I still remember the first time I ever played Syndicate. It was a demo that came with a copy of an Amiga magazine (remember those kids?). My memory is hazy but it was most probably Amiga Format, issue 48 from July 1993, priced £3.95. The seventeen-year-old me didn’t have a clue what he was doing or even what he was supposed to be doing. He was just running around with his cybernetic agents and shooting anything that moved.
That Syndicate demo disk blew me away… as I was blowing the dozens of NPCs away in it. I didn’t know it at the time but that demo would have a lasting impression on me. But it wasn’t just the violence in the game that grabbed me… even when I did blow up a car and people were running around engulfed in flames. It was how it looked, Blade Runner-esque is how it would be looked upon these days. Yup, there was most definitely a strong influence from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece in Syndicate.
Anyway, those graphics, the isometric camera, the tiny but detailed characters. The mood and atmosphere of the game were second to none at the time. Paul McLaughlin was the man behind those graphics and he really created something special. Syndicate was just one of many games that Paul lent his amazing talent to. Back in the nineties, Bullfrog were one of the best software houses going. Co-founded by the infamous Peter Molyneux, Bullfrog was knocking out great title after great title and Syndicate was just one of them.
Paul McLaughlin began working at Bullfrog back in 1990 and designed the graphics for most of their games. Theme Park, Powermonger, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper and of course, Syndicate, to name a few. Those games and their graphics were amazing, games that have stayed with me for decades. When Bullfrog eventually went the way of EA, Peter Molyneux set up Lionhead Studios and Paul McLaughlin went with him.
At Lionhead, Paul once more provided art for their titles. The divisive Black & White and yes, the big fan-favourite of Fable. Paul’s fingerprints were all over those titles and he gave each a unique and memorable look. Paul helped make Lionhead the studio it was. Then when MS took over at Lionhead, Peter Molyneux left and opened 22 Cans. Yes, I know but let’s not let petty gaming hatred get into this memorandum.
Anyway, of course Paul moved over to 22 Cans too and he was the head of art and helped shape the look of Godus. Personal feelings and the ‘quality’ of the game aside, it certainly had an eye-catching and distinct look at the time. A throwback to the Bullfrog classic Populous but with a few modern twists.
Paul McLaughlin had a career in gaming that lasted for thirty years. Sadly, Paul died in December following a battle with cancer, aged fifty-seven. I just wanted to write a few words in remembrance of a man whose talent and work had a much bigger impact on me than I first realised. Those games I played for hours and grew up with. Syndicate being a title that I still have a major soft-spot for even twenty-eight years later.
Paul created a world and art style in that game that I still feel is very impressive now. In fact, I’m off to play some Syndicate as soon as I press publish in this article. Paul McLaughlin’s death leaves a gaping hole in the gaming industry and one that can never be filled.
“Paul was a huge cornerstone in my life. He was a professional, moral and funny person who had the ability to see the fair and sensible approach in any situation. I miss him every day in every way. His legacy will be felt and seen for a long, long time.”
– Peter Molyneux
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