Free Radical Archive

The Free Radical Archive was approached by an anonymous employee who wished to reveal details about the game's development. The employee sent us the following image to verify his identity:

The validity of this image can be confirmed by looking at the version in this portfolio. In the portfolio renders, the Maiden has dirt marks on her legs, whereas in the sent image her legs are totally clean.

Below are the questions we were able to ask about TimeSplitters and the reformed Free Radical. While we cannot guarantee that everything said here was truthful, this is a good first look into the cancelled project. Brackets [] indicate additions by the editor.

How far was the game into development?

Still a ways out. 2 years probably. The direction of the project changed earlier this year [2023] around March. We did a massive 180 into a TS2 Remake(ish). Remake with a few new/slightly changed levels and an alternate timeline story. Originally it was a Fortnite clone. Nobody wanted that really, not even us, but we didn't have much of a choice for a long time.

Does that mean it was a free-to-play game?

Yes. It was a F2P BR [Battle Royale] with some additional modes like DM [Deathmatch], TDM [Team Deathmatch], CTB [Capture the Bag] etc. Characters and skins were microtransactions. At least that was the plan. There was debate over what would be offered as standard and what was purchasable. But for the sake of the publisher we showed everything as purchasable.

Was a title decided for the game?

Not yet. We had a working title like any project but no official title had been decided yet.

When was the decision made to move from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5? Did it significantly impact development?

Massively. The decision happened pretty much as soon as UE5 was announced. It took a long time to move over and even once we'd done it, it caused no end of problems. The game was effectively rebuilt from the ground up section by section afterwards.

Why wasn't there any marketing done for the game, such as a teaser trailer?

Mostly because there wasn't a whole lot to show for a lot of it. We had used default store assets to lay out sections and work on game mechanics first. We didn't have a big influx of artists until 2022/23 so everything we had to show wasn't very visual. Everything that's coming out now has been done over roughly the last 12 months. The first 2 or 3 areas we started the art for were pretty much scrapped or needed redoing.

You mentioned the game was similar to a TS2 Remake but content from other games has surfaced such as U-Genix and Machine Wars. Was it meant to be something similar to TimeSplitters Rewind where all three games are combined to one?

Kind of. The new direction was mostly TS2 with I think it was 2 TS3 levels, 1 OG TS level and a couple brand new sections. Or something along those lines. That was the pitch we made to the publishers. It still might've changed down the line.

Was there a story planned to connect these levels?

There wasn't a whole lot of story while it was a BR, but we had things like the Ancient Astronauts and the 'Space Bar' which was a hub area similar to The Cycle's lobby area where you could buy things and prep for games etc. Once we switched to the remake, it was going to be a 'What If...' where Corporal Hart went through instead of Cortez so we could make things slightly different.

Did the team take any inspiration from the cancelled TimeSplitters 4? It is known that Dambuster Studios has access to the original games' source code, including the TS4 demo.

Once we left the Dambuster offices we barely had any contact with them, save for the IT department and the Engineering Lead who still needed to make use of their equipment and software. We didn't have access to anything TS4 past that point and I don't think many people had any clue about what was in it.

How did the directors [Steve Ellis and David Doak] react to the Battle Royale concept?

I think Steve pitched the BR to them [Koch Media/Deep Silver] in order to get it greenlit. I'm not convinced it was ever his end goal. Dave wasn't as involved as people might think. He was more of an ideas guy and it was amusing to team up with him, but as the project went on, he spent less and less time designing things and more time spent solely with the Narrative Writer.

What made the team move way from the Battle Royale concept?

I personally think that Steve never intended to release a BR, he always intended to get the funding and the interest first and deviate once the investment was there. I could be wrong though. He's a hard man to read.

Was he the one to recommend moving away from the Battle Royale concept?

Yes, he basically had everyone stop and spend a couple of weeks throwing together the Dam and a 'Campaign' mode with some semblance of a questline to follow in order to demonstrate the power of a linear game and how quickly we could put levels together.

Was the project originally meant to release under Dambuster Studios? When did the team move out to a new office and rebrand?

It was always a Free Radical Project, I believe that was the thing Steve wanted in order to do it. He wanted his studio back and to lead it. But most of the devs on the initial startup were Dambuster employees and there wasn't a Free Radical office yet, so we used a basement at Dambuster instead. Covid happened, everyone worked from home until around Feb/March 2022, then we moved straight into the new studio.

Do you know if the project is cancelled or whether it will be moved to another studio?

As of this moment in time it's cancelled. Whether Plaion will try to have another studio in the future to give it a crack, I don't know. But everyone at Free Radical got laid off except perhaps Steve, I'm not privy to his arrangement, but none of the people who worked on the project are still doing so. Although I believe a few might have gone back to Dambuster.

How would you describe your time working at the company?

I enjoyed it for the most part, got on well with most people. However, as time went on it became clear that most of the leads didn't really have a plan, nor did Steve. Some also had a bit of a power trip, favourites were played and some people got royally shafted, leading to a number of people choosing to leave before the end. I know that goes for a lot of jobs and workplaces, but it did become a bit of recurring theme over the past 12 months. In the beginning though, it was a lot more relaxed, less people and ideas were shared freely. We knew it wouldn't be like that forever, but there were some very poor decisions being made and a fair bit of bias in some areas by the end.

Did this preferential treatment you mention apply to old developers who returned?

There were a few people who said to me on multiple occasions that there seemed to be a distinct mentality that 'if you're under 30, you know literally nothing.', which was hard to disagree with, that attitude did float around a bit. A shame really, most of the younger devs on the team, while fresh out of Uni most of them, were full of pretty interesting ideas.

What do you believe was the reason behind the cancellation and closure?

Mostly Embracer's mess. The prospect had been looming ever since really that the studio would close as they were looking to cut costs as much as possible. I think most of us foolishly believed that because we were relatively cheap as a studio by comparison that we'd be safer if we kept our heads down. We were wrong.

Anyway, I'm heading out now. Hope I've shed some light on things, was a shame the way it ended, I've always had a soft spot for TS since the first and I had really hoped we'd make something as memorable as before.