There are a lot of younger or less knowledgeable gamers who might think that today’s closure of Sony Studio Liverpool isn’t a big deal at all. They were just another internal development team for a big first-party video games company, and they weren’t making any triple-A titles like Uncharted, Gran Turismo, God of War, or Killzone. And that’s what upsets me the most about the news that after twenty-eight years of continuous operation, beginning life as Psygnosis in 1984, the developer would be shut down as part of Sony Computer Entertainment’s efforts at re-evaluating and restructuring their European developers.
Their history goes further back in time than those of Ubisoft, Rockstar Games, 2K Games, THQ, Valve, Bethesda, and the “Square” half of Square Enix. And today, it was announced that they were now being consigned to history for good. It’s a damn shame for the video games industry, and it’s even worse for the people who have grown up enjoying their games. Including myself.
Wipeout is, hands down, my favorite video game series of all time. I first rented the original when I was seven years old, and I was pretty much hooked from that moment on, even if the game was maddeningly difficult. The challenging anti-gravity physics, combined with the high speeds of the game that only escalated with time, and the circuits that get more and more technical as you progress, gives the game a true challenge.
Even as the more recent installments of the series like Wipeout HD and the most recent, Wipeout 2048, are seen by diehard pilots as much easier than their predecessors - overall, even one of the easier Wipeout games is still a much higher challenge than most modern racing games, arcade or simulation. That’s something I couldn’t appreciate as a child, but just four months from my 23rd birthday, I can totally appreciate all of that stuff now. Wipeout was one of the first game series that inspired me to learn advanced gameplay techniques, in order to chase world record times on the WipeoutZone leaderboards - way before the mainstream rise of eSports.
Futuristic racers aren’t grounded in reality like simulation racers are. They’re filled with tales of extremes, corruption and astounding achievements, racers and figureheads that are more like comic book characters or mythological figures than the professional athletes of today, and technological and engineering marvels that, in many cases, are too ridiculous to be true. Wipeout, believe it or not, has an in-game history spanning over 200 years, that chronicles the sport of anti-gravity racing, which, in the future, essentially becomes the successor to current-day Formula 1 and even ascends to being bigger than the Summer Olympics and FIFA World Cup - while also parodying itself at times.
Because the series lacks any real “characters” like F-Zero and its ridiculous cast of anime superheroes and supervillains (and a fucking T-Rex), its the teams that construct and field the iconic anti-gravity racers that have become the game’s iconic characters. The future of Wipeout is much more grounded in reality than some sci-fi/fantasy racers, and yet it still inspires creativity in the form of fan art and even some speculative fan fiction. And that’s something that’s enjoyable.
It’s a double-edged sword that Wipeout has never reached mainstream popularity. Overexposure leads to some bad things, but on the quality of the games alone, the series was more than good enough to become bigger than it ultimately was - it ended up being a flagship franchise for Sony, while at the same time, being a totally nichéd franchise. Respected by many core gamers, and yet never mentioned in the discussion of “What’s a game/series that helped the Playstation become a successful line of consoles?” The original Wipeout was the first real breakthrough hit for the PS1 way back in 1995, though Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal, Resident Evil, and Gran Turismo ultimately get most of the credit in the PS1 era, and then there were just too many new series to emerge with the PS2 to list. In my opinion, without the initial success of Wipeout, who’s to say the Playstation wouldn’t have flopped after just two years on the market?
I’d be hard-pressed to ignore a back-catalogue of games like Shadow of The Beast, Lemmings, Colony Wars, G-Police, Formula One, and many others, good and terrible. But there’s a whole Wiki article you could read for that story.
I’m not expecting the news of Studio Liverpool’s closure to be as big as the eventual closure of Nintendo Power magazine by the end of the year, or a feature about Grand Theft Auto V that just says “it’s pretty fucking cool.” I’m just worried that it won’t take but a few years for the works of this company to be totally forgotten by most gamers. That upsets me more than Sony’s decision to shut the company down. The video games business is cruel, and the game developing industry in the United Kingdom has been in flux for a while. Studio Liverpool, Psygnosis, whichever you’d like to call them, were a giant for nearly thirty years. And they’re gone now.
It’s hard to speculate if the Wipeout series is gone with it. If the franchise lives on, any new games from here on out will be very different, regardless of which studio picks it up. Personally, I wouldn’t feel sad if they retired the series out of respect. I won’t forget what Studio Liverpool has contributed to video gaming from 1984 to 2012, and I hope other people won’t forget that either.