Former LucasArts employee on why Star Wars: Battlefront III failed

[UPDATE] Source says claim that project was sabotaged for financial reasons is "ludicrous," likens Free Radical to Ponzi scheme; studio cofounder Steve Ellis responds.

[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, Free Radical Design cofounder Steve Ellis issued a statement to GameSpot on the development of Star Wars: Battlefront III and the claims of the anonymous source. His full statement is posted at the bottom of the original story.

Star Wars: Battlefront III has long been the subject of great rumor and speculation. Despite numerous and detailed attestments to its existence and development, LucasArts never confirmed the game was in fact in production. The most recent claim about the project came from Free Radical Design cofounder Steve Ellis, who said last week that Battlefront III was 99 percent complete at the time of its cancellation. But this claim has been contested.

"This 99 percent complete stuff is just bullsh*t," a former LucasArts employee who wished to remain nameless told GameSpot. "A generous estimate would be 75 percent of a mediocre game."

The source also took issue with Free Radical cofounder David Doak and audio director Graeme Norgate's claims this summer that LucasArts effectively sabotaged development of Battlefront III. "There are two sides to every story," the source said.

"I was at LucasArts during this time, working on Battlefront III, and remember it well. Everybody from producers to marketing was 100 percent invested in making the relationship work," the source said. "We were desperate for a next-gen followup to Battlefront (the claim that the project was sabotaged for financial reasons is ludicrous. The [Battlefront] franchise was a huge money maker at the time). When Free Radical continually missed dates and deliveries, [former LucasArts presidents Jim Ward and Darrell Rodriguez] made many 'good will' whole or partial milestone payments to keep the project going."

The situation surrounding Battlefront III may seem complex or convoluted, but according to the source, the game was a failure for three simple reasons. The first, he said, was that Free Radical's sci-fi shooter Haze was late by more than a year, and this took resources away from the first half of Battlefront III's development.

Second, it is the source's belief that Free Radical "underestimated" or "misrepresented" its ability to meet dates and create a compelling product. And third, the situation became even more problematic when Free Radical missed new assigned dates. "This was a huge confidence killer and ultimately their downfall," he said.

The source was employed at LucasArts during the production of the Pandemic Studios-developed Star Wars: Battlefront games. He said that as is the case with most developers, Pandemic at times underestimated its ability to meet dates. However, unlike Free Radical, they "were upfront about it."

GameSpot has also learned of a detailed development schedule for Star Wars: Battlefront III. According to the source, production started in mid-2006 for delivery in October 2008. However, Free Radical missed numerous milestones, he said, noting that though some cases were due to subjective quality issues. Other times, functionality was simply not present.

"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."

"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."

Additionally, the source claimed several game modes were not implemented, and the only gameplay in place was team-based free-for-all. On top of this, maps "generally tested poorly with no focus for action," he said.

This was only just the beginning of problems for Free Radical and Battlefront III. In 2007, the source began to suspect that its payments to Free Radical were in fact being used to complete Haze and not Battlefront III. What's more, during this time, Haze became a PlayStation 3 exclusive, which affirmed LucasArts' belief that the studio's engine was not compatible with Xbox 360 at the time.

In August 2007, the source said Free Radical was "struggling" with Haze and Battlefront III and thus began to (as time would prove unsuccessfully) shop around TimeSplitters 4. It was also during this time that the source levied his most serious claims against Free Radical.

"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," he said.

During January 2008, the source said Ellis himself told LucasArts that Free Radical would not be able to meet development milestones for 2008. LucasArts and Free Radical then agreed to a new street date of April 2009, with LucasArts consenting to cover the costs of the extra seven months of work.

"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."

If LucasArts' new agreement with Free Radical instilled any confidence that further development time would lead to a better product, that feeling would be short-lived.

A critical milestone came in May 2008 when Haze finally shipped. The game was more than a year late and received generally poor review marks. "The quality of the game was extremely alarming to us," he said. "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."

Development on Battlefront III continued to suffer from there. By late 2008, Free Radical was again missing its previously agreed upon dates. "It now looked like the April 2009 street date could not be met," he said. Then in September 2008, "key staff" left Free Radical, and by October of that year, the company did not deliver work due for its August and September milestones. "And the October milestone was not going to be met either," he said.

The next point on the beleaguered and strained development of Battlefront III was its last: cancellation.

"The failure of Battlefront III was tragic for everyone involved, not least the fans," the source said. "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."

[UPDATE] Steve Ellis has issued a lengthy statement to GameSpot on the development of Star Wars: Battlefront III (as well as Battlefront IV) and how its development progressed over the years, warts and all. Ellis said it is "nonsense" that he tried to whitewash the part that he played in Battlefront III's failure. He also took issue with the source's belief that Free Radical was, at a time, akin to a Ponzi scheme. Lastly, Ellis admitted Free Radical was "not perfect" and made mistakes, but made clear that "third-parties had a hand in our failure."

