Rebellion ‘2000AD’ Interview
After a series of highly successful games set in the Aliens vs Predator universe, spanning sixteen years – not to mention last year’s extremely well-received Sniper Elite V2 – it’s easy to think that you might have Rebellion Developments all figured out.
A remarkable company by any number of measures, the Oxford-based studio, established by brothers Jason and Chris Kingsley in 1992, remains one of the few remaining independent players in the AAA games business. What you might not know, however, is the sheer breadth and depth of their work: Rebellion not only own the iconic 2000 AD comic but also operate their own sci-fi book publishing company, Abaddon Books and its sister company, Solaris.
That’s one hell of a perspective to have on the creative industries – a perspective that makes Rebellion a significant and arguably undervalued cornerstone of British creative culture.
Indeed, such is the gravity of the situation, Luke Martin has managed to peel himself away from restoring an old Battlezone cabinet to speak to Jason Kingsley – co-founder, CEO and Creative Director of Rebellion – about just how many pies he’s responsible for having his fingers in!
Rebellion is a pretty difficult company to pigeon-hole, given how many different areas it’s actively involved with – everything from games to comics and even books. Can you explain the general philosophy and culture of the company and how this has driven it to branch-out so far and wide?
The general philosophy here is to be into businesses that are fun and can also be at least mostly profitable. You simply can’t run a business if it’s not at least potentially profitable – and you shouldn’t run one if you don’t like what you are making. Buying 2000 AD was both an emotional decision and one that made financial sense, as was setting up Abaddon books and then acquiring Solaris books too.
Rebellion’s earliest successes were linked with the iconic Aliens Vs Predator universe, with the 1995 Atari Jaguar title being one of the best AvP games ever made. What is that you think separates Rebellion’s work out from the crowd in this field?
Our first attempt at an AvP game was unhampered by what had come before and we were both enthusiastic about the source material – and also arguably a little naive about what the player would want. We simply made a game that we thought, as a team, would be technologically ground-breaking, scary and fun to play. There was very little analysis of market segments or positioning statements to be considered. We just got on with making a game as best we could. Out of that chaotic approach came arguably an iconic game.
In space, no one can hear you crap your pants. Thankfully.
2012’s Sniper Elite V2 was a huge success for Rebellion, both critically and commercially. What was the decision-making process that resulted in the development of V2? Why revisit and reboot this particular franchise?
The original Sniper Elite was a massive success for us and one of a few original non-licensed games that we got to make in our early days as a company. We tried and tried to get the sequel made but were turned down by all the traditional publishing partners at the time – or were just busy with other work-for-hire titles for others. Finally, some years later, good things happened and we found a great partner in 505 and we shared the same vision of what a sequel could be.
Of all of V2’s headline features, the x-ray-cam is perhaps one of the most gruesome and memorable. In a world that’s increasingly critical of brutality in games, did you ever consider toning it down or was it an integral ingredient from the start?
What you see in the game is actually toned down from some of the creative ideas that were thrown around! We actually made an attempt to make it a bit more diagrammatic in the end rather than slasher-horror. In effect, one way of looking at it is to show people just what a bullet does to a target and therefore to make the player think about the consequences of the shot before taking it. It’s the opposite of old TV shows like the A-Team where a sub machine gun can be unloaded at a group of people and they just fall to the ground. In some ways, seeing the result of a bullet hit might in some way make people more responsible.
Well, it puts a migraine into perspective …
What gameplay developments can we hope to see in the upcoming Sniper Elite 3? We’ve got our fingers and toes crossed at VoxelArcade for a swappable third-person shoulder-cam to make corridor combat a little more fluid!
It’s a bit too early to speculate on all the features right now but a core focus for the game after feedback from the community on SE V2 is player choice: larger sandbox-style maps and multiple ways to take-on, or take-down your objectives. We try to listen and respond positively to player feedback and to support our titles once they are launched. We’ve continued to put out free multiplayer maps for SE V2 and are releasing updates for Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army too.
