Last week, while England basked in its trademark grey skies, Electronic Arts was busy showing off two dozen games on a typically hot Californian sunny day. So hot that the poor, frail, pale UK contingent were forced to seek shade like the indoor dwelling Vampires that we are. But it was just as well that we're so rubbish at going outdoors when there were games like TimeSplitters Future Perfect being demoed indoors by none other than the creators themselves. Accordingly, we waved (literally, we had the shakes from the night before) a camera in the face of Free Radical director Karl Hilton and chatted about how the company's latest creation is shaping up, ahead of its early 2005 release. Read on, or download the interview in its entirety over at Eurofiles.
Eurogamer: Tell us about the latest TimeSplitters Future Perfect - what is different about this from the previous incarnations?
Karl Hilton: In TimeSplitters Future Perfect Cortez is back - he's the focus of the single-player story this time, and he's trying to track down where the TimeSplitters came from, and how to stop them ever having appeared in the first place. Basically the storyline follows him as he jumps through time trying to stop that happening.
One of the new gameplay mechanics we have in the single-player mode is that we'll use the time portals in order for Cortez to travel through time and help himself, so you'll go back or forwards in time, get himself some sort of weapon or information or some other thing and use that in conjunction with the Cortez that lives in the present - so there's two of them - and then come back and go into the past. Essentially it means you've got to help yourself out, you're your own best ally, so that's quite a good feature.
Eurogamer: In the previous two TimeSplitters, you've only had about nine single-player story levels. Do you have a more expansive story mode this time?
Karl Hilton: We've got five time frames, time zones, but there are actually ten levels in total.
Eurogamer: Will it take you longer to get through those?
Karl Hilton: Yeah, the levels are quite expansive compared to some of the previous levels we've done. The first level is set in the 1920s and set in a castle in Scotland, and basically you get to wander around the whole castle and the island itself inside and out.
Eurogamer: What other time zones do you go through?
Karl Hilton: You go through 1920s in a castle in Scotland, you go through 1960s on a missile train in Eastern Europe. In the 1980s we go through a haunted mansion, then we go into the late 21st Century where we're in a future city, and then we go into the 25th Century where were in a war torn future city that's been destroyed by the TimeSplitters in the war, and in that one you're trying to stop the destruction from happening.
Eurogamer: One of our favourite parts of both TimeSplitters was the challenge modes - what's the challenge mode in Future Perfect like this time?
Karl Hilton: There will be a lot of challenges again, but we don't have them all in the game yet. At least as many as we did last time, probably a few more as well. There are certainly a few ideas kicking around the office at the moment that we like...
Eurogamer: Are there any ludicrous ones that spring to mind?
Karl Hilton: We couldn't possibly tell you at this stage! We like to get the game mechanics finished as early as possible so we can spend plenty of time playing with game modes, playing with gameplay in single-player and multiplayer and all that stuff and make sure we get it spot on. There's a lot of trial and error involved in finding which ideas work well. We've got a lot of ideas. The ones that work well will end up in the game. I wouldn't want to disappoint anyone with ideas that then don't work, so yeah, there's a lot of good ideas in there...
Eurogamer: Obviously you've got online play in there, which is something you were going for last time around. Do you have any cooperative online?
Karl Hilton: In the single-player mode, cooperative will just be offline, for two-player split-screen. In terms of online play it'll be multiplayer deathmatch and stuff, so there's capture the bag, assault mode and various other things like that - so there's an opportunity to do co-op with those things.
Eurogamer: How many maps do you have in the multiplayer?
Karl Hilton: There's going to be a minimum of ten. We've got a few other ideas we'd like to get in as well. We'll see if we can do that, plus there'll be the mapmaker, of course, which has been expanded enormously, so it's a lot more flexible now. You can do a much bigger map through that - you've got much more interesting spaces and it's very flexible in the way you join the tiles together now. You can also take the roof off in quite a few of them now, so you can have an open air level, and you'll be able to set it up with different types of story mode, Assault, Deathmatch, that kind of thing.
Eurogamer: Will you be able to upload them over Live and swap them online?
Karl Hilton: That's right, you'll be able to upload them onto the site, rate them, swap them with your friends, set your own challenges, time challenges, assault challenges, see if other people can beat your levels. We think that's a really strong aspect - quite a unique aspect for an online game.
Eurogamer: Will you have any downloadable content via Xbox Live this time around?
