I was just winding down last night. My eyes getting heavy, I let out a yawn or two, it was bedtime. I picked up my phone and just did a quick look on my newsfeed and the news that Ian Hetherington has passed away popped up. Being British and very firmly middle-aged, the early to mid-eighties era of British gaming is my favourite slice of gaming history. It was a time of true innovation and passion, a time where the bedroom programmer was king and the mavericks were making huge waves in the industry.
One of the first ‘proper’ British gaming studios was Imagine Software. The story of which serves as the perfect template of how not to run a game studio. A great many people have written about the history and self-destruction of Imagine, myself included. There is a fantastic BBC documentary that inadvertently caught the destruction of Imagine Software on camera, which you can watch right here. Anyway, when Imagine Software did go tits up, a couple of its key people went on to found a new studio in 1984, that studio was Psygnosis and one of those key people was Ian Hetherington.
I really don’t think I could put into words just how much of an impact Psygnosis’ games had on me growing up. Psygnosis titles had a very distinct style both art and gameplay-wise. Their early games were ambitious… if a little rough. Developing games was not really the studio’s strong point (at first) but publishing them was. Under the leadership of Hetherington, Psygnosis sought out untapped talent for games to put on the market. One such unknown talent was DMA Design whose first game, Menace, was published by Psygnosis. Long story short and DMA would go on to create the GTA franchise and you all know how that went.
Other big names that had games published by Psygnosis include Raising Hell Software, who would become Bizarre Creations and go on to make the Project Gotham Racing series. How about Traveller’s Tales who are now massive thanks to their Lego partnership? Digital Illusions CE, now known by the acronym of DICE, the studio that are making the Battlefield games (and others) now. Reflections are another big names studio that cut their teeth at Psygnosis and they are still going today too. There was a serious amount of now very famous talent who got their first shot in the industry via Psygnosis and specifically due to Ian Hetherington’s instinct for spotting and nurturing that talent.
Just to namedrop a few of the best Psygnosis games. Barbarian, Terrorpods, Blood Money, Shadow of the Beast (trilogy), The Killing Game Show, Lemmings, Bill’s Tomato Game and Walker. In the mid-nineties, Psygnosis were instrumental in popularising one of the most successful games consoles ever the Sony PlayStation. Games such as Destruction Derby and WipEout helped shift PlayStations early in the console’s life and shift gaming in general towards a more adult audience. Got a shiny new PS5 under your TV? You can thank Psygnosis and Ian Hetherington’s belief in the first PlayStation and close relationship with Sony for that.
What is interesting is how the CD became the format of choice for games by the nineties. This was something that Ian Hetherington predicted long before they became commonplace in the industry. He also predicted that 3D graphics would become the norm while 2D pixels were dominant. Ian Hetherington was a true visionary and bonafide genius in the games industry. A British gaming legend that took a small studio that was Psygnosis and made them global and massively influential. You could trace hundreds, possibly thousands of people who are working in the games industry today back to Ian Hetherington and his confidence in taking on new talent.
Ian Hetherington passed away on the 14th of December 2021. A gargantuan slice of British gaming has gone, but he leaves behind one amazing legacy. The impact that Psygnosis had on the world of gaming (and me personally) is massive. Thank you for my gaming child and adulthood Ian.
“Back the talent. Not the product.”
– Ian Hetherington
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