Brandon Green, Joshua Rawlings and Kerry-Lee Copsey
Studio closures are nothing new, they happen all the time. However recently two British game studios Lionhead Studios, founded in 1996 (Fable, Black and White) and Evolution Studios, founded in 1999 (Motorstorm and Driveclub) closed within weeks of each other. While this news is deeply saddening it also raises difficult questions about the stability of the British video game industry.
There are many British game studios and lots of them are incredibly talented, sadly however that number is dwindling. So let’s look back at some of the British developers that are sadly no more.
We have seen many British game studios get shut down over the years however one that hit home and hit hard was the closure of Psygnosis.
Psygnosis was a studio founded in 1984 by Ian Hetherington and David Lawson and was based was based in Liverpool. In 1993 the developer and publisher was acquired by Sony and many more games under them most notably Shadow of the Beast, which is getting a remake by developer Heavy Spectrum. In 2000 Psygnosis changed its name to SCE Studio Liverpool. The first release after the rebrand was Formula One 2001. Throughout the studio’s history the studio made many and varied games and some left an impression on gamers and the gaming industry.
Perhaps their biggest title arguably was Wipeout a futuristic racing game. The anti-gravity racer released in 1995 and received praise from gamers and critics. Praised for its fast hectic racing and its heart pounding drum and bass soundtrack featuring tracks by The Prodigy, it became a classic amongst gamers around the world. Perhaps it is fitting then that their biggest and most revered series was the last game they developed. In 2012 SCE Studio Liverpool developed Wipeout 2048 for the PS Vita. It became one of the best-selling and one of the most well received game on the system, thus leaving many scratching their heads as to why Sony closed the studio down.
It’s never nice to see successful developers go bust. It’s the end of an era, especially when you played and enjoyed their games yourself. Free Radical Design were a British-based games development company, known for the TimeSplitters series, a trilogy close to everyone’s heart throughout the last decade.
Known for its quirky characters and great gameplay mechanics, TimeSplitters was a straight hit from the very first game. Spanning three titles, the series received critical acclaim from reviewers with praise in areas such as storyline, graphics and shooting mechanics.
Free Radical was acquired by German company Crytek and then renamed to Crytek UK back in 2009. After five years with a new name, Crytek UK was shut down in July 2014. Many of the employees were moved to new studio; Dambuster Studios, developer of Homefront: The Revolution, and now continue to work there to this day.
Founded in 1987 by Les Edgar and Peter Molyneux, Bullfrog Productions was arguably one of the UK’s most innovative development studios. Over the next decade, Bullfrog would earn its legendary status, effectively inventing new software genres and laying down game design templates which modern developers continue to replicate.
With a couple years and projects under its belt since the studio’s establishment in ‘87, the developer duo of Molyneux and Glenn Corpes became successfully acquainted with the Amiga hardware. The pair spent the next seven months designing their most original game yet.
Populous was the title which created the ‘God game’ genre, giving the player godlike powers to build a civilisation and compete against another God for territorial rights. The game was a technical achievement – not only the first to allow the player to control their subjects, but also one of the earliest to take advantage of an aerial perspective and utilise a modem for network play. The project was picked up by Electronic Arts and proved to be a huge commercial success, selling more than four million copies in its lifetime and cementing Bullfrog’s place in the British games industry.
Before losing its most prolific members and merging into EA in 2001, the studio went on to create some of gaming’s most treasured experiences in the likes of Syndicate and Theme Park. The latter series is one that many players hold personally dear. No other studio has been able to make a management sim like those made by Bullfrog Productions.
It’s disheartening to think that these developers, whom created these brilliant games which gave us good memories, will no longer be around. It is certainly the end of a generation, there will never be games like back then, and neither will we feel the same way about newer releases. It’s quite sad, really.