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Well here it is folks, the Big Kahuna, the grandmaster bass, the throat choker, the hole plugger, the money maker... the barn breaker. The interview with Pantheonyx project lead, Michael Hubicka, contains everything you could possibly want to know about Timesplitters Rewind, and this here is basically the Holy Grail of information for Timesplitters aficionados.
Just a little backstory right quick: Timesplitters Rewind is being designed by the community and former members of Free Radical, who are now a part of Crytek UK. The game is running on the CryEngine 3, features bots and will aim for split-screen on consoles. The project will be free when it releases due to copyright reasons and the game will be multiplayer only for now. No sense wasting precious moments... it's time to split!
Gaming Blend: When did the project originally get underway and how many people are currently working on Timesplitters Rewind?
Michael Hubicka: 35 people currently working on the project and we got started about half-way through November of last year.
Gaming Blend: So is the game playable?
Michael: Yep. Sean released some unreleased screenshots of training grounds, and even those aren't necessarily finished. But we are making a lot of progress working on the game part time. We're still not at a point where we're like 'Everybody on the internet, go ahead and play Timesplitters'.
It's playable but not in the sense where we're comfortable saying this is a product that players should be playing. We don't want to release it too early, unpolished and people see it as an unfinished product and they go back to some other game they were playing, or something like that. We really want to aim for an initial release after we pool in select people for an alpha test, and then later on closed-beta test and then open beta. Once we get to open beta we really want people to see the hard work we've done with the other players and what we've accomplished and see this is why it's taken so long.
Gaming Blend: Mhm
Michael: Like, developing a game is not easy. It's not like you can snap your fingers and this model is done or snap your fingers and that map is done. We don't really have concept art or anything – our concept art is the original [Timesplitter] game[s]. We all own the games and we're constantly those games and trying to figure out, like this is this and this is that and this is how this feels. I think for us, we spend more time playing the original games than actually spending time developing the games because we're trying to make sure we nail everything.
Gaming Blend: Working on over 300 models... what is that process like and for most fans it sounds like a lot of work. Could you walk us through that process and explain how long it takes to finish a model for Timesplitters Rewind?
Michael: The longest it's taken us to finish a model was three months. That's because some of the developers are actually – they're spread across the world. So there's different time zones and stuff like that. We also have our own jobs; some of them are doing crunch time at their jobs, because we have a few who work in the gaming industry and stuff.
For example, the longest [character] was in fact Duckman Drake and that included creating the model, animating the model, texturing the model and all that stuff... getting it into the game... all that stuff roughly took about three months.
And when I say that game development is difficult... well, it's easy for us... [but] nailing every aspect of the gameplay is difficult. We have to kind of sit back and say 'we need to make sure this feels like a Timesplitters game', without throwing in our own ideas or anything like that; making sure we nail things like characters and stuff like that. It takes a while because we're all perfectionists.
We have this system setup so that it goes through a couple of passes – so like a model goes through an assembly line, essentially. And at the end of the assembly line it gets to me and I'm like 'Okay, I agree with everybody else but let's try doing this'. So everybody works together in getting stuff done. So we have an interesting system using what resources we have because we had to adapt as quickly as possible.
Gaming Blend: Circling back around real quick – it's interesting you mention about not having concept artists and then also mentioning that the team has to collectively collaborate on each phase of the design process. Do you find it easier or harder working in that kind of environment as opposed to the hierarchy of the AAA business, where there are lead artists and someone over them, or a project manager over the artists or animators and then someone over them? You know, that hierarchy?
Michael: I... wouldn't say that it's harder... I would definitely say that it's easier. But by making it easier doesn't mean that it's making it faster. The process is very easy; like I said it's like an assembly line where it goes through every single one and we're all looking at it. We're basically providing all our opinions on one thing. So we're able to actually heavily criticize or create some suggestions or provide some feedback and stuff like that, as a team. As opposed to like, okay this is the 3D map lead of the team and they're criticizing things like map holes or stuff like that. This is the programmers, they're criticizing themselves and the game... I'm just kidding [chuckles] 'This is not working!!! Why isn't this working?! I'm not working on this game anymore!' [chuckles].
