It took two-and-a-half years of determined digging for Rebellion’s sibling founders, Chris and Jason Kingsley, to acquire Judge Dredd license holders 2000 AD. Before them, a Danish company had ended up with it in a series of acquisitions, as part of an effort to get hold of some Disney licenses. That company didn’t know what to do with the quintessentially British publishing house that should, really, be considered a national treasure.
Read about how Rebellion's game jam was born from a man punching a fish.
“I think it should be more well loved in some kind of way,” Jason Kingsley tells me. “Pretty much everybody has heard of it who are into genre, but it's not considered a big part of culture in some ways. But if you look at anybody who worked in creative industries, it is hugely influential. We managed to persuade [the Danish company], take it on board, reinvest in it, and do good things. And now I believe we are the people who have owned 2000 AD the longest.”
Rebellion are also game developers - known for titles such as Sniper Elite 4 and Battlezone VR - but despite fortuitously holding the license for 2000 AD since the year 2000, they have only released a handful of games based on the many, many stories the sci-fi comic series has put out over the decades. That is due to a lack of time, a lack on manpower, and the fact that the studio is already juggling multiple projects. This is why they made the decision earlier this year to license out 2000 AD to other game developers, so we can finally see the imaginative worlds of 2000 AD in games, even if Rebellion never find the time.
“Because they’re short bursts of episodic content - though they occasionally have arcs that span a few episodes - there are hundreds of encapsulated stories where they’re designed for the reader to jump in and get what’s going on, whether or not you have any kind of history with the characters,” Steve Bristow, lead designer on Rebellion’s Strange Brigade, says. “There’s almost nothing in 2000 AD’s back catalogue that couldn’t work in a game.”
So, out of all these worlds and experiences, what games would the staff at Rebellion like to see?
The Helltrekkers RPG
In the Judge Dredd mythos, the Cursed Earth is an irradiated wasteland outside of the urban sprawl of Mega-City One, and its inhabitants are disgraced Judges, mutants, robots, and gangs of outlaws. In The Helltrekkers comics, one group decided it was better to risk their fates in this scorched desert than to endure the torture of modern life in the overpopulated Mega-City.
“I want a sort of journey to the Cursed Earth for Helltrekkers,” Jason Kingsley says. “I always liked the offshore colonies in Judge Dredd's world. I like the Undercity. Personally, I'm very interested in the peripheral areas of the Mega-City. I'm not a particularly city person; I live in the countryside. What's equivalent to the countryside to Mega-City One? It could be open-world, RPG, exploration, city building. I love my post-apocalyptic stuff, so I love the Fallout series of games, so you can imagine that could be Cursed Earth: a Fallout-style open world. You're a survivor and you wake up in Cursed Earth and you've got to get home. That could be interesting.”
The Undercity RTS
Mega-City One was built on top of old cities and the polluted Ohio River. These places, abandoned, desolate, and without sunlight, became a lawless location known only as the Undercity. Some of the citizens who could not cope with the futuristic city above retreated into its dank bowels, many of them mutating because of the toxic conditions. In the comics, a group of these mutants, the Troggies, hatched a plan to blow up Mega-City One.
“Maybe you could have a whole bunch of Troggies in the Undercity, and it's a real-time strategy game,” Kingsley suggests. “Or maybe you have a Civilization equivalent, but it's in the Undercity where you have judges coming in and busting you up. You've got werewolves there as well.”
Strontium Dog adventure game
Strontium Dog is a bounty hunter who travels the galaxy searching for criminals. It is the perfect premise for a videogame. Kingsley agrees: “I love Strontium Dog as character and a conceit, I love the idea of a first-person/third-person action game, travelling around, arresting criminals, tracking them down, solving problems - that could be rather fun.”
“Strontium Dog is one of my favourites,” Steve Bristow adds. “There’s loads of game mechanics in those stories - really good action mechanics that work well for comics and would for games. Strontium Dog’s time grenade is a classic. He’s got a gun that’s similar in some respects to Dredd’s Lawgiver, where you can select different types of shot - armour piercing, incendiary, and whatnot.”