Ellis' full comments are below:

"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.'"

"The allegation that we used the LucasArts money to fund the completion of Haze is false. Aside from anything else, we didn't need to. When Haze slipped, Ubisoft supported us by increasing the dev budget to cover the extra time. The ironic thing about this allegation though, is that just about every publisher we worked with would simultaneously worry that we might spend their money elsewhere, but they would invariably ask us to move resources from another project onto theirs. Our answer was always the same: 'If we do that for you now, how do you know we won't do it for someone else later?.' They never liked it, but it seemed like the only way to treat everyone fairly."

"The suggestion that we kept our difficulties to ourselves is also false. We may have been guilty of this in our earlier publisher relationships, believing that we could quietly deal with our problems by ourselves and not have to risk instigating a situation where the publishers response added further risk to the project or our company. However, with LucasArts this was absolutely not the case; it was the best publisher relationship we had ever had, so when it became clear that the design changes that we had mutually agreed to make meant that there was a risk to the end date, the first thing we did was to bring it to the attention of LucasArts senior management, almost a full year before the scheduled release. There was a lot of discussion and it was agreed to push back the release date. There were no secrets."

"I don't know who he might be referring to when he says that 'key staff' left in September 2008. During that month we lost a couple of mid-level programmers, a couple of artists, and a member of our admin staff."

"I don't know what problems he's referring to in August or December 2007. In December 2007 they signed us to develop the sequel concurrently, asking us to grow our company further to do so. I'd say that that was a pretty strong vote of confidence in us, not the actions of a company that was concerned about our abilities to deliver on such an important project."

"It was 75% of a mediocre game.' Again, false. Until very recently there was a gameplay video on YouTube that showed exactly where the game was. It was leaked by people who were very proud of the game that they had spent over 2 years developing and wanted the world to at least have an opportunity to see it before it was consigned to history. Unfortunately, four years on, LucasArts have chosen to have the video removed. Objectively though, the game was 'content complete' and we were fixing bugs. At that stage in development, the way that completion is measured is by looking at the number of open bugs in the database. These are tracked and people spend a lot of time analyzing the fix rate and the rate of discovering new bugs and projecting a completion date when the game will be ready for release. At the time that the development on BFIII was stopped, the figures showed that we would close our 'must-fix' bugs with 3-4 weeks. So yes, maybe on reflection 99 percent was a little of an exaggeration. I probably should have said 97 percent or 98 percent."

"In 2008, LucasArts was a company with problems. Of course I don't know the full details of or explanation for what happened internally, but some of the facts are clear: the entire management team who were there when we started working together were replaced in the first half of 2008. They made mass redundancies on their internal teams. They cancelled a number of projects. Then our milestones started being rejected. We were told (and it seemed wholly believable given the aforementioned facts) that they could not afford to continue development of both BFIII and its sequel, so they negotiated the termination of BFIV, then later BFIII. There was no 'termination for breach.'"

"If the problem really was that we had failed to meet their desperate need for a new Battlefront game, you might ask why after all this time they still haven't released a new Battlefront game using a different developer. I can only speculate."

"As the 'anonymous source' says, there are two sides to every argument. However, it's easy to make anonymous allegations and not have to back them up. I stand by everything I've said. All I've ever tried to do is explain the series of events that led to the failure of Free Radical. We were not perfect. We made mistakes, but third-parties had a hand in our failure. Personally I am very proud of the efforts made by the former staff of Free Radical through 2008. They are an incredibly talented group of people who through no fault of their own found themselves in a no-win situation. I'm happy that most of them have had the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities subsequently on games such as Crysis 2."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

Discussion

0 comments
MigzBR
MigzBR

EA picked up battlefront cant wait to see what that is going to be like. DICE will do a good job cause they are a good studio. 

mrmasto
mrmasto

RIP LucasArts.  All this is moot.

SpyLiam
SpyLiam

Here's a good idea why don't we put this all behind us and get some one that can make Star Wars Battlefront III and TimeSplitters 4, then everyone will be happy

gp3tron
gp3tron

Oh Man, They cancel the Battlefront games, no Xwing Reboot, No Republic Commando 2, no Empire at War 2, no Episode 1: Racer: Reboot, meanwhile, Chris Roberts is bringing Star Citizen, a Wing Commander Spiritual Succesor, Sony just brought out Planetside 2, Piranha games with Mechwarrior Online are reviving the franchise, Crytek are working on Warface, a scifi shooter, Strike Suit Zero just came out... so, no hint seen here, Lucasarts? really? way to go guys...

highlanderjimd
highlanderjimd

was this the same ex lucasarts employee who blew the lid on what Star wars The Old republic was about a year before release? EVERYTHING that employee said was shit about the game was 100% correct. Strange that the letter is no longer available anywhere on the internet. Its been removed from worldpress.