No, but um, we all get together and this is basically a weekly thing. We review over everything. We look at all the progress we are making – we criticize everything. Okay this looks great but let's make this change, and stuff like that. Eventually it gets up to me and I decide whether or not it's something to pass on to the fan page or if it's something we go through the process until we get [it] perfect, because we definitely want it to be perfect.
The Training Ground map, that's an exception. Sean has a bit of a fan base and he's been allowed to keep people up to date, so that's actually helped us out more so that we could actually provide more of a demonstration of what we're working on and stuff like that. Sort of like what the other indie developers are doing... monthly or weekly, this or that on the development and stuff. We are so time-constrained on our jobs we just don't have time to say 'Let's record something else' or update this or update that. We just focus on working and focus on working on Timesplitters Rewind... that's our two primary focuses.
Gaming Blend: You mention the community aspect, making content available to the fan base while you guys are busy working. How do you manage that balance, especially as indie devs? You know how Dean 'Rocket' Hall constantly talks about that balance and how they sometimes just have to hunker down and focus on getting things done instead of constantly trying to keep everyone up to date on the progress of the project.
Michael: Yeah, I'm actually friends with Dean on Skype, we talk on occasion. I've been following the progress of DayZ and it was something I was addicted to for quite a while when it was simply a mod.
It's a complicated issue because we want to be able to say 'Hey everyone, look at what we're working on, we're very excited'. But we work at such an odd pace because of the different time zones. So I'm like the only American, everyone else is in the United Kingdom or some area that side of the world. So you know, we all have these strange schedules; some work night shifts, some work day shifts. It's just very complicated. It takes a while to pass through the assembly line until it reaches the top, which takes me a little bit because I have to absorb everything that's going on all over [the world] with Skype and e-mail. So by the time it gets up to me, I'm like okay let's work on that and kind of go from there.
In terms of a hierarchy, there isn't necessarily a hierarchy. I guess you could say we have lead artists, we have a lead programmer and stuff like that. But how we look at it, we're all just a team of people working together. And the only filter outside of the team would be me, because I handle everything with public relations. I came on as public relations; I do have experience with game development. But I wanted to dedicate my time to helping with the PR stuff and management. I had to pass the [development] torch because I was just providing feedback on this stuff and that stuff, and Daniel was like 'You seem to know what you're doing, so let's put you in charge and go from there.' and I said 'Okay'.
So we've basically gone from there, because I handle IT, I work with the website, I work with all the servers we manage, I manage the public relations, I keep in contact with all the fans and the fan page and stuff like that. The hiring and firing. I'm basically the all-in-one package. I don't see myself as above or below anybody, everything just kind of funnels through me. So essentially, even talking to Crytek... even that's on my shoulders. Like if I say something wrong, and I don't want to say something wrong, we'll miss this or that opportunity. I work with a lot and I don't like not being busy.
Gaming Blend: So how did you get in contact with Crytek and how did they give you blessings to take on the Timesplitters franchise?
Michael: Actually... Crytek got a hold of Dan through the fan page. I guess they did a little bit of research; they really made sure that they got in contact with the right guy. So they got a hold of him, and he was like 'Yeah sure, we'll definitely do it.' and that's when it all kind of pulled together when he did the post on the fan page to work on Timesplitters. [After] they got a hold of him I contacted him through Reddit because I was like 'Hey!' since there was a for hire post about a community manager. That's how I got on board. Everybody kind of followed suit from various directions... 4Chan and stuff like that. We just came together and worked as tightly as possible. It's been fun... it's been fun.
Gaming Blend: Not to completely switch gears on the topics, but seriously, one of the things I noticed is that there are hands on the models. In the first two games I believe that the first-person gun models didn't have hands. Will all the weapons from the first two Timesplitters also have hands and was that part of the plan?
Michael: I think that was actually an accident [laughs]. What happened was, at the time Crytek was slow on the responses and stuff, because I guess they were still trying to get to know us and stuff. But they were a little slow on the responses and they hadn't really provided us with any working access to the assets or anything like that because the way that Timesplitters 1, 2 and Future Perfect was developed – those assets, they actually have to go back and convert those assets into something that's actually usable, without any quality loss or anything like that. That's actually a time-consuming process for them. They actually have to take time out of their schedule to modify this or that model and send it over to us.
