RVG Interviews – Nick Burcombe.
It gives me huge personal pleasure to bring you our next interview, throughout my gaming history there have been many WOW moments and more often than not it usually happened with Psygnosis games so on that note, RVG is honoured to interview the awesome Nick Burcombe (aka @PlayriseDigital) of Psygnosis fame and now at Playrise Digital.
Nick has worked on many classic and famous titles as you can see from the list below..
Table Top Racing (Playstation Vita, 2014), Playrise Digital
Table Top Racing Premium (Android, 2014), Playrise Digital
Table Top Racing Premium (iOS, 2014), Playrise Digital
Table Top Racing (Android, 2014), Playrise Digital Ltd
Baby Nom Nom (iOS, 2013), Playrise Digital Ltd.
Table Top Racing (iOS, 2013), Playrise Digital Ltd
Formula One 05 (2005), Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd.
Destruction Derby Arenas (2004), Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd.
Quantum Redshift (2002), Microsoft Game Studios
N.GEN Racing (2000), Infogrames, Inc.
Tellurian Defense (1999), Psygnosis Limited
Wipeout 2097 (1906), Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd.
WipEout (1995), Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd.
Theatre of Death (1994), Psygnosis Limited
Combat Air Patrol (1993), Psygnosis Limited
Microcosm (1993), Psygnosis Limited
Agony (1992), Psygnosis Limited
Aquaventura (1992), Psygnosis Limited
Armour-Geddon (1992), Psygnosis Limited
Red Zone (1992), Psygnosis Limited
Shadow of the Beast (1992), Psygnosis Limited, Turbo Technologies, Inc.
Shadow of the Beast II (1992), Electronic Arts, Inc., Psygnosis Limited
Leander (1991), Psygnosis Limited
Fatal Rewind () Psygnosis Limited
Infestation (1990), Psygnosis Limited
Nitro (1990), Psygnosis Limited
Terrorpods (1987), Psygnosis Limited
Can you talk us through your career, where you started right up till now and what games you worked on?
Early Days: I started testing games when I was at school. I think it was 1985 and I was asked to test Terrorpods during my school summer holidays. The only reason that came around is that I’d been nagging my Dad to show me more of what he was working on….my Dad’s company used to make all those glossy black Psygnosis boxes at the time and did so right up until Sony bought them out. They used to deal with Roger Dean, all the printing, box assembly, promo posters, badges – pretty much all the printed assets Psygnosis would need. I think the first artwork I saw was a box for Brataccas – this is back in the Atari ST days and I think I got an early play on that too – but it was virtually unplayable. I didn’t become a permanent tester until 1989 when I was employee number 12 in the company. It had such a good family vibe to it. Everyone was really nice and eventually – it lured me to move away from my parents home and go and live over the water on the Wirral. I’m still there today.
Thanks for the comments on TTR – we will be announcing which platforms will get “TTR: World Tour” over the coming months and at the moment we’re platform agnostic – if it can run it and it has a significant audience – we’ll consider it. That’s the right way to play it as an Indie.
Can you tell us what it was like working for Psygnosis back then?
I won’t write it all again, but there’s plenty of links – safe to say it was a career defining moment. Some interesting reading below
I adore the Amiga computer, what memories do you have working on this machine?
Jamming bits of folded cardboard into slot below to hold the loose 512KB ram pack in place! Plus having to get 110v power supplies to run the NTSC machines and their TVs on.
Constantly replacing the fuses in those too. I loved the Amgia 2000’s all the artists had. I also remember them throwing out loads of Amiga 1000’s out into a skip once we were finished with them….its just nuts isn’t it? You don’t know what will be the relics of the future and I wish we’d kept one of everything. I was talking to a friend the other day about the very first PS1 dev kits we got into the office to make wipeout with….about the size of a photocopier, several fans strapped all over them and the noise was unbearable – no one knows what happened to them – I think most people think about early PS1 dev kits as those two cards that slotted into a PC….
…but there were earlier ones than these and they were HUGE!
And what is your personal favourite game you worked on?
I loved working on Wipeout 2097, F1 Championship Edition and Table Top Racing – pretty much equally
Did the Microcosm reviews hurt the developers feelings at the time? Or did you half expect them with such an experimental game for the time? I.e amazing visuals over gameplay.
