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Obituary: Sony Studio Liverpool

Daily Digest: Long live Psygnosis

Britain has a peerless heritage for pioneering racing games. Its specialist studios spread across the country. It has Codemasters and Evolution in the midlands and North West, Criterion in Guildford and Eutechnyx North East. Sumo Digital stands way up north and Stainless Games sits deep down south.

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But even with such deep reserves of talent, the loss of Sony Liverpool will be impossible to ignore.

The studio, now three decades old, has developed and published more than 100 games.

Parallax pioneers

Founded in 1984 by Ian Hetherington and David Lawson, Psygnosis rose from the ashes of Imagine Software, a prominent ZX Spectrum and VIC-20 developer of humble beginnings that created games such as Arcadia and Jumping Jack.

The studio's first game, Deep Space, boasted a distinctive look with its sci-fi and fantasy styling designed by English artist Roger Dean.

Dean went on to design the iconic Psygnosis logo that, even when it was abandoned in 2001, remained instantly recognisable even on the day the studio closed.

Psygnosis' early games were famous for their ambitious visual presentation, though not quite as much for its gameplay.

In the late eighties, the company shifted focus from developing to publishing. The partnerships it fostered in the years ahead would define Psygnosis as a purveyor of quality.

Its breakthrough title, Shadow of the Beast, was developed by Reflections Interactive and released in 1989. The game is widely applauded for pioneering a technique called multi-layer parallax scrolling; something never before seen on the Amiga, but a visual workaround that has been relied upon countless times since.

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The company went from strength to strength. It partnered with DMA Design, a studio now flying under the Rockstar North flag. The sci-fi trappings of DMA's first two games, Menace and Blood Money, had fit comfortably in the Psygnosis portfolio and the challenging gameplay of both generated praise.

But it was the release of Lemmings, considered by many to be the precursor to the real-time strategy genre, which earned both companies worldwide acclaim.

Lemmings released in 1991 to rave reviews and sales of the game dwarfed any of DMA's previous titles. While Menace sold about 20,000 copies and Blood Money 40,000, Lemmings moved 55,000 copies on its release.

The final lap

Perhaps the most significant and career-defining milestone in Psygnosis' history was its acquisition by Sony Electronic Publishing in 1993 - a move which, at the time, may have suggested that the studio's future was in Walkmans and TV operating systems.

The reality, of course, is that Psygnosis was going to be an instrumental studio that became part of a home console revolution.

For PlayStation, Psygnosis developed a number of major games including G-Police and Colony Wars, but its futuristic racing title WipEout proved to be its defining work.

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Eight years since it formed the Sony partnership, the PlayStation firm decided to axe the 'Psygnosis' name and rebrand it SCE Studio Liverpool.

The group's Camden studio was renamed 'Studio Camden', and eventually would become what is now known as SCE London.

Under the name SCE Studio Liverpool, the group's first release was Formula One 2001, a launch title for Sony's second-generation PlayStation. Studio Liverpool would go on to release eight additional F1 games between 2001 and 2007.

In 2012, the group released its final finished project, WipEout 2048 for the PlayStation Vita. It had the hallmark of quality expected of any major Psygnosis game.

As its developers emerge from the studio this evening, now facing the prospect of unemployment, they should take at least a brief comfort in knowing they were part of a true British institution - a culturally significant development hub that will not be forgotten.

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Image Credit: Benjamin Parry

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