Star Wars: Battlefront III was once a game well and truly in development, at UK studio Free Radical. Since its 2008 cancellation, it has been supposedly off and on more times than anyone can count. Like many studios, Free Radical had its fair share of ups and downs, hits and misses over the years. But despite the mixed successes of their earlier games, it was one particular brush with the dark side of Star Wars that finally pushed them over the edge.
In a new, lengthy interview with Eurogamer, Free Radical’s founders describe how ultimately, work on the Star Wars game led to the studio’s downfall. In the beginning, said co-founders David Doak and Steve Ellis, the Battlefront III job was a dream come true. It was an “ambitious” project, and for two years of development, from 2006 until 2008, all signs were positive. The developer had a good working relationship with their contacts at LucasArts and game milestones were being met regularly.
The life of Battlefront III hinged on the goodwill of executive staff at LucasArts, but when a change in leadership struck, the goodwill went away. Doak said, “[We] began thinking that the dates were looking a bit tight … so we thought we’d do what we had never done before and let LucasArts know our concerns.” It seemed like a good idea at the time: “Because LucasArts had been so good to work with, we thought they’d see the sense of what we were saying. And that coincided with [LucasArts president] Jim Ward not being there one day.”
According to Doak, the change in leadership and tone presented an immediate and drastic problem: “We still thought we’d done the right thing. And then 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.” From there, conditions continued to worsen. LucasArts stopped payments to Free Radical, and after six months it was wearing heavily on the team. Doak in particular found his role to have grown completely untenable:
My role at Free Radical meant that I was simultaneously involved in these unpleasant “high level” discussions with psychopaths who wanted to destroy us, and then the next day sitting with our dev staff at their desks trying to boost people’s morale. Helping them to pass milestones that I knew would subsequently be manipulated to cause them to fail. It was the most depressing and pointless thing that I have ever been involved in. The dream job which I once loved had become a nightmarish torture.
The studio, despite owning its own IP from the Timesplitters series, couldn’t recover. Free Radical eventually went into administration (bankruptcy), with its founders leaving to form a new studio and its core assets purchased by Crytek.
Free Radical vs. the Monsters [Eurogamer]