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Interview – Homefront’s lead designer discusses why the US is sensitive to the game’s themes

Friday, 19th November 2010 15:17 GMT By Keza Macdonald

homefront

After playing the first 15 minutes of Homefront, VG247 got in touch with lead level designer Rex Dickson from Kaos Studios to talk about the game’s unsettling portrayal of a Korean invasion of the United States, and why American audiences seem especially affronted by it. Apparently, you guys need to adjust your cultural mentality – can Homefront do it for you?

Hopefully, because as Dickson puts it, the US has never had to deal with the possibility of an invasion like other countries and has the “elitist idea” it’s the “best the world”. Because of this bravado, Kaos Studios preys upon the idea of excess, democracy and freedom being stripped away, and how the US portrayed in game is unprepared to deal with an invasion by a formidable opposing force.

VG247: There’s a lot of brutality on show in Homefront’s opening section. How does Homefront use violence in its narrative?

What we’re going for is not necessarily violence in a gore kind of way, but more an emotionally unsettling context. One of our big goals is to make players feel… All first-person shooters are obviously violent, but what if we had violence with real consequences and human emotion? That’s what we’re going for. Having a lot of gore wasn’t the goal; it’s all about these emotionally charged situations.
What’s the justification for the brutality of this invasion that you’re depicting?

Any occupying army in a foreign country is going to have these elements of brutality, mainly because – and this is a big theme in Homefront – war brings out the worst in people. And this doesn’t only apply to the Korean army Over the course of the game you’ll find that there are segments of the American population that are actually behaving just as brutally. One of the big themes across the entire game is that we don’t demonise the Koreans – it’s just the theme that war brings out the worst in humanity.

The structure and viewpoint seems to owe a lot to Half-Life 2. Would you say that was an inspiration?

Absolutely. Half-Life 2 was our biggest inspiration. Kaos Studios’ pedigree wasn’t in big narrative single-player campaigns – our territory has always been multiplayer. So when we decided that we wanted to make this kind of game, we looked at the past ten or twenty years of gaming and though, who’s done it the best? And we felt that nobody has done it better than Valve with Half-Life 2, so we used that as our model.

A few of the themes that you’ll find carry over from HL2 into our game is the idea of an oppressed population, and also the main character not having a voice. I think the biggest one is never cutting the camera away from the player, or rarely doing that.

The modern FPS tends to rely heavily on setpieces for storytelling – is continuity important to you?

Yeah absolutely, and not only that but I think generally people don’t want to watch movies when they buy a game. You can make a good argument for games like Final Fantasy that use cutscenes to great effect, but I find that usually when a movie starts playing, people want to skip it, they start hitting the button. If they’re not willing to watch the scene, then we shouldn’t be investing our time and energy into it. So we really wanted to keep the player in the game the whole time and always give them a reaction when they do something with the controller, rather than blocking them out from it.

Homefront certainly has a different feel from the mainstream military FPS – is this intentional?

Yes. If you look at the landscape now, it feels a lot to me like everybody is going after COD’s market share or Halo’s market share. But for us, as gamers, instead of doing that, what we want to do is give the public something new, something different. With all these clone projects coming out, we think the market is actually desperate for someone to inject a new bit of creativity into the FPS formula, and bring something new to the market.

Do you feel the suburban American setting is a big part of that?

If you look at other products, you see a lot of people do these iconic locations – the White House, New York City, places that are familiar to everybody, landmarks that you can easily find. But what we wanted to do was create environments that were familiar to a large amount of people. We wanted it to feel like people’s hometown. Whether you’re from Ohio or Kentucky or wherever it is you’re from, these towns look like your town, and that presents an element of “That looks like my backyard, that looks like the school I went to.” It creates this unsettling environment, whereas a more iconic landmark like the Statue of Liberty would have a completely different context.

A lot of people are apparently affronted by the “implausibility” of a Korean invasion of North America. Why do you think people are so sensitive about that?

That’s a good question. Honestly I think people part of the reason that people question the plausibility is because we’re using this real-world footage in our trailers, which is unique to us, and it immediately makes people ask questions like “How realistic is this?” If you do your research you’ll learn that North Korea has the fourth largest standing army in the world, and as time goes on you see the American financial crisis and military forces stressing the Middle East – this really isn’t that far-fetched a concept. There are border engagements between North and South Korea once every few months or so.

I think that people are grasping onto is this idea that America could never be invaded, that we’re untouchable, and that’s kind of what we’re going after, to build on that fear, that paranoia, that feeling of “God, how could this ever happen here?” And some people are so unwilling to accept that possibility that they just dismiss the concept outright as implausible.

Do you think it would be the same if it were set somewhere in Europe, for instance?

If you think about it, places like Europe and the Middle East over the years have had these situations where there’s been war on their home turf, where there’s been the threat or the fact of invasion, and that’s not something that the US has ever had to come close to dealing with. But that’s one of the things that the game deals with. Probably more than any other society, America has this elitist idea that we’re the best in the world and also this culture of excess, and we prey upon the idea in the game. When all these things get stripped away – the life of convenience, democracy – perhaps more than any other culture, Americans are the least equipped to deal with that situation.

Homefront is out March 8 in the US and March 11 in Europe and the UK.

