This is a very rough first draft (errors and all) of the first three chapters of a book I’m currently working on. A book that will cover the history of the British game development scene of the 80s and 90s. Each chapter of the book will cover a company from the start up to the very end. The final product will be much better as I have big plans for the final design. This is just meant as a taster of what is to come…
Everybody is aware of the infamous Video Game Crash of 1983 right? For those not in the know, please allow me to give you a brief synopsis.
It all began toward the end of 1982, at the time many manufacturers believed that the future of video games was solid and would soon become the biggest form of entertainment in the world. The market exploded in the late 70s and very early 80s – companies such as Atari Inc, Coleco Industries and Magnavox were flooding the market with as many gaming consoles as they could along with numerous software developers and publishers stocking the shelves with thousands and thousands of games, as many as they could pump out. Business was booming as the home market of gaming swelled and swelled. The gaming industry was bringing in around $3.2 billion in by the start of 1983. Yet by the end of 1985, revenue dropped by almost 97%.
You see, the simple fact is that the bottom fell out of the industry in early 1983 and as all these companies kept filling shop shelves with consoles and games – people just stopped buying. Everyone involved had managed to over saturate the market, they had over estimated just how popular the gaming boom was and how long it would last and many of the companies involved went bankrupt. Shops were fully stocked with both hardware and software…yet hardly anyone was buying. This all lead to one of the most famous myths of gaming ever. That Atari buried hundreds and thousands of pieces of hardware and software in a landfill somewhere in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This myth was proven to be 100% true when the landfill was found and dug up in 2014.
Anyway, point is that in the early/mid 80s the game’s industry was all but dead, this was a catastrophic world wide event and it took Nintendo to save the future of gaming when they released their Nintendo Entertainment System. Well that is what a lot of people believe anyway. Yes the Video Game Crash of 1983 did happen but it was not a world wide event. Truth is that it was pretty much only North America that was really effected by it with some very mild ripples felt elsewhere in the world.
Here in England for instance, when news of the game crash hit us in 1983, we pretty much ignored it, turned on our ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s and just carried on playing games. Largely due to the fact that by the time the crash occurred, Britain had a very strong games industry of its own thanks to the rise of the microcomputers of the day and the many hard-working software companies that were growing stronger and stronger at the time. These companies were set up by young and hungry entrepreneurs with a genuine passion for video games. The software was often made by the ‘bedroom coders’ very small groups of people of two or three teenagers, sometimes even working solo. The coders would sit at their computer and spend countless hours inputting line after line after line of computer code to create their own home-brewed software. The Indie game’s market we have today owes a lot to these trailblazers from the early 80s.
This book is an homage to pay respects to some of the very best of British game developers and publishers that not only kept the games industry alive but helped it to grow. From developers/publishers that flew too close to the sun and destroyed themselves to more successful stories of companies that are not only still around today but are some of the biggest, most popular and influential developers/publishers in the games industry right now.
There’s a really interesting tapestry of British video games that is often overlooked and swept under the carpet. Stories that intertwine and reveal a fascinating piece of gaming history.
This is The Best of British: A History of British Game Developers & Publishers.
Imagine Software was founded in 1982 in Liverpool, England. But we need to go back a couple more years to another software company also based in Liverpool, Bug-Byte Software Ltd in 1980 who became famous for publishing the massively popular game Manic Miner developed by Matthew Smith. Manic Miner is one of British gaming’s all time classics and often cited as one of the games that made the platforming genre what it is today.
It was sometime in 1982 when several Bug-Byte employees left the company and decided to go it alone including; Mark Butler, David Lawson and Eugene Evans. Staying in Liverpool, they set up Imagine Software which has been suggested was named after the most famous song from Liverpool’s most famous son – John Lennon. Imagine quickly made a name for themselves by employing some of the best coders of the early 80s. Butler and Lawson were very close friends and had previously worked together at one of the countries first ever (if not THE first) microcomputer shops, Microdigital. Which was in the heart of Liverpool city centre.
When they formed Imagine Software, Butler and Lawson invited their old boss and owner of Microdigital – Bruce Everiss to join them and after selling his shop, he agreed. Everiss took on the role of Public Relations and everyday operations within Imagine. Mark Butler became the company director while David Lawson and Eugene Evans were lead programmers. But there was one more member of the team that was hired at the request of Lawson – Ian Hetherington who came on-board as the company’s financial adviser.
Unusual for a game company at the time Imagine loved being in-front of the cameras, they would hold interviews and try to get their name in print as much as they could. There is one major example of this with the utterly engrossing BBC documentary Commercial Breaks originally broadcast in 1984 which followed both Imagine and Ocean that was also a huge help and inspiration for compiling research for this book. One thing the guys at Imagine loved to do was show off their success. You would often find articles written about the company founders in gaming magazines where they would gloat about once being lonely bedroom coders to showing off their millions of pounds they were pulling in at the time. Imagine were PR experts lead by Everiss and never turned down the chance to get their names in the press. Yes, Imagine became huge in the early 80s but I feel I’m jumping ahead slightly here and need to go back to how they became successful to begin with as no matter how great your PR is, a game company is nothing if you don’t have the games to sell.
David Lawson had an idea for a title back when he was still working for Bug-Byte Software before Imagine existed. However, he felt that Bug-Byte were too small to sell his game so he sat on it for a while and when he co-formed Imagine, he realised he was now in the right position to get his game developed and sold. That game was Arcadia.
Released in 1982 for the ZX Spectrum, Arcadia was the first game from Imagine Software. It was a pretty good arcade style shoot em’ up that received very favourable reviews in the gaming magazines back in the day. Arcadia was one of the those early games that helped to forge a path for microcomputer gaming as a whole and laid the foundations of what was to come over the next few years. For its time of release, it sold very well indeed and could be credited with setting up Imagine financially and giving them the leg up they needed which allowed them to become one of the most popular developer/publishers of the day.
The money Arcadia brought in allowed Imagine to grow as they hired more programmers who would go on to produce some of the best games of the early 80s and push the ZX Spectrum to its limits. 1982 was their introduction year, but it was 1983 where Imagine would go from strength to strength as they released game after game after game. Titles such as Alchemist, Ah Diddums, Zzoom and Stonkers – just to name a few, all from 1983. It was as if the stars had aligned as everything just fell into place. Bedroom coders were booming meaning Imagine could pick and choose from the best young talent. The ZX Spectrum, which was Imagine’s main computer of choice for their games was fast becoming the gaming computer of choice and was selling well in England and Imagine were right at the forefront with front row seats to what many consider the birth of the microcomputer gaming industry.
