Time To Split: The Life and Death of the Free Radicals
I would like to preface this investigation by letting you know that all of this information has been a culmination of an extended period researching the subject. Even though a significant amount of work has gone into ensuring the legitimacy of the information presented, with credible sources where appropriate, there still may be information included that could be misinterpreted or incorrect.
If you spot an issue in this investigation, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com with the corrected information and I will fix the document as soon as possible.
EDIT (09/07/2018): Years after writing this piece, I have been given new information based upon the fall of Free Radical by a confirmed anonymous source, which unearths a stronger truth of what happened to Free Radical. This information is extensive and would require a rewrite of the closing chapters of this article. When I have time, I will rewrite this article and add a link here when it is completed but please note, it will be a while until I can formulate the events as told by a source extremely close to the situation into this article. Thanks for your patience!
This is a living, breathing piece of work as there are a lot of areas still left undiscovered and stories left to be told. As such, there will be constant updates to this document over the next few years until the story presented is definitive and all of the grey areas have been filled.
If you have any information that can help in this investigation, again, feel free to reach out to me with said information — firstname.lastname@example.org .
And now to the feature presentation.
— — — — — — — — — -
TimeSplitters. Just the name alone sends a flurry of people into a nostalgia trip. Ironically lost to us in time, TimeSplitters was a series that defined a generation of gamers all across the globe.
Even to this day, fans across the world pine for the series with some even taking it upon themselves to recreate the game for modern day systems.
Join me as we take a dive into the past to discover how TimeSplitters became the legendary icon for a gaming generation, we’ll be diving deep into the history of the series and finding some bombshells on the way.
For example, did you know there was a Gameboy Advance version of TimeSplitters that was completed but not released?
Find out more information like this as well as answers to questions such as “Where is the series now?” and more importantly, “Where did it all go wrong?”, right here with me, Kitatus.
The Origins of the Radicals
To begin our adventure, we have to start in a seemingly unlikely place. Even though the first TimeSplitters game was released in the year 2000, we have to dive back even further, to the year 1997 and to a console you might not expect; the Nintendo 64.
A company called Rareware has just released a little game called Goldeneye.
Rareware (Now called Rare) were a British company established in 1985 by Tim and Chris Stamper. Originally called “Ultimate Play the Game”, the company started off making titles such as Jetpac (1983), Atic Atac (1983), Saber Wulf (1984) and Knight Lore (1984).
Before Ultimate Play the Game, Tim and Chris Stamper worked in the arcade industry. Originally repairing motherboards in arcade machines, they eventually worked their way up working on converting existing games into new ones.
Speaking to Develop in August 2015, Tim Stamper said:
We were working in the coin-op industry, repairing boards and looking at how people change software to make different things happen on the screen, That’s really how we got into it, that was in the late ’70s to early ‘80s.
We worked for a couple of companies, working on conversions on Space Invaders and Galaxian boards. We started writing software on other people’s hardware, and then selling the coin-op conversions for new products.
It didn’t take them long to figure out that creating games were their future. Thus, Ultimate Play the Game was born. Expanding away from the arcade and into people’s homes, Ultimate Play the Games experimented with creating titles for ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and Commodore VIC-20.
Their titles were well received and Ultimate Play the Game quickly became a household name. In 1983 and 1984, Ultimate Play the Game won the golden joystick award for “Best Software House” — A prestigious award given only to the best game developers of the time.
Things were going so well that in 1985, Tim and Chris Stamper became frustrated. Even though their work was treated like gold, they had seen a glimpse of the future.
Importing a Famicom, more commonly known as the Nintendo Entertainment System outside of Asia, they knew this console was the future. Featuring better graphics, no load times and a plan for global domination, the Famicom was the answer to the problems they were starting to encounter with the ZX spectrum.
Developing for the ZX Spectrum limited the company’s possible growth as the ZX Spectrum only really took off in their home turf in the United Kingdom. With newer technology surfacing, they ran the risk of becoming irrelevant in the gaming scene.
Away from the public eye, the Stamper brothers set up a subdivision called Rare LTD and in secret; they reverse engineered the Famicom and it’s games to figure out how it was possible to create titles for the system.
Their tests were a success and in 1985, even though the ZX spectrum still dominated the UK markets, the brothers decided to sell the Ultimate Play the Game company and catalogue of games to a company called U.S Gold.
With their pockets lined with money from the sale, the brothers began working under their Rare LTD company name, which wasn’t included in the sale of Ultimate Play the Game. With the money from the sale, the brothers began creating demos for the Famicom.
Once they were happy with the demos, they took them to Nintendo’s headquarters in Japan and presented the demos to Nintendo executives.
Nintendo was impressed and gave the company an unlimited budget to create as many games as they felt like. Rare LTD had found a new home and with Nintendo behind them, they got straight to work.
