So long Studio Liverpool and thanks for all the Feisar
Sony’s announcement of the closure of Studio Liverpool marks the end of an era for PlayStation. An era that spanned three home consoles, countless top-quality games, and – for the PlayStation brand – 17 years of wonderful gaming. Their iconic Wipeout series continually set the technological benchmark throughout that period – squeezing every ounce of graphical juice out of PS1, PS2 and PS3, not to mention PSP and PSVita. The studio and their games are in the DNA of every PlayStation gamer, making the news of their demise as sad as it is shocking.
But for those who can remember even further back, Studio Liverpool started life over a decade before the original PlayStation, with Ian Hetherington and David Lawson founding Psygnosis in 1984. Rising from the ashes of ZX Spectrum developer Imagine Software, Psygnosis shot to prominence in 1986 with the release of Deep Space – a game renowned both for being bastard hard and for its distinctive box-art, with the latter starting a trend for Psygnosis games on the Amiga.
The company went on to recruit some major art talent, including the likes of Jim Bowers (now plying his artistic wizardry in the movie industry) who, in 1988, created a then stunning opening animation to Amiga title Obliterator. Jaw-dropping intro sequences went on to become somewhat of a trademark for Psygnosis, in addition to them garnering a reputation for bleeding edge graphics and, of course, that instantly recognisable owl logo.
1989 was the year Psygnosis really started to gain industry-wide acclaim, with the release of landmark platformer Shadow of the Beast. The game was so technically astounding it was used as a showcase for the Amiga console, making incredible use of parallax scrolling (where the background layers move slower than the foreground layers, creating the illusion of depth in a 2D platformer).
Shadow of the Beast looked incredible in its day
By this time Psygnosis was carving a name for itself in the publishing landscape as well as developing in-house, and in 1991 they published Lemmings by DMA Design – the studio that would go on to become Rockstar North. You might have heard of them.
Lemmings was a ridiculous success, not only spawning countless sequels and spin-offs, but also drawing the attention of a certain Sony Electronic Publishing, who were gearing up for the launch of a brand new 32-bit console the likes of which the industry had never seen before – the PlayStation.
In 1993 – two years before the release of our beloved grey box – Sony swooped in and bought out Psygnosis, and from then on the company created games using the PlayStation as their primary hardware.
This is when Psygnosis started rolling out the big guns. G-Police was an awesome dog-fighting adventure set in a future ravaged by corporate rule – with cities cocooned inside laser-powered domes – accompanied by a pounding electronic soundtrack. It also looked the absolute bomb, and paved the way for what would become Psygnosis’ most successful series in its 28-year history.
1995. Enter Wipeout; a futuristic racer with gorgeous visuals, blistering gameplay and a thumping techno soundtrack. Everyone remembers the first time they played it. It was the start of an incredible gaming legacy that continued on PlayStation with Wipeout 2097 in 1996 and Wipeout 3 in 1999, with the studio also churning out ace titles like Destruction Derby and the Colony Wars series.
1999 also marked the year Psygnosis fully merged with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, dropping its original moniker and emerging as Studio Liverpool. 2001 began a period where the team continued to produce quality racing titles, this time for a new generation of gamer on PlayStation 2. The Formula 1 racing license was acquired, but it was the return of the anti-grav speedways of Wipeout Fusion in 2002 that reaffirmed Studio Liverpool’s place as one of Sony’s top development studios.
Wipeout Fusion on PS2 took the series to a whole new level
The Wipeout name became synonymous with sumptuous visuals, kick ass soundtracks and belting gameplay, and that only grew stronger in 2005 with the release of Wipeout Pure on PSP – the first of two handheld titles in the series.
2008’s Wipeout HD on PS3 wowed audiences all over again with its hi-def re-imagining of classic Wipeout tracks, whereas 2012’s Wipeout 2048 was a slick, vibrant and utterly gorgeous launch title for PlayStation Vita, that also showcased the awesome cross-play potential between Sony’s new handheld and the PS3.
Community Manager Ami Ledger (aka Ami Nakajima) poses with a fan
At the time of their closure, it was rumoured Studio Liverpool were working on two PlayStation 4 titles – one a drastically re-invented Wipeout, the other a Splinter Cell-style stealth game, making news of their demise even harder to swallow.
And it’s not just the fact they make great games. Having spoken to the team a number of times, we can say without reservation that the folks at Studio Liverpool are some of the most talented, passionate and engaging people we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They’re guys who care just as much about their fans than they do their games (and that’s a lot), a fact that’s evident in the goodbye message on their official facebook page; “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.”
We’ll miss you too, Studio Liverpool. PlayStation is a poorer place without you.