Bedroom coders where becoming a hot property, you could pick up a well known newspaper in 1983 and find interviews featuring these (often) teenagers who had knocked up a game at home and managed to sell it to a publisher making plenty of money in royalties along the way. 1983 was most definitely the best year Imagine could wish for…but 1984 would be the year where Imagine would fall.
Once the money started coming in throughout 1983, Imagine would spend it just as quickly as they earned it. They upgraded to state of the art offices and computers, hired more and more staff to a point where they had around 100 employees – which for a game company in the early 80s was stupidly big. Still, improving your work-space and employees is pretty standard stuff but Imagine tried to grow too big, too quickly. Money was not just being spent on improving the office as huge chucks of their profits were going towards lavish parties and sports cars. The founders drove around in Ferraris, Porches and BMWs, even the mid and lower-level employees drove expensive cars including the cleaners. Imagine’s company director Mark Butler owned a custom built Harris motorbike and at some point in 1983, they even planned to get a helipad built on top of their office – just because they could afford to. Oh and let’s not forget the bike racing team…yes Imagine had their own racing team. Most probably set up just so Butler could enjoy riding his bike(s) at high speed.
Imagine loved flaunting all they had, telling their success story to the press as they were becoming the face of the home computer gaming boom. David Lawson gave their programmers complete freedom to create whatever they wanted with no disruption. Which sounds like an amazing job – but with little direction or discipline, it meant many of the employed coders would just sit around doing nothing and getting paid very well for it too. Through all of this with all the money they made in 1983 and all they were spending, Imagine never bothered to hire a professional accountant. By the end of 1983, the cracks had already began to appear at Imagine as the four heads of the company split down the middle with David Lawson and Ian Hetherington on one side while Mark Butler and Bruce Everiss were on the other. They couldn’t agree on the direction the company should be heading in and while the disagreements continued – so did the spending of money. The slowly forming cracks became more widened and severely fractured. Their games stared to suffer too and what were once well developed and polished titles at the start of 1983 became lazy and messy games be the time Christmas rolled around.
But there was one major factor that would be the beginning of the end for Imagine…well technically two factors. Psyclapse and Bandersnatch – two games that Imagine had planned that would be truly groundbreaking. Two games that Imagine heavily advertised and two games that they were calling ‘megagames’.
If things at Imagine were starting to look bad before, then they were only going to get much, much worse with these titles. These two megagames that were only two of an proposed six – were envisioned to push the ZX Spectrum way beyond its limits. Imagine did all they could to hype up these games to boiling point. Publishers Marshal Cavendish supposedly made a deal for the games that was worth around £11 million…in 1983s money. Which was, back then an obscene amount of cash, especially for just two pieces of software. When the deal was signed, Imagine celebrated by spending even more money. More parties, more sports cars, more racing bikes and the like. Its a cliché but these guys were living like rock stars.
In order for these games to work on the ZX Spectrum, they would have to be sold with some kind of expansion cartridge which drove the cost price of the games up through the roof. These megagames were estimated to have been sold for around £40, which by today’s standards is about normal. But back in late 1983/early 84, Imagine’s games typically sold for around £5-£7, just to put things into perspective.
David Lawson threw himself into developing these games and did something he previously refused to do – oversee and manage the programmers. The ads for the games were already running in the numerous gaming magazines at the time, deals had been made for not only the publishing rights but also the cover art, which was commissioned to be done by the legendary Roger Dean who also created the artwork for many rock albums, book covers and even other video games. It was Bandersnatch in particular that took up most of Lawson’s time. There were problems…big problems as the game was no where near complete despite all the hype and advertising Imagine had carried out. The programmers just could not get it to work at all and while all of this was going on, Imagine’s company director, Mark Butler was more interested in and invested most of his time in the bike racing team than the development of the software. Butler’s apparent lack of interest in the company meant that Bruce Everiss stepped up as unofficial boss – even if he never wanted to be. Everiss fought hard to keep Imagine from going under, yet he was fighting a losing battle.
It was Christmas of 1983 and Imagine wanted to take advantage of the silly season as much as they could. Using an aggressive tactic to try and gain a monopoly of Christmas game sales, they hired out the entirety of one of the biggest duplicating factories to produce their games. This meant that their competitors would find it more difficult to get games into shops while Imagine would have an abundance of software all ready to go on sale for Christmas. But the plan backfired for one major reason and one very similar to what bought about the game crash of North America, they over produced. Yes Imagine had plenty of games on the shelves for Christmas, hundreds of thousands of them in fact, but after Christmas the sales dropped as they normally do after the festive season and yet there were still thousands and thousands of copies of Imagine’s software sitting on the shelves that no one was buying. While we here in Blighty didn’t have anything anywhere near as severe as the 1983 video game crash, sales did slow down. With the tonnes of games still on the shelves in early 1984 and sales figures dropping everywhere, Imagine had no other option but to try and sell of their games dirt cheap in an attempt reclaim some of that cash that went into producing them in the first place. Once more, Imagine were spending more money than they were making.
This all tied into the previously mentioned megagames, if they struggled to sell their current games at discounted prices after Christmas then how were they going to sell the these megagames at £40? Seeing development for these games had ground to a halt, publisher Marshal Cavendish began to get very cold feet over the £11 million deal and eventually pulled out. They also demanded any revenue back…money that Imagine had already been spending. To save hemorrhaging money, Imagine could have cut back on staff, downsized if you will – but no as the company began to crumble in early 1984 they held onto their 100 strong employees refusing to let anyone go. There was a plan put in place where Imagine would sell their non-working megagame Bandersnatch to Sinclair Research who in turn could then sell the game for the Sinclair QL computer. For those not in the know, the Sinclair QL computer is one of the biggest microcomputer failures of its day – so obviously that didn’t pan out either.
It was around Christmas of 83 time when director Paul Anderson was making his previously mentioned BBC documentary Commercial Breaks. Filming both Imagine and Ocean with the idea that he would capture an amazing part of history where young entrepreneurs were riding the wave of the video game revolution selling thousands of games over the Christmas period of 1983. Yet what he actually captured on film was the fall of Imagine. It was now the summer of 1984 and after several months of mismanagement, deals falling through and excessive spending of money – the roof finally caved in on Imagine and it was all caught on camera thanks to Anderson’s documentary. There is one part in particular from Commercial Breaks where the bailiffs turn up at Imagine’s office to reclaim anything of value. The bailiffs were reclaiming so much equipment from the Imagine office they there even tired to take the cameras from the crew filming Paul Anderson’s documentary thinking it all belonged to Imagine.
On the 9th of July 1984, Imagine were no more, forced to close and declare bankruptcy. They only lasted around 18 months or so – but what a year and a half it was. Imagine were very young and very stupid. They made their fortune, changed the British gaming industry forever and paved the way for many other companies after them. They were trailblazers in many ways but they also managed to destroy everything they worked to build. Many of the head honchos and staff of Imagine went onto other careers within the games industry, some massively successfully so too.
