January 16, 2009
The recently leaked footage from Free Radical Design's Star Wars Battlefront III created the first big gaming stir of 2009. While LucasArts never officially announced the title, the low-res video, allegedly from an internal Alpha meeting in November 2008, indicated that the game was in an advanced stage of development and very nearly complete. The status of the project has been in question since news broke in December that the studio is in a fight for survival. Free Radical entered administration late last year in order to find new investors for the company. If investors aren't found, the company assets, including all internal IP and technologies, will be sold off and the studio formally dissolved.
IGN recently spoke with an ex-employee from Free Radical, who requested to be referred to as Thomas Dudenaughty, to find out more about Battlefront III and the future of the company itself. Unfortunately, he confirmed what many fans have suspected given the recent struggles of Free Radical. Battlefront III is no longer being worked on at Free Radical.
Click here to watch the leaked footage.
"It's dead. The stuff in the video of going from the ground to air to space to orbit is the tech that is dying with us," said Dudenaughty. "They've decided, for whatever reason, I guess because it's less effort, to completely remove that with a cutscene transition." When asked about the rumored decision to move the project to Oxford-based Rebellion, Dudenaughty was non-commital. "It's not something I'd be willing or able to comment on," he said.
We asked how the game, which looked surprisingly polished in the leaked video, wound up being taken away from Free Radical. "It's not something I have a lot of insight to in terms of why it happened, but it certainly wasn't us that ****ed up.," he said. "I don't even necessarily think it's LucasArts' fault, it's just the state of the economy and it was an expensive project. I guess people think it's shocking they 'can' it that late in development. However, you think about the marketing spending equivalent to, or in the same region of, half the budget of the game it can make sense not to do it. But I wasn't really in the meetings when they decided against it."
Dudenaughty confirmed that the project was very near to completion. "Yeah," he said. "Absolutely." While Free Radical felt they had a nearly finished product, LucasArts wasn't ever clear with them about when the game was supposed to come out. "LucasArts never told us when they wanted to release, literally never," he said. "We didn't do any press, they kept it totally under wraps. I think that was partly because they had The Force Unleashed, they didn't want it to be contrasting with that." Fracture might also have been another reason to hold off on talking about Battlefront III, since LucasArts was busy trying to promote it as a premiere shooter with a significant multiplayer component last fall.
Assuming the footage in the leaked trailer was from an Alpha build, we deduced that the game might have been in development eighteen months prior, given that the Alpha milestone is typically one of the last in the development process. Dudenaughty confirmed that the project, and its underlying tech, had been in the works for even longer. "More than that [18 months]. We've been working on that tech for a long time. It's excruciating to see it falling by the wayside."
We asked Dudenaughty about rumors that the development of Battlefront III had been troubled for a long time, with one source close to LucasArts suggesting it was almost unplayable. "From my experience with it, it had all the same problems with it that any normal game has at that point," he said. "You can see what's working in Battlefront III and how well that was working, from that video. Just in terms of the scale and what we were capable of doing."
Dudenaughty was especially bullish about the state of the game's multiplayer mode, something which is typically the most difficult parts of a game to implement. "Arguably that was the thing that was in the best shape of all, and that's saying something," he said. "Not all the footage in that video seems to be from the singleplayer. I think people are mixing up what's what, a lot of that actually is multiplayer. The multiplayer was in really good shape."
Dudenaughty also felt the negative critical reception to Haze played a part in the demise of Free Radical's involvement in Battlefront III and their current struggles to find a buyer. "Yeah, absolutely. That was a big problem," he said. "That savage review, I think it was IGN that gave us the 4.5
. That was the nail in the coffin. Once that was out then a lot of people followed suit -- it was very difficult." Dudenaughty was candid about the overall failings of Haze, but still felt many reviews had been overly harsh. "At the very, very beginning of it we invested in the wrong tech which meant that we spent most of the project trying to fix those problems," he said. "It wasn't going to be set-piece driven, it was going to be AI driven, with the AI generating its own set-pieces. That's how advanced it was supposed to be, and it didn't work. That's kind of the rub of it."
Dudenaughty explained that Haze had gone through a number of major creative and conceptual overhauls, contributing to the development difficulties Free Radical experienced with it. "Originally Haze was a very hardcore thing. In terms of the content, the issues it was dealing with, the gore, the politics; it was a very adult game," he said. "Right at the beginning Haze was set in the modern day in Iraq and it was like Bush-bashing, a politically centered thing. It got re-written dozens of times on [Ubisoft's] request and it ended up being this futuristic kind of thing about something totally unrelated."
The future of Free Radical remains uncertain. There have been massive lay-offs and only a core team remain. Dudenaughty confirmed that Timesplitters 4 has yet to be picked up by a publisher. "Timesplitters 4 couldn't find a publisher. Nobody wanted to buy it. They didn't think that Americans would buy it." The overwhelmingly positive reaction to the leaked Battlefront III footage has bolstered the remaining group still employed at Free Radical. "It's great, it's very heartening. That's pleased people," he said. "We're pleased in terms of people that are interested in buying the company, we've got some pretty interesting stuff. But the fact that a good number of friends have been lost to the wind is a really shame. They were talented guys that we simply couldn't keep on because there wasn't the money to survive long enough."
Dudenaughty was certain that if any of the work that's been done on Timesplitters 4 is ever shown, fans will be even more impressed. "The technology we were developing specifically for Timsplitters 4 was streets ahead of what you see in Battlefront III. Streets ahead," he said. "The art and the environments really are stunning. Head and shoulders above what you're seeing in Battlefront."
While game fans will never get their hands on Battlefront III in the form teased by the leaked video, there remains hope that Free Radical will survive. "There are a number of interested parties, so you know, fingers crossed," said Dudenaughty. "It's a shame in a way that [the Battlefront III trailer] didn't happen a month ago or it would have given us more time."
"At the very least, it's nice for us not to be remembered specifically for Haze, but that we were actually capable of making another good game."
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