So what we did was – this is why I explicitly state in the updates, like 'Hey, what you see here you are not going to have access to' the original maps and stuff like that. What we would have to do was, we actually had to take the discs, put them into our computers and then rip [the assets] from the disc itself.
So in order to prevent any legal quarrels with Crytek's legal department, by any chance, we decided we're just going to recreate everything from the ground up. But wanted to make sure nobody had access to the original assets. Because while it is helping us to do our thing, it is – in my opinion – still unethical because you're taking content that was protected from a PlayStation 2 disc or a GameCube disc and then ripping it from that disc and putting it onto your computer and doing whatever you can with it. It's a hit or miss with it, but that's why we only have Training Grounds and Ice Station because some maps port perfectly and some maps don't port at all. So it's like 'Oh that's not helpful'. That's why we play through the game as much as possible.
Gaming Blend: Sony has really gone well out of their way to help indie devs lately, and they've been waiving fees and making the PS4 very accommodating to independent developers. Now I know you were talking about the possibility of the game launching on the PlayStation 4... so will this come down to resources, time or certification roadblocks from Sony?
Michael: It's mostly just us waiting on Crytek's legal department to give us the go ahead. With these things it's not like they say 'Hey, we don't know you but we'll give you access to these things and you can release it on this or that console.' It's also their reputation on the line. That also leads back to why I take care of all the PR and community management stuff, because I'm very protective over this.
I don't want anybody saying anything wrong or anything like that, and then it makes us look bad and Crytek look bad or stuff like that. I keep things open and I try to keep things professional, too, so we're all seen as professionals.
So essentially, what's really holding us back is just Crytek wanting to get to know us and their legal department saying 'OK'. There's also this or that developer working for a game studio, they also have to get in contact with Crytek's legal department and stuff like that. So it's basically just a long stretch of legalness and then we're good to go.
But! But... I will say, and this is something I've been trying to hold back, but I feel like it's probably a good thing to come out... we're actually going to go ahead and start development [of Timesplitters Rewind] on PlayStation 4. Just because we're pretty confident Crytek's going to say go ahead and do it. But we don't want them saying go ahead and do it when we're caught with our pants down and we're like halfway through development and [then] start something for the PlayStation 4.
So we decided that since they released the SDK to allow us to do this, we're going to go ahead and do it ourselves, and when they say 'yes' or 'no' we can decide what to do with that. For now we're just going to go ahead and do it. So at least we're prepared.
Gaming Blend: And what about the Xbox One? Are there any plans to bridge the development to Microsoft's console? I know that they've tried making some changes in their policies to become more inviting to independent developers.
Michael: Uh, well in terms of the Xbox One, we haven't really looked into the development behind it, because there's still a lot of details we need to look into.
For example, the Xbox 360 did have that – I think it's still there or if they finally broke it off – but the certification process, I think, is like $10,000 per patch – that's if the patch gets approved, if not there's like some other fee just to do an update to that patch.
There was a weird process for the Xbox 360 and it was a huge turnoff for me, and they still haven't really said anything appealing to me that would definitely make me think 'Okay, let's do this for the Xbox One'. It doesn't mean that I don't want to, because the more the merrier.
But my ultimate goal with Timesplitters Rewind – I think I mentioned this in the video, which is something Sony is allowing for – is we want everybody to be able to play with each other. So if you're on the PlayStation 4 you'll be able to play with people on the PC. But I'm not talking about... what is it... Shadowrun? For Xbox Live and PC?
Gaming Blend: Yeah
Michael: Yeah, but we're not talking about that. There's going to be some systems in place where people can say 'I only want to play with people who are playing with controllers on PC' or something like that. Basically, providing an option so everybody knows what they're getting into before they get into it. So nothing is purely unfair.
So if you want to play with a controller on the PlayStation 4 against people with a mouse and keyboard, have at it, I don't mind [chuckles]. But you might as well be jumping into a lava pit. PC players are always going to have that advantage. Now, if you can take on a group – like clan versus clan, PlayStation 4 versus PC – if PlayStation 4 players could beat the PC players I would honestly like handshake them, hug them and put their name somewhere on the page and say 'Look at these people: PlayStation 4 players just straight-up dominated the PC crowd.'