It was from this meeting with executes that led to the creation of titles such as Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and a whole army of killer apps for Nintendo’s system. The game that is most relevant to our story, however, was Goldeneye 007, which is where the embryos of TimeSplitters began to form.
The Golden Eye
Goldeneye 007 was a Nintendo 64 exclusive shooter which put you in the shoes of James Bond as you followed the events of the movie of the same name. The game was a massive success, selling over 8 million copies during its commercial run and received perfect scores from critics and fans alike.
The one thing that stood out most for many about Goldeneye 007 was the multiplayer. This was the first time ever that players could experience multiplayer deathmatch on a console, a game type made popular by the PC games DOOM and Quake.
Allowing up to four players to duke it out, the multiplayer of Goldeneye 007 featured five different split screen modes and 33 playable characters, which at the time was completely unheard of. And we almost didn’t get any of it.
Speaking at GDC Europe 2012, Martin Hollis, who at the time of Goldeneye’s development was the Head of Software at Rare, revealed that the multiplayer mode of Goldeneye was created at the last minute mostly by programmer Steve Ellis, without informing or getting permission from the management at Rare or Nintendo.
Steve Ellis explained about this situation:
One of the things that always strikes me as crazy in retrospect is that until something like March or April of 1997, there wasn’t a multiplayer mode at all. It hadn’t even been started. It was put in at the last minute — something you wouldn’t dream of doing these days — and it was done without the knowledge or permission of the management at Rare and Nintendo.
The first they knew about it was when we showed it to them working. However — since the game was already late by that time, if we hadn’t done it that way, it probably never would have happened.
The fact that the multiplayer mode was created, released and loved created a knock-on effect which would continue to change the gaming world, even years after the game’s release.
You would think that everybody at Rare (At the time called Rareware) was delighted with Goldeneye 007. And they were. At least their hard work. Their pay, however, didn’t reflect their hard work or the project’s success.
David Doak was one of these people who weren’t happy. Initially hired to provide network support for Donkey Kong Country 3, he quickly found himself as one of the lead designers behind Goldeneye 007.
The Birth of the Free Radicals
After completing work on Goldeneye 007, Rare moved onto Perfect Dark, and all hands were on deck to bring their next shooter to market. Feeling like he’d achieved everything he could at Rare, David Doak left Rare in late 1998.
This set off a chain reaction of a few other developers from the Goldeneye project who followed David Doak.
Speaking with Eurogamer in 2012, David Doak said:
Steve and I hadn’t really spoken about it very much, I think he was pretty shocked when I left Rare. But to Steve’s credit he definitely galvanised me, and he’s never been one for inaction.
Fresh out of Rare, Doak, along with Steve Ellis, the programmer who had brought Goldeneye’s multiplayer to life, set up a company called Free Radical, with the help of publisher Eidos Interactive, who are now part of Square Enix. Shortly after, Karl Hilton, Graeme Norgate and Lee Ray joined the team to rejoin their brothers in arms.
Free Radical first project was a title called Redemption. You’ll most likely not know it by this name, but by its final name Second Sight. While working on Redemption, there were some conflicting ideas.
While the discussions were underway to refine the ideas behind the game, Steve Ellis worked on a first person shooter engine. Needless to say, the engine was ready for use before the talks reached a conclusion.
Free Radical’s released titles in order were: TimeSplitters, TimeSplitters 2, Second Sight, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, Haze. So how did TimeSplitters end up coming before Second Sight?
Karl Hilton said to Destructoid in 2011:
When the launch of the PS2 moved back slightly, we realized there was an opportunity to get a less narratively complex multiplayer game out in time for launch and so at that point Redemption was put on hold while we developed the first TimeSplitters game.
Interestingly, I don’t recall us ever having too much in the way of documentation for the game when we first pitched it to publishers. We had a business plan but our game planning was still in its early stages.
When work began on TimeSplitters, Free Radical decided not to initially let their publisher; Eidos Interactive, know about the project. They were worried they would not be given the green light to move forward with the project. When the point came where they could no longer hold TimeSplitters a secret, Free Radical presented the game to Eidos.
Eidos hated it. Perhaps due to the working title of the project was simply “Multiplayer Game” and then “Multiplayer Shooter”. They rejected the idea, but this didn’t deter the team. If anything, it motivated them. Ignoring the demands of Eidos, Free Radical continued to work on the project. Luckily, the next time they presented the title, Eidos saw the light and gave the project the greenlight. With a catch. They were allowed to finish TimeSplitters on a small, 6-figure budget which, even by the standards back then was a tight budget for a video-game.
Armed with a small budget and a team of only 15 people, Free Radical worked frantically to bring the game to life in time for the Playstation 2’s launch, which gave them a development timeframe of 16 months.
David Doak told Eurogamer:
We had a lot to prove, It was tremendously exciting. I remember getting up and just being so keen to get to work. It felt like a real moon shot, you know, and everyone who joined was really excited to be on board. Everyone pulled together, the artists and animators were sitting testing it until the 11th hour.
