Innovative Leisure, a new game development studio formed by pioneers well-known in the industry, has signed a strategic “first look” agreement with financially challenged THQ.

In exchange for an unspecified investment, THQ gets the rights to publish any of Innovative Leisure’s titles, but the studio is free to publish them elsewhere if THQ declines.

“It’s a great honor (and a lot of fun) to get the opportunity to work with so many of the designers responsible for the gameplay mechanics that form the basis of our whole medium,” said Seamus Blackley, president of Innovative Leisure. “We’re excited about getting to make and release a bunch of awesome games.”

Blackley was one of the small team at Microsoft responsible for launching and evangelizing the original Xbox, a role that secured his place in gaming history. Other Innovative Leisure team members have equally classic projects among their credits: Van Burnham (Supercade), Ed Logg (Asteroids, Centipede, Gauntlet), Rich Adam (Missile Command, Gravitar, PGA Tour Golf), Tim Skelly (Rip Off, Star Castle, Reactor), Owen Rubin (Major Havoc, Space Duel), and Ed Rotberg (Battlezone, S.T.U.N. Runner, Steel Talons).

Their collective experience and old-school roots give a strong hint regarding the games that will come from Innovative Leisure. These developers are all experts at the kind of games that are immediately engaging: easy to play but addictive and requiring skill to master. As Blackley told VentureBeat, “We are looking at the new arcade, and 99 cents on the iPhone is the new quarter. People are playing on all these new devices and are finding the joy of the arcade games.”

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VentureBeat – Xbox co-creator Seamus Blackley launches mobile-game startup with Atari arcade veterans

File photo of Seamus Blackley by Flickr user justin/Justin Hall, used under Creative Commons license