Now I know what some of you older gamers may be thinking right now – that you remember playing Imagine games long after 1984 and yes, you’d be right. So if they closed in 84 then how were you playing their games right up to 1989? Well this is where Ocean Software stepped in as they brought the Imagine name and released some of their games through the the name even if the company itself was dead…but that is a story for the next chapter of this book.
Oh and I guess you’re curious about those megagames too? Well information on Psyclapse is nonexistent. As far as I can tell, the game never even begun development at all. Imagine just had a name, a few ideas and a several ads running in gaming magazines to hype it up. But Bandersnatch is a very different story. That one was most definitely being worked on and you can even see as much in the Commercial Breaks documentary where footage is shown of the game being developed. Oh yeah, and it was even eventually released too. Given a name change but it was the first game developed and published by Psygnosis – the company set up by Ian Hetherington after the collapse of Imagine and a game developer/publisher that became one of the best, most loved of the 80s, 90s and even 2000s and again, this is something I’ll cover in another chapter.
The bedroom coding revolution in the early 80 was going from strength to strength. Many of these coders were young kids, some still at school making games at home, selling them to eager publishers like Imagine and making a hansom profit for their work too. Ocean however were a little different.
Founded in Manchester, England in 1983 and originally called Spectrum Games by two school old friends, John Woods and David Ward. These two previously owned a clothing shop aimed at young teens, but when that dried up, they decided to turn their business minds to computer games instead despite knowing nothing about the games industry at the time. But Woods and Ward were eager enough to learn as they went. Their first foray into video games was a pretty big risk as they began by using a mail-order system to sell cheap knockoffs of popular arcade games like Missile Command and Frogger in the back of gaming magazines. Their idea was to deliver the games to anyone that wanted them within twenty eight days, but there was a major problem – the games themselves had not yet been made. Sounds pretty rough right? Well it was, but these knockoffs were easy enough to program making the turnaround relatively quick, bedroom coders made the games and sent them to Spectrum Games to be sold onto the people who had placed their order.
Spectrum Games as a business worked despite its roughness but as they were selling games on both the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore Vic-20, the name didn’t really work. So later in 1983, Spectrum Games was renamed Ocean Software. Setting up in Manchester meant they were secluded enough to keep themselves to themselves but close enough to keep an eye on their main rivals in Liverpool – Imagine who were a few miles down the motorway. As I covered in the previous chapter, Imagine were at the top of their game in 1983 they were THE gaming company that their rivals wanted to better. If Imagine were the Jimi Hendrix of the gaming industry with a live fast die young and leave a good looking corpse attitude, then Ocean were Cliff Richard. While the guys and gals at Imagine were doing press interviews to show off their success, while they were driving around in their Ferraris and Porsches – Ocean were much quieter, they were low key and the business minds of John Woods and David Ward began to do their thing. Instead of showing off, they started doing something which they would become famous for further down the line…licensed games. Ocean began to tire of selling cheap arcade knockoffs, they wanted to sell the actual arcade games instead.
Ocean’s first attempt at selling a genuine arcade title came when they set up a deal with Century Electronics to do a port of their popular arcade game Hunchback in 1983. They paid a coder to do the port and spent around three grand on getting the licence for the game too. When released, Hunchback on the ZX Spectrum became one of Ocean’s first big hits and in a rather shewed move, Ocean split the original game into two parts and released Hunchback II (which was really just the latter part of the original arcade game) in 1984, so they made two games for the price of one licence…clever stuff.
Woods and Ward started to see a future in this video gaming business and unlike Imagine, they applied a business model and management to their company. Part of that business model was to buy the Imagine name when they went bust in 1984, Ocean now technically owned their main rivals and could release games under that name too…so they did. The Imagine name was already well known to gamers and industry veterans back then thanks to their constant press interviews and well reported lifestyle meaning an already built-in customer base existed and Ocean could take advantage if that. Some big Japanese gaming companies like Konami didn’t like the idea of having the relatively ‘quiet’ Ocean publish their games but had no problem with someone like Imagine do it for example. So Ocean could use the Imagine name to get bigger games released here in Blighty for home computers and formed a strong relationship with Konami in the mid 80s. Games like Green Beret which was a big hit for Konami could see a home port by Ocean via the Imagine name. Another company that used the Imagine name to publish their games was Data East, a relationship that would prove to be integral in Ocean’s success later.
If there was one thing that made Ocean stand out against the other game developers/publishers of that early and mid 80s period, then it was what would become known as the ‘Ocean Loader’. See when we loaded games from cassette tapes on our computers back then, we would get a screen of nothing much other then a few words on the screen telling us the game was loading, with flashing coloured lines and a god-awful screeching sound that made your ears bleed. Ocean changed all of that when they introduced their unique loading screens. Instead of boring text and screeching sounds, we got some nifty 8-bit artwork (usually the cover art of the game) and some awesome chiptune music to enjoy too. In fact the Ocean Loader is still so popular today that fans use them to make pretty impressive modern day mixes and such. Just for the record, the first Ocean game to use this was their port of the arcade classic Hyper Sports in 1985.
It was in 1986 when Ocean even got to work with the mighty Nintendo. Yes, they released a home port of Donkey Kong as even an official version of the original Mario Brothers game on the ZX Spectrum. Ocean’s games in the mid 80s period were solid and very well received and they were able to attract some of the best coders of the day. People like Jonathan “Joffa” Smith who’s home ports of arcade games were simply incredible and pushed the ZX Spectrum to its limits. Some young unknown programmer by the name of Jon Ritman approached Ocean with a game he made called Match Day, which would go on to become one of the most loved football games released on the Spectrum…and he was only just getting started too.
Some of the folks who had worked at Imagine set up their own software houses when the company finally went bust and joined forces with Ocean to release their games, Denton Designs and Special FX were more than happy to have their games released under the Ocean name. Coupled with the well known Imagine name, Ocean became a massively popular publisher in that mid 80s era of gaming and had numerous respected developers and bedroom coders making games for them.
The licensed game fad hadn’t really been explored that much in gaming back then, while there had been previous games released with big named licenses attached – Ocean were the first company to really push the idea and became known for their arcade/movie/TV/music/sports tie-ins. Their first big licensing success was in 1984 when they took a big gamble on a then up and coming decathlete Daley Thompson. Thompson was set to participate in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and Ocean had secured the rights to make a game in his name, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. Ocean had managed to get the license quite cheap as at the time Thompson was known, but not exactly famous. But this was still a big gamble for Ocean as if Thompson failed at the Olympics, then the game would be a disaster – I mean, who would want to buy a game with the name of an Olympic loser on the cover? But Thompson didn’t lose…he won big time. He dominated, broke the world record. By the time the 1984 Olympics ended, Thompson was a British hero and became a megastar. Ocean’s tie-in game, which was a well designed knock-off of Konami’s Track & Field, ended up becoming a staggering success and one of the most popular and best selling games on the ZX Spectrum. Ocean had their first bona fide mega-hit.
