Is Homefront: The Revolution Offensive in Taste?
"We want to... show the level of sacrifice that's necessary."
Set in 2029, upcoming first-person shooter Homefront: The Revolution takes place in an imagined future where North Korea and South Korea have united as the Greater Korean Republic. Through a series of well-placed economic and political manoeuvres, this newly-formed Greater Korean Republic comes to establish itself as a major world power and eventually occupies the United States.
It was by sheer coincidence that a few weeks prior to speaking with the game's producer that I had visited the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, South Korea. There I was able to catch a brief, but powerful glimpse into some of the struggles the citizens and soldiers of South Korea lived through, and listened intently to accounts of the political turmoil which led to the conflict. While I'm not an expert on the period, the experience was in the forefront of my mind when I stepped into the open world of Homefront: The Revolution as Ethan "Birdy" Brady, the newest member of the resistance fighting to reclaim the United States from the GKR.
After getting hands-on with the game, I sat down with producer David Stenton to discuss the decision making process behind the story, why North Korea has been brought back from the first Homefront game as the chosen enemy, and the rationality behind its use of violence.
GameSpot: Narrative designer CJ Kershner previously said in an interview that "everything is new for Homefront: The Revolution" including "new gameplay, new backstory." That being said, why is North Korea the bad guy again?
Stenton: When we took on the Homefront franchise, part of that was taking on the premise of North Korea occupying the United States. We have re-invented a great deal of the gameplay and narrative, but I think there are certain pillars of the franchise that were necessary to keep intact to keep it a Homefront game. The fact that North Korea have occupied the United States is one of those pillars to Homefront. But that said, we've gone to some lengths to really reinvent the backstory and make the events that lead up to the events in the game more plausible and more realistic given the past few years.
How much in the game is based on real-life research? For example, did you look into how a North Korean army would equip themselves with weapons, fight in combat, etc.
The fact that it's North Korea is important for the story. But from a dev team point of view, we're not overly precious about the finer details of it. It's alternate fiction, we've kind of gone back to the Second World War to reinvent the story and the backstory events for the game. From our point of view, it's more important than the specifics of what North Korea are like now, or what they might be like now. In Homefront they're kind of an Orwellian occupying force that started out as an economic operation, a peacekeeping operation, where they're kind of coming back to call in their debts that the U.S. has incurred, but it turns into something more sinister as the years go on.
I think those are the important elements from the game side. Obviously with it being alternate fiction we're able to really focus on drone technology and advanced weaponry, which I wouldn't think bears too much correlation with North Korean capabilities in real life. But it's a good adversary to focus on for the game.
I had a question about the use of the word "nork" that the in-game characters use. It almost sounds similar to the word "gook," which came up during World War II, and the Korean War. How was that word created?
It is a fictional phrase. We did think carefully about it and kind of check it out, so to speak. Again, I think it's one of those things to convey the level of emotion and sacrifice on the resistance side, the way the civilians feel about the occupying force. In an occupation you're going to get civilians using phrases to identify the occupying forces. We did check it out, but there's nothing further to it meaning-wise.
The Korean War wasn't really that long ago. Approaching these kind of issues, how do you go about making sure that you are sensitive to the political climate faced by South Korea?
I don't really think that we're dealing with the reality of the political situation now. This is very much alternate reality, maybe when you look at other alternate reality pieces like The Man in the High Castle, where Nazi Germany has occupied the United States and divided it between Japan and Germany. I think going back to that time period and working forwards from there makes looking at the modern era through the lens of a "what would have happened" event is one of the things that is compelling. It's close enough to seem somewhat applicable to modern events, but we're not really making a statement as to the political situation nowadays.
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Based on what I've seen so far, the game doesn't shy away from brutal displays of violence from both sides of the conflict. Who are players supposed to root for in world ruled completely by violence?
It was something that was definitely a conscious decision on our side. We wanted to make sure that we convey that the KPA are the occupying force and are brutal; they're doing wrong by the civilians. But within the resistance there are shades of grey as well. You're working with characters some of whom are unlikeable themselves. It doesn't haven't to be that traditional bad guy versus good guy set-up where everybody on the resistance side is squeaky clean. I think it's important for there to be those shades of grey, to show that there's sacrifice. It is a brutal game. It's gritty.
Was there ever a point where you had to dial it back a bit for fear of it being too much?
Yes, but rarely. On a few occasions I think, we've made a decision not to push things too far. It's not the sort of game that's violent for violence's sake, or particularly trying to push the boundaries in that sense. But we do want to show all sides to the story, and show the level of sacrifice that's necessary.
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