Homefront Interview

Homefront Interview

Written by Tina Amini on 10/6/2010 for 360   PC   PS3  

Last week in San Francisco, THQ hosted a multiplayer event to show off Kaos’ upcoming first-person shooter: Homefront. After tackling rounds of the Ground Control mode in two different maps, Gaming Nexus got to sit down with Creative Director Sean Dunn to dig deeper into the origins of this game. Read on to see what we learned.

How do you think North Americans are going to feel towards the whole idea of the game, considering it's a sensitive topic? Economic disaster, the threat of an international influence, etc. How do you think they will respond?

The premise for the game is intriguing but it's not so close to reality. It's not something that we are on the precipice of. There's enough of a distance that you have a certain sense of disbelief, so you can understand that it's a fictional piece, but there's also enough ties.

You saw in that trailer where Hillary Clinton is talking about the submarine that sunk the Cheonan. Those types of things give you enough of a place in there where you have a point of view in the sense of not realism, but a sense of potential. It's an entertainment piece first and foremost. We're not trying to make any political statements or anything like that. So far the response has been pretty straight on and understanding that it is entertainment.


You answered my next question, if there were any political messages in the game.

No. For specific selfish purposes we really want to play on what the human cost of war is, but that's because it makes for a much more interesting story. We're not trying to take a stance. War sucks, obviously, but it's not something that as a company we're trying to make a stance on.

We do want to play that idea of the characters in the game are human. They're not all jingoistic,"ra ra, kill 'em all" stereotypes that we've seen in games to date. They are resistance fighters that may have been a gas station attendant or doctor or teacher. They've been forced into these areas where they have to fight, and they actually have very humanistic and emotional approaches to it. We do that from a standpoint that it makes good drama and it makes good characters and good narrative.

Within the story arcs, do you see anything that progresses more like Red Dawn (which is a clear inspiration) with characters that aren't exactly involved in the fighting, in the actual rebellion?

One of the writers on Homefront is John Milius, so you can imagine there is a little bit of tie in there with the importance of the characterization of not just the allies but also the enemy. Those are important to making a good narrative. Something that you can actually feel like you can suspend your disbelief of the general craziness of the world and put yourself into the role of what you're playing. Things play out to make it feel like a well-crafted, well-rounded world.


Are you worried at all about popular media back-lashing at this?

We hope popular media backlashes. That's great PR!

How would you respond to it?

It's an entertainment piece. If people have negative responses, that's entirely fine. It's not something that we are trying to play on. We don't anticipate a huge, wide, broad range of negative response to the context of this. There's enough separation from reality and enough entertainment take on it that we're not too worried about that. It's great to have different opinions on entertainment media.
Why Korea?
There are a number of reasons. It's really about trying to make sure that we have an enemy that has some believability in a sense that this is a huge standing army (it's the second largest standing army in the world) with insane motivations. We've seen from recent press that they just do crazy stuff. There's the sense that we could play off the mentality of their leadership, and then also not get in trouble for messing with an ally or something like that where we may have to do business.


What's the appeal of the guerrilla style tactics in combat?

In the multiplayer sense, it's not as much of a resistance. We've branched how we approached the game from multiplayer and singleplayer. Multiplayer, which we are showing here now, is about the front-line battles that are going on, because obviously the US military is not just going to go away.

The idea is that the military has been scattered and they are not as focused. The EMP blast over the US has killed communications, and so there are pockets of these attacks that are happening. Multiplayer is about where you are actually playing as part of the poor US military. You have access to the tanks and the jeeps and the LAVs and the helicopters.

That's kind of the story approach that we take on the multiplayer side, whereas in singleplayer you're playing as a single resistance fighter in a resistance cell and you have a specific task. It's not about winning the war, it's about getting the task that you have done that helps free Americans basically.


How do you feel about the multiplayer competitors like Call of Duty or Halo?

Great inspirations. Something that we learned from Frontlines to Homefront is the importance of things like controls, responsiveness, the tightness of aiming down sights to firing and how quickly those things respond, the aim assist, the importance of a really tight hand-to-controller feel so that the player feels like they can invest in becoming more agile within the game, to become more adept at the roles within the game, and they don't feel like they're fighting against a bad control system.