Not one to rest on their laurels, Ocean and more to the point John Woods and David Ward soon realised that the that future of the company lay in licensed games. More specifically that they could get other licenses before the name became famous and take a gamble on making a game based on them as less famous licenses were always cheaper to obtain. They quickly followed up on their success of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon with another license…one that was a bigger gamble than Daley Thompson. Frankie Goes to Hollywood were a band who made headlines with their debut song Relax in 1983. A rather controversial band, controversy that only helped them become stars and in 1985 Denton Designs made a game based on the band that was published by Ocean. Frankie Goes to Hollywood (the game) was yet another big hit for Ocean and this weird yet wonderful title became one of the most loved and highly regarded games for the Commodore 64. A brilliant piece of business acumen came in the shape of a very exclusive mix of the song Relax which came bundled with the game, so if you wanted to own the song – you had to buy the game. I’m pretty sure many people purchased the game just to get their hands on the mix of Relax.
By the mid 80s, the Ocean name became synonymous with licensed games and for the most part, they were good games too. They managed to keep the cost of the license down by buying them before the intellectual property became popular – as they did with the previously mentioned Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. Ocean took chances and rolled the dice numerous times with their licensed games. Buying the name after the movie/TV show or whatever became a hit mean the cost of the license would go through the roof and thus decrease the profit margin. So to keep themselves in the loop of what could be the next big hit, Ocean made several contacts in Hollywood and would often fly some of their top people over there ever few months or so to look over scripts and pick ones they felt could make good games. Ocean were very savvy in this regard as getting a license early not only kept the cost down, but it also allowed them the maximum time to work on the games and get them ready for the inevitable tie-in. Whether it be for a cinematic release or one on on VHS. If the film bombed then there would be a good change that the game would too but Ocean had not lost spent a fortune on the license and could hopefully reclaim some of it back from software sales. On the other hand, if the movie was a hit…they could be sitting on a huge successful game.
1985 was the year that Ocean really began to make waves in the industry and where they really began to sink their hooks into the whole licensed games idea. Their previous successes of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and the Frankie Goes to Hollywood games were just the beginning, the dawn of a much brighter future. Their text-adventure game based on The NeverEnding Story movie was their first big hit based on a film and it all just escalated from there really. Some of their early movies based games such as Short Circuit and Rambo were well received at the time and offered rich and varied gameplay. The negative stigmata that is attache to licensed games now just didn’t exist back then. Back when Ocean were doing their thing, they actually wanted to make good games based on movies and not just churn out some tat because it had a recognisable name attached to it and for the most part, they were incredibly successful at it too. Though they did have a few stinkers along the way too cough Highlander.
You could be mistaken for thinking all Ocean ever did was develop/publish licensed games because that is exactly what they became most famous for. But they had their fair share of originals titles to, some were and still are stone cold classics. Head Over Heels, Wizball and Where Time Stood Still to name just a few of their original hits. Oh yeah, they had some amazing original games mixed in with all the licensed ones – but it was their movie tie-ins that really stood out…one in particular.
Ocean’s relationship with Data East went from strength to strength in the mid 80s as they published several ports of some of Data East’s most popular arcade games for the home market. In 1987 they teamed up to work together on a licensed game for a low budget sci-fi/action flick that Ocean managed to secure in their almost trademark fashion of getting the license early. This one was a big gamble as the film had no real stars of note, a director from Amsterdam that nobody had ever heard of and a script that even the people involved with the film thought would be a big flop. In this instance the home game would come first released by Ocean with Data East making an arcade version later. The game would be ready for the VHS release of the film in 1988. The film was Robocop. The Robocop movie despite all it had going against it became a gargantuan success and is still thought of as being one of the very best films in its genre today among film-fans. The ZX Spectrum Robocop game was a beautiful melding of side-scrolling/shooting action and mini games all based very closely on major scenes from the film. Data East’s arcade version was also equally great though slightly tinkered with to be a real coin-eater. The Spectrum game rested on top of the sales charts for around a year and a half and it became a major hit for every machine it was ported to, it was also the first game to sell over a million units in the U.K.
After the knockout sales of the Robocop game, other companies started to cotton on to this whole licensed game thing and dipped their toes in the proverbial waters too. U.S Gold to name just one (more on them later) became one of Ocean’s biggest rivals during this period.
It was now the late 80s with a new decade on the horizon. Everyone at Ocean were beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labour and there was great camaraderie running throughout the entire Ocean Software offices. The executives in their suits saw no problem with hanging out with the coders and their ripped jeans. It was a real family kind of place and Ocean’s showings at expos and so on were real fan-driven affairs. Ocean were living the highlife and avoided self-destruction unlike Imagine had done so previously. All the while Ocean’s founders, John Woods and David Ward kept the business running smoothly never letting anyone get too big of a head or an over-inflated ego. After all,there was still work to be done, games to be published.
One of Ocean’s more popular hits came in the form of a superhero. Brilliant Ocean coder, Jon Ritman teamed up with Bernie Drummond in 1986 and released the classic isometric puzzle/platformer, Batman. Ocean also released a pseudo-sequel two years later with Batman: The Caped Crusader. Already establishing a popular and profitable relationship with The Dark Knight, Ocean secured the rights to make a game based on the then up and coming Batman film from Tim Burton. Helped by their contacts in Hollywood and the fact that a huge chucks of the film was being shot a London’s famous Pinewood Studios meant that Ocean had unprecedented access behind the scenes during the making of the film. They got to see the sets, costumes and more importantly – the script. Armed with all of this knowledge meant that they could make a game that could look like and follow the film as closely as possible and even have it out in shops in time for the cinematic release of the flick. At the time, the Batman movie was getting a lot of bad press what with things like the casting of Micheal Keaton to play Batman being a particular problem for many fans, also the fact that most people believed the film was going to be comedic throwback to the kitchy 1960s TV show. Oh yes, this film caused quite a stink when it was announced and being filmed, a lot of negativity that could severely affect the sales of the game. But when the picture hit cinemas in 1989, Tim Burton’s darker take on Batman became the biggest movie hit of the year, all of which did wonders for the sales of the game on numerous platforms. Ocean once more rolled the dice and made out like bandits on a movie licence. The game also came bundled with the Amiga 500 and helped shift around two million units of the home computer making it the must have machine of the time.