No Microcosm was fairly experimental and to be honest it was more strategic. The reviews were largely irrelevant. The whole industry needed to get off the high-risk strategy of cartridges. Pre-booked and pre-paid carts tied up vast sums of working captial and if you suffered a flop could easily bring down even a large business. Sony had “on-demand” CD printing and Psygnosis had interactive movie technology that seemed to make good use of the space and push the visuals way beyond the 16 bit era… In truth it was real-time 3D that made the biggest impact and we only used our CD tech for Intro playback after we’d done Scavenger 4. The fact was, Psygnosis had tech that suited Sony’s CD-ROM ambitions (which as we all know they had failed to get off the ground with Nintendo) and Ian Hetherington knew that we had to get away from cartridges because they screwed cashflow and access to cash and presented a very high risk.
In that sense Microcosm actually helped save the company and opened doors – that’s why I think it was more a strategic triumph rather than a game design triumph.
I prefer the first Wipeout over any other, mainly because it rewards skilled drivers by not allowing scraping along the walls, do you agree? Which version do you prefer?
I prefer the course designs in Wipeout 1 (apart from the bits where I made them too narrow), I prefer the handling from Wipeout 2097 it just flows better and I prefer the visuals from Wipout HD/Fury…just glorious.
Thanks very much for your answers!
In retrospect the first Wipeout was brought the whole ‘cool’ vibe to the Playstation in 1995, with its art style, graphics and dance music, its the one game that helped kickstart the Playstation in Europe, Ridge Racer pah!
Ridge Racer was the “Arcade Machine in your home” moment for me – I wanted that machine.
Wipeout was a heart and soul reflection of the teams values, passions and talent – it was raw, hardcore and influenced by – shall we say – “rave culture” and everything that surrounds it – marketing didn’t dilute it, in fact they added to it – taking it into legendary clubs like cream and also some pretty edgy adverts too. I think it was one of those moments where everything just worked. (Apart from the wall collisions)
What part did you play in creating some of Psygnosis earlier games 1990-1993, Nitro was a cracking little racer, Leander a underrated platformer, SOTB of course needs no introduction, Killing Game Show, again a great game, Agony a good seu with amazing graphics and music (though i wish it had decent bassy explosions!)
My job title was “Gameplay Co-ordinator” for most of them – this was not just straight forward testing for bugs, it was getting early hands on and giving feedback to the developers about gameplay issues. Didn’t catch all of them, but we did ok. Some of Killing Game Show was still virtually impossible even after launch. Those days – if the developer could do it – it was good to go. I think one of my heaviest involvements was with ‘Infestation’ – and although we screwed up the opening ten minutes of the game (by putting a password puzzle on a door controlled by a computer terminal (and this password required people to read the story in the manual to find out the name of the protagonist – “Kal Solaar” – I think I tried to justify it as piracy protection at the time, but really it was a screw-up and I spent the next few months answering the phone to help people through it ). Nitro was brilliant and again, more an advisory role on that – I think the developer has recently redeveloped it for iOS and Android – I’m not sure.
Who decided on the graphical styles for these games, i know some games were brought in and Psygnosis published, but most of the time you could spot a Psygnosis game a mile off in a preview without reading anything about it (similar to Sensible games i suppose).
If it was made externally, it will have been the developers, if it was internal it would have been a mix of Jim Bowers, Jeff Bramfitt, Garvan Corbett, Lee Carus and Neil Thompson mainly. In the VERY early days it was just Jimmy, Garv and Jeff.
The boxart too, very distinctive, stood out in the shops with their big black borders and amazing art styles.
They did and I think Johnathon Ellis was a bit of a ground breaker in those days – he knew that those £1.99 Mastertronics tapes in their shitty fractured cases wasn’t going to cut it moving forward into the Amiga and ST era. He pushed the packaging and marketing slickness, along with Roy Barker (and no doubt some advice from my old man (who, as I think I said earlier, ran the printing company that printed the boxes)).