The primary focus of the project was the multiplayer, made obvious due to the fact the working titles were “Multiplayer Game” and “Multiplayer Shooter”. Following the extremely positive feedback from Goldeneye’s multiplayer, they felt that making sure Multiplayer was the main focus of TimeSplitters was the right thing to do.
Looking back at Goldeneye, they weren’t happy with the fact the game ran at 12 frames a second on Nintendo 64 hardware and wanted to push themselves for 60 frames per second for a smooth multiplayer experience. This didn’t pan out, but Free Radical still managed to reach a stable 30 frames per second.
In order to do so, they had to optimise the art assets. They gave the art of the game a stylised cartoony-style to keep the frame rate a respectable 30 frames per second and hide the fact they couldn’t reach realism with the current, at the time, technical limitations. This decision to cartoonify the characters and world gave the series a unique identity and the art style became a staple of the series.
TimeSplitters was released exclusively on PS2 on 23rd October 2000 for North America and 24th November 2000 for Europe. Upon release, it gained positive reviews, with scores ranging from 8/10–10/10. The game went on to be re-released in the Playstation’s 2 Platinum Range where it continued to entertain others.
Almost every professional review of TimeSplitters sang praise about the multiplayer and co-op parts of the game specifically as well as the art style and humour. The work had paid off; a perfect storm had brewed and thus TimeSplitters was born.
At launch, TimeSplitters sold more than one million copies, which even though satisfied Eidos, disappointed Free Radical. Compared to Goldeneye, the game didn’t sell nearly as many copies as Goldeneye had and this gave Free Radical a sense of failure. They swore that their next game would be genre-defining.
Recreation, Refinement and Resplitting
Now that TimeSplitters had been completed, the team planned to dive into Redemption and bring it to life. Before the dust could settle, Eidos wanted another TimeSplitters game.
The game had gone gold in September 2000, one month prior to release, and Eidos didn’t want idle thumbs, so work immediately began on TimeSplitters 2. So immediately, in fact, work began the very next day after TimeSplitters finished development.
With TimeSplitters completed, Free Radical already had a powerful engine and tools to take the next instalment to the next level.
Speaking to Eurogamer, David Doak exclaimed:
With TimeSplitters we showed we could do it, With the second one we wanted to make a genre-defining game. TimeSplitters 2 was great, it was brilliant, because we’d shipped a game, we had some very cool tech, we knew what we wanted to make better, and we just wanted to do the concept on acid
In order to bring this new, fresher version of the core idea of TimeSplitters to life, a lot of work had gone into redefining the gameplay and many of the systems behind them. The animation system that they had created to power the first entry was completely removed and remade from scratch. Multiplayer was no longer the focus.
A lot of the reviews for the original title complained that the single player felt throwaway and didn’t compare to Goldeneye 007.
Using these words as motivation, Free Radical worked hard on creating mission-based systems into their engine, smarter A.I and a heavy focus was given to environmental interactivity. Artistic consistency was also a priority as they wanted the world’s presented in TimeSplitters 2 to feel cohesive and immersive.
To facilitate this new focus, the team grew from 15 to around 30, allowing Free Radical to go all out into bringing TimeSplitters 2 to life. TimeSplitters 2 had almost double the development time than the first title; 23 months. With an already working engine and a larger team, Free Radical had their eyes set on the prize and experimented into some unique territory for the series.
One of these ambitious ideas was online multiplayer. A significant amount of time and effort was spent to get the now multi-platform TimeSplitters 2 online but this never made it past the R&D stage. Even though it had been publically announced, Free Radical feared that online multiplayer development was taking up too much time and was not meeting the high-quality standard they held for the title. They decided to silently shelve the idea, which disappointed some fans on launch.
TimeSplitters 2 was launched worldwide on PS2, Xbox and Gamecube on 9th October 2002–1 November 2002, with a Japanese PS2 version released on 27th February 2003. It was met with critical acclaim, with critics scoring the title between 9/10–10/10. It was hailed as the “Best first person shooter for PS2” and went on to gain equally high praise from players.
Critics and gamers alike loved the attention given to the narrative of the campaign, the customisable multiplayer modes, the multiplayer as a whole as well as the improved level builder called “Map Maker”.
The game sold well over two million copies but again, didn’t come close to selling Goldeneye 007 numbers. Free Radical were extremely satisfied with the game, but once again, disappointed with the sales figures.
Steve Ellis had this to say to Eurogamer about the game:
Personally I think the best thing Free Radical did was TimeSplitters 2, That was the highpoint for the company, the game that was most like what we wanted to do. Given infinite resources, it’s what we would have done more of.
In an almost contradictory manner, he said this to VG247:
When you’re making a game it can be hard to see past its flaws. Game development is all about making compromises and you know all of the things that you didn’t get time to do, the things didn’t manage to do as well as you had hoped and the bugs that you’re not going to be able to fix.