But there is another side to Ocean’s movie tie-in success that all came about by the time the 90s rolled around after the big hits like Robocop and Batman: The Movie (the game). You see, Ocean seemed to fall into a bit of a repetitive cycle and many of their games just followed the same standard formula of side-scrolling action with a few mini-games thrown in. A lot of Ocean’s titles post Robocop and Batman started to feel very samey, just with a new license attached. Games such as Navy Seals, The Untouchables, Total Recall and even the sequel to their biggest hit, Robocop all could be quite easily interchangeable with each other. The problem was not that Ocean were seemingly making license game after license game but more a case of them just rehashing the same game over and over with little variation other than the aesthetics. Their lucky streak of taking big gambles on up and coming films, getting the license early was also beginning to turn as the started to back films that became flops. In the early 90s, Bruce Willis was THE big movie star and pretty much everything he was involved in was gold. So it made perfect sense that Ocean would make a game based on his then newest flick – the problem was the movie and game in question was Hudson Hawk. While the game itself was actually a pretty decent platformer – the movie bombed and so in turn did the game. They rolled the dice once more on an early license but this time crapped out.
The early 90s were a rough time for Ocean as their games started to feel more than a bit stale and there were other British software and publishing houses that were starting to emerge bringing a new wave of ideas and concepts with them. The 8-bit home computers, the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the like were the old guard making way for the newer and more sprightly Atari ST and Amiga 500 with their all singing and dancing 16-bits, but Ocean felt a reluctance to let the generation that brought them the most success die out. Ocean stuck close to their guns and still released games for the older generation while other companies were quickly shifting to the newer one. Their last ever game for the 8-bit computers was within a franchise they knew very well indeed. Robocop 3 was released on the Commodore 64 in 1992 when the computer was all but dead and on a life support machine. It was also around this time when Ocean put to rest one of their most famous sub-labels, the Imagine name was finally laid to rest. The 8-bit ear was now completely dead so Ocean turned their full attention to the 16-bit era…around three or four years after many of their peers had already done so. Things had changed a lot over the last ten years or so and two big gaming companies were starting to dominate the market, Sega and Nintendo – it was time to chose a side over just who’s games of the big two would they publish? As back then everyone had to choose either Sega or Nintendo. Given the fact Ocean had already established a good working relationship with Nintendo by publishing some of their games for the 8-bit computers – it made sense to stick with them for the 16-bit era too, so they did.
The licensed market, the very market where Ocean made their biggest hits also began to change. The people who owned the intellectual properties began to realise they could make even more money as the game industry grew and grew. There would be no more cheap licenses like Robocop or Batman, from this point on the film-makers, the production studios wanted money and lost of it. They also wanted to interfere with the game production and attempt to gain some control over the development of the software. The times they were a-changin’. Things were becoming strained at Ocean as they slowly lost a grip on the market they once dominated – the movie licensed game. That’s not to say Ocean didn’t release and good 16-bit movie tie-in during the early 90s because they did. Games such as The Addams Family was a solid platformer helped massively by the fact the movie proved to be a hit too and became one of Ocean’s most popular and memorable games. They even released an all new Robocop 3, one that was very different to the previous 8-bit game and one that became a solid hit on the 16-bit computers. But they also had the odd flop along the way. I mean, they did release a game tie-in for Cool World – that huge cinematic bomb.
There was a certain film director who also got involved with Ocean, someone who was not only one of the finest storytellers to ever make movies but also someone who was a self-confessed video game fan. Some fella by the name of Steven Spielberg. Working with Ocean was not the director’s first foray into the gaming world as he previously got involved in making a game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – but the less said about that the better. The big Spielberg flick of the early 90s was something involving dinosaurs. Ocean payed something like $3 million for the Jurassic Park license – quite a difference to the few grand they were paying for their earlier licensed games. There were numerous meetings between Ocean and Spielberg himself as he wanted to ensure the game was a faithful to his film as it could be, he demanded the very best. He wanted the Jurassic Park game to be revolutionary, a melding of impressive gameplay elements that would come together and make the very best game Ocean could achieve. In 1993 Jurassic Park was released for the SNES a few months after the flick became the bog summer blockbuster of the year. It was a very mixed bag of a game that neither excelled nor disappointed…it just kind of existed. A mix of open world action/adventure and first person shooter. Reportedly, Spielberg was happy with the end result even if it hardly set the gaming world alight, it sold well given its license and made Ocean a profit even with the hefty $3 million license fee.
But things were starting to dry up in terms of licensed games, more and more companies were releasing them and the market became over flooded with poor quality games sold just because they had a familiar name attached to them. The start of the stigmata attached to licensed games had begun and wouldn’t change for…well its never changed. But Ocean would have another stab at a licensed game by the time 1995 rolled around and this one was a doozy.
Perhaps the biggest film of 1995 was a Mad Max-esque, post-apocalyptic/action film. One that cost $235 million to produce and market which was (at the time) the most expensive film ever made. The film was Waterworld and it was a huge bomb. Ocean’s SNES game based on the movie went much the same way too. It was a mish-mash of shooting/sailing/platforming, in short – it was a mess that didn’t really know what it was doing or have any direction. So in that regard it was extremely faithful to the movie. They even released a version for the Nintendo’s mega flop that was the Virtual Boy, just let that concept sink in for a while.
Ocean’s financial troubles were just beginning and the mega-flop that was Waterworld hardly helped either. They tried to open a subsidiary in the U.S but that proved to be a failure and was losing money faster than it could make it. Ocean also tried to crack other countries in Europe including France but they had their own and very popular software house, Infogrames that was doing great business at the time, so France didn’t want or need Ocean The mid 90s were a very tough time for all at Ocean and more than once, they came close to shutting up shop. They were still bringing in some coin, but just not like “the good ole’ days” and they could no longer take risks on potential films scripts getting the rights at a low price à la Robocop as the market had changed so much with film studios much more savvy to the whole licensed game niche as they demanded more and more money to use their intellectual properties.
The 16-bit era was a tough time for Ocean as they slowly lost their grip on the gaming trends of the time but the 32-bit machines were just around the corner, maybe they would have more luck in this generation over the previous one? In 1995, Ocean released what could be considered their “last hurrah” – while not their final game, Worms proved to be a big hit that would eventually go on to become a successful franchise with the original game being ported to every popular computer and console back then. But even the massively well received Worms could not save them and Ocean merged with the previously mentioned Infogrames who were looking to expand their ever rising popularity. This was not a simple selling of of the company, so not quite the end of the story as Infogrames continued to use the Ocean moniker to release more games so technically Ocean never closed it doors and still existed…for now at least.
