Rex Dickson Gives the Details on Homefront

On the final day of THQ’s Gamers Week in New York City, the company went all out with its upcoming shooter, Homefront. GamerNode was on hand for access to the game’s multiplayer and single-player modes. News Director Mike Murphy even got to sit down with Senior Level Designer Rex Dickson of the THQ-owned KAOS studios to talk about all things Homefront.

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Mike Murphy, GamerNode: This is Mike Murphy, News Director for, and I am here with Rex Dickson, lead level designer for Homefront. How are you doing?

Rex Dickson: Good, thank you.

GN: To start off for anyone who doesn’t know, what is Homefront?

RD: Homefront is a brand-new FPS from THQ and KAOS Studios. The main premise of the game is about the foreign occupation of America. America gets invaded and occupied by North Korea and [its] allies. The game’s focus is on being a civilian, fighting along civilians in the foreign occupation of America. And a lot of the game focuses on what happens to civilian life and sort of what happens when the horrors of war are visited on the American population.

GN: The single-player narrative focuses more on the civilian resistance as opposed to the faceless, nameless…military men.

RD: Absolutely.

GN: Why exactly did you guys decide to go in that direction as opposed to most typical first-person shooters?

RD: Well that’s exactly the reason we tried to go in the direction. Frontlines: Fuel of War was a game that was like modern military. But if you look at the marketplace right now and you say to me, “Modern military shooter,” I could rattle of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, you just go and go and go.

So our thought was, “Why compete for the same market share that everybody else is doing when as gamers what we want is somebody to try something different?” And that’s how this idea of doing civilian freedom fighter in an insurgency group working with other civilians was so intriguing to us because nobody else is even doing this. And if you look at the American invasion level in Call of Duty in Modern Warfare 2, there wasn’t a civilian to be found in the entire thing. Air drop coming in, all these suburban houses but you don’t see a single civilian. And we asked ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if the game actually focused on the civilians and how they react in a situation like this?”

And that’s sort of the genesis of the idea. And the main reason is to be different because if everybody just keeps making professional soldiers, modern combat shooter games somebody eventually has to take a risk and try something different. Otherwise the whole market is going to get stagnant and people are going to get really sick of playing these games. And for us as gamers, that was what we were at…We didn’t want to play another modern military game. We wanted to play something different. And that’s where the idea came from.

GN: So in the game, in the single player, there’s major brands like White Castle. Is that specifically designed to drive home the fact that this is America getting invaded to kind of give people that connection, that feel, that it’s actually happening?

RD: Absolutely. That was 100 percent the idea. This whole theme of familiarity and making the environments feel like they would register with as many people as possible. That our…first half of our game takes place in Montrose, Colorado, but honestly that could be any town anywhere in America. You know, there’s millions of miles of suburbia. And the brands just help reinforce that this isn’t an invented universe, this is a real universe, or as close as we could get to it. And a lot of people say, “Well, THQ is getting paid for these.” But that is actually not the case in this game. We had to go to them and say, “We want to use your brand.” And honestly when we told most people like Wal-Mart and some of these bigger brands, “Oh, yeah. The game’s about North Korea invading America.” They didn’t want anything to do with us, right?

GN: Yeah.

RD: So it was only a few rogue brands like the White Castles and the Lumber Liquidators that were interested. But there’s no question that when people see those familiar brands it registers as a more believable place than if we had done something like a Burger Town or just came up with some fictional idea.

GN: True. So in the game the premise is that North Korea invades America. What exactly causes North Korea to do this invasion in the game?

RD: Okay. The backstory trailer that kicks off the game talks about how North Korea ends up expanding. And it generally starts with America suffering from economic collapse. The stock market goes, the president calls a ban on ATM withdrawals, and the economy just collapses. There are fuel shortages. And in our weakened state like this, we end up pulling our forces back from the Middle East and that allows North Korea to push down. And they end up taking South Korea and spreading into Japan and building this Asian Alliance while we’re trying to recover from our economic collapse. And right at our weakest point they launch an EMP attack on us, which is a real world threat [as] this actually exists. And it wipes out our entire communication infrastructure. It wipes out computers, communications. And that enables them, it gives them that foothold to attack us when we’re at our weakest point and everybody’s cut off from each other. That’s sort of the set up for how the invasion happens.

GN: You say that it’s caused by America going into an economic collapse. Was that inspired by the recent recession that’s been going on in America for the last couple of years?

RD: Yeah, and I think what people need to understand is one of the big things we’re going for with this game is preying on people’s paranoia, American paranoia, of this thought that we’re superior and we’re untouchable and that this can never happen here and this economy can never collapse. We’re preying on those fears that people want to feel that way but they’re shaken now because of that recent downturn.

