Exclusive: TimeSplitters 4 Interview
Former Free Radical employees Karl Hilton, Martin Wakeley and Steve Ellis tell the TimeSplitter 4 story in their own words in the full transcript of our interview found in games™ issues 128 and 129.
What happened to TimeSplitters 4?
Martin Wakeley: I think it’s been covered at length elsewhere but in simple terms we couldn’t find anyone who was willing to fund the continuation of the project.
Steve Ellis: We pitched TimeSplitters 4 to a lot of publishers and from each of them we got the same two responses. Firstly they would ask what happened with Haze. We were the company that made a series of high-rated shooters and then we had released Haze, which wasn’t as well received. This worried them. Secondly their marketing person would say something along the lines of “I don’t know how to sell this”. The unanimous opinion amongst all publishers that we pitched TimeSplitters 4 to is that you can’t market a game that is based around a diverse set of characters and environments – you need a clear and easily communicated marketing message and TimeSplitters doesn’t have one. Perhaps they are all right. Perhaps this is why the previous games in the series achieved much more critical success than commercial success. For these reasons, one by one they all declined to sign the project.
Karl Hilton: TimeSplitters 4 was in the very early stages of development when Free Radical went in to administration. A small playable demo was shown to several publishers but it didn’t attract any publishing deals.
Was that during the last days of Free Radical Design?
Steve Ellis: That’s a very long story. Many factors came together to contribute to the situation – we’d had difficulties with Haze, we hadn’t managed to find backing for TimeSplitters 4, LucasArts had a sudden change of management and then cancelled two projects that we were developing for them without paying us the contractual termination fee, and a couple of other interesting opportunities (a James Bond project and an acquisition) didn’t work out. It was the run-up to Christmas, so publishers were focused on their holiday releases rather than signing new projects, and also most of the world was in recession. If any of these things had not happened we may have survived, but all coming together it just wasn’t possible to continue.
And then Crytek acquired the company…
Martin Wakeley: Once the company was up for sale we saw a few potential buyers come and view the Studio. Rebellion were first up and they showed us some pictures of them Jousting. Crytek came next and they were great. I have a lot of time for the Yerli’s. Avni is a great guy and they immediately put us at ease. We knew about their great tech and they were happy for us to stay as an autonomous unit. They were the unanimous preferred option.
Was TimeSplitters 4 planned as a Nintendo Wii exclusive?
Karl Hilton: No, we were looking at all platforms for TS although the Nintendo platforms had always been particularly good for TimeSplitters.
When we spoke to David Doak a few years ago he detailed that TimeSplitters 4 would have featured multiple parodies of other popular shooters. How far did you get with the idea and what games were featured?
Steve Ellis: The real answer: To be honest I don’t remember many of the details, and some of them probably never got further than being in Dave’s head. You’d be better asking Dave about that.
A printable answer – and the answer that I would probably still give even if I could remember the details: I think I’ll keep those details to myself for now in the vague hope that somehow TimeSplitters 4 will eventually be developed and released.
Karl Hilton: Yes, The first TimeSplitters had featured a character in a dinosaur suit as our ’homage’ to Turok which was a successful franchise at that time. We really liked that character and couple with the general irreverent nature of TS (Cortez being the obvious example as a parody space marine) it seemed a natural progression. It was still in the very early planning stages so little more had been done than some concept art. A few of the first idea I can remember were underground street racing (with the remote control cat) and survival horror with monkey’s (what else would TS use
Could TimeSplitters 4 still happen in the future?
Karl Hilton: TimeSplitters is now part of Crytek. Cevat Yerli has gone on record as saying he’d like to do something with it in the future but it has to be the right new approach to make it relevant to gamers today. It’s been a long time since Future Perfect came out.
Steve Ellis: I guess a new series of The Wire could still happen in the future. Or Friends. Or TimeSplitters 4. I’d like to see it happen but I don’t expect that it will. I think it could only happen if it was changed into a very different game that would appeal more to publishers – but then it wouldn’t really be TimeSplitters. Maybe TimeSplitters was only really possible when dev costs were lower – when a 2 million unit selling game could make a profit.
Also, of the 16 or so people who made the first game in the series, at least 10 or 11 of them (including myself) have moved on to other things now.
Crytek has said it would consider TimeSplitters 4 when it sees proof that there’s enough interest. How does it judge that? Is it something Kickstarter et al could prove?
Steve Ellis: I think that’s a polite way of saying that they know that there isn’t enough interest.
Personally I don’t think it’s possible (at least currently) for Kickstarter to fund it. Shooters cost a lot to develop these days – much more than even the largest Kickstarter-funded game project. Even if they could raise as much as that one, it wouldn’t be enough to do any more than develop a very limited prototype so it would still need to convince a publisher to take a risk and front the bulk of the dev budget.
I think that’s the biggest problem – as costs increase, it becomes increasingly hard for publishers to take a risk on a project that strays too far from whatever is currently successful. TimeSplitters 4 would need to sell more than any of the previous games in the series in order to cover the costs of bringing it to market. How do you convince a publisher that that is a good bet?
Karl Hilton: I think it would depend on what type of game a new TimeSplitters could be. Crytek knows there is a fan base for the series but any new game has to be right for the size and type of audience that know the TimeSplitters games as well as newer player who might not be so familiar with it. The size and volume of a gaming community can always help guide development decisions but there are many factors to consider, as making games can be a very expensive business.
To read the Retro Guide To TimeSplitters, the launch of the Wii U and to celebrate games™’s 10th anniversary see issue 129 of games™, which features interviews with Brian Fargo, Chris Avellone and Visceral Games and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the very first issue of games™. games™ issue 129 is on sale 22 November in both print and half-price digital formats.