I’ve never reached the end of a project thinking ‘this is amazing’. However I do recall one time towards the end, playing a 16-player game in the office against Eidos QA, thinking that we might have something special.
Now that TimeSplitters 2 was finished, released and in players hands, it was time for Free Radical to head back to Redemption, or as it would later be called Second Sight. Or at least that is what people thought.
In fact, according to Graeme Norgate, on his website Graeme Norgate .com, during this period between the finishing of TimeSplitters 2 and the start of Second Sight; Free Radical created a Game Boy Advance version of TimeSplitters 2.
According to the little pieces of information available on the site, this portable version of TimeSplitters 2 was in fact completed but sadly went unreleased for reasons unknown.
If Only Free Radical Had Second Sight
It was at this point that Free Radical finished their dealing with Eidos Interactive and partnered up with publisher Activision to bring Second Sight to market.
Feeling confident on their idea of Redemption, Free Radical expanded their team from 30 to around 70–80 staff.
If TimeSplitters had been a perfect storm, then Second Sight was the polar opposite. Having released in the same timeframe as Psi-Ops, a very similar game with a stronger marketing budget and a wider array of abilities for the main character to perform, Second Sight was facing an uphill battle. Coupled with issues with their publisher, Second Sight was plagued with bad luck.
Second Sight was nearing completion when Activision dropped Free Radical and Second Sight from their portfolio. There are conflicting stories about the reason for this, but all of these stories route back to Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision and his distrust in external developers tied to the company.
Free Radical would have been in a lot of trouble had it not been for the fact that the company ran on a strict “We keep our IPs rule”. Since it’s inception, Free Radical only agreed to deals with publishers which stipulated that they could keep the IPs and content they create.
Eidos and Activision agreed to these terms and thus when Free Radical parted ways with Eidos Interactive and Activision, they were allowed to use the IPs still and still owned the rights to the games they created.
Without a publisher and in unknown non-first person shooter territory, the development of Second Sight was troubled to the say the least.
Karl Hilton had this to say Destructoid about the development:
Partly because it was our first third person game, Second Sight had quite a protracted and sometimes difficult development process. We were a little over-ambitious in the early stages and had to reduce the size of some of the levels we were building.
However it was very refreshing to be working in third person for the graphics and we were all enthusiastic about the originality of the story we were telling and how we were telling it. We were also very confident about the overall quality of the game
The project eventually found a replacement publisher, Codemasters and the game was released in September 2004 for Xbox, Playstation 2 and Gamecube and then in February 2005 for Windows.
Due to a variety of factors, including stiff competition from Psi-Ops, the game scored in the 4/10–8/10 area with critics. It would go on to become a cult classic, but sales of the title did not meet expectations.
Talking to Destructoid about the reception of Second Sight, Karl Hilton said:
I think the lack of a proper ‘build up’ phase when we didn’t have a publisher hurt us more in the long run. A new IP needs to build anticipation and hype in the gaming community and Second Sight didn’t get that chance.
In terms of press reviews, it certainly didn’t get the overwhelmingly positive response that you always hope for. Most reviewers ‘liked’ it and it got a mix of reasonable scores for story, graphics, sound etc. but nothing outstanding.
According to sales data, Second Sight failed to raise even a million copies in sales at launch. This did not deter Free Radical, however. Taking it on the chin, the team were confident that they could pull themselves back together for the next project.
But what was the next project? For the first time since founding the studio, there was no pre-defined path for them to follow. What would come next?
TimeSplitters Espionage Action
The answer came from Electronic Arts, another large video-game publisher. Electronic Arts had seen the sales figures and review scores for TimeSplitters 2, and they believed they could work with Free Radical to finally give them the sales numbers they were after. But was that decision the wrong one to make?
Electronic Arts and Free Radical had a difference of opinion on where the core of TimeSplitters lay. Free Radical were confident that the multiplayer was the core component; seeing as the series was built up from a game that was titled “Multiplayer Shooter” in development.
Electronic Arts, on the other hand, believed that a strong, deep single player experience was the direction the series needed to take.
Perhaps Electronic Arts had a motive behind this change of direction. During the development of Future Perfect, Electronic Arts had assembled a team work on a James Bond game that was using the “Goldeneye” title to piggyback off the success of Goldeneye 007.
Was this the reason they were pushing for the TimeSplitters’ single player? It would make little sense that a company like Electronic Arts would greenlight two projects to make one deliberately fail, but it isn’t an impossible scenario.
Sadly, there is a little information about Future Perfect’s development publically available and so much of it would have to fall under speculation.
The only scraps of information online point to the fact that Goldeneye: Rogue Agent was released first out of the two and didn’t fare so well in review scores. As an attempt to save face and recoup their investment into the project, Electronic Arts had to throw extra money at the project.