I think there’s still a lot of fresh pain from that, and we use that. Like, if the stock market can drop by that much then there’s nothing to tell you that it couldn’t be even worse than that. That even more jobs could be lost. That there could be a cascading effect that would just get to a place where the entire system just collapses. And we use that in this game to sort of prey upon this idea that it could never happen here.

GN: So going over to the multiplayer. There’s a bunch of things that are different with the Homefront multiplayer but I wanted to know from your perspective: What makes Homefront’s multiplayer unique from other military first-person shooters?

RD: It’s really a feature-based difference, which is a lot different from single player where the difference is primarily in its fictional context. So [with] multiplayer, the big differences are in the Battle Commander and Battle Points feature[s], which are very new ideas to the genre. I feel like a lot of what I play in terms of Medal of Honor and Call of Duty and Battlefield, they’re all fitting in the same mold. Like feature wise they’re not much different from each other. And Homefront brings these two new features to the table in order to set itself apart. And I think if you play it today you’ll get the experience of how these features create neat sub-games from the master game, which is pretty similar to those other games. But these new features that we’ve introduced have created new layers underneath the main layer that represents something that is pretty new to the market.

GN: You mentioned the Battle Points system. For anybody who isn’t aware of what it is, could you go into detail and explain it?

RD: Sure. What it allows you to do, like in any multiplayer match, you’ll earn XP. And your XP generally goes towards an unlock tree, and we have all that. What we do differently is we allow you to make decisions on the fly and spend your points within a given game depending on what you want to do. I’ll give you an example.

So let’s say you’re playing a multiplayer match and you want to buy a helicopter, you want to buy an Apache. And an Apache costs 1500 Battle Points. So you’re playing the game and you’ve saved up a thousand battle points, you’re five hundred away from your goal, and all of a sudden a tank shows up and he’s obliterating your team. And you’re standing there and he’s hunting you and you don’t have any way to take that tank out. You press down on your D-Pad, you can buy a rocket launcher to take out that tank. But you have to realize that that five hundred Battle Points [for the rocket launcher] is going to put you further away from your goal of buying that Apache. So you have to make a strategic, on-the-fly decision. Do I want to wait and save up for my Apache or do I want to use my points right now on an RPG to help me take out this tank? So [there’s] this whole strategic mini-game going on in your head about how you want to use your points on the fly while you’re playing.

GN: That’s interesting. During the demo today for the multiplayer we had the traditional Team Deathmatch, but we also had two gametypes that were sort of twists on traditional gametypes in Ground Control and Battle Commander. Could you explain exactly what exactly what those gametypes are and what makes them different from traditional gametypes?

RD: Okay. Ground Control is pretty much your take objective points approach. It’s very similar to Battlefield. The big difference is a line shift. You might have a set of objectives in one area or three sets of objectives in one area but they’re spaced from each other. And really both teams are focused on one area at a time. So if let’s say the allies hold a set of objectives for “x” amount of time, the line will push up into the enemy’s territory and everyone will move in that direction. If the enemy wins that next group of objectives it pushes back to the middle. So the battle can actually ebb and flow across the map over the course of the game depending on who’s holding the objectives.

Battle Commander is actually a layer that can sit on top of any other game mode. You can have Battle Commander missions in TDM, you can have Battle Commander missions in Ground Control. It’s really that sub layer that exists underneath the master game.

GN: Okay. And for those who want to know, what exactly is Battle Commander?

RD: So Battle Commander is…It’s actually surfacing something that already exists in multiplayer and providing feedback systems to support it. So let’s say you’re playing any average multiplayer FPS and let’s say you get killed by the same player three times in a row. Most people would call that nemesis thing where this guy has taken you out three times, he’s your nemesis. And what we do is…we call that out in-game so that let’s say that one person that’s a sniper has a 10-kill streak going. All of a sudden we’ll attach a Battle Commander mission to him and your whole team will now know that there’s somebody out there with a 10-kill streak going. Hunt him down, you’ll get extra points, you might tip the balance back in your team’s favor. And it also flips it on the guy who’s got the killstreak because all of a sudden he realizes he’s been marked, and now the entire opposing team is coming for him. And he’s trying to stay alive and his team might be defending him. And this is all going on while the major game, like going after the objective, is still going on.

So it’s like a sub game underneath the major game that’s really what makes it so interesting. These little meta games go on in multiplayer regardless. All we’re doing is just surfacing it and putting feedback behind it so that we sort of make it more apparent rather than under the surface.

GN: Alright, my last question is that one of the maps in the demo, I believe it’s Suburb, is an Xbox 360 exclusive. Do you know if there will be any more exclusive content to be announced to be released? Maybe for the PlayStation 3 or for maybe pre-order exclusives?

RD: There are some pre-order exclusives. I think one of them is a weapon unlock. I don’t know what else in terms of maps or future DLC content they’re gonna have. But we definitely have plans to do it.

GN: Okay cool. Thank you very much.

RD: Alright, no problem.



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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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