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[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.