Homefront may be about an occupied and conquered United States of America, but the creative director of the game thinks that its themes and values are universal.
In a world flooded with brown-colored modern military multiplayer shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, Kaos Studios' Homefront stands out thanks to an unusual premise: By the year 2026, natural and economic catastrophes have left the United States of America a pale shadow of its former superpower self. In contrast, shrewd maneuvering by Kim Jong-un, the son of current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, means that the isolated totalitarian state undergoes a resurgence, conquering much of eastern Asia and forming the Greater Korean Republic - think Japan, circa World War II. A devastating EMP blast takes out the American infrastructure, and the Koreans invade and occupy, scattering the US military.
"One of our canons that we built the game world around is that 'the familiar has become alien,'" the game's creative director Dave Votypka told The Escapist at a recent multiplayer event, citing examples from John Milius' 1984 film Red Dawn. "These main streets where there are these small, peaceful, little American bakeries and shops ... but there's Russian soldiers and tanks and barbed wire there, too. And it's like 'Wow, there's something wrong with that picture.'" It was a powerful image and concept, said Votypka, and one around which development started.
North Korea only became the antagonist later down the line in the game's development, thanks to its very public anti-Western stance and occasionally belligerent nature. "[It's] not really a brush that we're painting them with that they haven't already painted themselves with," said Votykpa. "[That's] the springboard for, 'okay, so what if this regime - who clearly has the motivation - so what if they actually also had the way?'"
However, given the game's speculative fiction nature - rather than being grounded in a real-world conflict - he doesn't think that Homefront will suffer from the same public backlash that faced games like Medal of Honor and the ill-fated Six Days in Fallujah. "Ours is almost 20 years in the future, and there's not a current war going on with Americans' - or other nations' - sons and daughters in the military being killed in that war fighting a current-day enemy ... it's speculative fiction, and it's saying: based on the regime today, here's a storyline that we crafted on how they evolve. It's not like you have your brother off in Afghanistan fighting and we're telling you a story about that, it's a fictional story trying to look into the future."
Even though the game is set in America and stars Americans as the protagonists, Votypka thinks that audiences outside of America will still be able to empathize with the situation at hand. It isn't so much that much of the world is familiar with the USA thanks to movies and television (though that certainly helps), as it is the themes that Homefront embodies, which Kaos thinks are universal.
"Homefront is really less about America per se, and it's more about defending your homeland, your living room, the place you sleep, your family, things that are dear to you. And that's what the sort of Homefront name really applies to, that it could happen in France - in Paris, London, Beijing or whatever. Any country is applicable, it's about defending something that you care about and that's dear to you."
Kaos wants to make a game that shies away from the clean, high-tech battlefields of other shooters, which is why the Homefront character is a civilian. "What we're doing is - we're fighting as a resistance soldier instead of using a super soldier, a modern military guy with very little emotion, where you're a cold trained killer and you've got a bunch of other cold trained killers with tanks and helicopters and all the weapons that you'd want."
"In this, you're a civilian who's being oppressed, who has turned freedom fighter and you're doing whatever you can to fight for something that you care about - your home, as opposed to being told by a general, 'go take this country' and not really having any associations or connections." It's this take on the human side of warfare - and the things worth fighting for - that Votypka and Kaos hope will strike a chord with gamers. "I think there's a lot of the resistance side - the guerrilla resistance feel - and the emotional storytelling and human cost of war, that you don't really see portrayed in, really, any other shooter I can think of."
Homefront is out everywhere early March for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.