As well as having these cool weapons and gadgets - I mean, who wouldn’t want to throw a grenade that sends someone and the scenery around them into space? - Strontium Dog has co-op mechanics baked in. “You’ve got this buddy thing as well: his mate, Wulf Sternhammer - a sort of melee specialist,” Bristow continues. “You’ve got this enormously fertile canvas, a universe full of scum and villainy that you can go exploring. Strontium Dog as an open-world game would be really interesting because he’s this classic hero character who has a quest.”
Sláine is like Conan’s unhinged Irish cousin, his stories based in the realm of Celtic myth. This is a guy who wields a massive axe called Brainbiter and can shapeshift into an ungodly monstrosity with terrifying, brutish strength. He would feel right at home in a frantic PlatinumGames release.
Kingsley, himself an appreciator of melee combat, prefers to think of it as a sprawling RPG. “I love Slaine,” he says. “I love the idea of the Land of the Young, and very early mythological history, so that would probably be sort of a roleplaying game, like Skyrim maybe.”
Ace Trucking adventure game
Ace Trucking is a series about a band of misfit aliens who run a space trucking company, headed up by a cone-headed extraterrestrial called Ace Garp.
“A secret favourite of mine is Ace Trucking - some ‘70s-based, CB radio twist of the future,” Kingsley says. “That could be quite fun. You could have an intergalactic trucking company.”
Perhaps it could work as a Telltale-esque narrative game, or maybe it could be Elite with a sense of humour. Hell, you could even peg it as four-player co-op, with each of you taking on a vital ship role as you trawl across the galaxy, occasionally stopping for some mischief.
“It’s a couple of weirdos hauling stuff across the universe and getting into trouble,” Bristow adds.
Judge Demarco detective game
Judge Demarco is a billionaire through inheritance, but she chose to forgo that wealth to pursue a life as a Judge. After quickly rising through the ranks, she found herself falling in love with Dredd, which is forbidden. She was disgraced and ejected from the force, but Dredd pulled some strings to grant her a firearm license and the chance to work as a private investigator.
“I remember back in the day, after Dredd vs. Death we did a ‘making of’ book and they asked us [what other 2000 AD games we’d like to make],” Battlezone VR lead programmer Richard May says. “One of the things that struck me was doing a Demarco P.I. kind of thing. Judge Demarco is a fallen-from-grace Judge. She has a kind of Mega-City noir thing going on. She has this sentient gorilla partner and they try to solve crimes that the Justice Department won’t go near. It always struck me as a nice thing to do.”
Nemesis the Warlock Soulslike
It’s the distant future and humanity is ruled by a fascist human supremacist who wants to wipe out all aliens. Nemesis is a demonic, fire-breathing alien who wants to rid the world of its xenophobes with his massive sword and scorchy breath. It is a dark story where good and evil don’t exist, with more shades of grey than that book about the bondage man. It is a world that is rife with religious fanaticism.
“I’d really love to see a big, nasty Nemesis game,” 2000 AD publishing assistant Owen Johnson says. “A really dark Nemesis game in the style of Dark Souls. That would look really amazing. Nemesis has such a giant, expansive canvas on which to do stuff like that. It would touch on a lot of the religious themes, the persecution, and racism that’s in Nemesis.
“It’s this huge backdrop of alien creatures and that kind of thing. It’s got Torquemada who’s this giant villain of galactic proportions. That would be absolutely amazing. Although superheroes have been done, Nemesis has a really good story and it is fixed, it doesn’t go on and on - it’s something you could take from really easily.”
Lawless adventure game
“I’ve been really enjoying Lawless, a Dan Abnett series - it’s the Dredd world divorced from Mega-City One,” Richard May says. “It’s a colonial frontier type thing. A bit like if you took Dredd and mixed it with Firefly. It’s about Colonial Judges, and there’s one particular one, Metta Lawson, who turns up in this backwater town to replace the Judge they had previously - a sheriff essentially.”
As a game, Lawless could be a sci-fi take on the Red Dead model - riding through the Frontier taking on quests and tagging criminals as you go.
