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How Colony Wars Came To Be
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How Colony Wars Came To Be

September 28, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[One gamer's journey from a young fan to finding out how the popular space flight series from the original PlayStation took shape -- featuring new interviews with several of the original developers.]

Last year I saw an article about the corporate restructuring of Sony Studio Liverpool -- formerly Psygnosis. It quickly reminded me why I wanted to pursue writing.

I've never been a wealthy person. My mom would say that we weren't raised poor. but I had hand-me-down toys to play with. Later, video games were introduced to our working class household. This meant two things: my mom could only afford a few games, but we were masters at them.

Raised in a tough neighborhood, I could only think about being anywhere else. Having a mentally handicapped little sister and a single mom, extracurricular activities were out of the question.

Channelling frustration and creative thought took the form of gripping a controller. My mom worked hard to get us the things we wanted, and around 1996, she surprised us with the Sony PlayStation and a couple of games.

One game in particular stands out: Colony Wars. A game which let the player fly freely in space -- something I'd dreamt about for years.

Colony Wars was my perfect form of escapism, and taught me things, too. I learned how inverted controls worked, and how thrust and drag functions on planes. I remember looking in the back of the booklet of the first Colony Wars so I could send a geeky letter to the developers. I thought I'd tell them I'd joined my high-school robotics team and was learning how to program because of them. Unfortunately, the booklet gave no credit to the developers.

Years would pass and I'd take my PlayStation to college with me. Playing Colony Wars and its subsequent sequels would get me through some tough days as a broke student. Then, something magical happened; the internet became popular. I could finally find out who made this game I'd obsessed over for years.

As more news of studios closing in Europe unfurled, I decided to start asking questions -- specifically to ex-Psygnosis lead designer, Nick Burcombe. I was a fan of Lemmings, Colony Wars and Wipeout -- all games published by Psygnosis.

At the time, I wanted to know more about Psygnosis by starting with the title that had me searching for Burcombe in the first place: Colony Wars. I had questions Burcombe couldn't answer, but he knew the people who could.

Burcombe pointed me into the direction of composer Tim Wright. I questioned Wright on his work on the original Wipeout and Colony Wars, and how the two differed. How does one create a score for a game? Is the composer completely in control, or is the sound guided by the game designers?

"Wipeout was fairly open in terms of what I could create," said Wright. "The designer of the game did play several tracks to me… mainly stuff like Prodigy and Leftfield. I also had other members of the team recommending listening too.

"My experience in dance/techno was pretty limited. The nearest I could draw on by comparison was '80s electronica and big artists like J.M. Jarre. Clearly, I needed to experience the latest trends in electronic music, so I did listen to a lot of current material, and also went out to clubs at night to try to understand the key elements of the style we were aiming at."

The soundtrack of Wipeout sharply contrasts Colony Wars'. The sound of Colony Wars set the tone for a game centered around political intrigue. There were two warring factions and the player, often times, found themselves in dogfights. Wipeout's score set a tone that expressed a certain calming freedom. Colony Wars' soundscape mimicked science fiction cinema.

"The Colony Wars music could not have been any further away from Wipeout. The real guide there was that I should seek inspiration from films such as Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Big space opera-style tracks with character-based themes, modified and intertwined for use in various situations and locations," said Wright.

"So I sat down and composed a theme for the good guys, the bad guys, various systems, victory marches and so on. This was only the second time I'd been asked to create anything orchestral, and it was a lot of hard work to take the instruments, samples, and the limited knowledge I had about orchestration, and blend them into a coherent and believable package," Wright said.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Andy Satterthwaite
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I was the producer of Colony Wars (the first one). I have a few extra chapters to tell in this story if you're interested. Feel free to e-mail me. andy at sidhe dot co dot nz

Isaiah Taylor
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e-mail sent!

Isaiah Taylor
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And posted:

Joseph Amper
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Do a Novastorm one next!

Isaiah Taylor
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I'd love too, but I have never played Novastorm. I never owned, nor knew someone with a 3DO. I'm still interested though, it looks really trippy.

Nick Burcombe
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Ooo. That's one of mine too - the original version of Novastorm was called Scavenger 4 - and it came out on a lesser known machine from Japan call the Fujitsu FM-Town and subsequently the Marty console (same hardware - smaller shell) :) I was amazed when one of the Magazines gave Novastorm the Shoot-Em-Up of the Year award. Funnyhow you forget all this stuff as time passed.

Jeremy Reaban
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What I find ironic about the death of the space sim genre is that one of the largest companies around today (Take 2) debuted with a space sim (Star Crusader, for PC).

It's funny how you don't really appreciate some genres until they are gone.

Thomas Puha
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Andy! Met you once at GDC, you and Mike Ellis and Mike Anthony are heroes to me :) Colony Wars was awesome.

Bryson Whiteman
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Great read!

Matt D
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I agree. I want to play Colony Wars now!

Christopher Braithwaite
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There was a Colony Wars 3? Loved Colony Wars, great music, good combat and interesting missions. Even when Colony Wars came out it felt like a kind of retro homage to games like X-Wing and Wing Commander.

Isaiah Taylor
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Though not as fondly remembered, I'd say give CW: Red Sun a try. There are some great ideas in the game [a lot of descending into a planet's atmosphere to oust a foe or escort].

Fun fact: When trying to hunt down the creators and designers of the CW series I accidentally emailed the wrong Chris Roberts. I e-mailed the producer of Lord of War, who just happened to be the developer of Wing Commander. They are often confused with one another [thanks Moby Games!] Turns out the two Chris' know each other. Small world.

sean lindskog
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I'm working on a space-sim right now called Salvation Prophecy.

It's nearly done (PC only, we're like indie man!). If that's your thing, please drop by and have a look. I'm not sure what the etiquette is around here for posting links, but you can google "Salvation Prophecy" and it's the top hit.

Steven Christian
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I arrived here from an article published today:
Looks like this game was released on Desura recently. I'll check it out.

Lol Scragg
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A fascinating article - many thanks!

I was fortunate enough to pick up the mantle of Producer of Colony Wars Vengeance when Andy moved off the project and I still feel myself incredibly lucky to work with such a talented team of people. Personally I think a Colony Wars reboot on PlayStation 4 would be awesome, but having mentioned a reboot on more than one occasion to SCEE over the past decade, it would appear a market that doesn't make commercial sense.

One thing that wasn't mentioned in any of the articles was that our brief for the second game was essentially to deliver a 'mission pack' to follow on from the original. This wasn't what the team wanted to do and ended up delivering the complete opposite of a mission pack within a ridiculously short timescale as Mike mentions in a follow on article. And all done with a core team of 12 people!

A true privilege to work with so many talented people.