Karl Hilton: That's a possibility. I wouldn't say yes or no to it at the moment. Yes, it's certainly an opportunity there to do that sort of thing. We're looking into that as much as we can.
Eurogamer: At this stage are you pretty much finished? What's left to do?
Karl Hilton: We're getting on well with it. It's going really well and we've got a lot of stuff in there now and we've got quite a few levels working now. We like to get stuff finished as early as possible so we can spend time playing it. There are still a lot of ideas, a lot of things we want to try out before the game is going to come out. We're on course, it's going to be good.
Eurogamer: On an artistic level, what have the improvements to the engine allowed you to do that you couldn't do, say, on the first one?
Karl Hilton: Just a lot of efficiency really. We've had a lot of time to play with the performance analysers on the PS2, we've had a lot of time to look at the way we actually do do things, and we've actually managed to refine a lot of our processes. We're drawing more polys now. We're still running at 60 frames per second, we feel that's really important, we love the 60 frames per second - it's just smooth and makes the gameplay better. We're able to do a few more special effects, a few more explosions, more particles, do some nice reflective effects, that kind of thing, transparency, layering up the complexity of the image but keeping it fundamentally clean.
Eurogamer: You had a very small team on the first one didn't you?
Karl Hilton: Yeah, it went up to about 16 at the top, but it started off with about five of us.
Eurogamer: And how many have you got working on this one?
Karl Hilton: The maximum is about 40 people, and some of those resources are animators who move around a bit.
Eurogamer: Where do you get your inspirations for this very unique animation style that you use, and the character art itself?
Karl Hilton: We have very talented character artists and animators. The animators come from traditional 2D animation backgrounds, and our lead animator James is a very talented guy - he knows what he wants to see and he makes sure he gets it out of the animators, and they're good guys. We have a very talented lead character artist; he has sketchbooks full of bizarre characters. He comes to talk to the background artists, we work out between us which ones we're going to use and how we're going to use them. We like the slightly stylised look; we don't want to take it too seriously. Doing realistic characters isn't difficult - anyone can do that. Having them slightly caricatured makes it more difficult, but it gives our games a unique look that says its a Free Radical game.
Eurogamer: Do you have any more humorous elements in this one?
Karl Hilton: Yeah, I mean the TimeSplitters are quite tongue in cheek games. Cortez is a good lead character. He's quite a rough and tough lead character, but he's not always the sharpest tool in the box. We have quite a lot of fun with that. We've got a really sharp script this time and some really nice things going on. It will still definitely make people laugh.
Eurogamer: How many characters will there be in multiplayer?
Karl Hilton: It's not finalised yet - it'll be more than in TS2. We just keep bringing in new characters as we come up with new ideas. As ideas generate, we'll put more characters in, so as many as possible. We like the idea of letting people have as many to play with.
Eurogamer: Between versions, are they all pretty much uniform? Which is the benchmark version visually? The Xbox?
Karl Hilton: They're all being developed in tandem. Possibly the Xbox. The PS2's the oldest console now, but we've always lead on PS2, so we think we get some good stuff out of it.
Eurogamer: Was that the case this time?
Karl Hilton: Yeah, it is, but on the other hand the Xbox and GameCube was slightly newer technology, we can do a few tricks on that that we can't do on the PS2. Generally we show people the PS2 version of the single-player game. We think it's a really strong looking game compared to other PS2 stuff, so we're happy to show that, but yes there are a few little extra touches on the Xbox and GameCube overall. We think they stand up well to any other console.
Eurogamer: Finally, you obviously signed with EA this time. Do you think that'll help its commercial chances across the world?
Karl Hilton: Absolutely - they're a huge company that really knows how to market games. They have a great selection of games that the shops trust. They trust what they put out, and trust that they'll back it. And they came to us and said we love the TimeSplitters series and they wanted to get involved with it - that sounded good to us and we signed it up with them. Hopefully we'll provide them with a good game and they'll provide the distribution and marketing and hopefully between us we'll get it out to more people this time and more people will play it.
Eurogamer: Have you just signed for this game?
Karl Hilton: Yes, but we'd like to have an ongoing relationship with EA, so we'll see how it goes - one step at a time. If the game works well and if EA wants to work with us again and we want to with them, then yeah, I'm sure that we will. They're a big company and they know what they're doing.
You can also download this interview in video form from Eurofiles.