“It’s about her adventures in this Western parallel, but with all the crazy future stuff that you get in 2000 AD: sentient aliens, robots, labour conflicts between the robots and the indentured servants, and there’s a whole apocalyptic thing going on in the background as well,” May continues. “That kind of Firefly setting is dear to people’s hearts anyway, but mixing that with the Dredd universe gives you something that’s away from the years of baggage in Mega-City One. You don’t have to know all the history but it’s still compelling.”
Chopper Cannonball Run
When you think of a Judge Dredd game, you think of playing it through the eyes of the law. One outlaw in the Dredd-verse has a story that would make for a straightforward way to experience that world, however.
“There’s a secondary character in Dredd called Chopper - essentially an outlaw and graffiti artist who rides around Mega-City One on this hovering surfboard,” Bristow says. “He’s like this Californian dude or Australian beach bum. There’s this legendary race that happens that he wants to compete in, but it’s completely illegal - a cannonball run kind of thing. That’s another one - a relatively simple piece of game design already done for us there.”
D.R. and Quinch platformer
“I quite like D.R. and Quinch as a series,” Kingsley says, “those characters are really interesting. Alan Moore’s early work. A kind of comedy series, delinquent juveniles, aliens, very powerful, going around causing havoc and chaos.”
Publishing assistant Owen Johnson has a specific game for this duo in mind. “My favourite characters are D.R. & Quinch, alien delinquents that go around with nuclear capabilities and start trouble in a very mischievous kind of way,” he says.
“I’m stuck in the past and love the N64, so I’d love to see an R-rated Rare-style game with D.R. & Quinch that’s like a Conker’s Bad Fur Day or Jet Force Gemini’s giant guns - if you botched all that together, like a Banjo Kazooie, or Conker’s Bad Fur day, but with D.R. & Quinch, I’d be all over that.”
Judge Dredd Block Wars
“One request we always get is a big, Arkham Asylum-style game for Judge Dredd, set in Mega-City One or the Cursed Earth,” Johnson says. It is no surprise. Dredd is by far 2000 AD’s most popular character - a British icon with a square jaw and unbending morals. The character has decades of stories that videogames could explore, even away from the interdimensional foes he faces in Rebellion’s first-person shooter, Dredd vs Death.
“I know it’s obvious, but there’s so much in Judge Dredd that needs to be a game,” Bristow adds. “I would love to do that character, who means a lot to me on a personal level, justice. There’s obvious big storylines like the Apocalypse War and the Block Wars. It starts with Block Mania, where a Russian spy infects the water supply in Mega-City One with something that causes everyone to get [aggressive] with each other. It ferments a civil war inside the city, essentially.
“That causes chaos, and in that chaos they take advantage and launch an attack on Mega-City One, to which Dredd responds characteristically with an immediate launch of nuclear weapons. It’s one of my favourite panels in a 2000 AD comic, actually - where the Chief Judges and the Senior Judges are dithering about whether or not to launch this pre-emptive strike against Russia. Dredd strides up to the control panel, says, ‘The decision is mine’, and presses the button.”
Rogue Trooper 2
Rebellion have already done Rogue Trooper, a third-person shooter that was recently remastered. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do another, however. In fact, Kingsley admits that the remaster was a test to gauge whether there’s an appetite for blue army men with sentient equipment.
“I’d love to make another Rogue Trooper game,” May says. “In terms of gameplay it would be very similar to the original. If you look at things like Sniper Elite 4 - it has a lot of similarities to the original Rogue Trooper. There’s clambering over the environment for well-placed shots, traps, and more environmental interactions. You’d place Gunnar, things like decoys. You have the same in Sniper Elite, where you can decoy an enemy, but that’s done with rocks and whistling, whereas in the original Rogue Trooper we had holograms that you could set up to annoy people with.
“You can see common DNA between the games, and I could see how you would take those mechanics, twist them a little with more futuristic technology, paint the guys blue, next,” he laughs.
At the time of release, the original Rogue Trooper was doing a lot of things other games were not. I still remember how satisfying it was when you shot an enemy’s oxygen tank and they exploded, usually taking down some of their friends as they go.
“It was so satisfying: ping the tank, watch them running around, their buddies would try to get away from them because they knew they were going to explode, and you might catch two or three with one shot,” May agrees. “Those kinds of encounter moments, where you can make a plan and execute it, are what I really love about the original Rogue Trooper.”