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Homefront: 'If the big developers won't take risks, it's up to us to break the mould'

Kaos level design boss Rex Dickson on being the FPS underdog...

Next month, Homefront leaps out of cover - and into one of gaming's fiercest battlegrounds.

THQ is aiming to capture a rare slice of the gigantic FPS sector - with a marketing campaign that focuses on its title's striking mix of napalm with narrative; histrionics with history.

But in a crowded release period stuffed with the likes of Bulletstorm, Killzone 3 and Crysis 2, can Homefront really offer enough innovation and freshness to stand out?

Developer Kaos certainly thinks so. Homefront pits you as a member of an often desperate resistance force, fighting the United Korean occupation of the United States in 2027. The plot alone is sure to ruffle a few feathers. Are you listening, Fox News?

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But the game's contentious scenario isn't its only attention-seeking weapon. Kaos has deliberately dropped heartless carnage into homespun Americana - littering US suburban locales with scenes of torture and despair.

This unsettlingly domiciliary juxtaposition is sprinkled with some stomach-churning, arresting set pieces, including gunned down parents and mass civilian graves. Kirby's Epic Yarn it ain't.

For all the unique gloomy theatre, however, much of Homefront's core gameplay still borrows from the best in the FPS field - which is perhaps why Kaos has thrown another unexpected characteristic into the mix: a restrained bodycount.

We caught up with lead level designer Rex Dickson to ask why Kaos has toned down the kill tallies in favour of drama - and whether Homefront really has what it takes to find the audience its makers passionately believe it deserves...

You've spoken about "massacre fatigue" in the past - the jaded feeling from countless kills in other games. You're trying to avoid it in Homefront, which has contributed to your surprise '15' BBFC rating in the UK. Are you confident this won't be a turn-off for players who are used to mowing down countless enemies?

The way to think about the "massacre fatigue" problem is not so much that we've set out to solve it completely in this game - because obviously if you play through a 30 minute level and get only five or six kills that isn't going to be satisfying and I doubt you could sell that to the mass market.

The challenge for us was to solve that problem without breaking the formula of what an FPS is. The way we solve it isn't by reducing firefights to long engagements where you can't see where the enemy . Instead, every two or three minutes we break up core combat with a moment, be it a story moment, a drama moment, spectacle moment or vista moment.

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Right at the point where you're starting to think "oh God, another wave?", it stops and you get a moment. We never want you in core combat for too long before we move you to the next big thing.

You have areas where there is no shooting whatsoever...

We have encounters. They're story-heavy moments where you can walk around, talk to characters; the environmental storytelling is played up in those moments and they're sprinkled around the whole game.

Do you think the relentless struggle one faces in FPS games is a natural enemy of story?

I think you can treat the two as separate. I do think there have been some pretty good stories in the FPS space over the years - Half-Life 2 jumps to mind as being at the top of that list. It's really about making smart decisions about what kind of story you want to tell.

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