[updated with Schilling interview]

Throwing a curve ball, Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios acquired game developer Big Huge Games today for an undisclosed price from game publisher THQ.

That’s a bit of a shift for 38 Studios, which was founded by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Schilling. Maynard, Mass.-based 38 Studios is making a massively multiplayer online fantasy game in a bid to beat out Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. The code-named Copernicus MMO game isn’t coming out until 2010. Schilling spoke about his plans to jump from pro baseball to games at our GamesBeat 09 conference, and we talked to him again today.

“Given their background and our plans, this made way too much sense,” Schilling said in an interview. “This certainly accelerates our plans to develop the Copernicus intellectual property.”

In the meantime, Timonium, Md.-based Big Huge Games represents a kind of diversification. That company is known for its real-time strategy games — PC games where players simultaneously control armies on a map — such as Rise of Nations. I’ve played their games for years and they’re never a disappointment. THQ, which bought them just a year ago, is unloading them mainly because of its own financial troubles that have forced layoffs and studio closings. Big Huge Games adds 70 people to 38 Studios’ current staff of 74. Those are major league numbers for a game developer/publisher.

Schilling’s company said that the deal is a critical step in the strategy of building a broad range of entertainment based on its original fantasy universe, code-named Copernicus. Hence, it seems pretty clear that Big Huge could make a real-time strategy based on the Copernicus theme, much like Microsoft recently released the Halo Wars real-time strategy game based on the Halo first-person shooter universe. Schilling said the company would announce its plans for Big Huge Games at a later time. But he did say that Big Huge Games would be working on 38 Studios’ roadmap for now.

Big Huge Games was founded in 2000 by veteran game developers Brian Reynolds, Jason Coleman, Dave Inscore, and Tim Train (chief executive). Reynolds learned his chops working with Sid Meier on the Alpha Centauri and Civilization strategy games. Big Huge Games, with design teams led by Ken Rolston, is currently developing an unnamed role-playing game for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Schilling specifically said that gamers will be able to play Copernicus on any of the game platforms that they prefer, including the iPhone, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or the PC. Since he retired from baseball in March, Schilling said he is putting full time into the game company as its chairman.

Brett Close, chief executive and president of 38 Studios, said that the acquisition would contribute to the financial stability and market growth of the company and accelerate plans to exploit the shared world of Copernicus.

Schilling said that 38 Studios is looking for funding still. Using his baseball money, Schilling has funded the studio largely on his own and through angel investments. But he says he isn’t planning on investing his entire personal fortune in the company and wants to raise money. He is open to traditional funding via an advance from a publisher, venture capital, or investments by private equity groups and high-net worth individuals.

Schilling said that traditional venture capitalists are still a little wary about investing a large amount of money in a hit-driven business. But he said that the big investment he has made with his own money has both reduced the risk and increased the scope of the ambition at the same time.