Interview with Steve Ellis (Timesplitters, Goldeneye)

Interview with Steve Ellis (Timesplitters, Goldeneye)
Recently GamerNation had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Steve Ellis, who is one of the founders of split screen gameplay and (possibly) a huge part of the games we play today. Read below to see what he had to say!
GamerNation: Most people probably don’t realize it, but you are one of the most important figures in split screen gameplay. You had an instrumental role while you were at Rare in the creation of the revolutionary split screen mode in Goldeneye 007. Tell me more about the developmental process for that game and any difficulties that were encountered along the way.
Steve Ellis: We had developed GoldenEye as a single-player game, so it didn’t have any concept of the difference between the state of the game and the state of the player – as far as the code was concerned they were one and the same. To add multiplayer, the first step was a tedious trawl through all of the code to separate those things that are a property of each player (where they are, what they can see, their health, weapons, ammo, etc.) from those things that are a property of the game world (the map layout, where the pickups are, end conditions, etc). Once that was done it was possible for multiple players to exist concurrently and multiplayer existed in its most basic form. After that it was simply a case of implementing a range of game modes and customisation options options, awards, all of the related UI and then playing the game every evening with the team, iteratively tweaking the game balance after each session to make it more fun. It all happened in a very short period of time, because the work wasn’t started until a few months before launch.
GN: I have always said that Timesplitters was one of the best games of all time. It was another game that I felt was ahead of it’s time in terms of replayability and multiplayer. How much influence did Timesplitters draw from Goldeneye and Perfect Dark?
SE: I always saw GoldenEye multiplayer as very raw and unrefined. Of necessity it had been implemented very quickly and we had had to leave a lot of ideas behind because we simply didn’t have enough time or resources to implement them. It served as a good template to build on with TimeSplitters and later TimeSplitters 2 – where we really got the chance to do most of the things that we’d been wanting to do for years.
GN: Games nowadays do not have a lot of value added unlockable content but the simple act of unlocking all the characters in Timesplitters became an obsession of mine. Some of the challenges associated with unlocking the characters were nearly impossible to complete. Whose idea was it for all the unlockable, playable characters in Timesplitters?
SE: TimeSplitters was really a team effort – everyone made their contribution, and the games wouldn’t have been the same without them all. However, if I had to name one person who influenced the design of the characters more than anyone else, it would have to be Ben Newman ( – an amazingly talented artist who had never done any 3D work when he joined us.
GN: The map editor introduced in Timesplitters was also revolutionary for it’s time. According to your LinkedIn you were actually issued a patent for creating it. Where did the idea come from?
SE: TimeSplitters was always about variety – empowering the player to play exactly the game that they wanted to play, with their choice of characters, weapons and game rules. A map editor a logical extension of this goal, and yes, the method that we used was deemed innovative enough for a patent to be granted.
GN: Using the map editor, I created a map called “Vietnam at Night” that was 4 identical rooms put together in a square pattern with no lighting. Only gunfire and grenades provided the smallest glimpses of light to see. My friends and I always played with AI bots and they could miraculously see in the dark but we of course, couldn’t see, and my friends all hated me for it. There’s no better person to solve the argument once and for all – do you think my idea was a good design or bad one?
SE: I can imagine it being interesting but frustrating. In retrospect maybe we should have made the bots aware of light levels. We didn’t expect anyone to switch off all of the lights though! 🙂
GN: Will Timesplitters ever see a return to current gen consoles?
SE: I’d love to see it happen, but I don’t hold out much hope that it will.
GN: Would you ever consider a Kickstarter to gauge consumer interest in a Timesplitters reboot to offset the potential risks of developing a new title?
SE: I think that would be difficult. Shooters are one of the most competitive and expensive types of game, and consequently budgets are very high – modern shooter budgets run well into 8 figures, which means that it would require the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever in order to fund it.
GN: Tell me about how you got into the mobile gaming market and how does your prior experience in game development carry over to mobile development?
SE: I got into mobile development because in the second half of my decade at Free Radical I hadn’t been able to do any programming. Managing a company of 240 staff took up all of my time and energy, and I missed programming a lot. After all, it’s why I got into the industry in the first place. So I wanted to get back to being hands-on, and I wanted to work on smaller projects where one person can make a big difference – something that is lost in teams of 100+ people. Also, I was spending more time playing mobile games than anything else, so mobile development seemed to make the most sense. My console experience has been tremendously helpful, as in the past we’ve had to face many of the same challenges on a much larger scale, so solving them on mobile is easy by comparison.
GN: Do you play games in your free time? If so, what are some of your favorite titles?
SE: I haven’t played a lot of console games in recent years, but I have enjoyed GTA 5, both of the Portal games, and most of Nintendo’s Wii U games – especially Super Mario 3D World. Mostly though, I play mobile games – and there are far too many to name. Some notable ones that I’ve played a lot are Clash of Clans, Crossy Road, Plague Inc., Pac Man 256 and the Quell games (developed just down the road by some of my former staff).
GN: What current projects are you working on?
SE: We prototype a lot at Crash Lab. We try not to get tied down to any one kind of game – it’s more fun to try out things that we haven’t done before, but not everything we try works out. Sometimes ideas sound great when you describe them, but just don’t turn out to be fun enough to play. When that happens, we kill them and move on to the next. We’re working on our fifth release at the moment – and it’s a little too soon to talk about it – but it’s actually our 19th game so far (with 14 been killed at the prototype stage)! It should be in the app stores early next year.

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