Despite never making it to market, the ill-fated Star Wars Battlefront 3 has caused a public dispute between Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis and an anonymous LucasArts employee.
"It felt like we had turned a corner as a company," Ellis told GamesTM of the game’s development. "We had had a dark period during the development of Haze, we’d had problems with our tech and we’d had some growing pains as we expanded to the size we needed to be, but it really felt like we were finally coming out of the other side intact.
"We had a 99 per cent finished game that just needed bug fixing for release. It should have been our most successful game, but it was cancelled for financial reasons. I’m happy that people did at least get to see what we were working on and share the team’s enthusiasm for it."
However, Ellis’ comments infuriated an anonymous LucasArts employee who turned to GameSpot to voice their disagreement.
"There are two sides to every story. This 99 per cent complete stuff is just bullshit," the source stated. "A generous estimate would be 75 per cent of a mediocre game.
“Everybody from producers to marketing was 100 per cent invested in making the relationship work. We were desperate for a next-gen follow up to Battlefront. 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 source added that the game went into production in mid-2006 with a scheduled release target of October 2008. However, it is alleged that as far down the line as December 2007 “Free Radical still did not have simple AI working in levels”.
Added the source: "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."
It gets worse, though. The source claims to suspect that “payments to Free Radical were in fact being used to complete Haze and not Battlefront III… which affirmed LucasArts' belief that the studio's engine was not compatible with Xbox 360 at the time”.
In January 2008 Free Radical and LucasArts accepted that the game was going to miss its target and instead planned a new release date of April 2009, with LucasArts allegedly coughing up extra money to fund the development extension.
Concerns apparently grew after Haze was released in May 2008 and was slated by critics, and it became apparent later in the year that an April 2009 date was looking increasingly unlikely. It was cancelled at the end of year.
"The failure of Battlefront III was tragic for everyone involved, not least the fans," the source added. "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."
However, Ellis has via GameSpot responded to the anonymous rebuttal.
"What annoys me about the article is that I personally am accused of a whitewash, which is nonsense,” he insists.
"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 suggestion that we kept our difficulties to ourselves is also false. 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."
"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."
"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’.
"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.”