While Epic Games and Red Storm Entertainment steal a lot of the local game-development coverage, game studio Vicious Cycle Software Inc. has been steadily growing since it was founded in January 2000 by a group of 12 Microprose developers who had been laid off prior to Hasbro Interactive’s sale to Infogrames (now Atari).

Today, the Morrisville-based studio, which is owned by game company D3Publisher, is home to 60 and the plan is to ramp up staff.

“We are looking to increase our staff to 90-plus employees mainly because we plan on working on two larger-scale products simultaneously,” said Eric Peterson, president and CEO of .

Vicious Cycle recently shipped “Ben 10 Alien Force” (Oct. 28), based on the hit animated TV series, and is working on an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 third-person perspective shooter, “Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard,” which is due out early this year. Peterson said the shooter is actually a parody of other games on the market. They even hired actor Will Arnett to voice Matt Hazard.

“We aren’t making fun of other products either; we are paying homage to them,” said Peterson. “The clichés that we parody include characters, enemies, genres and weapons that we either grew up playing or are examples that we are enjoying in titles we currently play. During the game, the player will encounter hacks that will alter the environment, combatants, weapons and even the cover objects you hide behind. You will have to use the cover system quite often in this game, since that was our primary focus. When you have your enemy threat minimized, you can get in close and enjoy some melee sequences to really bring down the pain on the classic enemy types such as zombies, space marines, military soldiers from the past and more.”

Vicious Cycle also took what was already expected in a standard cover-based game and added a few new elements, including a point-to-cover feature that allows the player to sprint to another cover point simply by moving the reticule to another object and pressing one of the buttons on the controller.

The new game focuses on Matt Hazard, an action hero who got his start in video games during the 1980s. His first big role was in a side-scroller, and later he rocketed to success in first-person shooter titles in the 1990s. He had appeared in shooters, spy games, buddy-cop products and even westerns. But after a string of hits, the company publishing the games, Marathon Software, tried to expand Matt into other genres that weren’t so glorious, like cart-racing titles just to take advantage of his previous success and exploit his image.

It was the downfall for Marathon Software. They overextended the franchise, and Matt Hazard was jobless and he retired from his prior glory. Then some years later, Marathon Software was purchased by a gamer who inherited his father’s fortunes. The gamer, Wallace (Wally) Wellesley III, who is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, bought the company while they were down on their luck.

“One of Wally’s motivations for the purchase was simply his distaste for Matt Hazard because he could never beat Matt’s games as a child,” explained Peterson.“ Wally’s plan was to bring Matt Hazard back in a new product as part of an elaborate trap to get rid of Matt once and for all. In our game’s world, if a character is de-rezzed during gameplay, they are permanently eliminated from the game’s code, never to return. And now that Wally is in charge, this is his way to defeat Matt forever.”

If "Eat Lead" succeeds at retail, Peterson can easily see this game developing into a franchise because there will always be plenty of material in pop culture and video games that the studio can parody. He said they’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg with this game, and there is a lot more to explore with future releases.

Moving forward, Peterson said, the goal of the studio is to develop two games at a time, albeit a bit offset from one another in their development cycles. They will mainly be larger games with longer development cycles.

“In addition to that, we will continue to develop our technology, the Vicious Engine that we license to other developers in the industry,” said Peterson. “Making games is still a priority to us and our staff, but getting our tech into other creative studios’ hands is important to us as well. Because many of the latest and greatest games require a higher quality than their predecessors, we will be growing the staff accordingly to manage this challenge.”