Sadly the games published by Infogrames using the Ocean name hardly set the world alight and are all but forgotten about. Titles such as Multi-Racing Championship, Tunnel B1 and Jersey Devil are really quite unimpressive and few people are even aware they exist, quite a difference compared to the old 8-bit days and the early 16-bit years when the name Ocean really meant something and was a reputable mark of quality in gaming. Even the staff at Ocean no longer felt that family atmosphere from the good old days. Infogrames just seemed to lose interest in the Ocean name before too long and the once mighty, well respected Ocean Software just kind of dissolved into nothing. It seemed like Infogrames just wanted to buy various gaming companies to grow their empire as they swallowed up other notable names such as GT Interactive, Accolade and Gremlin in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The last game that the Ocean name was attached to was released in 1998 and it was yet another (un)timely movie license. Mission: Impossible, based on the Tom Cruise starring 1996 movie was a third person, action/stealth game originally released on the Nintendo 64. Quite well received at the time and sold over one million copies too. Not long after this game and Ocean Software was renamed Infogrames UK and they were no more, swallowed up and devoured by the big French developer/publisher, they were no longer British.
Unlike Imagine Software who self-destructed, Ocean managed to survive and even thrive through that early/mid 80s period. They became synonymous with not only movie tie-ins but good movie tie-ins. The likes of Robocop and Batman: The Movie (the game) are rightful classics and fondly remembered – the fact they still play well today also helps. Ocean Software, I doff my cap to all you were and all you gave. They really were one of the very best of British.
Perhaps one of the most famous and popular British game developers and publishers ever. Founded by Jonathan Ellis, David Lawson and Ian Hetherington in 1984 – and two those names may sound a little familiar to you as Lawson and Hetherington were two of the main guys behind the infamous Imagine Software as when that went down the toilet, Psygnosis rose from its ashes and released some of the most loved and well remembered games of the 80s and 90s – they certainly didn’t repeat the same mistakes Imagine did.
But before Psygnosis there was Finchspeed, a small software house that Lawson and Hetherington had set up when Imagine had collapsed. The idea was to finally release those pesky megagames they were working on at Imagine, Bandersnatch and Psyclapse. In 1985 the Finchspeed name was changed to Psygnosis and the company was headed up by Hetherington. They even re-hired artist Roger Dean to design the company logo and this began a long a fruitful partnership.
The first game from Psygnosis released in 1986 was an action adventure/RPG for the Amiga 500, Atari ST and other 16-bit home computers. It showcased what Psygnosis would become famous for glorious artwork and presentation. But it was plagued with horrible, unresponsive controls and sluggish gameplay. Oh yeah, it was also that infuriating megagame they had been working on back with Imagine, Bandersnatch, given the new name of Brataccas. Yes, finally after several years and the closure of a game studio, one of the megagames actually saw a release. As for the other game, Psyclapse? Well that never saw the light of day but Psygnosis did use the name as an off-shoot for their company to release some early arcade style games such as Captain Fizz Meets The Blaster-Trons and Ballistix.
David Lawson designed the first few Psygnosis games including Deep Space and Barbarian complete with that beautiful artwork from Roger Dean. Barbarian was a strange side-scrolling action game that you (awkwardly) controlled with the mouse. Those early Psygnosis games were ambitious and gorgeous to look at, but they all lacked any real gameplay and fiddly controls. In 1987, they also released Terrorpods which was a mix of a shooter and resource management. It was probably their most popular game at the time and received mostly positive reviews too, plus the Roger Dean box art is beautiful. There was also the game Obliterator from 1988, this one was very similar to Barbarian just given a sci-fi makeover…but it also suffered for the same horrible controls. Oh and Obliterator was also the last game Lawson ever worked on, after which he just seems to have disappeared as he left Psygnosis after its release and I think left the industry all together, at least I can’t seem to find out what happened to him anyway. This left Ian Hetherington as the only Imagine alumni to run the company as best he could.
Those early Psygnosis games were ‘interesting’ with amazing visuals and presentation – but they lacked everything else. For a while, it seemed that all Psygnosis were capable of was pushing out great looking games that were hiding cumbersome and slow gameplay. So instead of developing games, Psygnosis decided to concentrate on publishing instead and this is where they came onto their own. The first game solely published by Psygnosis was a side-scrolling shooter called Menace which was released under the Psyclapse name originally for the Amiga in 1988. Menace was a pretty bland little shooter with unremarkable gameplay. It was also the first game made by DMA Design who would later go on to create Grand Theft Auto before changing their name to Rockstar Games…one of the biggest and most popular gaming developers and publishers working today. And they got their break via Psygnosis.
Right about here I want to go back to the previously mentioned Ballistix from 1989, it was pretty much the video game equivalent of that old Crossfire board game (remember that?), but that is not why I wanted to go back to it. The game was designed by Martin Edmondson who would go on to name his software company Reflections. If you know your recent gaming history than you should recognise that name as the same company to later develop the Driver franchise…a game series that became the main rival to Grand Theft Auto for a while. See that, only just started this Psygnosis story and already managed to find links to two huge modern game developers who were rivals and who both got their start via Psygnosis. Interesting shit like this is why I wanted to write this book to begin with.
DMA released yet another side-scrolling shooter in 1989, Blood Money. This one was much, much better than Menace and improved on the formula in every possible way. Its still very playable today though pretty hard with a tough challenge. Blood Money became one of Psygnosis’ best selling games of their early years and was highly praised too getting high scores in the gaming magazines at the time. It took a few years of mediocre and rather unimpressive games but Psygnosis finally had their first big hit at the end of the decade. Well not quite the end of the decade just yet as before we jump into the 90s there is one more Psygnosis game that most definitely needs mentioning – perhaps the most recognisable and famous game they released in that late 80s era.
Shadow of the Beast was a side-scrolling action game developed by Reflections and released by Psygnosis not too long after Blood Money was a hit which resulted in a one-two knockout punch for the publisher. Shadow of the Beast was a eye-bleedingly gorgeous game to look at with is bold graphics and at the time stunning parallax scrolling. Anyone who saw the game back in 89 were stunned and would gawp at it open mouthed. It helped sell the Amiga 500 which was becoming the home computer to have at the time. But in terms of gameplay…it was a bit dull with bad hit detection and awkward controls which all amounted to quite a frustrating game that was hard for all the wrong reasons. It was not a terrible game, not even close but it was certainly one that was more looks than talent, if Shadow of the Beast were and actor, it would’ve been be Orlando Bloom. Still its importance and impact can not be understated as Shadow of the Beast was…well a beast. It not only helped to sell a tone of Commodore Amigas but also cemented Psygnosis as THE video game publisher of the 80s and 90s.