Steve Ellis believed this could have been one of the reasons TimeSplitters Future Perfect did not fare as well as hoped. When he spoke to EuroGamer, he said:
We killed ourselves getting Future Perfect done, only to find that they had made a total balls of GoldenEye to the extent they had to throw more money at it to market it, the money that they might have spent on Future Perfect
TimeSplitters Future Perfect was released in March 2005 for Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube with little marketing when compared to Goldeneye: Rogue Agent’s marketing campaigns. Electronic Arts had failed to deliver on their promise of earning Free Radical more money than Eidos Interactive had.
In a similar situation to their time at Rare, even though the game sold well, the revenue they earned after the publisher took their cut was laughable.
The Future is Getting Hazy
Free Radical were unsure on how to proceed. With the next generation of consoles on the horizon and publishers favouring internal studios due to the rising costs of video-game development, publisher expectations were metamorphosing as well.
In the publisher’s’ eyes, the cartoony style which had shaped Free Radical’s signature art style was no longer “Hip” and realistic military shooters were the new rage.
Speaking to Eurogamer, David Doak talked about this period:
People were telling us, ‘We don’t like your cartoony styles, they don’t sell. Can you do something more serious for a shooter, something more military?
They wanted us to pitch stuff to them, but they were directing us down these narrow paths saying, ‘Pitch us something a bit like this’. And what we should have said was ‘f**k off, no. I’d rather go out and get run over by a car!
The market was changing, and Free Radical were forced to remould themselves for this new market.
The rising costs of video-game development also came with another downside that played a key role in Free Radical’s future. Retaining ownership of their IPs from publishers was no longer an option.
Publishers simply weren’t comfortable with the idea of sinking money into a project to have a developer finish the title elsewhere and net all the income.
Free Radical did manage to compromise with their next project however and signed up with publisher Ubisoft to create their next project HAZE, intended for the, at the time, next generation platforms PS3 and Xbox 360.
Working with Ubisoft was not an easy task. Late into the development of HAZE, Without consent or knowledge of Free Radical, just as the free radicals had done to their superiors while working on Goldeneye 007, Ubisoft signed a deal with Sony in which HAZE would become a Sony exclusive in return for marketing support.
Had they consulted Free Radical, they would have learnt that Haze hadn’t even successfully ran on a PS3 yet.
Ubisoft weren’t the only spikes in the road during the development of HAZE. Cracks had begun to form within the company, and doubts of design decisions within Haze were beginning to become a controversial topic throughout the development between the team.
With the team constantly expanding with new people joining Free Radical to help prime Haze for its time in the spotlight, these cracks and doubts were quickly becoming significant divides between the team members.
The team had also wanted to try their hand at creating a new engine for the next generation of video-game systems.
Speaking to EngadgetUK, Steve Ellis said:
We were transitioning new consoles and we wanted to do something that would make good use of all of the power those machines would bring, Pretty much everything turned out to be harder than we expected.
We didn’t have the luxury of developing the new engine and tools chain to completion before rolling them out for the development team, We had an aggressive early schedule for Haze — all of which meant that development had to start in earnest using still-immature technology.
Thinking in retrospect, Graeme Norgate had this to say about the whole situation:
Trying to get anything into that game was a battle of wills. Another audio guy said that trying to get sounds into the game was like wallpapering a wall whilst the rest of the house was burning down.
New consoles, a completely new engine written from the ground up, written by too many people and not under enough control made it a bit of a wild ride that was no fun and everyone wanted to get off.
Haze had high ambitions and potential but the engine killed it.
We should have kept the TS engine… which was resurrected for TimeSplitters 4 (as it was back then) and was looking fantastic. Running at a constant 60fps and with more lighting effects than we could even dream of in Haze…. too little too late unfortunately.
Haze launched in May 2008 and as promised, as an exclusive for the Playstation 3. It was met with a mediocre reception. Die-hard fans of the series were expecting a TimeSplitters-esque game and were disappointed to learn that Haze had become another generic shooter.
The bold ideas Free Radical attempted to inject into the series fell flat on their face and the review scores burnt this lesson into everyone at Free Radical.
The sales number at launch were an extremely disappointing 500,000 sales, which made Haze Free Radical’s worst performing title they released during their lifespan as a company.
What many people don’t know was that in the final years of Haze’ development, Free Radical had begun work on another secret project, TimeSplitters 4. Built on the original TimeSplitters engine, as Norgate had alluded to in the last quote.
They had created TimeSplitters 4 in hopes of avoiding the no-game, no-publisher patch they tended to find themselves in, with the team growing, they ran the risk of closure if such an event were to happen again.
They tried, behind closed doors, to sell TimeSplitters 4 to publishers to get the financing to get the project into the market and into players hands. Even though publishers loved the series, they simply didn’t want to take the gamble on the series, which even though had proved popular amongst its fans, failed to show its success in the sales figures.
