Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis has come clean on the fate of the developer's 2006 project for LucasArts, rumoured to be Star Wars Battlefront 3. According to Ellis, the game was "pretty much done" when LucasArts binned it in 2008. What's more, Free Radical (now Crytek UK) had already staffed up for concept work on a sequel.
"They were big fans of our work, they liked our take on making games, they liked the way we work and they wanted to do this project," Ellis recalls in a fascinating retrospective over at GamesIndustry.biz, describing how the LucasArts partnership came to fruition. "It was a big thing, we were very excited and for a long time it was going very well.
"Over the years we often ended up fighting with our publisher for one reason or the other because making a game where the developer keeps the IP is always a contentious thing. For a long time we would describe that as the best relationship with a publisher we have ever had. We got on well with the production staff that we worked with, we had good access to the LucasArts management and we didn't fight very much at all, we were just getting on with making the game."
Pleased with the game's progress, LucasArts asked Free Radical to begin work on a follow-up in late 2007. "We were still at that time probably a year out from completing and releasing the first game and they asked us to sign up for the sequel," Ellis continued. "That was a big deal for us because it meant putting all our eggs in one basket.
"It was a critical decision - do we want to bet on LucasArts? And we chose to because things were going as well as they ever had. It was a project that looked like it would probably be the most successful thing we had ever done and they were asking us to make the sequel to it too. It seemed like a no-brainer."
Sadly, management shuffles at LucasArts brought the amity to an end. Tasked with shoring up losses, Free Radical's new bosses took a tighter line than their predecessors. "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."
"It was a change of direction for LucasArts as a company rather than for the games that we were working on. I think what had happened was the new management had been bought in to replace the old and given an impossible mandate.
"It was a financial decision basically and the only way they could achieve what they had been told to do was to can some games and get rid of a bunch of staff. So that's what they did but it was quite a long, drawn out process."
Unwilling to blow cash on triple-A marketing, LucasArts eventually canned both (suspected) Battlefront titles, offering Free Radical a fraction of their contracted fee. Ellis and his cohorts picked the lesser of two evils. "We had an impossible choice. We could either try and fight them to get what we thought we were due or accept their offer of a smaller amount. We didn't have loads of money in the bank so we had to take the money and try to find something else to make up the shortfall."
Alleged footage of Battlefront 3 surfaced on Youtube earlier this year, showing what looks suspiciously like a feature-complete product. "It was pretty much done, it was in final QA," Eliis mourned. "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."
Rumours of Battlefront 3's survival in some form have proven tenacious. According to one subset of gossip, the game's in development at Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City household Slant Six Games, as attested by the presence of Star Warsy concept art on the ORC disc. According to another, Spark Unlimited is helming the project. What do you think?