The level design was conceived as big open spaces. "It wasn't sandbox at all - I'm not a big sandbox fan." It was more like the open world of Deus Ex. Players would have several goals, and creative, pre-planned ways to explore the map to achieve them.
One level was set at a theme park occupied by invading troops as they moved through the Midwest. Jaffe talks about the effect of having multiple solutions, which take on the illusion of being limitless combinations. "There's a sense of immersion that comes with that, that I was really attracted to, that we wanted to have in Heartland, too. I was really excited about creating this almost homage to Deus Ex."
Besides simply trying to make the game work really well and look really pretty on the PSP, the plan was to introduce quick time events like those in God of War, something Jaffe hadn't seen in the first-person shooter genre.
Originally, the story was about China invading America. Fans on forums protested such a possibility, though strategic analysts told the Heartland developers there were indeed ways such a scenario could play out. Still, Jaffe found it a plausible fiction. "I never watched Red Dawn and was like, 'Ah, that could never happen.'"
But there was another problem. "The one thing Sony seemed uncomfortable about was naming the enemy," says Jaffe. "We were going to do some pretty intense stuff."
Jaffe describes a real-time sequence where the player and squad enter a suburban house after the Chinese invasion has turned the neighborhood into a war zone. It's the home of a Chinese-American family. The squad rounds up the family, having them kneel in the living room.
The player chases after the teenage son, beating him and dragging him down the stairs, and throwing him into the living room. The commanding officer orders the player to douse the family and the house with gasoline, and set it on fire. "It was meant to be, 'Oh, my God, this is the worst thing in the world,'" says Jaffe.
"Obviously, it would have been up to the player to make a decision: Do I do that, or do I say, 'Fuck this, this is wrong, I'm not doing it'?"
Another moment Jaffe discusses is a video camera the player comes across. If the player watches the tape, they see an American beheading a captive Chinese soldier. If the player rewinds further, there's footage of the American solider before the war, recording a family vacation at Disneyland. Jaffe was looking to explore the question "How would we react if we were occupied?"
"I don't claim to be a political analyst who has all the answers and knows every nuance. I'm just a guy who's responding to what I'm seeing on the news and reading on the net."
Jaffe mentions Imagination is the Only Escape, the Holocaust game for the Nintendo DS. It's something he would want to play. He was raised Jewish, and though he no longer practices, he thinks it could be an important title - and unfortunate if it isn't released for political reasons.