Gaming Blend: [Laughs]
Gaming Blend: That's a fanboy war waiting to happen!
Michael: I think if we're actually able to do a PlayStation 4 vs PC I would go for a fanboy war right away, and say 'This is your chance to say who is the dominate console' –
Gaming Blend: That would be at the top of N4G and every other aggregator across the internet!
Gaming Blend: So while we're talking about consoles, we have to talk about the Wii U. Where does it fit? Have you guys considered porting the game over to Nintendo's console? They've been doing a lot to try to entice the indie crowd as well and opened up a lot of tools for smaller studios as well as waived a lot of fees for getting concepts approved and brought to their console.
Michael: Uhhh... I think it's going to be an off-the-table thing for now, simply because I don't think... I'm gonna pull it up just in case – but what I’ve noticed is that on the PlayStation 4 Crytek updated their engine to support [the console]. But I don't want to throw it out there just yet. But it's all based on hardware limitations – because with such a small team we need as much support as we can get. We can make it scalable on the PC, but in terms of console development... we don't want to say like 'Wii U' and then not be able to present like, anything – or if it looks like (for the lack of a better word) crap. We want to wait; we don't want to half-ass anything.
What's holding me back on the Wii U, is as I read on the Wii U – it's not really an HD contender in terms of Xbox One versus PlayStation 4. Those consoles are pretty competent here and they'll be able to play Timesplitters 4 – I mean, Timesplitters Rewind. When it comes to the Wii U, it's gonna take a lot for us to scale things back so we can work on that. But... it doesn't mean that what we have right now wouldn't allow for us to scale things back, because if we're gonna be able to make it scalable on the PC – so players with lower-end systems can play – then hopefully we can do the same thing for the Wii U.
There's a lot to actually work with, and I don't think any of us really own a Wii U... we own Wiis, but we don't own a Wii U [chuckles].
Gaming Blend: So essentially – one of the things I noticed is that you sometimes call Timesplitters Rewind Timesplitters 4. In a way it feels like this community project is a test-bed of sorts for Crytek to see if this goes over well and maybe gauge interest to do something larger?
Michael: Not really. What they're actually doing is they're giving us the opportunity to work on Timesplitters, and what I'm working on is saying, 'Okay, Crytek let us prove ourselves to you'. Like, let's do this as a multiplayer only title, which is Timesplitters Rewind in its current state. And then post release, of course, we'll release the other characters, the other maps and stuff like that... everything that's left out. We don't want to take eight years – like, I love Black Mesa Source – but like Black Mesa Source did to work on a project. We don't want to take eight years; we want to be able to get this into people's hands as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality.
Ultimately, Timesplitters Rewind will be like the Timesplitters HD Collection and if Crytek gave us the torch, like, said 'Okay you've proved yourself worthy: here work on Timesplitters 4' then I would absolutely be thrilled to work on that ASAP.
Michael: That was my phone.
Gaming Blend: No problem.
Michael: [Chuckles] …but right now they're not really positioning themselves to say 'Here's Timesplitters 4' but what they are positioning themselves as 'Here's the torch for working on a Timesplitters game, but we'll see how well that goes out. If you do well... maybe we will work something out, in terms of Timesplitters HD Collection.' because that's my ultimate goal, working on the HD collection and then maybe go from there.
A lot of people have asked about outsourcing the single-player stuff and all of that. If we outsource the single-player stuff to the community, which would probably speed up the process, but we have a very strict system as to what goes into the game, in terms of quality. 'Does this stick?' 'No it doesn't.' 'Then let's do this again'. Quality is very important to us, we're actually kind of obsessed with it, where we don't really want to release anything unless we have something amazing that we can show you. That's why we try to keep things as simple as possible.
With Training Grounds, we show the textureless map, or the textureless version of it, and then we showed you [the map] with placeholder textures, because we need something to look at and play all day, and then eventually we'll show you Training Grounds with the textures we've been working on.
