Inside the Mod Bringing Battlefront III Back to Life

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By Abram Buehner on January 18th, 2022


As a huge Star Wars fan, nothing bums me out quite like the franchise’s long list of canceled games. While Star Wars 1313 and Amy Hennig’s cancelation certainly stung, none hit me quite like Battlefront III. That title would’ve been the bigger, more ambitious brother of a top five game of all-time for me. After all, Battlefront II has been my bread and butter since I was literally in kindergarten. While many of III’s ideas lived on in Elite Squadron, they never were brought to their natural conclusion there, or more importantly, to market in the near-complete Battlefront III.

Just how complete Battlefront III actually was and particularly why the game got canceled is somewhat contentious. Various sources contradict each other as to exactly what killed the game and at which stage of its development, but one point is clear. Battlefront III was both grand in scope and in a somewhat playable state. There is plenty of leaked footage online (and even a leaked build) that demonstrates what could’ve been had the game not been canceled in 2008, including its flagship feature: ground-to-air conflicts. 

Following up a game as beloved as Battlefront II was no easy task. Given developer Free Radical’s internal issues with both time and resource management, churning out underbaked games like Haze, it’s unclear whether Battlefront III would’ve lived up to its predecessor. Although, what we know about the game painted an optimistic picture. Nonetheless, we’ll never truly know one way or another. This is crushing, particularly since the game was so close to the finish line.

Battlefront 3 Legacy screenshot

Yet, Battlefront III doesn’t have to exist only as an unfulfilled promise of another proper franchise instalment. Enter Star Wars Battlefront III Legacy. This is a full conversion mod for the PC release of Star Wars Battlefront II that you can download and play right now — one that is in the process of rebuilding Battlefront III within its predecessor. With maps, modes and models pulled from that canceled release, this truly feels like Battlefront III, even with its rough edges intrinsic to the fact that this is a fan project stretched over the skeleton of a 2005 shooter. 

a new hope

To learn more about this project, I spoke with Shaymin, one of Battlefront III Legacy’s developers and designers. Shaymin is also a co-lead on the mod, establishing him as one of the most involved and active members of the team. His enthusiasm for Battlefront combined with both his technical and conceptual knowledge greatly clarified many questions that I had about the team’s work while critically expanding my appreciation for it. So, without further ado, here is our conversation in full.

How did you get involved in the modding scene?

I’ve always had a soft spot for creative experiences and for several years had the ambition to pursue game development as a career path, part of that was from modding the classic Battlefront games. I came back to the game on PC years after I was introduced to it on PlayStation 2, and [in] doing so, I found the Battlefront FileFront site hosted by GameFront (may it R.I.P.) which [exposed me to to] the (now old) world of this game’s modding scene.

What compelled you to work on Battlefront III Legacy?

I remember seeing all the content leaks between 2011 and 2015 about Free Radical’s cancelled Battlefront III as it began to surface online and leak out, and it always fascinated me. So, when the development build finally publicly surfaced in early 2016, I was keen to hop onto whatever research or development projects sprung up surrounding the game, and one of those was Battlefront III Legacy.

Could you walk me through the process of adding a Battlefront III map, character model, or mode into the mod?

It takes a lot of pain and patience to get a legacy map working. [The first step] is resource collection, so we look at what we have for a map, gather all the reference material from old images, documents and videos from Free Radical’s games, and set out to build it. [We] model anything needed and set everything up for import using our preferred modelling softwares and then import it into the game. From there, it is just like building any other Battlefront II mod map until we get to the testing stage. 

Battlefront 3 Legacy screenshot

My god is the testing stage horrible. [We encounter] random load crashes and errors that even the official debug tool we have can’t pick … up, so we have to blindly mess around with things until it all works, and this is why maps take so long because this eats away at our motivation to work on stuff, bearing in mind we usually are only working with a ground map at this point. We add space-to-ground once everything else is working. At the end of [the process] when everything does start coming together, the sense of pride and accomplishment is more than enough reward.

Game modes are relatively simple as anything script based [that] we can mess with is almost always purely Lua-based which makes it simple to understand and mess with things. Except Galactic Conquest… that’s a whole other ordeal. None of the developers are Lua masters or script kings, so we mostly mess with existing set-ups and stuff to mix and match into new game modes. Character models are relatively simple [also]. Back in 2016, we created a custom skeleton for the BF3 clone, and we use it as a one-size-fits-all [skeleton] which works most of the time. [It’s] just a case of rigging a model to it and the game handles everything else.

Obviously, there is a lot more detail that has gone into making this mod, but I don’t want to get too technical. But, Battlefront II is not hard to mod for, it is just fighting the actual technical limits of the game engine that is hard … because we are insane people doing crazy things with it.

Is your team working with actual game assets from Battlefront III, or are you recreating them from scratch? If it’s the former, how did you gain access to them?

Now this next question is an interesting one. The majority of things you will see are recovered from the leaked build. The user interface, some maps, and a lot of other small things are custom-made assets we made ourselves mimicking what was seen. Rebuilding maps ourselves is also common and is a massive pain in the ass for us. I mean seriously — Desolation Station started development back in April 2017 and is only now coming together. We work from some basic collision geometry we can get from the build and then have to manually add all the detail and texture work ourselves. There are some things that we got from various sources, some official, most custom, but I cannot say much more than that. (No, our asset sources are not former or current Free Radical staff, and we cannot confirm [who] or where the assets came from). 