The competitors have shown the importance of that, and we've really taken that to heart. I'm sure you'll notice the game feels fairly familiar from the control standpoint. It's like driving a car. There's a reason steering wheels are all round, the gas is on the right, the brake is on the left. With things like control and interface, you want familiarity. You don't want some newfangled scheme that you think is better. It's much better to go with what's there, polish it so it feels as perfect as possible, and then you can focus on the gameplay aspects that go around it.
What multiplayer modes are there that have been revealed so far?
The only mode that we've revealed so far is the Ground Control mode that we showed today. That's really about showing the progression throughout a map. A lot of times, you'll get into a map and you're doing the same routine over and over again for a map and we wanted the maps to have an evolution. Not just an evolution in the visuals of what you see, but an evolution in how the play spaces play out.

Usually the starting areas of the map have a nice infantry focus with good lines of sight from a horizontal standpoint. We know those are where everyone is starting, from an infantry standpoint. Whereas the fringe areas of the map are really built towards that vehicular play, and as the game evolves and as battle points are accrued and then spent, you'll notice that the armament that's being used is escalated as the map goes on.

You start off the game, you have easy lines of sight, it's all about infantry and then all of a sudden that first helicopter appears in the sky, or the first tank and everyone is like, "Oh sh*t!" So we really want that evolution to play in the map itself as well as through the progression in the battle point system.


How do you keep gameplay balanced when you involve things like crazy vehicles and weapons?

Play and play and play and play. Take data constantly. We've probably had 250+ play sessions and we continue. We have play sessions within THQ every day, we collect data on every shot fired, every hit, every miss, every kill, every spawn location, every vehicle bought, the costs involved with the battle points, etc.

We've done huge amounts of work with the balancing so far, and that's why we have such a long polish time from now until the completion of the game. We're really focusing on the perfection of that balance.

Plus, we plan on supporting the game for a very long time. It's a much bigger balance task than just an infantry-only game. We have all of the features of that infantry game, but then we layer on seven, eight, nine different types of vehicles in there as well.


Was there anything in particular in the beginning of development that you felt maybe was too overpowered or wasn't fitting well within the gameplay?

Oh, sure. The first time the Apache came out, you could wipe out entire teams with it. One of the things that we really wanted to do was make the vehicles control as if you were an expert.

Instead of a game like Battlefield, where you jump into a helicopter and the first time you try to fly it you flop over on your face. You spend all this time trying to get into position to get this helicopter, you finally get the one helicopter on the battlefield, you take off and everyone calls you an idiot because you're not an expert pilot.

So when you get into a vehicle in Homefront, we give you very easy controls. We give you lots of leeway to become masters at those controls so that you can really become deadly, but it's about being able to jump into the game and be successful. Early on the Apache was nasty, but again, lots and lots of iteration. We've been playing the game for over a year now in multiplayer.

You said you were planning on supporting the game. Does that include DLC for more modes and maps, etc?

Absolutely. We're not going into the details of what we're doing for the DLC but there will be free DLC as well as paid DLC, and really supporting the game from the standpoint of making sure that we get rid of any cheating that's going on, balance issues that happen.

We're constantly taking data from the game so the more people that get into the game, the more data we have, the more we can refine how that works out.

Are you worried about cheaters or hackers?

Always. We have a lot of things in play to discourage those, as well as to try to fight them from a technical aspect. We will respond to whatever we see, absolutely.

We’d like to thank Sean Dunn, Creative Director on Homefront, for taking the time out to answer our questions.
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I am host to the kind of split-personality that is only possible when a girl is both born and raised in New York City, yet spends a lot of time with two older brothers. So, on one hand, I'm a NYU student majoring in media and communication who has a healthy obsession with fashion, music, media and the latest happenings in NYC. But, on the other hand, I'm rocking a level 70 blood elf warlock (I just got Lich King -- give me a break), spend much of my time playing games of all genres and platforms, and if you pass by my dorm you can possibly even hear my roar of victory as I spring on the unsuspecting as one of the infected in Left 4 Dead. And just when I thought things were as random as they could be, I spent the summer in Texas and, turns out, I like 4-wheeling and shooting (real) guns too.

I whet my appetite early on the classics and later moved on to Counter-Strike, GoldenEye and the like. You'll find me trying just about any game now -- I even tried my hand at Cooking Mama -- but the more blood and gore, the better. All my friends and family are probably pretty annoyed by how much I talk about video games. It's your turn now, Internet.
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