Studio Liverpool lives on. Firesprite is the new independent development studio founded by several key members of the former Wipeout developer, and it has already shipped its first project, having helped Sony’s Japan Studio finish PS4 curio The Playroom. It is now busy at work on a new game – whether it’s a new Wipeout title remains to be seen.
Firesprite’s founders are all ex-Studio Liverpool, and bring decades of experience to the new indie. Art director Lee Carus worked on the first Wipeout, Colony Wars, Lemmings, F1 and WipEout 2048; Chris Roberts created the underlying architecture and code base for all of Studio Liverpool’s games; Dr. Stuart Lovegrove, another former technical director at Studio Liverpool, worked on F1 and Wipeout 2048; game director Stuart Tilley oversaw development of Wipeout 2048 and produced Killzone 2, Invizimals, Crash Commando and even PlayStation oldie Rollcage.
It’s former studio director, Graeme Ankers, who tells us the story of Firesprite’s genesis; it wasn’t long after it had closed that the Studio Liverpool management and creative team started to meet up again in pubs and cafes, and a plot was hatched. “We always had a great working relationship and wanted that to continue,” Ankers tells us. “We talked about the games we had made, the journey of delivering launch titles in every console generation. Through meeting up we all shared the same vision and drive of carrying on making great games. We held onto that vision and started meeting up in Stuart Lovegrove’s flat, fleshing out some ideas and working out what we could do.
“After that everything happened quickly, we decided to get a cool studio space. We were lucky enough over the years to have worked with some of the best people who make content in the games business and we started to grow the Firesprite team.”
Of its 20 staff, 15 are former Studio Liverpool developers, and with that pedigree in-house Ankers believes that Firesprite can uphold high-level production values while pushing out into new areas. “Of course playing with new technology and pushing hard has always been a big part of what we do. Its been great to continue that journey with The Playroom on PS4.”
That on-console AR plaything was a rare chance for an external – albeit very familiar – team to work on a hardware launch project. It worked on the visual side of the game, adding in and polishing up all of the incidental details designed to bring the AR bots and the players’ flying companion Asobi to life.
“The Playroom didn’t fully start with Firesprite until January this year, it happened and came together very quickly,” Ankers explains. “SCE Japan Studio had the vision for The Playroom and some really exciting early work underway. We met with them and showed what we would do visually with the game, and it just went from there. We worked closely with them, and developed the look of the game, Asobi, the AR little dudes, menus and so on. It has been a great and unique opportunity to work directly with SCE Japan studios, a hugely talented team which delivered the technology and experience of the game. It feels like we are one team, split only by geography.”
Those intimate ties with Sony suggest that this isn’t the last PlayStation game to emerge from Firesprite. There is a new game in development, one which Ankers can’t tell us about, but we suggest that with all of the history and experience at the studio, it seems likely to be a racer – if not another Wipeout game. Ankers is careful with his reply. “All of us have made a number of racers and are big fans of the genre,” he says. “One of the founding principles of Firesprite is to work on games that are unique in some way, through some cool hardware, technology, platform or gameplay. Whatever we work on we bring all our focus and values into it and push hard to make it the best experience possible.”
So while proud of that history with PlayStation, Ankers says that the new studio is independent, and it is not limiting itself to Sony hardware. “The engine we are creating works across multiple platforms including mobile,” he adds. “The distribution of retail or digital really depends on the game.”
It’s heartening to see the soul of Studio Liverpool revived and resurrected, but its most famous property remains in the wilderness. We push Ankers again – could Sony entrust the new indie to make another Wipeout? It’s not difficult to see that he’d dearly love to, but can’t confirm either way. “I don’t know where this journey is going to take us,” he adds. “Ultimately we love Wipeout but the decision isn’t ours. Wipeout is a special game, its soul comes from Liverpool development history.”