LucasArts vs the Free Radicals
Demotivated by their failure on Haze and the fact that they couldn’t find a publisher for TimeSplitters 4, Free Radical were once again without a funded project or direction. It was at this time that they were approached by LucasArts to develop a Star Wars Battlefront title.
It is at this period where our story splits into two distinctly different paths depending on who you want to believe. The only clear facts that are that Star Wars Battlefront III was developed over the course of two years at Free Radical and never made it to market.
The Free Radical side of events, which have been circulated around the Internet, claims that at the time of cancellation of the project by LucasArts, the title was 90–99% complete.
However, towards, this period, LucasArts stopped answering Free Radicals’ phone calls and ultimately ceased to show interest in the project since changing management. They also argue that LucasArts stopped paying them entirely and eventually ceased all communication.
When Graeme Norgate spoke to Eurogamer, his comments seem to corroborate at least parts of this unconfirmed story:
LucasArts hadn’t paid us for six months, and were refusing to pass a milestone so we would limp along until the money finally ran out. They knew what they were doing.
Norgate argues that LucasArts were tricking Free Radical to work on the title for free. When Free Radical could no longer sustain as a company, due to lack of funds, the project would be handed over to another developer, who would finish up the game and release it.
His theory is that LucasArts were trying to con Free Radical, whose employee number had now swelled to around 185 people, out of 6 months of free work on the project. It isn’t too far-fetched to assume that Rebellion, the company who apparently would later take the Star Wars Battlefront III project on after Free Radical, had promised to complete the game for much cheaper than Free Radical had invoiced LucasArts for. However, this is, at the moment still unconfirmed, and has to be treated as pure speculation.
LucasArts paints a different picture entirely. There are reports floating around the Internet hinting at a darker side to Free Radical.
These reports suggest that Free Radical missed critical deadlines, failed to report progress on the project and even locked-out key LucasArts employees when they came to the Free Radical studio to check-up on the project. These reports also state that it was Free Radical who ceased all communication.
Again, this is entirely unconfirmed as no sources could be cited for the origin of this information. Even though sources can be cited for the first theory, they only cover the theory partially and do not fully back up all the claims of the theory.
The fact that TimeSplitters 4 had been actively in development during the production of Star Wars Battlefront III certainly could throw some balls in LucasArts’ corner but that again would just be another unconfirmed rumour.
So we are left entirely in the dark about the truth of the information. The key facts that we do know are that the project was taken away from Free Radical and LucasArts ceased all dealings with the company.
This was a double whammy to Free Radical. Not only did they lose Battlefront III, which apparently was pretty much ready to kick out of the door but they had also begun pre-production on a sequel; Star Wars Battlefront IV. This means that in the process, they lost two projects instead of just one.
It’s hard to follow where Star Wars Battlefront III went after this situation. Rumours say that Rebellion, who had worked on two Playstation Portable games based on the Star Wars Battlefront license, took the project on and remade it from scratch. This rumour has weight to it, but again, lacks sources.
Another strong rumour is that a Canadian company named Slant Six were given the project at one point.
This rumour has more weight to it due to Star Wars Battlefront III files were found on the disc of another Slant Six game; Resident Evil: Raccoon City, by a website called Betagames. However, this is where this rumour gets even stranger.
The game again pops up again, according to VG247, with a company called Spark Unlimited.
Alex Donaldson at VG247 wrote:
Rumours as recent as last month place a Battlefront title with Spark Unlimited, developers of Call of Duty: Finest Hour, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary.
Spark responded to the rumours with a telling wink, stating that they were “working on a sequel for a well known sci-fi franchise,” and that “all aspects must remain secret.”
Job postings and LinkedIn profiles point to them making a third person sci-fi shooter which also has sword fighting elements for a “high profile” franchise. The writing is likely on the wall here.
As you probably know by now, the game eventually landed with DICE and Electronic Arts, who recreated it from the ground up and released it in 2015. What happens in between is a total mystery, shrouded in rumour and uncertainty.
With the rug pulled from underneath them, Free Radical were severely wounded but still standing. At the time of the cancellation of Star Wars Battlefront III, Free Radical had grown to 200 employees.
During the development of Star Wars Battlefront III, Free Radical had confirmed to the world that they were indeed working on TimeSplitters 4.
This sent shockwaves and excitement to gamers all around the globe, but there was still no indication of a publisher. When Star Wars Battlefront III was snatched from Free Radical, they doubled down on bringing TimeSplitters 4 to life.
At this time, post-Battlefront, TimeSplitters 4 was not the only game being worked on at Free Radical. Free Radical were working on a number of projects, ranging from pitches and demos to try and gain a publisher and a secret project that was revealed in 2012 via an Interview between Ex-Free Radical developers Steve Ellis, Martin Wakeley and Lee Musgrave and gaming blog website NES (Not Enough Shaders).