In what ways might we expect to see Rebellion harnessing the power and features of next-gen consoles for Sniper Elite 3? Might the PS4’s swanky new touchpad make it into the mix?
Again, too early to spill the beans, but the PlayStation 4 is a really powerful console and our engine is amongst the most powerful out there – so expect some good looking, great playing stuff.
I’d go with the scope. Just in case.
In 2000, Rebellion bought the iconic British publication 2000 AD, which represented a huge shift for you and set Rebellion out as a truly unique enterprise – a foot in two very different creative camps. What was the motivation behind this bold move and how do you feel it has it influenced the company in the years since?
I bought my first copy of 2000 AD from the local newsagents in February 1977. It was issue 1 and I have continued to read it weekly ever since, so the decision to try to acquire it was part passion and part economic. Practically, the comic publishing team is a separate group of individuals but in the same studio space. There is of course social overlap but hitting a weekly comic deadline is quite different in process to even hitting a monthly game update schedule. The motivation as I said before was part emotional in that it was a cool thing to do, and part business led, in that the characters and worlds would make a great starting place for games and films. The recent, hugely successful Dredd 3D movie is part of that spin-off idea, and the digital delivery of 2000 AD via our iOS App is going even better than even our most optimistic predictions suggested. We have managed to get a handful of game titles out there, Rogue Trooper on consoles and PC with Eidos and more recently Judge Dredd vs Zombies on iOS, Android, Windows RT and Windows Phone and it’s doing very well for us in the free-to-play space.
As a boy, the worlds that 2000 AD depicted seemed to be a distant vision of the future, re-enforced even in the very name of the comic. Given that both the year and many of the dystopian and technological visions it prophesied have come to pass, what’s your perspective on its impact?
Well, quite a lot of what was thought of as ‘future’ in 2000 AD has come true. Some of it is worse than we even imagined in the comic; some of it better. The establishment monitoring its citizens has probably come true. I believe bite-fighting is a reality. Not yet the Smokatorium – but almost with the smoking shelters in airports that I’ve seen. Lastly, I saw the first real belly-wheel in California on my last trip there, so that’s a reality now. We just need more giant sentient robots, dinosaurs and aliens!
The future’s bright; the future’s blue.
Rebellion have generally – and very successfully – worked on existing IP, yet there have been relatively few 2000 AD inspired games. Given the creative autonomy that Rebellion has, why is this so? Do such rich IPs present as many obstacles as they remove? Can we expect to see more 2000 AD titles in the future?
We’d love to do that but getting funding together is always the difficulty. Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army was in part an experiment for us, and that has been so successful that we will be looking at that sort of game development model in the future. We’re also looking into crowd-sourced financing too, so watch this space. If we can get enough money together to self-fund titles and work with the fans and community, then that would be my ideal scenario.
Did Rebellion have a hand at all in 2012’s rather superb Dredd film? Were you consulted to help ensure an authentic feel?
Yes and yes! My brother Chris [Kingsley, Rebellion co-founder and CTO] and I were producers on the film and we were involved all the way through production – most specifically at the very beginning setting the overall tone and direction with the talented team at DNA.
I sincerely hope he’s about to take down Stallone …
I was personally blown away by the level of faithfulness to the original source material, with Dredd’s stoic, righteous and uncompromising character finally evolving from the pages of 2000 AD. You must be proud of this transition and excited about the future!
Yup, very proud, but we worked closely with DNA to get this right. A bit disappointed by the box-office in the USA, but very happy with the success everywhere else and the critical acclaim. At one point we were amused to be at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!
On the subject of future: what’s Rebellion’s vision for it? Can we expect to see it branching out even more or will it look to further strengthen the links between its existing spheres?
We’re looking at free-to-play, but also seeing what the traditional model can do for our players. Digital delivery is very high up on our agenda, and looking at ways to raise funds to make new games is important too. Generally, we’ll follow our opening maxim: do cool fun stuff that we enjoy making, our players enjoy playing and everything else will take care of itself!
Stay tuned, Voxelites, for our coverage of Sniper Elite V3 in the run-up to its release this year!
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