We're basically still looking for more texture artists. We've got people allocated in those areas of development. So we've been telling everybody, once you finish the summer tracker, which is gonna be finishing models that we're working on right now – in terms of characters and weapons – we're gonna focus entirely on Training Grounds. Because we kind of want to be able to say that we can meet that deadline of December and say 'Hello everybody, here's Training Grounds. Let's play together!' and kind of go from there. We're still a little skeptical as to whether or not we're going to be able to make that.
That's why I've got everybody allocated working on weapons, assets and stuff like that. And Sean is working on Training Grounds all by his lonesome. Jerome is working on Ice Station and I believe he's working on Temple... he's working on two maps. We're a very small team working on multiple resources, not able to pump out everything as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality. If we were able to focus on this full time, then yeah absolutely. I tend to go on rants... I do apologize.
Gaming Blend: Ha, no problem. Talking about allocating resources and working on the game for as long as you have, how much of the game is complete... percent-wise? Also have you guys considered crowd-funding?
Michael: For the first one... I would say, 20 percent done... maybe not even really that. We've got a lot done and focused on gameplay and getting that down pat. Obviously we've got models in place and stuff, it's just we've been focusing so much on gameplay because gameplay right now is more important than anything else, because basically that's what everyone wants to see. They want to see the character models and everyone wants to see the maps, but they also want to see what we can pull off in terms of the gameplay. So it's basically just making sure that we get all the elements in place.
I stressed this before, but we want to be able to provide people the options of how they want to play, not how we want them to play. I explained in the video and everything, when you're in the options and stuff you can choose how you want to play. Based on that, server admins also have a choice as well. So everything plays together in terms of 'Do I want to play the classic style like Timesplitters or Timesplitters 2? Or do I want to play the more modern style, which is Timesplitters Future Perfect?'
So instead of saying you can only play this one way... no you get to play this however you want to play. And you can play across any of the maps the way you want to play. So if the server admins say 'Okay we don't care if you play classic or modern, just play as you want', then people can do that. So you could see people moving a little weirdly, because people can do that since the original game was like Goldeneye; and the weapons were kind of delayed in a sense, where-as Future Perfect wasn't necessarily like that.
Gaming Blend: Oh! Not to interrupt but I have to ask – since the CryEngine has jumping and physics and all that stuff built-in – will Timesplitters Rewind have jumping? I mean, the series was built around not being able to jump and all that.
Michael: [Chuckles] Oh man, that's something everybody keeps asking me. I'm like, we're trying to keep it as close to the original games as possible. If you really want [to] jump, I'll put up a poll right now on Facebook asking everybody if they want to be able to jump. I'm pretty sure it's going to be unanimous. If you're making this as close to the originals... 'No!' If we were making Timesplitters 4... maybe.
Right now we've eliminated jump. Like, there's no jump whatsoever, except for in an older builder. But there's no jump across the board. But if people really want it, I have no issues with implementing yet another option.
I think when the game releases people are going to sit back and be like 'Wow! That's a lot of options. They gave us control over like everything.'
Gaming Blend: So you could consider adding a jump button in there if there's demand for it?
Michael: Well, the way I see it, it could potentially be a balance issue if we have PlayStation 4 players playing against PC players, because PC players all they go to is [taps on the Space Bar]... tap that space bar. But with PlayStation 4 players, they have to tap 'X' or the left-bumper or the left-thumbstick or something like that. So I'm not sure how that's going to pan out for players in terms of [it] being unfair because this person is jumping or whatever.
Gaming Blend: Well yeah, I can imagine jumping could lead to some form of advantage for PC players since they can do the whole jumping headshot thing and it could really lead to some unfair matches in cross-platform play. Like, with most console games everyone gets excited when someone pulls off a no-scope 360, jumping headshot in Call of Duty, but that's been around for ages in PC... since like the Quake days.
Michael: [Chuckles] Yeah that's a big deal on the Xbox 360. Everybody on PC is like 'Uhh, yeah we've been doing that for a while now. Welcome to our crowd now... thank you.'
But in terms of crowd-sourcing... did you want to go to that topic?
Gaming Blend: Yeah.
