Sunday, October 25, 2009

Update on Factor 5 and WhiteHarvest LLC

Things have changed since our last Factor 5 feature.

In May 2009, Achim Moller, CEO of the German Factor 5 GmbH, officially announced the closure of the San Rafael branch of Factor 5. "The continuation of operations" proved to be impossible, citing "the sudden bankruptcy of Brash Entertainment" as a reason. Debts of the San Rafael based studio had increased due to outstanding payments by Brash. Still Factor 5 did have other investors; they did not only work on Superman, which was internally known as "Blue Steel".

Nintendo and LucasArts were their other two major partners. Both publishers were afraid that Factor 5 could use their money for paying off debts instead of using it for game development. There was the danger of Factor 5 shutting down without delivering any of titles.
The heads of Factor 5 had to find a solution, they did not want to lay off their remaining employees and lose their contracts with Nintendo and LucasArts or any of their own assets.

That is where the German branch came to help. Assets of Factor 5 Inc. (US branch) including Turrican, Katakis and Denaris were all transferred to Factor 5 GmbH in Germany. Factor 5 GmbH was founded by Achim Moller, who was part of the original Factor 5 but did not relocate when the team moved from Germany to the US in 1995. In 2002, however, decreasing costs of fast internet connections and a high data volume allowed him to work for his former studio again. His first project was a port of the DivX player for the Nintendo GameCube, after that the studio in Cologne worked on the VFX in Star Wars Rogue Squadron III.

"Although we are saddened by Factor 5 Inc.'s situation, our corporation will remain unaffected by these developments." One could get the impression that Factor 5 GmbH was entirely independent and that they had always owned Turrican and other Factor 5 properties. Anyhow, this is not the case. Factor 5 GmbH had never developed a game on their own as they consisted of only a handful of employees until now.

Having resolved issues related to Factor 5 Inc.-owned assets, there still was the problem of losing support of Nintendo or LucasArts. Factor 5 GmbH did not have the capacities to develop their titles unless some US employees would have relocated back to Germany (which they certainly did not want to). But they also found a solution for this issue. The remaining US employees moved to a new studio: BlueHarvest LLC, soon to be renamed as WhiteHarvest LLC. Nintendo and LucasArts gave the permission to work on Factor 5 Inc. titles to Factor 5 GmbH which licensed development of both of their Wii titles to WhiteHarvest LLC, which was founded immediately after Factor 5 Inc.'s closure in December 2008. One of their games was a new entry in the Rogue Squadron series, internally codenamed as Blue Harvest, the other one was a new Pilotwings title for Nintendo. In February 2009, WhiteHarvest LLC and Factor 5 GmbH pulled another coup: Electronic Arts contracted them for a third Wii title. Despite other reports, this was not a conversion of their cancelled PS3/Xbox 360 title Superman. It was a Wii conversion of Double Fine Productions' Brütal Legend. WhiteHarvest LLC rehired several former Factor 5 employees to manage work on all three projects.

Double Fine's Brütal Legend

Bad news did not arrive until a lawsuit hit the company. Laid off Factor 5 staff and debtors noticed that the studio transferred assets to their German branch before filing bankruptcy to avoid paying any debts.

James Smith, a San Francisco lawyer representing the employees, put it in a nutshell:
"We believe and have alleged in the complaint that Factor 5 and White Harvest are essentially the same company, being run by the same people, being represented by the same sets of lawyers, with all the same management and ownership and control, performing all the same work that they were doing at Factor 5, just now with a new name and a new address."

Smith also stated that work on the new Rogue Squadron title and Pilotwings, which was done at Factor 5 Inc., was transferred to WhiteHarvest LLC. It must be noted that this was not unlawful. Work done on both projects had been property of LucasArts and Nintendo. Both companies could have transferred the work done at Factor 5 to any studio they may have wanted to. In this case it was WhiteHarvest LLC as their employees already knew the games.

At the end of June, Brütal Legend for Wii was cancelled. Technical and quality concerns were part of the decision, as Destructoid reported. These resulted from EA's desire to release Brütal Legend for Wii around the same time as the Double Fine version hit the shelves. Meeting these requirements was all but possible for WhiteHarvest LLC.

As a result of the failure of their EA project, WhiteHarvest LLC had to lay off most - if not all - of their employees in July. However, Achim Moller of Factor 5 GmbH recently assured that both of their other Wii titles could have been released in 2009, indicating that Rogue Squadron and Pilotwings have been finished. Moller admits, nonetheless, that Factor 5 is unsure whether both of these titles will see a release, suggesting that either Nintendo or LucasArts are not confident on publishing their Factor 5-developed game.

The future of Factor 5 may not look bright. But Moller is actively trying to find new projects for his studio. He wants to establish the recently founded Factor 5 Media Productions GmbH as a new German development studio which is no longer dependent on an US branch. Best of luck!

We would like to thank all former and current Factor 5 and WhiteHarvest LLC employees who helped creating this article.