Under the leadership of Ian Hetherington and Jonathan Ellis, Psygnosis started to evolve. They began to look into new technology, how to compress data so they could fit more into their games for example. Hetherington also made a couple of predictions about gaming for the future, he suggested that CD-roms would be the standard format used for games. He also said that big, well known companies would lead the gaming market. This was all in 1990 before CD-roms were really being used for gaming and before Sony or Microsoft threw their hat into the ring too. He began to lead Psygnosis into the future and did a damn fine job too, a long way away from the disaster that was Imagine a few years earlier. Psygnosis also began to develop a very specific style for their games, something not exactly unusual for a development team to do – but Psygnosis were not really developing that games anymore, they were pushing themselves as a publisher now. Still, they installed a similar look and feel to all the games they released. The box art, the promotion, everything had that very distinct Psygnosis flavour. Even when the games were made by different software houses, they still looked like a Psygnosis game and this worked out brilliantly when Joe consumer was pondering which game to buy as he perused the shelves – then his eyes would meet with that very familiar art style, a new Psygnosis game. He loved the last game so why not go for the new one too?
The team behind the Psygnosis art were and still are highly praised for their beautiful looking game covers. But it didn’t just end with the box art as the team would also work closely with whoever was developing the games to ensure they all had that Psygnosis look and style. After the release and success of Blood Money, Psygnosis also installed a strict quality control to ensure the games made by outside developers reached the highest possible standard. A rule they also carried over to the people they hired to make the games that would carry their name and logo, they would only use the very best of the very best developers. DMA Design who would later become Rockstar Games and Reflections have already been mentioned – but there were so many more. Small names then but big names in the gaming industry now, many well known developers got their big break via Psygnosis. All of this added up to an impressive and well loved brand. If you owned a home computer in the late 80s/early 90s then you owned and played Psygnosis games.
The early 90s saw Psygnosis release some of their most famous games. Shadow of the Beast II was probably their first major hit of the decade. A sequel to one of their biggest titles from 89 but improved in every single way. Just like its predecessor, it was a gorgeous looking game and came with an equally impressive cinematic opening. The controls had been improved along with the overall gameplay which all resulted in one of the finest action/platformers on the Amiga. And the art work was once more classic Rodger Dean. The game also had one of the most amazing ‘game over’ screens ever, honestly it was worth falling at this game just to see the beautiful art and hear THAT awesome guitar music.
Then there was The Killing Game Show, a platforming/shooter hybrid that looked very Psygnosis. It was released on consoles too as Fatal Rewind. A tough as nails hard game with a unique feature as when you died, you could view a replay and then chose to continue from any point of that replay. Oh yeah it was also developed by Martyn Chudley who would go on to found Raising Hell Software which would later change it name to Bizarre Creations – there’s another well known developer you can tick off the list that got their start with Psygnosis.
But before we continue through the 90s, may as well get yet another now famous developer checked off. The game was Leander for the Amiga, also released on the Mega Drive as Galahad. It was one of those side-scrolling action platformers and pretty damn good it was too. Lets not forget that this was the first game made by the then unknown Traveller’s Tales who now make a ridiculous amount of money from their LEGO games. So if you have been counting, so far we have had four great or future great developers that all cut their teeth with Psygnosis. I did mention earlier how they would only work with the very best of the very best. In fact DMA Design were just about to make a game that would break the mould and also pour a huge pile of cash into the Psygnosis bank account…
Based on a lie from Disney, in 1991 DMA released one of the greatest puzzle games ever created. Lemmings featured little green haired rodents that had one simple goal – get to the exit of each level. Sounds easy enough right? But the journey to the exit was fraught with obstacles you would have to avoid or get through using the many talents of your lemmings. With skills such as building, bashing, mining, blocking and even exploding. As you progressed, the levels got harder and harder while your lemming controlling skills are pushed to the limit. Psygnosis had enjoyed some great sales from their previous titles, but Lemmings topped those and became a multi-million seller. The game is just so relaxing and serene that it went against the previous style and tone of Psygnosis published games, so much so that initially Psygnosis turned the game down. It doesn’t look like a typical Psygnosis game at all, yet it eventually became so damn popular that many consider it the best game released for the Amiga and it went on to spawn a very successful franchise. This game is the one that cemented DMA as one of the great game developers and they would only get better and better from this point on.
Then in 1992, Reflections finished their trilogy with Shadow of the Beast III. Easily the best of the series that showcased that all to familiar Psygnosis art style coupled with action/platforming and puzzles you could find in a game like this back then. The only real negative to this one is the fact its very, very short as ou can complete it in around thirty to forty minutes and if you know what you are doing, in less than twenty. Still despite its disappointingly short length, the game is still a joy to play and a fantastic way to end the series.
As the mid 90s began to dawn, Psygnosis had it all. A great art team making their games look truly stunning, some of the very best developers producing some of the finest software ever and a fan-base that lapped up their games in their millions. Psygnosis were at the top of their game and at the forefront of the industry…and they were not going unnoticed as a big, very big company set their sights on acquiring them and in 1993 Sony bought Psygnosis outright. Now back in 93, this seemed like a pretty stupid idea as Sony had nothing to do with the gaming industry so why would they want to buy one of the biggest video game publishers on the planet? Well as any gamer worth their salt now knows Sony had something special up their sleeve when in 1994 they released the mighty PlayStation in Japan before a more worldwide release in 1995. Seeing as Psygnosis were the best of the best at the time, it made prefect sense that Sony would want to have them knocking out games for their new gaming console. But before I cover the PlayStation era, Psygnosis had a few more games worth mentioning.
First up is Walker developed by DMA Design. This was a side-scrolling shooter where you control a bipedal mech that has to shoot its way through various levels in numerous time periods killing anything you see. Its a disgustingly beautiful violent game a trait that will see DMA right in the very near future when they create Grand Theft Auto in a few years. DMA also released a few games under the Lemmings franchise including an expansion to the original game and a Christmas spin-off plus the first full sequel Lemmings 2: The Tribes. Then there was a game called Benefactor, a puzzle platformer published by Psygnosis in 1994 and developed by Swedish software house Digital Illusions Computer Entertainment (who were also responsible for the awesome Pinball Dreams, Fantasies and Illusions games)…you may know them better by the acronym DICE, the same people behind such titles as the Battlefield, Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront franchises to name just a few of their biggest, more modern hits. So hey, there’s another great developer to chalk up with working at Psygnosis.