Apastron
Apastron

The fact this LucasArts rep has asked to be anonymous is reason enough for me to ignore everything they say.  Coward.

EchoEcho
EchoEcho

So let me get this straight. LucasArts let development of Battlefront III drag on for years, despite supposedly having strong concerns about the eventual quality of the product.

 

Yet, when they had an obvious winner on their hands with KotOR II, they gave Obsidian a ridiculously short development cycle, which they then shortened even further, forcing Obsidian to cut massive amounts of content -- all so they could rush it to market and make a quick buck.

 

LucasArts, what the hell is wrong with you?

MasterBrief
MasterBrief

It's too bad it never came out and I doubt it will. It looked great from the original gameplay way back then they switched to Rebellion and it all got mediocre and simple.

The_GooBear
The_GooBear

If they find a competent development group, I hope they exclude the new trilogy crap from the game. The Jedi were much more legendary when there were less of them

Jonathon15410
Jonathon15410

Can Lucas arts just make Battlefront 3 anyway...I am willing to pay double the price. Im that excited about it. It will make die hard star wars fans like myself cry hysterically...

BrunoFurstBrito
BrunoFurstBrito

When I first saw that SWB3 trailer, I was amazed by it. That part when a ship flies over a cruiser and then goes to space was amazing. But when I saw those leaked gameplay videos, the maps and missions looked quite mediocre. I really want Battlefront 3, but can't say that I will miss the Free Radical's SWB3 project.

theCCyberDDemon
theCCyberDDemon

In a quick resume: my multiplayer life will be much more sad without a new battlefront

MrKrupet
MrKrupet

Well, i still wanting a new Time Splitters game. TS3 was amazing!

TheDudeman420
TheDudeman420

Hiding behind anonymity, is to me, a clear indicator that something about the story is not right. Bold allegations for this unnamed source to be making. I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in between these two stories, and I doubt we will ever know what really happened.

All I know is, as a Star Wars fan (and more specifically, a Battlefront fan) I feel cheated. Lucasarts has constantly been fucking with us, one way or another. To see a great IP like Battlefront meet an untimely end in such a disgusting way is painful.

 

Who knows, in this time of turmoil, maybe Disney might just be A New Hope! 

xSagez
xSagez

It was a fun title.

robertt
robertt

It would really be nice to see someone pick this up and finish it.  Shouldn't be too hard to do, if it was 97% completed.  It will be such a waste if it isn't finished.

Darth_Knoppix
Darth_Knoppix

I would love for a company to pickup Battlefront again, spent hours and hours playing it on the PS2 when I was younger. 

Mike0193
Mike0193

If it's not compatible for xbox w/e just bring it out for ps3.

The_Last_Ride
The_Last_Ride

i don't really care about who did what. I just want the game

picho86
picho86

And again people see only what they want to see, and we end up with completely different versions of the truth. The truth is probably that no one was trying to screw anyone, and everyone is blowing everything way out of proportion.

timoteo2k1
timoteo2k1

He said, she said.... and not one bit of it getting us any closer to the target, which is delivering a PS3/ X360 version of Battlefronts.

 

Get on the stick Lucasarts, Battlefront games are money makers.

DarthLod
DarthLod

On and on with this story. Give it a rest already.

Cashmoney007
Cashmoney007

I am glad to finally know the truth about this.  Thank you, Gamespot!  I still wish another company would take it over.

Norrie91
Norrie91

With all the damn talking going on they could have finished the game  and be onto a forth one by now!

BravoOneActual
BravoOneActual

I love insider articles about the industry.  Actual journalism on Gamespot.  Good job.  I might get used to this.

Klokateer
Klokateer

Either make (or even just finish) the damn game or quit talking about it already. I want a new Battlefront (and a new TimeSplitters) but I've accepted that they're unlikely to ever happen at this point and I don't care who's fault it is anymore.   

ThePowerOfHAT
ThePowerOfHAT

That video of the gameplay that was on YouTube?  I watched that ages ago when it first made its way online, and if anyone's still willing to call that 97% done, then I'm glad the game wasn't released.  As far as I understood, that was an extremely early WIP; the video seemed to amount to no more than a tech demo showing the transition between ground and space battles.  At the time I saw it, it was exciting, but nobody was claiming at the time that it was supposed to be a nearly completed game.

