SCE Studio Liverpool is a video game development house head-quartered at Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool, England. It is part of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios. Founded in 1984 as Psygnosis, the company is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment and currently employs roughly 100 individuals comprising two development teams. Mick Hocking currently oversees Studio Liverpool's operations as Group Studio Director, a position he also holds within two other SCE-owned developers, Evolution Studios and Bigbig Studios.
Studio Liverpool, which is the oldest and second largest development house within Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's stable of developers, 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.
Founded by Ian Hetherington and Jonathan Ellis, the Liverpool-based Psygnosis was born from the ashes of the defunct 8-bit game company Imagine Software, where 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. The first two games developed by the company, Bandersnatch (for the ZX Spectrum) and Psyclapse (for the Commodore 64), were fused into one to become Psygnosis' first release, called Brataccas. This game was originally created for the Sinclair QL, but was instead ported over to other Motorola 68000-based machines and released on the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, and Apple Mac in 1985.
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' 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.
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.
However, Commodore financial troubles with subsequent bankruptcy, and the arrival of new relevant actors in video gaming scene, were among the causes of a major shifting in Psygnosis commercial strategy.
Acquisition by Sony
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.
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 PS-X 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.
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.
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 installments 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.
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".