ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Owl Ball —

For about a year in 1995, I worked for a video game company called Psygnosis. This either makes you go “huh” or “oh wow”. I’m mostly talking to the “oh wow” crowd, here.

I had a fantastic time. I was 25 years old and here I was working for one of my favorite companies to ever exist. I was in the inside, seeing games that never came out, concepts that didn’t go anywhere, rare or underpublished versions of games that I’d known…. and I even got to work on a few things.

On my list of things to do is to write a book (likely online) about my two years in the videogame industry (at Psygnosis and a start-up named Focus Studios). I wanted to wait 10 years before doing so, so I wouldn’t be violating any agreements of confidentiality or let still-strong emotion get away from self-criticism or misleading writing to hide my own flaws. So that’s on the burner somewhere for the near-future.

In 1993, Psygnosis Limited was purchased outright by Sony Entertainment, who I then learned from the inside were pretty crazy. Over the next few years, Sony worked to kill the Psygnosis name while using some sub-portion of the intellectual properties of the company. There was a lot of back and forth, not unlike that of a pig being swallowed by a very large python with a Playstation on its head. But ultimately, around 2000, Sony finally won out and everything Psygnosis became “Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe”.

Psygnosis was and is amazing, and at the time that the name finally “went away”, I registered PSYGNOSIS.ORG as PSYGNOSIS.COM was now aiming directly at Sony websites (and still does).

I worked a little on PSYGNOSIS.ORG over the years, writing scripts to make game entry pages, collecting artifacts where I could, and generally doing my best to save the “Legacy”. I would rate my efforts at about a 6: I was getting obscure stuff, but I wasn’t hunting down every last artifact. A lot of this was because I was doing other stuff, but also I didn’t go that extra mile with the scripts. As a result, I was collecting stuff, but it wasn’t showing up, and I didn’t have that nice positive feedback loop for the archive. (And by feedback loop, I mean with myself; people were certainly writing in and letting me know they were happy it existed).

I finally have sat down and rammed through all the scripts that generate the site, and so the whole thing is much easier to navigate and see all the cool crap. I have had interest from people both inside and outside Psygnosis, and I hope they find the new work I’ve done and will help me capture some of the history.

As a quick example of the improvement of the site, check out the entry for 3D Lemmings. You can now see files, screenshots, descriptions, reviews, and other artifacts. Saved.

Why do I do this? Good question; how could a company whose goal was essentially to produce games and money have such an emotional effect on me? I’ll likely be exploring that in the book and on the site. But until then, it’s up, it’s now in version 2.0, and I can re-announce it to the world, happy that my favorite game company is preserved in some fashion for the future.

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  1. Michael Kohne says:

    Don’t be surprised that a company had an effect on you – I do software (embedded systems) for a living, and every place I’ve worked has had an emotional connection for me. In some cases the attachement to people and product was quite strong, and it hurt quite a bit when the whole thing got it’s plug pulled due to the fate of the controlling corporation (one parent company deciding it wasn’t worth it to continue development of our product, one parent company going bankrupt, with our (profitable!) division being sold to our competitor.).

    The emotional reaction was so strong and hurt so much at the end of one job that I didn’t let myself get attached to the product at the next job – I could see pretty early on that the company wasn’t someplace I could be forever, and I didn’t want to have too many emotions when I walked away.

    If you aren’t emotionally attached to what you do, you probably aren’t doing what you’re going to be best at. Without some (at least minor) emotional involvement, how can you be passionate about your work? And if you aren’t passionate about it, how can you do your best?

  2. l.m.orchard says:

    Ooh, Psygnosis.. the logo always made me think of prog rock like Rush (the owl) or Yes (the font). But back in my Amiga days, we all knew if the new game had the owl ball, it was going to rock.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Barbarian was definitely THE best game on the Atari ST.

  4. None Moose says:

    I knew someone who worked for Psygnosis in the U.K., they were truly great. In fact, I’m playing their “Discworld” game right now..