The power and the passion of Psygnosis

Producer and worldwide acquisitions manager, Mark Cochrane, talks about the famous British studio.

Before coming to Psygnosis in 1995, Mark Cochrane was working at another famous video game company, Accolade, in PR and product marketing. He was entrusted with the tricky task of bringing American sports games such as Hardball and Unnecessary Roughness to Europe. Text based graphic adventures from Bob Bates and Steve Moretsky also needed exposure.

Cochrane then when on to promote renowned Sega Mega Drive games such as Bubsy the Bobcat and Zero Tolerance. There was also Pele Soccer, which Cochrane still remembers as the "worst football game of all time." He then found himself at Psygnosis during the PlayStation era.

We caught up with Cochrane, then producer and worldwide acquisitions manager, to talk about the rapid rise of the studio.

You joined Psygnosis in 1995 in time for the launch of the Sony PlayStation. What was it like to be involved with Psygnosis in those early days?

Former producer and worldwide acquisitions manager at Psygnosis, Mark Cochrane: I joined as a producer and worked briefly on Discworld and most of Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!?, as well as managing many of Psygnosis' ports to PC and Sega Saturn from the Sony PlayStation. I managed the relationship with Teeny Weeny Games/Perfect Entertainment, and shortly thereafter I was put in charge of product acquisition, so I travelled the globe evaluating developers and game concepts. They were heady days and Psygnosis was on a roll riding the rise of PlayStation.

What was liaising with Sony Computer Entertainment like in those early days?

MC: Although we were both part of the same overall company, I had little to do with Sony Computer Entertainment at the time. Psygnosis fought hard to keep itself a multi-format publisher which I found strange when we were purchased to support the PlayStation.

Psygnosis developed Wipeout and published Destruction Derby in time for the PlayStation launch. What did you think of those games?

MC: Both were pillar games at the time and technically outstanding, but in my view not great in terms of gameplay. Back then you could create an okay game and it would sell because PlayStation hardware sales were on such a roll.

Psygnosis seemed to reach its commercial and creative peak in the following years with the release of games such as Wipeout 2097 and G-Police for the PlayStation, establishing several hit franchises for the console. What was the approach Psygnosis had to game releases back then?

MC: The first instalment of the games would get improved in subsequent sequels when there was less time pressure on the releases. This was Psygnosis at its peak and the best games came out, and it was great to be part of it

Games such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby were initially released and found success on the PlayStation before they were later ported to the Sega Saturn and PC. What challenges did Pysgnosis face in porting the games to the other two platforms?

MC: The PlayStation and Saturn platform hardware was very different, and the way code needed to be written for each made porting challenging. For example, when making PC ports we needed to have a decent minimum spec and graphics card support for the games to be enjoyed.

Games such as Destruction Derby and Wipeout 2097 were ported to the Sega Saturn, but games such as Formula 1 and Destruction Derby 2 were notably absent. How and why were certain titles selected for porting to the Saturn and some weren't?

MC: From memory, I believe most would make it over eventually, but the porting challenges remained and finding teams capable of doing the work in a timely manner contributed in largish delays between releases on the formats.

During the PlayStation era, Psygnosis released a lot of original IP, such as Alundra, Krazy Ivan, Overboard, etc., but only few had sequels. Were there any sequels planned for the games at the time?

MC: Sequels were only planned if the first instalment sold well. Unfortunately, some of the games did not perform as well as we would have hoped, and so sequels therefore did not happen.

Although Destruction Derby 2 received a sequel eventually in 2000 with Destruction Derby Raw, it was not developed by the original studio, Reflections. Were there any plans for a Destruction Derby 3 by Reflections while you were there?

MC: Psygnosis would generally own the IP of any game it created with third parties. Destruction Derby was a very successful franchise for Psygnosis and Sony, so I imagine further sequels might have been discussed after I left the company in 1998. Who developed it would have formed part of those discussions and there may have been conversations with Reflections to do it. At the end of the day, it depends on interest and availability, as well as timing of planned release.

How different were things in the last few years at Psygnosis until your departure in 1998 compared to your earlier years at the studio?

MC: We became more structured as a company and grew from 150 to over 650 employees from 1994 to 1998. The culture changed with the teams becoming larger and the projects becoming more ambitious, and this led to more people requiring more management. We tried to keep a good culture, though.

In the following years, Sony discontinued the Psygnosis brand and stopped supporting several properties the studio had success with in the past, such as Colony Wars and G-Police. Were you surprised things turned out this way?

MC: Unfortunately, Psygnosis became a victim of its own success and put too many titles into development with a belief that all would be hits. Whilst we always created technical masterpieces, the gameplay was often not great and that hit us hard in a saturated market where only great games sell well. It's sad to see the Psygnosis brand get replaced by the Sony one, but it was not unexpected. They bought Psygnosis to support the PlayStation and our multi-format publisher approach, such as doing games for the Saturn, was often at odds with this. When things went well we could avoid change, but when things went bad Sony Computer Entertainment had publishing rights and would reign us in. Those were heady rock and roll years.

Despite Psygnosis' drastic change over the years, titles such as Wipeout continue to exist to this day. How do you feel about seeing audiences still being entertaining with classic Psygnosis properties?

MC: It's great to see some of the brands that you have been involved with over the years endure today. Wipeout was certainly one of Psygnosis' best 3D efforts and in itself made Sony's acquisition worth it.

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out Good Gear Guide's complete interview archive.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

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