As the great white hope for THQ before the publisher’s tragic demise, Homefront was touted as being a serious contender to Call of Duty‘s throne prior to its release. However, despite strong sales, Kaos Studios’ ill-fated military shooter launched to middling reviews and was universally slammed by critics as wanting “so much to join COD and Battlefield at the top of the genre, but has ended up as merely a weekend timewaster for players waiting for the next shooter fix“.
Announcing plans for a sequel, THQ went about fixing many of the problems that had blighted the original game during its turbulent development. And with THQ’s Danny Bilsen intending for Homefront to be turned into a highly respected franchise, things were certainly looking up for the publisher despite the company facing serious financial problems. Alas, with THQ going bankrupt in 2012, its properties and assets were sold off in an effort to pay creditors. With the Homefront license going to Crytek (later to be acquired by Koch Media), it certainly looked as if the game’s potential would be finally realised. However, with Crytek later facing its own problems, Homefront‘s future was once again thrown in doubt as the studio looked to sell off the rights to Deep Silver.
With the franchise’s future salvaged, and in what must surely have been an interesting transition for Crytek’s staff, as many of them went on to work for the newly formed Deep Silver Dambuster Studios, development on the new Homefront title once again continued apace (with only minor disruptions), as Deep Silver looked to make good on its investment. Finally, and after many months of uncertainty, Homefront: The Revolution was unveiled at this year’s Gamescom to both skepticism and applause as gaming audiences were unsure as to what to make of the series’s transition from a linear experience to a more open-world shooter. To allay these fears, I spoke with Fasahat Salim (Designer at Deep Silver Dambuster Studios) and got to ask him as to how he intends for Dambuster Studios to ensure that Homefront: The Revolution lives up to expectations. Enjoy the interview.
When the first Homefront came out by THQ / Kaos, people looked at it as being a poor man’s Call of Duty. What made Deep Silver / Dambusters decide to pick up the franchise, and the intellectual copyrights, after THQ went bankrupt? Wouldn’t it have not been cheaper and more economical for you to maybe consider launching your own franchise?
Well, we actually started working on this game when it was still with THQ and we were Crytek UK at the time, so at that point it was very much a sequel to the first Homefront and THQ wanted us to develop the sequel to the first Homefront. Then obviously THQ went under and Crytek came in and took the IP. At that point, we took a step back and we wanted to basically see what we really liked about the first Homefront and that was definitely the premise, because the premise was what set it apart and made it very unique, and I think that wasn’t only us… that was kind of what we saw from feedback on the internet and players in general. They were all very interested by the unique premise that kind of flipped the roles of what we find in most shooters these days – because you’re the underdog in this game. You’re not the trained hardened military soldier. So we really liked that but we wanted to see how far we could push it. So we decided to scrap the idea of making a linear level-to-level first person shooter and decided to go open world with it, which was exciting and also challenging of course, but it felt like the right decision and it has definitely come out to be the right decision for definitely getting an authentic experience of what it means to be a resistance fighter.
Given the fact that Homefront: The Revolution is essentially an open world game, could some people not argue that essentially it’s a more militarised form of your previous works – such as Crysis – where basically it’s just a re-skin?
No, not at all. It’s actually a completely different game. Crysis, obviously when you are with Crytek, is all about a super suit, it’s all about having special powers that can make you do things that no normal human being would be able to do. This is completely stripped out. This is not about having any sort of superpowers, this is about trying to demonstrate what it means to be in a guerrilla war. Having to make the most of scarce resources and utilising anything that you find in the environment to create your weapons by yourself and create the items that you’re going to use in this war.
The idea is that you are the underdog. You’re taking on an enemy that is much, much bigger than you are, so we really wanted to get the player to understand what kind of tactics they use in guerrilla warface… that they can’t just run into a combat situation and expect to mow everyone down with one gun. They have to use guerrilla tactics, they need to go in, ambush the enemy when they’re least expecting it, get out before they can respond, use a lot of stealth manoeuvres, and actually think about which combat scenarios they want to get into, because like I said, you aren’t the guy with the big guns in this, the enemy is. So you need to really calculate which fight is for you and attack the situation accordingly. So we’ve provide the player with a bunch of resistance tools, a guerilla tool-kit, which is basically items which that can help them change the type of fight. So, they can use things such as distraction devices, remote RC car, all of these components can be combined together to form different tools that they can use, and again this is all stuff that they’re going to find in the world, they have to use scavenging, they have to utilise the environment around them to try and build their arsenal, basically.