This secret project was Timesplitters 2 HD; a downloadable version of TimeSplitters 2 for the Xbox 360 generation of consoles.
Steve Ellis said during the interview:
We had an ‘HD’ downloadable version of TimeSplitters 2 in development at Free Radical in 2008, I don’t know what happened to that but yes, I’d love to see it released at some point. Maybe it could be the catalyst that is required in order to raise enough interest in TimeSplitters 4 that a publisher might want to fund it.
TimeSplitters 4 and TimeSplitters 2 HD still had no publisher, however, and even though Free Radical had money in the bank, It wasn’t enough to fund over 200 employees forever. Development soldiered on in regards to these two projects until a publisher approached them with a request…
Publisher Activision approached Free Radical with a request to work on a Goldeneye remake. This was the event that would give Free Radical a boost in motivation and a newfound determination to heal its wounds.
They quickly got to work on a game design document and a playable demo of a Dam environment.
As quickly as this good news hit their desks, the offer wafted away like a bad smell. Steve Ellis told Eurogamer:
Then GoldenEye suddenly disappeared, Without ever any explanation, really. That sounded like a brilliant opportunity. That was one of the things that was happening right at the end when we didn’t have many more options. In the end, they chose not to do it.
Time To Split
Free Radical had dodged many bullets in their life as a developer. There were a number of close calls over the years, but their luck had now run out. The company didn’t have enough money to continue and thus had to file for Administration.
For those who don’t know, Administration is a process a company initiates when they do not have enough money to pay their debts, but the company is still in a situation where they can be liquidated. Administration gives companies legal protection from being sued by the people they owe money or product to and protects them from being liquidated.
In order to initiate the Administration process, a company must give all of their assets to an Insolvency Practitioner — In Free Radical’s case, they had to give their assets to a company called ReSolve Partners.
The administrator period was a dark time for Free Radical. Only a few days before Christmas 2008, a massive chunk of Free Radical’s employee’s lost their jobs. Only 40 employees remained.
Adding to the strange rumours surrounding Star Wars Battlefront III, the studio Rebellion, who was rumoured to be secretly working on the game, put in a bid offer for some of Free Radical’s assets. The exact assets requested were obviously not publically revealed, nor their bid price. Sadly, this bid price was not enough for the administrators and impending doom loomed for Free Radical.
In another bizarre twist of events, a company ended up purchasing Free Radical and all of their assets to save them from closure. This company was Crytek, who were made famous from their game engine CryEngine and the video-game Far Cry.
There is no time to Cry for the Free Radicals
Renaming the company from Free Radical to Crytek UK, Crytek put the company straight to work to bring the multiplayer of Crysis 2 to life. Throughout the development of Crysis 2’s multiplayer and subsequently after, a number of the key members of Free Radical left Crytek UK, and others changed their roles.
Karl Hilton became the manager of Crytek UK. Graeme Norgate became the Audio Director. Steve Ellis and David Doak both left the company. Steve founded a new company together with Martin Wakeley called Crash Lab, whereas David Doak entirely left the games industry.
This isn’t, however, the end our story just yet.
After the development of Crysis 2’s multiplayer completed, Crytek UK were given two more projects; The multiplayer for Crysis 3 and the Xbox 360 version of Warface. Having completed these projects, they were then given a full game to work on, and this game was called Homefront: The Revolution.
Putting the Radicals on the Homefront
The Homefront series was originally developed by a company called Kaos Studios and published by THQ. Sadly, after the release of the first game in the series, Kaos Studios’ suffered a significant drop in their stocks due to the reception of the title. This had a knock-on effect in which ended up with the closing of the studio.
All was not lost though as THQ brought the Homefront developers onboard to THQ Montreal to continue working on the franchise. Strangely enough, a couple of months after announcing this fact, they announced a new title in the series; But developed by Crytek UK and not the remnants of Kaos Studios.
In the purpose of not losing focus during this investigation, I have left some key information about the Kaos Studios closure out of this piece. There is a gripping story behind it not dissimilar to Free Radical’s demise, so I hope to personally perform a full investigation into the matter and create a write-up similar to this on Kaos Studios in the future.
The same year after Kaos Studios was closed, THQ began to show signs of financial instability, laying off a significant portion of its workforce in January 2012. The company managed to stay afloat for a few more months before finally filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 19, 2012.
The creditors decided to auction off THQ’s properties on January 22nd, 2013. Within this sale was the Homefront 2 project Crytek 2 had been working on. Luckily, the purchaser of the IP was none-other than Crytek UK’s parent company; Crytek and work continued as normally.
Almost ritualistically, work continued with the project until another roadblock reared its ugly head; Crytek were in trouble.