Michael: In terms of crowd-sourcing... the way that we're approaching crowd-sourcing is [we're] trying to keep it within as much of the legal barrier as possible. And that's basically saying 'Hey, we're a free project so, server costs are going to get through the roof here' especially since this is mutliplayer focused.' So like, how can we get players involved with the development without outright saying 'Give us money'? And avoiding any legal boundaries that we have with Crytek. And that's basically when we started with the donations.
With the donations I think it's completely fair and Crytek hasn't said anything about it. They don't seem to be bothered by it at all. But, you know, the donations go straight toward server costs, it goes toward nothing else. At the end of the month, we get to together – everybody whose donated – and we say 'Hey, we've got this much left over, how do we allocate this? Do you want us to allocate a bit to Child's Play charity or American Red Cross? Or some other charity? Or do you want us to let it roll over into this, or all three? How do you want to go about this?'
We try to have a very transparent communication with the community. We try to keep things as open as possible, without basically saying 'You're all part of the team!'
What's important is that since we're this small team working on such a popular franchise, with a die-hard fan base, that being as open as humanly possible is actually the best way thing to do. And I think that's what's gonna carry over to any other future projects we work on. So hopefully we raise enough money to work on Timesplitters full-time. So we've got a lot of things we're trying to do without sacrificing anything. We stay pretty busy.
Gaming Blend: It's funny you mention being a small team but making sure that you prioritize talking with the community and how important that connection is. There are a few other projects out there whose names I won't mention, but the developers are known for going dark for a very long time without saying a word about anything and it leaves the community wondering 'what's going on with this project?' and 'why haven't we heard anything?'
Gaming Blend: So do you find that it's appropriate to maintain that balance with your audience or that sometimes you need to just go dark, hunker down and try to get things done and aim to meet those deadlines?
Michael: Yeah, well, the way we try to look at is: In terms of the bigger studios, you have to understand that the developers themselves are usually in crunch time all the time. Like, they have no time whatsoever to respond to anything, unless they go home get on Facebook and message me on Facebook, like what our game director does, he's at Crytek UK. Like he doesn't respond very well through e-mail or anything like that because they stay so busy over there, but as soon as he gets home he'll check the messages and respond from there.
It's basically, when they're free they'll talk to us and when we're free... well, we're always free, so. But triple-A developers, they stay pretty busy. I see a lot of posting in forums in stuff, I think more-so with stuff like Bohemia and some of the Valve developers and stuff like that – you'll see them on Steam forums talking to people and telling them to stop being rude or something like that. Valve does a pretty good job of staying in contact with the community, I'd say. If you dive into their forums you'll see them in there.
It's mostly just publishers and developers – they're on a tight schedule. Like for example, Crysis 3, if they were sitting there chatting on Facebook with everybody they would not get anything done. There's a dollar to be made. That's basically how the world is.
Gaming Blend: Yeah definitely. But in terms of smaller projects – where teams have a direct line of communication with the community. It seems important for indie devs to stay in touch with their fan base.
Michael: Absolutely. I'm usually on Reddit and one of the things I see on Reddit are people saying like 'This Kickstarter... they've been dark for two months.' But if a project goes dark for two months people begin to worry about where their investment has gone and stuff like that.
I kind of feel that's a little unfair to the community in a way. Because if you go completely silent and not release anything, not even just a quick text update you're basically, in a way, losing your fan base because they're kept in the dark. They don't know what's going on, if the project has been canceled or anything like that.
So long as you stay active and let everybody know 'Hey, this is what we're working on' or something like that – like if you dig through the Facebook stuff you'll see that I apologize a lot. I'm like 'I'm sorry if we don't post a lot of updates' but at least try to stay in the community as much as possible.
Gaming Blend: Oh yeah, that's very important. Look thanks for taking time out to talk about the game... I'm all out of questions, but to wrap this up did you have anything you wanted to say to the community?
Michael: Mostly it's just to check back for more updates and stuff like that. If you definitely want to donate go ahead and donate. Your name will definitely be listed in the credits of Timesplitters Rewind. Definitely continue to be the die-hard fans that you are, because without the fans we actually wouldn't be working on this project. So we're very grateful for this opportunity.
Huge thanks again for Michael Hubicka taking time out of the holiday to talk with us about Timesplitters Rewind. You can learn more about the project or donate to the cause by visiting the official Timesplitters Rewind website.