Do you all work as closely within the confines of Battlefront III as possible, or do you take creative liberties with design elements that weren’t going to be present in the game originally?

Yes, lots. After all, there are limits we have to obey that Free Radical didn’t. We are modders, we have limits to our knowledge and might want to do things another way. The leaked build is playable if people want the proper experience, but we intend to recreate the experience and do our own things with it. New game modes and stuff are a big part of that. The upcoming Endor map is going to be completely different because we wanted another big map. 

Battlefront 3 Legacy screenshot

We might even make a completely custom Kashyyyk map since we already have a remake of the Free Radical map running in Battlefront II and it is horrible, [the] worst map from their game. [It’s] tiny, repetitive — not what you want from a big battle on Kashyyyk. But unlike Endor, we likely will still keep the FRD map in. A lot of other maps have edits. Bespin, for example, has been heavily customised with new areas mainly due to limits with how the AI navigate maps. Coruscant has some minor changes and Dantooine has a new extended cave system with new secret areas for players to find. 

We can never copy the game one-to-one, and even then it would not be fun for us. It is much better for the player and more enjoyable for us as developers to see what was there and see how we can improve upon it and do our own thing. We still follow what Free Radical did, but [that] is more [suggestive] than a set of rules for us. We’ll recreate what we can but improve what we can along the way also. 

How did you learn about Battlefront III in a robust enough manner to create this mod in the first place?

Knowledge is our most powerful tool. Ever since the development build leaked in 2016, we’ve been working closely with the Free Radical Archival project to help in researching this cancelled game. Imagine Unseen64 but hyper-focused and relentless. Talking to developers, looking at footage, playing and breaking down the build, collecting all images and media, hunting down portfolios, and in some cases simply guessing has created an almost complete compendium on everything that was … planned for Free Radical’s game and their entire development [process]. Everything that is deemed okay for public release is available on the wiki (although the wiki does need a lot of work) and you can learn a lot from it.

What are the challenges of essentially rebuilding a canceled game within the confines of an existing one? On a gameplay level, how close is III Legacy to what Battlefront III would’ve been, based on your research into that game? Are there differences in, say, the physics engine that will just never be replicable?

The challenges are minimal if the game engines are similar enough that the base is there, which is lucky for our case. It’s kind of like reverse Half-Life Source or Counter Strike Source. The mechanics and features are already here for us to use, we just have to downport everything to our engine as opposed to upgrading it. Technically, we are both a remake and a demake simultaneously.

Gameplay-level stuff is pretty similar. We just need to [improve] our space stuff more to properly work like it does in the source material. Ours plays a lot more casually though, with faster movement speeds, wider FOV, [and] more damage, but that’s just a mix of the fact we have to obey Star Wars Battlefront II’s laws of physics and make it fun [while] doing so still, which is why our class loadouts are pretty different at times.

Battlefront III campaign

Basically, we play vastly differently but our general game rules for game modes are the same. A lot of the differences would probably be solved with a controller since we never played the Free Radical game with a keyboard and mouse. [The] campaign will play differently since we don’t have the groundwork for some features like weapon pickup (yet 😉 ). 

What are some of the team’s short and long-term goals that you’re able to talk about at the moment?

Short term, we are just looking to add all the maps we can and fix/finish everything we currently have in the mod. Long term, we intend to look at more technical things like Galactic Conquest, campaign, and finishing the sixth-generation console downports. Our super big ambition is to see if we pursue a standalone mod release onto the Steam store for Steam owners of Battlefront II to download for free similar to projects like Just Cause 2: Multiplayer and Portal Stories: Mel, but considering the nature of our project (and the title) I’d say Lucasfilm Games will never let us do that. 

Do you anticipate that the mod will reach a point where it basically is a full recreation of what Battlefront III would’ve been at retail?

I do believe we can get to the stage Free Radical was working toward for retail. We will provide a solid Battlefront experience and hopefully polish everything up enough for it to be considered its own complete game by itself.

the dead speak!

Shaymin’s propositions about Battlefront III Legacy finding itself in a position where it largely mirrors the complete Battlefront III build is so exciting, particularly as a fan who’s spent the better part of the last seventeen odd years waiting for this game that never materialized. But we’re inching toward a reality where that cancellation is no longer the final nail in Free Radical’s Star Wars coffin. And for those impatient like I am, you can experience the sights and sounds of III Legacy right now by installing the most recent version of the mod and joining the team’s Discord server to engage with the community.

Battlefront 3 Legacy screenshot

In my biased opinion, that is all very much worth doing. Battlefront III Legacy is a ton of fun. Skirmishing on Dantooine and conquesting ground-to-air on Coruscant is just a dream come true. That’s hyperbolic, but for Star Wars fans like myself, it’s the realization of a seemingly impossible task: bringing Battlefront III back from the grave. Not only is this a lovely project from a fandom standpoint, but it’s also a watershed moment in game preservation, particularly within the Star Wars universe. This franchise simply cannot catch a break when it comes to cancellations, and it’s a testament to the dedication of the larger community that one such fallen title can be revived in this manner. This is the sort of redemption arc that doesn’t come around often – the sort that proves that even unfinished works are capable of preservation, and that preservation can and should exist through unconventional avenues. 

Thank you to Shaymin for his time.

Abram is a part-time student and a full-time dork from the East Coast of the United States. He spends much of his time discussing video games, film, and comics... that is, when Abram isn't playing games, watching film, or reading comics. When Abram's not doing that, he is probably busy with college, dual-majoring in English and Film & New Media Studies.


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