Before Grand Theft Auto popularized the idea of flattening pedestrians in a variety of vehicles, there was Carmageddon.
The product of British developer Stainless Games, Carmageddon was a rip-roaring fun time that didn't take itself too seriously, and didn't pull any punches. Famously, it was initially denied a rating certificate in the United Kingdom, effectively banning it in its original form due to its violent, gory content, and was one of the few games that successfully overturned the ratings board's decision. Other, more squeamish parts of Europe were less willing to entertain the idea of splattering people over their windshield, however, leading to there being three different versions of the game available: one with blood-spewing pedestrians, one with zombied that splattered green goo around the screen, and a third with robots.
The original Carmageddon was followed up by two sequels plus a number of ports to other platforms. Sadly, said ports proved to be fairly dreadful, with the N64 version -- declared by some to be one of the worst games ever made -- seemingly putting the franchise well and truly in the ground.
Fast forward to today, and Carmageddon is on the road to recovery thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign and a team who are determined to bring it back from the dead with the appropriately named Carmageddon: Reincarnation. At Eurogamer Expo, the gaming convention run by our sister site in the UK that's going on right now, Stainless had an announcement to make: Early Access via Steam for the new game would be beginning in the first quarter of 2014, offering all the cars from the original game plus the new engine's car crushing physics -- along with the series' iconic full-impact freeform racing and black humor, of course.
Stainless unfortunately didn't have a build of the game to show us at the Expo, but we did learn some interesting things about the development process -- including exactly why it's taken us this many years to see a new installment in the series. And no, it wasn't just because the N64 version was terrible.
The rights to Carmageddon initially belonged to original publisher SCi, who later absorbed Eidos, who were in turn swallowed up by Square Enix. Stainless, meanwhile, have been beavering away as an independent developer on a variety of projects to pay the bills, including titles such as Magic: The Gathering -- Duels of the Planeswalkers, Risk: Factions and a variety of updated HD versions of classic Atari arcade games. Conveniently, a number of these projects had been for Square Enix's benefit, which put the team in a strong position when attempting to negotiate getting the rights back to their baby -- though it cost them.
The successful Kickstarter campaign for Reincarnation -- coupled with the release of an iOS port of the original game -- showed that there was very much demand for a new Carmageddon, however -- the iOS version in particular showed that there were at least three million people around the world who were still interested in playing Carmageddon, though not necessarily in paying for it, since the app was available for free for a short period.
Stainless notes that both Kickstarter and the mobile release of the game were extremely valuable tools for the team, because it allowed them to see where their most enthusiastic markets were -- something which simply wasn't possible with non-specific royalty reports from years gone by. Predictably, there were a lot of players in the US and the developer's native UK, both of which are very active gaming markets -- but also in Germany, where the original blood-splattered version was banned in its original form and, to the team's surprise, Russia, whose games industry has been undergoing a huge amount of growth in recent years.
The release of Reincarnation will effectively bring Stainless "full circle" back to a brand that was once inextricably associated with them -- and allow them to make up for the mistakes of the past such as Carmageddon 64. The prospect of a new Carmageddon game for modern computers has even attracted many of the original development team -- a lot of whom had scattered to other companies in the intervening years -- back to Stainless to work on the new project.
Although there's nothing playable to look at as yet, it's clear that Stainless is genuinely excited and enthusiastic about the project, and chose Eurogamer Expo to make the announcement about the Early Access version due to the company's perception of the show as being "all about the games." Looking around the show floor as I type this, and seeing throngs of people sitting in front of monitors getting hands-on with everything from the latest triple-A releases to everything quirky and strange the indie market has to offer, I have to concur with them; this was the right place to attract the attention of people who love games.
For more information on the Early Access program for Carmageddon: Reincarnation -- including a prize draw to get one of 99 free copies including all future DLC -- check out the official site.