You mention as to how a lot of people liked the premise of how Korea
So when I say that we really liked the premise, the main thing about the premise that we liked was that all of a sudden, the superpower was the one that had the war on their own soil. All of a sudden, it wasn’t on foreign soil, you were being attacked on your own turf. So for us that was what made it really interesting. As far as the actual plausibility of the fiction, we really like that universe that was created but we also wanted to try and ground it a bit more and try to make it more plausible, so we looked at the whole story, we took a step back and then we decided to write a complete alternate history ranging back to the 1950’s, the key events since the 1950’s that have taken place that have kind of led to the situation that the player finds themselves in, this occupied United States. So over the coming months, we’ll hopefully start revealing more and more about the various events that have taken place, that have led the player into the situation and led you to the time that we’re playing Homefront in.
You talk about how the game starts from the 1950’s onwards. You’ve got instances such as Roswell that happened in the 1960’s, and there are games such as BlackSite: Area 51 where, even though it’s all about aliens and science fiction, that kind of stuff sounds a bit more “realistic” where you ultimately have this “thing” coming from another world and it’s obviously powerful enough to be able to take on the USA. Will any alien influences come into effect in ensuring that maybe Korea will be aided by a supernatural external force?
No, no… not at all (laughs). We’ve got no sci-fi supernatural stuff going on. The fiction is based very much on a more believable… yet, some of the stuff that you might already be familiar with that happens in the world today. It’s based off of the idea of capitalism and there’s a huge financial side to what’s going on now. So obviously I can’t talk too much about what we’re doing with the back story, but in the coming months it will all reveal itself. But it’s definitely more grounded, and it’ll explain the side of both parties, and how the Koreans became the superpower that have now been able to come over and take over the U.S.
So Homefront: The Revolution won’t be like Wolfenstein where the Koreans mess around with the occult?
No, it’s not like that. No sci-fi in this one.
At the end of the first one… I know this because I played the first one, and I actually thought that Homefront (by THQ and Kaos) was a pretty good game. But at the very end (spoiler alert) the ending kind of implied that the hero died. He was on that bridge and basically the bridge exploded, and you can’t really tell… you assume, given the fact that THQ failed and Kaos are no longer around, that the hero… well, you had [no choice but] to make up your own story after that. Will you be continuing on as the hero, or will this be like a side story where you take on the role of someone else?
This is a completely different game. All we’ve taken from the first Homefront is that universe, and that occupied United States, [but] apart from that this is a brand new game. We don’t have anything else that we’ve actually utilised or taken from the original Homefront. So this isn’t “Homefront 2” in any way, this is Homefront: The Revolution, it’s a completely brand new game, so apart from the universe and the fiction we haven’t really taken anything else so our story is going to be brand new. Again, I can’t go too much into the story but the characters are going to be brand new, there isn’t any association with any of the previous characters so we’ve taken that whole universe but this is an entirely different set of characters and story that you’re going to experience.
You’ve mentioned the word “universe”. So many companies (such as Marvel) are building their own expanded universe, and Homefront: The Revolution takes a similar approach by being part of the Homefront universe. After this game, will you be looking to maybe go back to the story of Homefront and maybe work on a “Homefront 2“?
I don’t think so, but that’s not for me to say. All I know is that Homefront: The Revolution is what we’re here with and it’s gone in a completely different direction to what the first Homefront did, so I have no idea what’s planned for the future and what’s planned for beyond this game at the moment.
Kaos Studios… did you work with any of the people from Homefront’s original development team, even in the capacity of them being advisors?
We’re working with a few people in Deep Silver who were with THQ at the time when they were working on Homefront. One of our senior narrative writers also worked on the first Homefront, so we’ve got a few people who are in there who actually did work on the original series.
