With Kaos’s Homefront finally releasing in Europe today, Keza MacDonald speaks to studio GM David Votypka on what is, what could have been, and what comes next.
Developed by New York-based Kaos Studios.
FPS based on occupation of weakened US by Korean forces.
Shipped in the US on Tuesday. Out in Europe today.
Written by Apocalypse Now screenplay writer John Milius.
We’ve seen mixed review scores. We’ve THQ’s share price tumble as a result. And despite all of that, we’ve seen impressive first-day sales in the US. Just before Homefront’s launch, we sat down with Kaos Studios GM David Votypka to talk about how he hoped Homefront might be received, and his aims for a possible sequel.
“There’s no shortage of ideas – just a shortage of time and resources.”
Homefront is turning out to be one of the first truly divisive games of the year. From Edge Magazine’s intensely disappointed 5/10 to an enthusiastic CVG’s 8.6, it’s splitting critical opinion everywhere you look. Having spent some time with the game, it’s easy to see why; the game’s linearity and over-reliance on flimsy setpiecing undermine the promise of its setting, and it certainly never hits the Half-Life 2 in-game narrative highs it’s presumably aiming for.
It’s storytelling that would be priority number one for a Homefront sequel, says David Votypka, who seems quietly confident and not at all jetlagged at a multiplayer review session just under a week before launch.
“Looking at future Homefront products, I want to expand on the civilian side of occupied America – doing the Half-Life 2 style in-game storytelling is pretty resource-intensive. It’s not an easy system, but now we could do it better with the experience that we’ve gained,” he says.
Homefront has seen a very wide spread of review scores, from an Edge 5/10 to an 8.6/10 from CVG. The game has failed to break 80 percent MC on any format, and THQ shares tumbled this week as a result. Strong day-one US sales, though, suggest the theme, a polished multiplayer component and heavy marketing will carry Homefront through to its 2 million projection.
“Bringing emotional choice and consequences into your gameplay actions would be something I’d like to look at going forward… There are a lot of things we’d like to do better. Making a game like this, there’s no shortage of ideas – just a shortage of time and resources.”
“Targeted innovation” in a familiar framework
Votypka seems more satisfied with Homefront’s multiplayer achievements, which he hopes brings a new twist to the predictable ‘compulsion loop’ – or addiction mechanism, to use an even less flattering term – of XP, levelling, and the gradual unlocking of ability and weapon trees. He hopes it represents a more accessible version of the hardcore FPS grind, an alternative to the other big players rather than an imitator, even if it seems to take COD as its model.
“It’s built on the idea of large scale warfare, which isn’t exactly new, but we’ve brought new things to it,” he says. “It’s targeted innovation. We wanted the range of infantry to vehicles to drones and special weapons. But then also there are systems like Battle Points [short-term rewards] and Battle Commander, which can pit you against one or two others, tasked to hunt them down. It makes things personal. And instead of running around and looking for a vehicle on the battlefield, you get to spawn right into it. That solves some older legacy issues.”
But he’s under no illusions as to the familiar mechanisms operating behind the curtain.
“You’re being engaged with the game in a sort of slot machine mentality – every few pulls you’re getting flashing lights and dinging. It engages the gamer that way,” he says.
From the beginning, as Brenna explained in her history of the project earlier this week, Homefront has been a mass-market proposition. Its setting might be new, but it is designed to appeal to the same huge market already playing examples of the genre, COD and Battlefield foremost among them.
It’s that premise – the idea of fighting in your occupied home country, a country whose latent fears of the Red Menace and the nuclear threat still surfaces at the slightest provocation – that distinguished Homefront from the very beginning. But Homefront’s multiplayer trades away that advantage, focussing on well-equipped skirmishes between the depleted American army and the Korean forces during the invasion, rather than guerilla warfare at the time of the occupation itself.
“Ultimately, you want to make a game that players want.”
In that sense, is Homefront pandering to a familiar military tone? Aren’t people sick to death of that now?
“Well, people say they’re getting sick of it, but the sales say something different,” says David, grinning. “COD is on its, what, seventh iteration of the modern army game now? Battlefield’s been doing it for a long time. Of the people playing those franchises, some people are just going to want more and more – I guess until the end of time – whilst other are going to feel over-saturated with the idea.
“Looking at future Homefront products, I want to expand on the civilian side of occupied America.”
“I wouldn’t call it a fad, but I think themes come and go. I wouldn’t say that modern military games are going to disappear by any means, because there are certainly a lot of attractive things about them, but as the main theme of FPSes I think it’s going to ebb and grow again as the years go by. Ultimately you want to make a game that players want.”
But rather than just delivering familiar entertainment to the lowest common denominator, Votypka genuinely seems to be hoping that Homefront might resonate with players on a deeper level. “I think in the single-player my hope is that the setting and the human story that we tell in there connects with people.
“It’s not just about combat with the backdrop of America, it’s about what it would be like to experience occupied America from a civilian and human aspect. And that’s something that really stands out about the product. It will be interesting to see how that connects with the mass gaming audience.”
You get the feeling that Homefront never really figures out its ideas over the course of its slim single-player campaign – for many purchasers, the polished multiplayer will be what makes up for it in terms of value. It would be interesting to see what Kaos Studios might achieve with a sequel, and the added security and confidence that a successful first title would give them. Even if 1.5 million people do buy Homefront, though, as one analyst is still predicting, the prospects for such a sequel won’t be good if all of them come away disappointed.
Homefront releases in Europe today for PC, PS3 and 360.