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26 Comments

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  1. Freek

    Certainly sounds interesting but subtlety is going to be key. Otherwise the game is going to come across as another deardfull overly patriotic fantasy of the “big brave americans fighting off the dirty asians”.
    Especially to gamers who don’t live in the US.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. OrbitMonkey

    Hmmm the only similarity this will have to Half-life is that it begins with a H.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. NiceFellow

    Interesting points. But, gotta say, if they really want to explore those themes a film or novel would work far better than a videogame.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. RickyWicky

    @3 Well, what are some games these days other than interactive novels? That’s what they are to me, at least.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. stretch215

    @2 and you know that how ? You’ve played homefront ?? Oh you haven’t ? Then don’t make judgements pal.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. OrbitMonkey

    @5 Lol, or what pal? Maybe you’ve got a hard on for yet another xenophobic America versus the foreign horde military shooter, I ain’t. THQ are not fit too lick Valves boots in terms of gameplay or story. Don’t have to play this to see where its gonna go.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. stretch215

    @6 then you’re an idiot. Only an idiot would make a judgement without any hands on experience. “or what” obviously nothing, this is the internet.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. OrbitMonkey

    @7 Hands on experience? The decade plus of gaming, of seeing games like this churned out, of hearing the same marketing spiel, all the wasted hours playing a turd *everyone* said was great, is my hands on experience mate.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. stretch215

    @8 for the last time you have NOT played THIS game. All the experience in the world would not give you the ability to tell the future, mate. And your decade plus of gaming is nothing, I was playing games before you were probably born kid. And in my life I’ve learned NEVER to make a judgement unless I know what’s really going on. A lesson you have obviously yet to learn, making you either a juvenile or a slow adult and I have no desire to further conversate with either.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. YoungZer0

    @6: Totally agree. I’m sick and tired of this “America is the victim / America needs to fight back / America needs to help out people by invading other countries / America needs to protect itself by invading other countries / America is good, everyone else is stupid and evil” bullshit games. How about Russia gets invaded by America, because you know, Russia has oil, and you’re playin’ a russian boy, bearing witness of how his parents got shot by american her- i mean soldiers.

    That would be fucking ballsy and awesome.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. OrbitMonkey

    @9 Lol, check out the urban dictionary for the term conversate, before trying to take a intellectual highground old boy. As for not judging something until I know what’s going on, let’s see if I can’t make a fairly accurate assessment on the evidence so far eh? THQ want to release a modern day shooter in a crowded market. USA invasion isn’t used often, whoops MW2 just did it! Shit we wanted to use the Russians too! Ok we’ll make Korea the bad guys (nobody likes them) & throw in a few brutal scenes to stir up a patriotic self righteousness… Oooh & we’ll say we were “inspired” by Half-Life to keep the jaded hardcore happy. Obviously experience has made me a tad cynical :D

    #11 3 years ago
  12. stretch215

    First of all my use of the word conversate is spot on. Did you not know what that meant? And my initial point still stands.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. stretch215

    @6 Too bad it will probably never happen. America is where most games make the bulk of their sales, and devs know how fickle the American people can be, at least recently. The game would probably be protested.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. OrbitMonkey

    @12 No I had to look it up. You see although it is a word, the correct term is “converse” :)

    #14 3 years ago
  15. OrbitMonkey

    Your initial point is flawed. Prejudging something you know nothing about is one thing, but thanks to this site & THQ i think I know enough to make a educated guess on this game. Another suspicious fact is the constant name dropping of Half-Life. They need quality by association? How often you hear Bungie or Rockstar claim their inspired by another game? This game is stale.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. ThatBoyTim

    These guys are trying something edgy and daring. Watch the dev film, its really interesting stuff and the locations and maps looks great.

    Someone said they should “explore these themes in a movie or a book” – why can’t a video game tell a story!?

    I will certainly look out for this game next year and keep an eye on its development.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. OrbitMonkey

    @16 No their trying something manipulative & cynical to tempt male teen Americans away from COD. Theirs nothing edgy or daring about seeing civilians massacred by stereotypical foreign stormtroopers.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. LOLshock94

    the AI on this game are retarded i mean full on retard

    played the first mission where your in a gasstation and i blew up the gas staion and the AI kept running threw the fire to kill me when they could easily go around the fire but no they just run into it

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Crysis

    @17, Would you be happy if you were playing as Muslims & Asians shooting Americans & Europeans for once?
    I honestly would… if the gameplay’s good :P

    #19 3 years ago
  20. DaMan

    ‘ Muslims & Asians ‘
    middle easterners and asians then ;) ..

    #20 3 years ago
  21. Stephany Nunneley

    Maybe someone should make a “shooter” about the American Indians fighting off the invading Europeans or the Aztecs fighting off Catholic Missionaries and the Spanish Conquistadors instead of saving those themes for strategy games.

    /runs out of the room

    #21 3 years ago
  22. Crysis

    @21, would be kind of hard to fit as a 3rd/1st person shooter, but i would like to see some action/rpgs in these eras.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. Erthazus

    @22 play Deus Ex next year.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. DaMan

    @21 in the veins of Turok. only this time you shoot the holy inquisition.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. Stephany Nunneley

    @24 That would be a best seller. :)

    #25 3 years ago
  26. OrbitMonkey

    Actually I’d love to play as a spec ops commando during the cold war… Maybe voiced by Sam Worthington… Anything like that out there?

    #26 3 years ago