Stainless Games publicly announced its reacquisition of the Carmageddon IP earlier this month, but the process that led to them owning the rights to the cult classic PC vehicular combat series started long ago.
"We'd been talking to SCI about doing more Carmageddon work six to seven years ago before they bought Eidos," Stainless Games CEO and co-founder Patrick Buckland told Gamasutra in an interview.
"When they bought Eidos we were hoping to get more Carmageddon licensed work," he added. "We made them offers and tried to buy the license off them, but there was no way that Eidos or SCI were ever going to sell that license."
"Square… had very valuable IP that they had purchased that they were never going to use, and they took the surprising decision they were willing to sell this IP," he said. "Most companies would probably just sit on the IP; why sell it? We paid real money for it, though."
Despite the long negotiations, Buckland maintains that fan interest in the Carmageddon series hasn't diminished since Stainless released Carmageddon 2 in 1998. The games have stuck with fans, he says, primarily because of their unique sense of humor.
"There are very few games out there that can really make people laugh their heads off," he said. "It's not a substitute for gameplay -- you won't get away with just a sense of humor -- but by having a sense of humor that's what makes it stand out, and what gives it a special place in a lot of people's hearts. People remember Carmageddon in a way they don't seem to remember a lot of others games."
With the IP now in hand, Stainless says it's hoping to honor that memory by not messing with the game's classic formula too much for the relaunch, planned for 2012. "Often with sequels -- we did it in Carmageddon 2 even -- companies say you have to change things just for the sake of it," said Stainless executive director and co-founder Neil Barnden. "There are some things in certain ways Carmageddon 1 was better than Carmageddon 2, so we'll try to boil down what's best from both games when we reboot the brand."
One thing that won't change in the reboot is the widespread killing of innocent pedestrians, a key feature that led to some controversy during the series' heyday. While the Stainless founders say they're sensitive to the issues some have with the content, they feel the advance of time has made that type of content relatively less controversial.
"We'd be amazed if we got the same sort of backlash as we did before, because there are games out there now that are more violent and they're not doing it in a comic framework," Buckland said. "[Carmageddon] in some way at least hints at you ‘Hey, that's a bit naughty, you shouldn't do that.'"
But such gentle discouragement won't really get in the way of enjoying the carnage, Buckland said. "We have to make sure we don't spoil the fun for the player. … In Red Dead Redemption, if you even started and try to shoot people or run them over, the game came down on you like a ton of bricks and you couldn't get away from it. ... We want to be on the other side of the spectrum, if we slap their wrist a bit and say and tell them 'Ooh, don't do that' without spoiling the game, then we'll be fine."
Stainless Games has gotten a lot of mileage out of digital releases with popular licenses attached -- recent top-selling releases include Risk: Factions and Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers -- and Buckland says having such a marketable brand is almost a necessity on the digital console marketplaces.
"It's a very tough marketplace to broach a new IP right now," he said. " Of course there are ones that have worked well on XBLA - sold a million copies or something - but for every one of those there's plenty of flops."
"It stands on marketing," he continued. "Your product needs to stand out from the others somehow, and there's not much marketing going on for XBLA. … [A license] makes someone look twice, doesn't it... they're quickly zipping through the games, so if they just see another game that means nothing to them, they might not even stop, where if they see something that there's some sort of recognition, in their subconscious even, they'll go for it. That's why licensing is unfortunately so important."