I think where Jonathon saw an opportunity was to establish a “premium brand” in gaming and re-launch how games were sold, but at a premium price of £24.99 (as I recall). And along with that games like Awesome and SOTB, you got a T-Shirt, Enamel Badge and beautiful artwork with that large black box. Pretty revolutionary at the time, but this could only have happened with the move from Spectrum and C64. THAT was the opportunity to do things differently – and if you remember the state of game distribution and retailing in those days….buckets of software in a corner of Boots or Woolworths…. I think Psygnosis’s vision had quite a good impact on the industry as a whole and brought the price of software up to sustainable levels. Its funny to see us go full circle in a sense. We struggle to get £1.99 for TTR on the App Store because those “bargain bucket” (digital stores|) are overflowing with software refreshed every week in higher and higher volumes – just like the bad old days. Some businesses have even mastered how to make billions by giving the game away for nothing at all….how things have changed.
Agony was an awesome looking game, what was your involvement on this game?
Agony looked good, but sadly it was a pretty limited sideways shooter. In those days you could get away with high quality graphics and nice animation, but in terms of game structure – there wasn’t an awful lot to it. I was only a tester on that one. Same as many from the early Psygnosis days.
Do you have any funny stories you could tell us about during your time Psygnosis?
Regarding funny stories, there’s plenty, mainly to do with the company getting banned from various places in Liverpool for raucous Christmas Parties, but an interesting story was how I came to have the original hand painted images from Lemmings. I’ve got them right now in my loft. About three of them. And how did I get them….well on the move to Sony Liverpool head quarter up in Wavertree there was a massive clear out and I actually found them in a skip outside the building as I was leaving to go home. I couldn’t believe they were in there so i grabbed them and jumped on the bus and that was it – I’ve had them ever since. I actually know the artist personally too Adrian Powell, lives in my home town. I dread to think what else was in those skips…I do recall seeing NTSC Amiga A1000’s in there and some other bits of rare hardware. <SHUDDER>
Do you still have contact with many of the founders from Psygnosis?
I’ve spoken to Johnathon Ellis about two years ago at a Psygnosis reunion, and Roy Barker (operations manager) and Lynne Wilson and numerous others…it was a fantastic reunion – great to see so many old faces. I believe you’re interviewing Tim Wright too….well here’s a relevant fact – Tim was the guy who also provided many sound effects for Table Top Racing too. In fact – I see Tim from time to time and because of things like Facebook I don’t really feel I’m lost contact with a lot of Psygnosis people. You see whats going on in their lives and can just follow the commentary as it goes, but nothing is the same as a face to face reunion. That was great.
Destruction Derby was a game I spent many hours on. What was the inspiration behind this game?
Destruction Derby as I recall was done by Reflections and Martin Edmundson and I think I’m right in saying Paul Howarth too. The main memory when it came into the office was “WOW” we hadn’t seen car damage and physics like that and I think – as most things by Reflections – it was a great PS1 showcase. Gameplay-wise – it was a tough one because the worse you were at it – the tougher it was to win races. The Destruction side of it kinda flies in the face of ‘racing’ per se, but it didn’t really matter – it was technically brilliant and had the wow factor.
Happy days and days that really helped shape the business we work in today. I like to think that Psygnosis’ transition to Sony was a massive benefit for so many people in the UK industry. Not least myself. I wouldn’t have guessed that today i’d have my own little development studio, knocking on the door of 7 million mobile downloads and now tackling latest gen consoles and PC’s achieving such good quality from a tiny team and budget. I hope some of your readers will follow our progress as we reveal more and more this year about Table Top Racing: World Tour…..
Why so many racing games and what draws you to them as a genre?
I got hooked on racers a long time ago. Probably goes back to my enthusiasm for Formula 1 back in the seventies as a kid. But my gaming really started with Night Driver on the Atari 2600. Rock hard, but I just loved it. I suppose a defining moment for me was getting that first clean lap of “Silverstone” in Revs on the BBC Model B – felt like such an achievement as 14 yers old. And of course the “Wipeout” creation story, finally beating Mario Kart 150cc on the SNES with Techno cracked up instead of the in game music …It just a genre I love. I love cars, I love mastering a track and I love adding weapons to the strategy where appropriate. Some people just like football…..mine was racing Still watch every Grand Prix, play most racing games, it’s just a deep rooted passion for it really.
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