BritSoft developer Rebellion, the company behind last year's hit first person shooter "Aliens vs Predator", surprised the gaming industry two weeks ago by announcing that they had bought cult comic book company 2000AD, the brains behind Mega City 1 cop Judge Dredd and a whole host of other cult characters and settings.
We spoke to Rebellion co-founder Jason Kingsley to find out more about the deal and what it means for the two companies, as well as to get an update on their current game, the futuristic squad action game "Gunlok".
"I've been reading 2000AD since prog 1 in 1977, and continued to do so each and every Saturday from then on to now", Jason told us. "It was a place that acted as an imagination primer for me, and I'm sure for many others in the games industry. I think that its vision of a dystopian future was influential in BladeRunner for example, since Mega City 1 predated the art design of that film by some 5 years."
Now Jason owns the company which writes the comic he was brought up on. "In brief we wholly own the publication, the back catalogue and the characters, and will continue to produce the weekly 2000AD and the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine and editorially independent magazines. We now employ the editorial staff, and indirectly through them will hire the freelance talent that makes the magazines so brilliant."
The advantages to Rebellion from this deal are clear. "We get to play with over seven hundred fully fleshed-out characters, with visual designs and characterisation already in place. Obviously we make games based on other people's characters and now we own a bunch of them, so you can be sure that we'll be looking to do games with the characters from 2000AD."
"We also get to own the Galaxy's Greatest Comic."
Of course, with the Galaxy's Greatest Comic comes some of the most talented British comic book writers and artists, and the temptation is certainly there to use them in developing future Rebellion games.
As Jason told us, "we have a policy of using the best creatives for the job that we can get hold of or that want to work with us at Rebellion for every project, so it is possible there will be some overlap of creatives. However, making a game and making a comic are quite different skills."
Having said that, "two of the guys at Rebellion have previously worked on 2000AD as artist and writer", so it's definitely possible that 2000AD will have a part to play in future Rebellion games, perhaps helping to write the storylines and design characters, or to produce comic book style cutscenes?
And as the new owners of 2000AD, Rebellion can also now license their various characters and settings to other companies, which could be an important money spinner, as well as raising awareness of the comic.
"We are looking at all sorts of expansion in the way 2000AD is handled and the characters are used throughout lots of different areas of the media. We are in discussions about several films, about action figures, about all sorts of stuff, but we've only been in charge for a couple of weeks so give us a chance to do some proper planning!"
But what does the buy-out mean for 2000AD and fans of the long-running comic book series? Well, there's a new editor and a new look for the magazine, and they finally have an official website again, but although Rebellion now have creative control over 2000AD, the editorial team are still very much in charge of the day to day content.
Some readers were worried when Rebellion talked about inserting their own characters into the comic, but as a 2000AD fan himself, Jason was quick to make it clear that he has no plans to turn the magazine into a marketing machine for Rebellion's games.
"We hope that we can possibly include some of Rebellion's ideas in the publications as time moves on, however, I can't emphasise this point enough, we will not subject the magazines to second-rate characters just because we are making games of them. If there is an overlap of concepts and story then the ideas will be pitched to the editorial team for consideration, and they will make the decisions about what goes in or what stays out."
One character that does look set to make the jump to 2000AD though is Gunlok, the eponymous star of Rebellion's latest game. Jason told us that "we will almost certainly be using the release of Gunlok this year as a springboard to increase the readership of the comics".
"Gunlok is also being discussed by the editorial staff as a possible character for use in a strip, but we need to compete with a large number of other great characters that are lined up for the future of the magazine."
The game itself has also undergone a few changes since we last talked to Jason back in March, and the stealth aspect of the game is now being played up.
"As always we have tried to respond to feedback from lots of sources", Jason explained. It was always the intent that the game would have stealth features and other different ways of playing it, but they hadn't been implemented in the demo versions we were showing to people."
"One of the problems of such a technologically complex game, with such sophisticated AI and gameplay features, is that it gets bugs in it usually just at the wrong time for the demo. Often the version that gets demoed is at least two months old, and has been tested to ensure that it works well enough."
Most notably though, the character of Gunlok himself has changed from being a robot to a human .. or has he? "Well, the big game secret was that Gunlok was actually a human in a robot suit, and this would have been revealed at the end of the game", Jason admitted to us.
"Last time I e-mailed you we were about to enter a phase of focus testing, and one thing that became clear was that we needed people to know it sooner, and for the character to be more sympathetic for the player. So we decided to reveal this at the beginning. The story and plot have been slightly shifted to reflect this, and a new twist has been added at the end!"
So with the acquisition of 2000AD, what are Rebellion's plans for the future? According to Jason, "we want to keep on making great games, and now we can add that we want to go on making great comics too"!
With 2000AD revamped and under new management, and Gunlok now approaching completion and looking more promising than ever, it looks like Rebellion are well on their way to achieving their aims.