Gamesindustry.biz have an interview with Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis which paints an interesting picture of how things collapsed around them:
Some points of interest:
On Ubisoft and Haze:
- "We'd always created our own technology for the TimeSplitters games and I think that's part of the reason that we were on time and ahead of the curve in terms of quality, certainly with TimeSplitters 2," says Ellis. "Making our own tech was something that was important to us and we wanted to carry that forward. However, we also thought that the old engine was looking a bit creaky and rather than upgrading it to what was needed for the next-gen we decided to throw it away and start again. In retrospect that was probably a mistake and certainly that was part of the problem when we began working on Haze."
- "When we were working on TimeSplitters 1 and 2 we were completely left alone, [publisher] Eidos didn't look at the game, they didn't have milestone builds that they looked at and decided whether to pay us. They paid us at the start of the month, every month, and we got our heads down and worked on the game, we delivered a version for QA and that's really the first time they looked at the game. "From a developer's point of view that's a great way of working because you're not constrained by having to jump through hoops in order to get paid, those hoops that internally-developed games don't have to jump through. As we started working with Ubisoft on Haze that wasn't the situation anymore, they were very much involved in the day-to-day running of things and the decisions that were made, in a really weird and indirect way." Ubisoft didn't see it as interference, it was putting in place a system that has since been accepted as a significant part of the development process - using metrics for design.
- "They had this central group of people which are their game experts and decide how games should work, they almost try to turn it into a science, they devise formulas and try to apply it to various things throughout the level to scientifically work out a difficulty curve," details Ellis. "That might work for them, but trying to impose that on an external studio is a difficult thing when you're used to working in a completely different way. Trying to impose it on a team that doesn't all agree with it and buy into it is a recipe for disaster."
- But the biggest problem came when Ubisoft decided to make Haze a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Originally revealed for Xbox 360 and PC in 2006, the following year Sony announced the game would be exclusive to its own system, a console that in its early days suffered from the perception that it was a difficult machine to work on. "There was a deal behind the scenes that we saw no part of, but that deal meant Ubisoft was incentivised by and forced us to hit a date that was unachievable," claims Ellis.
On LucasArts and Star Wars Battlefront:
- In 2006 Free Radical also inked a deal with LucasArts for a game that was never officially named but is believed to have been Star Wars: Battlefront III. It was another step away from owned intellectual property for Free Radical, but the lucrative nature of the project and the chance to work on one of the most revered franchises suited the team. And on top of that, there was a really strong relationship between Free Radical's founders and LucasArts president Jim Ward and VP of product development Peter Hirschman.
But at the beginning of 2008 there was a shift in focus at LucasArts, with president Jim Ward stepping down in February and the axe falling later in the year on more internal staff including Peter Hirschman.
"The really good relationship that we'd always had suddenly didn't exists anymore. They brought in new people to replace them and all of a sudden we were failing milestones. That's not to say there were no problems with the work we were doing because on a project that size inevitably there will be, there's always going to be grey areas were things can either pass or fail. And all of a sudden we were failing milestones, payments were being delayed and that kind of thing."
- Drastic measures lead to LucasArts canning both projects in development, the first of which was almost complete. Ellis wouldn't be drawn on the actual details of the game, but enough footage of Star Wars Battlefront III has long since appeared on YouTube and LucasArts no longer removes the videos on copyright grounds.
The break was all the more galling as the first LucasArts project was almost complete, says Ellis. "It was pretty much done, it was in final QA. It had been in final QA for half of 2008 it was just being fixed for release."
"LucasArts' opinion is that when you launch a game you have to spend big on the marketing and they're right. But at that time they were, for whatever reason, unable to commit to spending big. They effectively canned a game that was finished."
- And another was Activision came to us and asked how would we like to make the next GoldenEye game?" "As you can imagine that was something that was very well-received by a lot of the staff, it was going to be a great project to work on. But as we jumped at the opportunity it suddenly disappeared. We never got a real explanation about why it disappeared. I suspect it was to do with rights about which platforms a GoldenEye sequel could be released on."
On Crytek's purchase and how the UK government screwed them over:
- Ellis claims that Crytek managed to buy the business with funding through a government regional development agency. "From my point of view it was frustrating because they basically didn't pay to acquire the company," he says. "They were given money by the government to buy the company - the same people who were unable to support Free Radical were able to fund a foreign acquirer of the company. They got themselves a great bargain."