Last week, developer Free Radical Design (now known as Crytek UK) announced that the third installment to the Star Wars Battlefront series was being cancelled at “99% completion” with co-founder Steve Ellis citing “financial reasons”; former project manager Martin Wakeley pointing the finger at management changes at LucasArts that led to a deteriorating relationship and other Free Radical co-founder David Doak claims that the same management changes at LucasArts led to “deep cuts and subsequent cancellation of Battlefront III.”
“We went from talking to people who were passionate about making games to talking to psychopaths who insisted on having an unpleasant lawyer in the room.” said Doak.
THIS week in an interview with Gamespot, a former LucasArts employee (who we’ll call “Lucas X”) who worked on Battlefront III calls these claims “bulls*$t” and compares Free Radical to a Ponzi scheme.
A report from May revealed Battlefront III was in development the studio from mid-2006 through early 2008 but LucasArts never confirmed the game was actually in production.
Lucas X says “This 99 percent complete stuff is just bullsh*t, a generous estimate would be 75 percent of a mediocre game.” and as far as for the claims by Free Radical’s co-founders and audio director Graeme Norgate claiming that LucasArts sabotaged BFIII, he retorts with “There are two sides to every story.”
Lucas X goes on to say that because Free Radical’s supposed “Halo killer” first-person-shooter, Haze, was late by over a year and took resources from the first half of BFIII‘s development.
But wait, that’s not all!
Lucas X also believes that them either underestimating or misrepresenting their ability to meet dates and became even more problematic when they missed NEW assigned deadlines, which was “A huge confidence killer and ultimately their downfall.”
According to a detailed development schedule, production started in mid-2006 to be delivered in October 2008 with Free Radical missing a lot of the deadlines or flat out not cooperating at all.
“In December 2007, Free Radical still did not have simple AI working in levels,” he said. “For much of 2007, Xbox 360 builds simply did not work. Initially, Free Radical claimed it was a US/UK kit difference, but when we asked to FedEx one of their working machines to the US for a build review, they declined.”
Not only that, the only gameplay mode available was “team free-for-all” and the maps themselves “generally tested poorly with no focus for action.”
I know what you’re asking “What about the Ponzi accusation?”
Lucas X says that in 2007, he started suspecting LucasArts payments to Free Radical were being used to finish Haze and NOT to work on BFIII and when Haze became a PS3 exclusive, LucasArts knew that the engine Free Radical had at the time wasn’t compatible with Xbox 360. Their problems with Haze and BF III (along with their failed attempt to sell another title, TimeSplitters 4) was where Lucas X felt like this was a big ‘ol scam.
“At this point, I felt that Free Radical was akin to a Ponzi scheme where time and budget from the next game was being used to finish the previous late title.”
Finally in 2008, Free Radical’s Steve Ellis told LucasArts that Free Radical wouldn’t be able to meet the year’s deadlines and they both agreed to a new release date (April 2009) and LucasArts would continue to pay expenses for the extra seven months. However, when Haze shipped out in May to poor reviews, Lucas X said people became nervous.
“The quality of the game was extremely alarming to us. Free Radical insisted that the delays were to ensure the game was a gem with 85+ review but that was very clearly not the case.”
More missed dates and staff leaving Free Radical jeopardizing the April 2009 release date, cancellation was imminent. But while Lucas X feels for the fans and all who worked on it, he has a few choice words for Steve Ellis.
“The failure of Battlefront III was tragic for everyone involved, not least the fans. There’s a lot of blame to go around and many different perspectives. I won’t though let Steve Ellis whitewash the part that he and Free Radical played. I’d suggest that everyone keep this as something tragic to muse over with a beer rather than throwing stones in public.”
Once the initial interview with Lucas X was published, Steve Ellis contacted Gamespot to issue a statement of his own to respond to claims of him whitewashing his role in BFIII‘s demise and Ponzi scheme accusations but still claims “third-parties had a hand in our failure.”
Partial statement from Steve Ellis reads as follows:
“I want to set the record straight because a lot of people worked very hard on BFIII (and BFIV) and they don’t deserve their efforts to be distorted in this way.”
“From the personal tone of the comments it is clear that the source is someone whom I personally dealt with. It’s unfortunate that they are making this kind of criticism while choosing to remain anonymous.”
“What annoys me about the article is that I personally am accused of a whitewash, which is nonsense. While I don’t know everything that my ex-colleagues and staff might have said on the subject, personally I have tried to explain what happened as completely and accurately as possible. I have nothing to gain from a whitewash. I’ve gone on record saying that we had had difficult times at Free Radical Design. I’ve admitted that the transition to the latest generation of consoles was more difficult than we anticipated, that we may have made some poor tech choices, and that growing the company to the necessary size for ‘next-gen’ development wasn’t easy. I’ve said that these things had an impact on the development of Haze and that for this reason – and a number of other reasons – Haze didn’t reach the level of quality that we always aimed for at FRD. None of this is new information, so it’s a little strange to see it presented as ‘here’s what these guys aren’t telling you, and since I’m telling you this you’ll also believe me when I tell you all of this other stuff.'”
Note: The statement is UBER lengthy so if you’d like to read it, in it’s entirety, click here and scroll down.
I gotta say that I’m also suspicious of anyone who claims 99% completion before pulling the plug…but I guarantee this isn’t the end of this saga.
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