It's always interesting when a developer becomes so disgruntled with a former publishing partner that they are willing to let it all hang out and say what is really on their minds. Several ex-Free Radical developers feels so strongly about their former publisher that they referred to them collectively as "psychopaths" in a recent conversation with Eurogamer.
In that conversation, Free Radical co-founder David Doak, co-founder Steve Ellis, and ex-audio director Graeme Norgate detailed the events that led to the cancellation of Star Wars: Battlefront 3 and the eventual shut down of the studio responsible for the much love Timesplitters franchise.
The turning point, they say, was when then-president of LucasArts Jim Ward left the company, and his replacement Darrell Rodriguez showed a less-than-supportive attitude towards the studio and its development on Star Wars: Battlefront 3.
"It was worrying," Doak said, "but it didn't seem like it would be a bad 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."
"For a long time we talked of LucasArts as the best relationship we'd ever had with a publisher," added Steve Ellis. "Then in 2008 that disappeared, they were all either fired or left. [Rodriguez] had been brought in to do a job, and it was more to do with cost control than making any games."
Norgate claims that LucasArts started using a "stalling tactics", by shifting its demands to "ensure Free Radical failed to meet milestones and wasn't paid."
"If a publisher wants to find something that is wrong with a milestone, it's very easy for them to do so as there are so many grey areas within a deliverable," said Norgate. "If the contract says, 'graphics for level X to be release quality,' who can say what's release quality? And there you have it... We hadn't been paid for six months."
"In many ways it was a depressing farce talking to them," added Doak. "They had an agenda motivated by purely financial concerns. Their goal was to stop doing it. And it didn't matter that we had a contract that protected us." Ellis puts that into context: "What we found out in 2008 is that your contract is only worth as much as how far you can pursue it in court."
Doak characterized continued contact with LucasArts executives as “unpleasant high-level discussions with psychopaths" and says that the entire situation drove him to a nervous breakdown. The end for the studio, he claims, came when they failed to secure a publishing deal for Timesplitters 4. After that Free Radical went into administration, and the studio's 140 employees were laid off. Luckily Crytek came in and picked up the pieces.