Sponsored By

"It's probably the end of me being involved with TimeSplitters. [...] I don't know what it would take to get me to want to go through all that again. It was a big letdown."

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

March 26, 2024

3 Min Read
Sgt. Cortez in Timesplitters: Future Perfect.
Image via Free Radical Design/EA.

At a Glance

  • Free Radical's biggest obstacle wasn't just Embracer, it was figuring out what TimeSplitters was for a 2020s audience.

"[My junior staff] have progressed so much...but they also don't have something they can point at and say 'here is the game I shipped'."--Free Radical founder Steve Ellis on the new studio's younger staff

Late last year, Embracer closed down Free Radical Design. The studio had been resurrected in 2021 specifically to make a new Timesplitters game, which died with its developer, again.

Speaking with GamesIndustry, two-time studio director Steve Ellis recalled how he sought out Plaion (then Koch Media) in 2018 once he learned it had the TimeSplitters rights. He suggested a new game, and proceeded to build a prototype with a small team.

Normally when a dormant franchise is getting revived, it starts with a remaster of the older games, as we've seen with Dead Space. But Ellis argued that remastering the original TimeSplitters trilogy would've been much more costly than just a wholly new entry.

Timesplitters "[had] a massive, diverse range of environments and characters," he explained. Noting the growing cost of game development (and asset creation in particular), Ellis said those hypothetical remasters ultimately wouldn't be financially worth it.

"If you're trying to make 120 characters to modern standards, that's not going to be quick or cheap. If you're making a load of diverse environments with hardly any asset reuse, that is not quick or cheap."

Was there ever a right time for TimeSplitters to return?

Ellis' frankness on the troubles of bringing back TimeSplitters speak to a larger issue with the series: how do you bring back a B-franchise for a new age of players?

The core team for the TimeSplitters 4 prototype mainly consisted of college graduates, revealed Ellis. He'd already been hiring graduates in the original Free Radical days, but younger input was even more vital for this would-be revival.

"[TimeSplitters] was good in its day, but its day was 20 years ago," said Ellis. "Trying to work out how to meet the needs of the old fans, who liked the game as it was, and a modern audience… It was a challenge."

In mid-March, an ex-Free Radical developer released in-progress footage of the new TimeSplitters. That footage had a Fortnite-esque visual design, and Ellis said the studio explored several "distinct concepts" for its project.

"The one the leaked video showed was not the one we were working on when we got cancelled," he explained. "But the concept we settled on in the end, I was quite hopeful that it would have satisfied everyone."

Embracer's restructure and Free Radical

As Free Radical was getting work done on the new TimeSplitters, Embracer was in the midst of a companywide restructure after a $2 billion deal fell through. Ellis believed the studio would be relatively safe back then from its parent company's moves.

More than the second closure, he felt bad for his junior staff, who came into the industry with a massive cancellation hanging over them. For those who've found work since, he called "almost like starting from scratch."

"They didn't get a chance to see through their first game," he noted. "It's the worst that I remember seeing it in the time that I've been in the industry."

As for himself, Ellis is weighing whether he'll return to games. But he's said this has likely burned him from attempting another go at TimeSplitters.

"I don't know if Plaion or Embracer will do anything with it. I don't know what it would take to get me to want to go through all that again. It was a big letdown," he admitted.

GamesIndustry's full story with Ellis, which also goes into Free Radical's relationship with Dambuster Studios, can be read here.

Read more about:

Top Stories

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like