Forever Crying, The Radicals Die Again
In June 2014, reports began to surface throughout the gaming media that Crytek were suffering from financial difficulties, which equated to unpaid salaries and bonuses. It did not take them long to secure capital from other sources, but this came with some caveats. These new funding sources only wanted one thing from Crytek; Online Gaming. These new sources were not interested in single player experiences such as Homefront: The Revolution, which lacked any competitive multiplayer elements.
It is not surprising then that the next time we heard about the project, Crytek had sold the sold the rights, assets and team to an external company, Koch Media. Please note the “assets” section of the sale, which will be important later.
The reason Koch Media purchased the rights, assets and team from Crytek was that it owned a video-game publishing label called Deep Silver and with development so far along with the project, they believed they could have a quick turn around with the project, with little extra financial backing.
So what had happened to Crytek UK? The company was closed down by Crytek and no longer exists on paper, but most of its workforce moved over to Deep Silver Dambuster Studios, a company that Deep Silver had set up for the Homefront developers.
The Crytek chapter of the remnants of Free Radical had now drawn to a close. Another casualty in the adventure of the Free Radicals.
It is important to note at this point that even though Deep Silver purchased Crytek UK, who had at one point been Free Radical, Crytek decided to keep the TimeSplitters IP.
Homefront: The Revolution finally made it to market in May 2016 for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Development all in all took just over four years and the reception to the title was mediocre at best, with most critics scoring it around the 5/10 mark.
The reason this game holds such significance in our story, however, is due to a small easter egg.
About halfway through the campaign of Homefront: The Revolution, players, can come across an arcade cabinet with the slogan “Time To Split!” written on it. This virtual arcade cabinet contained two levels from Timesplitters 2, lovingly ported over to a new generation of consoles and PC for the first time.
Was this a piece of TimeSplitters 2 HD? Most likely not. The port of the two levels from TimeSplitters 2 was created by five employees at Dambuster, of which most had worked on the original TimeSplitters 2 game. These employees were Matt Phillips, Oliver Fallows, Charlie Cole, Mark Tully and Jim Bamford.
When this Easter egg was first discovered, it sent fans of the TimeSplitters series into a frenzy, not only could they play at least a slice of the series on modern consoles, but it could be a sign of things to come.
Sadly, this is most likely not the case. Remember earlier how I said to remember what Crytek sold to Koch Media? That’s right — Crytek sold Koch the IP to Homefront, as well as all the assets and the company who worked on the project. The key point here is the assets.
It’s most likely the case that while the company were working as a subsidiary of Crytek, they put the Easter Egg into the game as Crytek owned the IP for TimeSplitters. With the sale of the game and assets to Koch Media, as all of the assets were sold; If the Easter Egg was already in the game, then it was completely fair game — No deals had to be brokered to include the title in the game as if the Easter egg was already in the game at the time of the deal, then the Easter egg counted as part of the assets.
This, sadly, is where we come to the end of the story for the time being. Apart from Crytek periodically flirting with the idea of a new TimeSplitters, nothing concrete has surfaced. We are stuck in a constant flux of “Will they, Won’t they” with Crytek, which usually ends with them citing that they are unsure on the possible player base / audience reach for what is now, a niche shooter.
To be continued…?
Tim Stamper tells all in his first interview since 2007 You would be hard pressed to find a developer that has never…www.develop-online.net
Internet Archive BookReader - Computer & Video Games - Issue 029 (1984-03)(EMAP Publishing)(GB)archive.org
Internet Archive BookReader - Computer & Video Games - Issue 044 (1985-06)(EMAP Publishing)(GB)archive.org
Between 1984 and 1986, when games were getting big and the software world became an industry, the most famous, most…www.crashonline.org.uk
Most game developers play it safe by specializing, or even over-specializing, when it comes to their output. They stick…uk.ign.com
It's no secret that Free Radical Design, a development house created by a few key ex-members from Nintendo's former…uk.ign.com
Second Sight is a game remembered more for its bad timing than for what it did as a piece of interactive entertainment…www.destructoid.com
A sequel to cult hit Second Sight never materialised because, according to its developer, the game failed to generate…www.eurogamer.net
Today on Eurogamer there's an interview with a bunch of the old Free Rad people on it's demise... it's been another sad…graemenorgate.blogspot.co.uk
Early Born in Chingford, East London, 1971, Chingford's claim to fames seems to extend to Samantha Fox, Blazin' Squad…www.graemenorgate.com
Some industrious and curious folks have been trawling through the data on the Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City…www.vg247.com
The story of Free Radical Design begins with one of gaming's milestones, and after almost nine years it ended with the…www.eurogamer.net
Whatever happened to Battlefront? Nobody really knows. Not even that scowling mystical turnip, Yoda. but Betagames…www.pcgamer.com
Publisher THQ is in the process of laying off more staff as it continues efforts to cut costs to a minimum. According…www.gamesindustry.biz
Unfortunately, THQ's plan to keep its assets isn't working out. Despite it barely being the dawn of a new year, THQ's…www.tomshardware.com