Homefront interview – from inception to Children of Men
PS3 Attitude recently met up with Homefront’s creative director, David Votypka, with the aim to learn as much about Homefront as possible. Thankfully, Votypka was more than happy to help us out by sharing some fantastic details, from Kaos Studios’ love of Half-Life 2 and Children of Men to how Homefront actually came about.
Without further ado, let’s get started…
[PS3 Attitude] How did the idea of Homefront come about?
[David Votypka] Well, it actually started probably about five or six years ago. When we started Kaos, we were talking about Frontlines and the storyline in that. I also wrote a one-page treatment, which at the time was called ‘The Fall of the American Empire’. It was a little different back then. Ultimately we decided to go with the Frontlines story and we kinda put that [the Homefront idea] on the shelf, and when we finished Frontlines we came back to it.
I started working with one of our designers on it, and we really wanted to focus on Occupation USA. Then John Milius came on board and he helped to sort of make it this smaller human story about this smaller resistance band, instead of kind of taking back a whole country. So, in the genesis of it, in many ways, it came back to Red Dawn. I remember watching it as a teenager and just feeling really intrigued by the idea of, you know, the world’s biggest, or one of the world’s biggest superpowers, being under occupation, and seeing things happening on these small town American streets that aren’t supposed to be happening. That was really the genesis of the idea.
[PS3A] How did John Milius come on board, were you looking for someone with a film background?
[DV] It was very coincidental actually. Danny Bilson came to work with THQ as a head of the creative product development department at the time, just around the time when Homefront was just beginning. Danny said to me in one of the phone calls: “Yeah, I know John Milius, he is my writing teacher/mentor. Do you want me to put him on the game”. I was kind of blown away. I didn’t expect that at all. So he just worked with John and knew his past. So it was really lucky for us.
[PS3A] Because of the way the game is paced and with the themes that it covers, it’s been compared to Half-Life 2. Is that a coincidence or was it intentional?
[DV] It was definitely an inspiration. Their in-game storytelling system with no cut-scenes and Alex leading you through, it was something we admired a lot, and sort of modelled a lot of what we did off of that. We wanted to immerse you in a world and just bring you through it without constantly pulling you out of the experience. Because it is a game that’s so focused on characters and the human emotion side of it, we really wanted to try and keep you as attached to that as much as we possibly could, and we think that Half-Life 2 did the best job of that. So that was an inspiration for us, for sure.
Also, in addition, it did a really good job in creating what I call their 1984 type of world; just from the environmental narrative and everything around you, and we were really focussed on creating a heavy game world, a deep game world. So we really wanted to do it through environmental narrative and in-game storytelling. We wanted it to be as believable and detailed as possible: America under occupation.
[PS3A] Many of the scenes are definitely there to provoke an emotional response, right?
[DV] Yeah, that was another thing that John brought to us. He said you should focus on those sort of core root human emotions, on an almost animalistic level, because everyone can associate with that. That was really invaluable advice.
[PS3A] Some of the scenes are reminiscent of the film Children of Men, especially seeing the caged civilians in the city
[DV] It was an inspiration actually. For the bus ride sequence – Children of Men inspired me on that idea – when we saw the trucks with the cages and people being led into the back. There were similar cages in Children of Men, so there were definitely parallels there.
[PS3A] Would you say it’s definitely a story game first, then you found the great gameplay to go with that?
[DV] Yeah, world and concept came first, for sure.
[PS3A] Is there not a difficulty, almost a futility, in trying to make a serious adult game when you’re essentially a Rambo-esque person, who’s going round killing hundreds of people? Is it difficult to get that balance?
[DV] It is. We tried to make it about not coming in with a hundred allies and taking everybody out. There are a few battles in the game were that does happen, and it is sort of justified in the fiction. There are the other resistance cells or the military who join you. But for a lot of the game, you are on the run. It is you, a few of you, against a larger force. You defend yourself and you need to get out of there, because you are out-manned and out-gunned and out of ammo, so you have to pick up enemy weapons. So we wanted that sort of guerrilla resistance feel of getting in there and accomplishing missions and getting out before you get overwhelmed, because you will be. Is the bodycount higher than it would be in a movie? Probably, but that’s part of the shooter experience.
[PS3A] It’s possibly less than many 80s films.
[DV] Yes, Swaseneger and Rambo! But generally we wanted to give you that outnumbered resistance feel as much as we could
[PS3A] As for that actual multiplayer, what type of gamer are you hoping to appeal to?