So you’ve got continuity, basically?
Well it’s continuity but it’s also…
Yeah, in a way you can say that. Just to try and nail down exactly what the universe is all about and just try and make sure we are staying true to what we wanted to get out of that premise.
When is the game out?
Spring 2016 on PC, XBox One, PS4, Mac and Linux.
Why Mac and Linux given their diminutive user base?
Well that’s not a call that I made, so I can’t really answer that, but I believe that looking at the technology that we are using, it’s a viable option and we can make it look good and provide users of those platforms with a pretty good gaming experience.
You mention Spring 2016 as the release date… there have been rumblings in the press and in the industry about how Nintendo are looking to launch their NX system around about the same time, if not later next year. Will there be any chance of Homefront: The Revolution coming out on the NX?
I haven’t heard anything about this and again that’s not for me to say because it’s not my call.
The first game, even though some people liked the premise, was ultimately criticised for its single player campaign, which people argued was a bit clunky. To be honest, I liked the campaign… and given Homefront: The Revolution‘s focus on narrative, how are you ensuring that the campaign will be able to live up to expectations and supersede anything that has gone on before?
So with us going open world with this, we didn’t want to create the linear shooter that the original Homefront game was. We wanted to create a big open world for the player to explore. We thought that that was the best call to actually provide that resistance experience where the player can exactly know what it’s like to fight for a city and try to take that city back into control from an occupying force. So for us, that was a big part of trying to give the player an authentic guerilla warfare type game. Apart from that, obviously we’ve got a lot more going on from a gameplay perspective. We wanted to give the player bare bone use of weapons but allow them to customise those however they choose. The world is full of various things to scavenge and the player can use these to create their own customised weapons and create the arsenal that they feel comfortable with. So we’ve given the player a lot of control over how they approach minute-to-minute gameplay as well as any of the main missions… the weapons, the guerilla tool-kit, these are all things that they are in complete control of throughout the whole game. It’s up to them how they build these things, how they customise them and how they use them. Apart from that, obviously going open world, we’ve introduced a strike point system where the player has to go around Philadelphia and these different districts, and fight back and take control of key strategic points in the world and take control of them from the KPA. What this does is create more of a resistance presence throughout the city, so when you do that, you’re not getting rid of the KPA. You’re not getting rid of the occupying force. All you’re doing is introducing more of a resistance presence. So that introduces a whole new dynamic in this open space where the player can then all of a sudden have support in certain combat situations. If they’re doing another objective in that space they might have other resistance guys who are in the area and they can get involved. Also, if you actually see other resistance guys on the ground you can follow them because they’re on their own mission, they’re out to do their own objectives to try and help the revolution forward. So the whole idea of creating this open-world was to create systems that allow us to make it a living, breathing open world where the player is just one small cog in this big revolution. So the world is happening and all the revolutionaries are trying to get the revolution going whether or not the player is there.
You mentioned the word “cog”. One of the things I really liked about the first Homefront was that you had these really poignant moments. For example, you had this commune where you were like the cog as part of a wider society, and later on in the story, you found that the commune had been raided by the KPA and everybody had been killed, and the entire place had been decimated. Will there be anything of that particular nature? Will we be having those sorts of poignant moments, or those “quiet” moments come into the story? There was another bit, where you had people who were thrown into a mass graveyard as part of a mass execution… will anything like that come in?
Yeah well we have a full announced story that has a lot of different moments like that and honesty we’ve got a whole range of interesting characters that we’ll also reveal over the coming few weeks or months. All of them have their own story to tell, and as you play the game, you will see a lot of the back story. As to why people joined the resistance, because everyone has their own reasons, everyone has their own cause for taking up arms and trying to get involved in this thing. So that all ties in to the story, and it all does reveal more personality as to why people are doing this, because these aren’t just mindless guys with guns who are just running around shooting people. These are people with… who are normal people, who have lives, who are doctors, lawyers… and it takes a lot for someone like that to just pick up a gun and get involved in the war, and as the story unfolds these stories will come forward. So we have quite a few moments like that in the story. Unfortunately, I can’t share too much of it with you but all will be revealed shortly.
Thank you very much.