“The closure of Liverpool Studio was sad for many reasons, not least because of all the talent that was in the studio,” says Michael Humphrey, Managing Director of the freshly formed Sawfly Studios to TheSixthAxis. Not that any of that is going to drag him and his new team down – indeed, Sawfly seem confident and upbeat.
Sony closed Sony Liverpool, formerly Psygnosis, back in August last year, and with it (sadly) the team that built WipEout, amongst many others over the years, as well as much of the timeless PlayStation brand and ethos. WipEout defined PlayStation.
But Michael’s moving on, and with him a strong team of dedicated individuals, including Karl Jones, now Sawfly’s Design Director, Jon Eggelton, the company’s Art Director and Technical Director Andrew Jones. It’s a confident team, and one keen to rise from the ashes of Sony Liverpool.
Their first project will be under the umbrella of publishers Ripstone – I asked Michael how that collaboration came about. “Ripstone approached us with an idea that they had for a game that utilised touch screens,” he replied. “Their idea was really fun, and the timescale was perfect for us as we could turn it around relatively quickly and to a high standard.”
“Ripstone have been a great partner for us, allowing us to have a lot of creative freedom with their idea,” he added. I asked him what the platform might be, guessing that it’d be on a PlayStation device. “The game will be announced soon,” came the reply, “but we can say that it will be out on smart phones and tablets first, with other platforms to follow.”
And after that? Well, it sounds like Sawfly are keen to push ahead with their own ideas and IPs. I asked Michael how being part of Sony Liverpool might help open a few doors to publishers. “We actually found that it was our personal backgrounds and experience that had the most weight, rather than just our connection with Sony,” he replied. “People that we had worked with in the past were keen to work with us again. They knew we could deliver great games to a high standard, so that definitely helped.”
And speaking of the past, I asked Michael how the closure of Liverpool was for the team. “The closure of Liverpool Studio was sad for many reasons,” he admitted, “not least because of all the talent that was in the studio. The guys were, and still are, world class developers. The good news is that, for the most part, those guys are still in the industry and are still making great games. The Sawfly team loved our time at Studio Liverpool, but now we have to look to the future.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there right now for smaller developers and we feel we have what it takes to make really good games, so we think we have a good chance of really making a go of it.”
I asked Michael how the current Sawfly team was chosen and managed, and whether they were hoping to expand or stay fairly small. “Our team size and structure is great because we can be very flexible, while keeping all of the disciplines covered,” he replied. “We definitely want to grow the studio, but we’ll be very selective over who we take on. We’re all very experienced, and we work to a high standard, so we need people to be on the same level really. We do have a contractor in at the moment helping out on the code side, and he’s an absolute legend called Dave Merriman.”
Presumably Sawfly are attracting a fair bit of interest, then. I ask how the public reaction has been so far to the news of the studio unveiling.
“The support has been absolutely amazing so far,” replied Michael. “We launched our Facebook page and our Twitter feed at the same time as sending out the press release, and within a few hours there was a constant stream of likes and new followers. It was all a little overwhelming to be honest.”
And, then, the question we’re all asking. What’s happening with WipEout, and are Sawfly involved in any way? “We’re looking at a number of opportunities at the moment,” came the tactful reply, “and I would never write anything off, but you’re right to say it is not on the table at Sawfly. Our focus is really on our first title, and on our own IP. We can’t say too much about either right now, but the announcement will be coming soon on our first game.”
“It takes time to build a studio capable of delivering products of this size and quality but those are the foundations we’re laying,” Michael adds, when I ask him about the games he namechecked in the original press release (LIMBO and Journey). “We just want to make great and memorable experiences – whatever the genre, scale, platform and delivery method. One of the advantages of being small and self-determined is that we can turn quickly in some pretty interesting and unexpected directions. We’ve got our experience and skills – let’s see where they can take us.”
And that studio name? “Pure brainstorming” apparently. “In the end, we just thought ‘Sawfly Studios’ was flat-out cool. We’d heard stories from other devs that finding a name is one of the hardest things to do and there’s more than a little truth to that.”