[DV] The goal is to create a large scale warfare experience. So from the infantry experience to tanks and helicopters, drones and special weapons. We are also bringing some targeted innovation, and have the player making on-the-fly strategic choices. The battle points system is a good example of that. You are earning battle points for everything you do, and you have this short term compulsion loop by wanting to earn more battle points, which is A engaging on one level. There’s a second level of engagement with the spend and save mentality. Do I save for a drone? Do I save for tank or helicopter? It depends on your play style and the situation you are facing. We like the fact that the player is constantly faced by these decisions to be making. We think that raises a lot more engagement in the game.
The third element is battle commander. So basically, these two AI commanders [are bringing] this hunter and hunted mentality. A player can go on a streak and escalate that and get rewards, and multiple hunters will be assigned to him. It’s taking the idea of large scale warfare, but you know, breaking it down to these short sort of intense micro conflicts at the same time. Making large scale warfare personal. You know it’s you and me, or maybe you against me and a few of my allies for a short duration of intense gameplay.
So really, the goal overall is large scale warfare, but making it accessible with some systems like battle commander, which I think rewards both hardcore and non-hardcore players. And then there’s some innovation from battle commander and battle points. We really wanted to make it a fast paces, strategic, on-the-fly decision making game.
[PS3A] When you see Call of Duty being filled with so many modes, creative ones such as wager matches, do you not get tempted to do the same, or do you think it is best to focus on a few select modes?
[DV] I think for us that made the most sense, because we really wanted to get the foundation of this multiplayer really solid. If it went for ten modes or whatever, I think we would have dispersed ourselves so thin that each mode would have been watered down somewhat. Also, they are on iteration seven so they can add new mode or two every time and really grow that. I think going forward I think our focus will be getting some different modes, but this time I think it was the right choice to really make the most we have.
[PS3A] Do you see Homefront as a class-based multiplayer?
[DV] It is in a sense that you have the loadouts, but it is all customisable. So we’re not limited to engineer class where you can only have a shotgun as a primary weapon, for example. So I would say it is more loadouts-based.
[PS3A] Were you ever tempted to go down that route?
[DV] We did that for Frontlines and we really wanted to get away from it because it is a little limiting, and we wanted to add some more options for the user to customise their weaponry to different situations.
[PS3A] With the large maps, there are comparisons with Battlefield and you have the loadouts of Call of Duty. Yet, even though Homefront shares many similarities with the competition, it appears to differentiate itself from these other games.
[DV] Yeah, because of all the toys we have, like the drones and so on, we thought that limiting those to certain loadouts would be too restrictive for the game. So we wanted to go more towards the Call of Duty customisation route, but have a lot of choices in terms the special weaponry to choose from and airstrikes and all those types of things.
[PS3A] Do you have a favourite?
[DV] It’s a tough one to choose. You know, I think some of the drones are probably still my favourite. We had some of those in Frontlines.
[PS3A] We were enjoying them earlier – they’re pretty quick
[DV] They’re good. You have to be crafty with them though, because they don’t have a lot of armour.
[PS3A] The story of Homefront doesn’t appear to lend itself to a sequel. Do you see it as a franchise going forward?
[DV] We’ve always looked at it as a franchise, you know – assuming and hoping the game does well. That’s always been a goal to continue working and expanding it. The world of Homefront is so rich and fertile that there’s a lot of ideas to be done there, whether it is in America or somewhere else. The concept is defending something that’s yours, that’s dear to you. So I think that can apply to almost anybody, everybody really. Not just Americans. So we definitely look it as a franchise.
[PS3A] Maybe a different time period.
[DV] Maybe, yeah.
[PS3A] Was it a difficult decision having Korea as the enemy?
[DV] The biggest challenge was that, alright, people are going to be sceptical about it. But when we started looking around, even we were surprised a little by it. We read about Korea having the fourth largest standing army and the world’s largest special forces contingent, and most of their GDP goes towards military development. So when we started researching it, we had an ex-CIA officer who specialised in that area, the Far East, and he helped us with the back-story.
It’s really not a predication; it’s really how this happened in our world. So it was difficult at first, but once we played it out and really learned a lot about them [it was fine]. They certainly, no question, ever since 1950s, they’ve been very vehement towards the West. So we’re not making that up, but we’re just playing off it.
[PS3A] What’s your expectations for Homefront?
[DV] Everything I’ve seen so far has been positive. When we developed this game, one of the things that differentiated it is that when you hear about the idea of experiencing occupied USA, I think most people want to know more. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen people connect with the game, talk about the singleplayer, about the emotional and the human side of the common man’s story – which is different from most shooters. I was hoping that that would be a strong connection, and so far I’ve seen that it has been. So I think people play it and feel that it is a fresh experience, and the multiplayer is a lot of fun with some really cool innovations. So yeah, I’m hopeful.
[PS3A] Best of luck
[DV] Thank you