formula One titles for the PS2, PS3, PSP and PS Vita: an uncharacteristically uniform conclusion to a once dizzyingly varied portfolio of wild, beautiful titles. Yesterday’s announcement marks the end of one of the few UK developers to have successfully made the transition from home computers to consoles, the end of almost 30 years of gaming history, and another bullet in the kneecap of the UK’s games development industry.

SCE Liverpool’s final game was WipEout 2048 on the Vita, though according to Eurogamer they had recently been working on two launch titles for Sony’s hypothetical PS4 before Sony pulled the plug. One was a “dramatically different” WipEout game reportedly 12 to 18 months in development, the other a Splinter Cell-style game using motion capture technology similar to LA Noire’s only “a bit ahead of it”.

SCE Studio Liverpool posted the following goodbye message on their official Facebook page.

As some of you may have heard Sony have chosen to close Studio Liverpool as of today. 
This page will no longer be maintained by the WipEout Team.

We have loved making every game, every minute and every one of you. Keep the faith, keep loving WipEout.

Thank you for everything, Pilots. It’s been an amazing journey and we’ll miss you.

I leave you with Tim Wright’s epic spine-tingling game over theme from the Amiga version of Shadow of the Beast 2. It seems only fitting somehow.

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About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.