Marking the independence of Crytek UK, Homefront: The Revolution is the first solo project from the developer formally known as Free Radical. games™ talks to game producer Fasahat Salim about the project’s turbulent development and what lies in store for Crytek UK.
It has been really exciting to be honest. Before we acquired it, we already started working on it with THQ. We’d done about a years worth of work and then obviously the THQ thing happened. That was a scary time. we didn’t know what was happening. We were concerned that we were going to lose a years worth of work. But then Crytek got the licence for us which was great. Not only did it save all the work that we did but it gave us the opportunity to expand on what we were doing. Up to that point it was still a level-to-level first-person shooter – that was the structure we had in place. But once we acquired the IP it allowed us to take the shackles off. We could go as big as wanted to. The thing we wanted to do was create a big free-roaming world. For us it has been really exciting. It has given us a chance to work on a first-person shooter that is very different from a gameplay perspective. You’re not in a Nanosuit, you don’t have superpowers, you’re not a hardened military soldier. You’re a day-to-day guy and you have to do the best you can to take the fight to an enemy that is way, way bigger than you are. It adds a lot of interesting situations and scenarios that we could work on.
After THQ went bankrupt, was it back to the drawing board once Crytek obtained the IP?
We had a lot of content that has made it into the free-roam but that was the biggest transition. When it was a level-to-level design, everything was contained to each stage, but when we went to free-roam we have to expand and adapt to this massive world; it needs to cover a whole lot of space and be fun consistently. There was a lot of re-thinking to be done. We did take a lot of the stuff we already worked on. But back to the drawing board? Yeah, we had to change a lot of the design principles. Designing a game as a linear first-person shooter and then designing a game as an open experience is a completely different kettle of fish.
How has the sensibilities of Free Radical combined with those of Crytek in Homefront: The Revolution?
At Crytek we have the benefit of having some of the best tech around. It gives us so much flexibility in what we can achieve and what we can achieve. We also have the R&D department in the UK, so we can always go and take a feature to them and get them to test it out – stuff that we haven’t even thought of before. There’s a lot of stuff there that we really benefit from a tech point of view. Crytek are great at creating these vast spaces where players can assess the situation and choose to approach it however they want to. That was hugely beneficial when we were coming up with the free-roam idea. To give players the freedom to be able to assess the situation and tackle it however they want to was very powerful for all of us. Especially in the guerrilla context. Guerrilla warfare was the pillar that we built this game around and giving the player the gameplay freedom with the guerrilla hat on their head gives a lot of flexibility. Every player that plays a mission can realistically have a completely different experience between one another – even though they’re playing the same mission. That comes down to all the things that our engine allows us to do as well as all of the things they have managed to acquire on their journey up until that point.
There are a lot of different things. As to what we’ve been doing as Free Radical and what we’re doing now at Crytek, obviously we started off our journey in the company as console multiplayer developers – that’s what we did on Crysis 2 and Crysis 3. To have this as our first proper project with all of Crytek’s support and technology at our hands, it has been a great experience for all of us and a lot of fun. We’ve been as open with our ideas and expansive as possible without having many restrictions. There’s a lot of cool stuff we never thought we’d be able to get into a game. It’s exciting.
Can you give us an example how a player can approach the mission we saw earlier in a different way?
That was one example of how to do that mission. You could’ve also just sat back and picked everyone off from a distance with a sniper rifle. We have multiple routes into every area and space in the game. you can always find a side entrance or a hidden tunnel underneath. Apart form that, we also have an emergent AI system – which is probably one of the most powerful features in the CryEngine. That allows us to set up scenarios that trail off into events we don’t control. The idea behind the emergent system is that this world is living and breathing and things occur in the world whether you’re present or not.
In the presentation we showed you how we infiltrated the compound using the RC car. Another thing that could’ve happened was that a skirmish could’ve kicked off. You’ll see a lot of skirmishes between the resistance and the KPA they just happen in certain places. That could’ve kicked off and it would’ve changed the dynamics in what you’re trying to achieve on that particular mission. You didn’t expect that to happen but you can use it to your advantage: that could be a potential distraction, taking out some of the guards that you needed to get through. We didn’t plan that, it wasn’t scripted, but it could’ve happened. You could get involved in that skirmish, fight back and scavenge from the aftermath. Apart from having different routes into places and different options based on what you have available to you, the world itself plays a massive part in how missions unfold.
It could’ve got even worse. If you take that skirmish example, the KPA could’ve called in reinforcements that doubles up the difficulty. All of a sudden there’s unexpected KPA presence that you weren’t expecting. The dynamics can change and can change randomly and that’s something we have no control over. I think that’ll lead to a lot of interesting situations that’ll unfold for the player.
