In the year 2000, a little-known developer called Free Radical Design released a small, unassuming first-person shooter that would quickly generate a staunch cult following. The game, known as TimeSplitters, married the solid shooter mechanics seen in the Nintendo 64’s classic Goldeneye 007 with a wacky sense of humor and a plot that was so high-concept that it effectively allowed the developers to create new levels and missions using almost any premise to set things up. Thus, while playing TimeSplitters (or one of its two excellent sequels), it’s not all that bizarre to be attacked by a squad of monkeys hurling bricks, or find yourself dueling a cowboy in the middle of the street in a dusty Western ghost town. In short, it’s a crazy, entertaining, engaging series and one of the most inventive first-person shooter experiences you’ll find anywhere.
Unfortunately for TimeSplitters fans, Free Radical fell on hard times when the global economy sputtered out toward the end of 2008. The company was scheduled to enter administration to solve its fiscal woes, but before it could come to that the company was purchased by Crytek (the people behind the Crysis series and any number of gorgeous tech demos you may have seen over the last half-decade) and redubbed “Crytek UK.” This new wing of the company was promptly tasked with working on multiplayer components for the then-in-development Crysis 2, then, once that game shipped, it was tasked with doing the same for the imminent Crysis 3. While Crytek has been relatively mum on the possibility of a new TimeSplitters game from the former Free Radical team, the few times the firm has directly addressed the series, its comments mostly amounted to, “we like the TimeSplitters games and might make one eventually, but for now we’re working on other things.”
So far this story seems pretty typical, right? Business is business and occasionally, in the course of business, a beloved intellectual property is stuffed into a closet in favor of more pressing projects. We’d expect that Crytek could continue churning out Crysis sequels and blissfully ignoring the TimeSplitters fanbase until the end of time, except that a plucky group of fans forced the developer to address the situation and managed to elicit one of the most unexpected reactions a developer could possibly offer in this situation.
Calling themselves the “100,000 Strong for Timesplitters 4,” the group was initially established to convince Crytek to complete work on the now-defunct, far-from-complete TimeSplitters 4. While the collective has thus far been unsuccessful in that quest, it has convinced Crytek to offer its official support to a TimeSplitters modification built on top of Crytek’s impressive CryEngine technology. Have a look at what recently popped up on the group’s Facebook page:
I have just had word from Crytek that they are going to permit and support a TimeSplitters CryEngine mod. I am now looking for modders that can handle the CryEngine. If i manage to get a group together, then they may let us use assets from the original TimeSplitters game! so the idea is to build a TimeSplitters all-in-one. All the levels, all the characters and all the weapons. This is BIG for anyone that wants to get into the gaming industry!
Grammatical issues and overly abundant excitement aside, this unnamed team leader has the right idea: This kind of developer support on a project like this is simply unheard of. Nintendo, the company whose intellectual properties are most often co-opted by amateur modders hoping to make something neat with as little originality as possible, has a routine response for inquiries like this that involves its lawyers sending out harshly worded letters to all necessary parties. Other developers are more supportive of the modding community, some going as far as to release software development kits for free purely so players can alter things as they see fit, but it seems highly unlikely that Epic Games or id Software would ever agree to let fans make a new Unreal or Quake game, especially not one that uses those series’ famous graphics and physics engines.
Not that gaming companies are wrong to protect their IP rights. You know how almost all generic tissues are known as Kleenex? The Kleenex corporation absolutely hates that, but since it didn’t go far enough in protecting the exclusivity of the Kleenex name, it’s now impossible for “Kleenex” to be recognized as solely referring to one specific brand of sanitary paper towels. Given this extreme example, it makes a lot more sense that Nintendo would do everything it could to hunt down anyone attempting to exploit the company’s various famous characters and locations, no?
Moving past that for a moment, we’re left wondering what this implicit permission to create an unofficial TimeSplitters sequel might say about Crytek’s near-term future plans for the series. If Crytek planned to release TimeSplitters 4, say, next year, it seems doubtful that the company would allow any group of creators, even an amateur band of modders, to use the name and concepts most closely linked to the series. That would only serve to shrink the game’s potential player-base (and that’s assuming the mod is a good game — which is a pretty big assumption). While we’re giddy to see Crytek offer this kind of polite support to its fans, we fear that this is simply further notification that a true TimeSplitters sequel won’t appear on store shelves any time soon. Sadly, the irony in this circuitous revelation is not lost on us.