During this start of the mid 90s period, while Psygnosis were still publishing games from other developers – they were also knocking up a few games of their own in-house and it was not just their publishing know-how Sony were interested in…they wanted Psygnosis developed games too. But before Psygnosis jumped into the PlayStation era, they made a couple of CD-Rom games. In 1993 there was Microcosm, a game so hyped up and when released it was slated. A rather bland shooter that uses pre-rendered backgrounds and digitsed graphics that looked great with little to no real gameplay. Remember the Sega classic Space Harrier? Well it was like that, only a lot, lot less fun. Then there was the game version of the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie though the game had been previously released in 1993 for the SNES and other 16-bit machines the CD-Rom version came out in 1995 for the Mega CD and DOS. Neither of these games were really anything worth remembering from a gameplay perspective but they sure looked amazing thanks to the CD technology behind them. And it was (partly) Psygnosis’ use of CD-Roms that caught the eye of Sony despite the fact that most Psygnosis developed games were poor to average at best. They were amazing publishers – one of the very finest and they attracted some of the best developers of the 80s and 90s. Psygnosis just had a memorable ten years releasing several of the most loves games of the 16-bit era. That era was all but dead and home computers were dying out as consoles began to rise. What would the dawn of the PlayStation era bring for Psygnosis, could they match the last ten years?
As 1995 dawned, Psygnosis had already been getting to grips with Sony’s new console. And remember, people made jokes and jibes about Sony joining the world of gaming at the time, many thinking the PlayStation would bomb big time. Sony’s acquisition of Psygnosis was a daring move and one that could backfire. Sony’s PlayStation would go one to become a massive success and that was partly due to the games Psygnosis made and released for it too. Their first game was a return to a very familiar Psygnosis franchise with 3D Lemmings. But gone were original developer DMA Design and instead this one was made by Clockwork Games and it wasn’t very good at all. Something about the transition between 2D and 3D of this mid 90s period where developers were just getting to grips with the new technology and working out how to make games and more importantly the controls work in the 3D environment, they failed with 3D Lemmings.
But their second game was an entirely different story as in 1995, Psygnosis developed and published THE game that made Sony’s PlayStation THE gaming console to own – at least here in the U.K anyway. That game was WipEout, a futuristic racing game that was a load of fun. Sony wanted their new console to appeal to an older crowd, the twenty-somethings who would go out drinking all night and come home from the nightclubs with a kebab in hand wanting to play some video games – you think the stylised capital E in the title wasn’t intentional? Oh yeah, Psygnosis knew exactly the type of people they wanted to attract and Sony lapped it up. WipEout with is buttery smooth, fast gameplay and awesome techno/dance soundtrack Featuring the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Orbital and The Prodigy to name just a few, hit all the right spots. WipEout became a pop-culture phenomenon and put the PlayStation on the map. If you were in your twenties in 1995 and hit the clubs at the weekend, you either owned a PlayStation or you really, really, really wanted to and that was because of WipEout.
Reflections also had a few games released on the PlayStation by Psygnosis too, the biggest one being Destruction Derby. Get in your favorite banged-up stock car and hit the tracks and other drivers. The aim of the game was to not only win races but also smash the living crap out of each other. A simple game with a very simple premise and it just worked so damn well. If WipEout represented your Saturday night out with the lads, fifteen pints of larger and the occasional pill – then Destruction Derby was your Sunday afternoon hangover cure. And as an aside the sequel, Destruction Derby 2 was the last game Reflections developed for Psygnosis.
Which reminds me, I need to take a look at Bizarre Creations (formally Raising Hell Software) who had moved into the racing game genre, a move that would prove smart in the very near future. They had two games released by Psygnosis for the PlayStation – Formula 1 and Formula 1 97, both which utilised the official FIA license to great effect. It looked just like the F1 on the TV with the HUD displaying all the correct gubbins, the tracks, cars, teams and drivers were all faithfully recreated…oh yeah, it also had the legendary Murray Walker doing the in-game commentary. Of course Bizarre Creations would go onto make some of the most fondly remembered racing games with the Metropolis Street Racer and Project Gotham Racing games for Microsoft’s Xbox brand in the future.
Psygnosis continued to release games through the 90s with titles such as Rollcage, Alundra, O.D.T (Or Die Trying), Overboard! To name just a few. Sony’s PlayStation became the best selling game console ever…until the release of the PlayStation 2. Yup the Sony console was the one everyone wanted to own and a lot of that is because of the games Psygnosis were developing and publishing for it. I’d even go as far to say that without Psygnosis that the PlayStation may not have been quite as successful as it was. But the 90s were coming to an end and so was the PlayStation itself, yet Psygnosis were bigger then ever. They became well known for their high quality games and were one of the biggest developers and publishers at the time with around four hundred employees. But things behind the scenes were changing as Sony began to get a tighter grip on Psygnosis and started to impart more and more control over them. In 1998, the executives at Sony got together and decided to remove the great Ian Hetherington as Managing Director of Psygnosis. The man who had been there from the very start of the company and even before it with Imagine Software previously. I just quickly need to say that Hetherington, after being ‘removed’ from Psygnosis co-founded Evolution Studios, which ironically was later bought out by Sony. Still, after Sony outright took over Psygnosis in 1999 – things would just never be the same again. So what did the new millennium mean for Psygnosis?
It was now the space year 2000 and Sony merged Psygnosis into Sony Computer Entertainment fully and changed its name to Studio Liverpool and the once great and widely recognised name of Psygnosis was sadly no more. Though the name was now gone – there were a handful of recognisable Psygnosis games released through the Studio Liverpool name. Seeing as the original developers behind previous Psygnosis hits such as Lemmings, Destruction Derby and Shadow of the Beast had now moved on to greener pastures, the games were nothing but a hazy memory at this point. But Sony still wanted games from the now newly named Studio Liverpool and all they could come up with were new F1 and WipEout games…really this is what became of the once mighty Psygnosis. Bought out, get rid of the main visionary of the company, a quick name change and just forced to churn out tired old games. A total of eight F1 games (until Sony lost the FIA license in 2007) and five WipEout games including (but not only) WipEout Fusion, WipEout Pure and WipEout 2048. And, well that’s pretty much it really the final decade of what was once the great Psygnosis was pretty forgettable, though some of the WipEout games were pretty damn good it was just too little too late. In August 2012, Studio Liverpool was finally put out of its misery and Sony closed the studio down. Psygnosis was now finally and officially dead and what a disappointing death they had too, they went out with a whimper and not a bang. That last decade and a bit was just ‘meh’. From the amazing and well remembered heights of such gaming classics as Lemmings and Shadow of the Beast, some of the finest development teams ever created like DMA Design, Bizarre Creations and Reflections and the rest all from Psygnosis to the pushing out of original founder Ian Hetherington and Sony just, quite frankly, ruining the once great name. Psygnosis were one of the very best, highly respected and much loved among gamers like myself.