As the revolution builds up, are you able to send out lieutenants to tackle objectives elsewhere in the world?
The main thing that you can do…everything you do in the world has a impact on the revolution. The stuff you do, no matter how small – whether that’s smashing a camera or killing a KPA official – will have an impact on the uprising level, as we’re calling it. The more things you do, the most significant things you do, the more that uprising level rises. Then people will start taking to the streets and that’s what you want. You want to do that throughout the whole world to get everyone out on the streets together. One of the things that happens is that you can actually see the difference on the streets. People start coming out and that impacts the KPA as well because now they have something else to worry about. People are on the street rioting, they’re angry and all of a sudden the KPA is distracted – they’re worried about the rioters and need to suppress them. That gives you advantages: you can sneak into places and hit the KPA when they’re vulnerable. As far as gaining recruits: yes, you do build your resistance, you do recruit people and you expand the resistance. You scavenge the world for materials, you build your equipment, you build your weapons that you use in your fight against the KPA but at the same time you recruit people and expand the resistance by going throughout Philadelphia and trying to get all these different resistance cells – because that is how resistance fighters work; they’re not a big group but individual cells – your aim is to get them to come together and fight these guys. You have to go to all of the different districts recruiting and inspiring the people.
How is the world divided up? Is it large, divided areas or one big map?
We’ve got no load screens. The world is big, big, big. Fictionally, it is broken down into three different zones. We’ve got the Red Zone, which is a wasteland – bombed out row houses, a neglected part of town the KPA don’t want to go. It’s the closest thing to the Wild West in 2029 Philadelphia. This is the place a lot of interesting things happen. It’s a very expansive space. Then we’ve got Yellow Zones. This is the main space the KPA are trying to drive the population into. They have given people incentives to move to this area by giving away food rations and things like that. They want to bring as much of the population into these Yellow Zones because it’s easier for them to control and keep an eye on them. They have their drones, they have their watchtowers and their cameras and that’s where they can keep an eye on all the population and making sure no one is stepping over the lines. There are several of these Yellow Zones across Philadelphia and they’re basically ghettos and these ghettos are all unique, they all have their own personality and style and players will have different experience throughout these.
The Green Zone is the main landmarks within Philadelphia. The KPA have taken up these main opulent areas and set up their main headquarters there and housing. This is where they call their safe zone – this is their space. This has a completely different feel to the other zones. These are all very diverse locations and all within the same city and have their own personalities, so the player can explore all these as they go.
Initially they start off in a small section of Philadelphia and as they play through missions it expands. But they can always jump back and forth between these spaces and all these spaces will be full of things to do. We want the player to explore the world and that’s how we set it up. Scavenging is a massive part of Homefront: The Revolution. We’re encouraging the player to go out and explore the world, scavange what they can and build weapons. Ther’es a lot and it’s all one world.
This seems drastically different to what the original concept of Homefront. What was the impetus to expand the brand?
We don’t see this as a sequel per se. We see it as a completely different game but we have used that universe because we felt that it was very interesting and unique. If it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t have had this focus on guerrilla warfare. We looked at what Homefront did good, we know a lot of people enjoyed it and it resonated with a lot of players. So we wanted to take all of those positive aspects of what Homefront offered and take it into the Crytek world and tried to use our experience and the technology we had and expand it and push it as far as we can. We took that guerrilla warfare pillar and built what we were trying to do around that. It came down to the point where everything we were putting into the game mission-wise we were thinking ‘How guerrilla is this?’ If you feel like the bad-ass marine running around killing people, that’s not what we want. We want to make sure the player is getting the guerrilla experience. He should know what it feels like to be a guerrilla fighter. We’ve focused and built the game around that principle and that we got from the original Homefront.
In the presentation, you mentioned that these aren’t marines, or super-soldiers but bank clerks and shop owners fighting the war. How does that tie into the protagonist?
His name is Ethan Brady. He is an average everyday guy who gets drawn into this world of resistance and becoming a guerrilla fighter. You join him on the journey from him going from this normal everyday guy to becoming this guerrilla, resistance fighter and igniting this revolution. that’s the story that is driving the game. The journey of this guy going forward and becoming a pivotal figure in the revolution. Around that there’s a whole world of content that is not necessarily driven by the story but is more about the environment and the experience of being a guerrilla fighter. As much as it’s a story about this guy, it’s also about being in an oppressive society and what it’s like to live in those conditions. Our environmental storytelling is pretty substantial in this game, it’s as much about the world and what’s going on in it as it is about this character’s journey.
If the original game was Red Dawn, what would Homefront: The Revolution be?
Homefront: The Revolution is, I believe, whatever the player wants it to be [laughs].