 

Now, do I think Free Radical as a whole is at fault here?  Not really.  LucasArts had shown in the past that it tended to put developers on tight schedules (we have the notoriously unfinished KOTOR 2 as a result of their work with Obsidian), and with a game of the scope of Battlefront and its predecessor, replicating something like that - and improving upon it - for current-generation platforms wasn't going to be an easy undertaking, especially if it required an entirely new engine.  Free Radical likely could not meet the milestones LucasArts set because most companies would have been incapable of doing so.

 

Now, am I of the belief that Free Radical was anywhere near finished with this game?  Not really.  Even 75% sounds like a stretch to me, based on what was being described as 99%.  I'm sure Ellis is very proud of the work FR did on the game, but I have a much harder time believing that it was almost complete at the time of its cancellation than believing that LucasArts simply gave the developer too tight of a schedule to deliver the finished game.

quantumtheo
quantumtheo

All this hullabaloo over a series of really mediocre games.... 

3v1LR0n1N
3v1LR0n1N

lucasarts made a mistake (kinda like george lucas made MANY mistakes with "his" SW franchise after the first 3 movies... but i digress) but now Disney has a chance to fix that.....and with episode 7 coming i dont think it would be a bad idea.. as long as they make it similar to the "Battlefront III" in the leaked video at least in my opinion.

UziKill
UziKill

Clearly Free Radical was not up for the task but Ellis has a point, how come no one else took this project? This was a very succesful franchise with a big fan base. I'm one of them. There are some excellent sudios out there that worked on much more complicated game mechanics that could do this easily. Why kill this great franchise?

I hope Disney get this back on track.

Ninja_Kinshu
Ninja_Kinshu

Haze killed Battlefront 3. Figures. Get DICE on it.

Dynamo11
Dynamo11

@Apastron You really can't blame him, these are pretty serious accusations. Employers will also be more wary of employing them if they are a known whistleblower

hoosier_boy317
hoosier_boy317

 @Apastron if they state their name it will hurt chances of being hired elsewhere.. nobody wants a rat working for them 

thatguy_b
thatguy_b

 @The_GooBear Nah. Just legendary when there is good story telling. KOTOR. Seriously though, I agree about exclusion of 1-3.

TheDudeman420
TheDudeman420

Also great journalism by Gamespot and especially Eddie Makuch! Well written, in a neutral voice, highlighting both sides of the story! You won't find golden nuggets like this article on IGN! 

darkjedilink
darkjedilink

 @ThePowerOfHAT He didn't say the VIDEO was 97% done, only that someone within FR posted the video so that SOMETHING came from the work that was done.  That video could have been made years before it was posted.

koendrenthe
koendrenthe

 @ThePowerOfHAT "That video of the gameplay that was on YouTube?  I watched that ages ago when it first made its way online, and if anyone's still willing to call that 97% done, then I'm glad the game wasn't released.  As far as I understood, that was an extremely early WIP; the video seemed to amount to no more than a tech demo showing the transition between ground and space battles." aren't you talking about that fake gameplay video what was actually Battlefront: Elite Squadron for psp?

MrKrupet
MrKrupet

 @quantumtheo Show some respect, mate. LucasArts is one of the most important game developers of all time. Remember Grimm Fandango...

00LiteYear
00LiteYear

 @UziKill Even if a new studio took the helm, they'd probably just use the same engine as what made the first and second so popular. And what could they add that would be so new? Better graphics, a new class, better online? 

darkjedilink
darkjedilink

 @TheDudeman420 Actually, if it were even decent journalism, he would have let Ellis reply to the anonymous statements BEFORE the original article was to be published.

The_GooBear
The_GooBear

 @MrKrupet  @quantumtheo You're right about bashing this fool but LucasArts is only a publisher. They money behind these developers. They need to collaborate with someone like DICE, Rocksteady or Valve. Then you'd have an awesome game.

3v1LR0n1N
3v1LR0n1N

 @HyperWarlock  @Ninja_Kinshu I strongly disagree with the boring part... and besides BATTLEFRONT is build apon BATTLEFIELD (it was originally a mod for Battlefield 2) so yeah they both must be borign if what you say is true

LordSho
LordSho

 @HyperWarlock  @Ninja_Kinshu 

Battlefield is boring because War is boring.  Star Wars Battlefront didn't suffer from the boredom that it took Battlefield 3 MONTHS to achieve, because it's set in a fictional world.  It's hard to keep the military shooter fanbase happy.  Too much fun, and they suddenly cry that it isn't real enough.  Too much realism, and suddenly it isn't fun. 

3v1LR0n1N
3v1LR0n1N

 @RTHKI  @HyperWarlock  @Ninja_Kinshu no battlefont was inspired by a starwars battlefield 2 mod.... unless it was the "modern" mod for battlefield 1 in which case i would be mistaken... either way based on a mod