Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Kaos Descends: How Homefront's Developer Met its End
View All     RSS
August 22, 2014
arrowPress Releases
August 22, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 
Kaos Descends: How Homefront's Developer Met its End

July 6, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

Bilson became known as "one of the chief creative guys -- for an hour a month when he would hand out mandates on high and then disappear," according to one source. Employees even coined a sarcastic term internally for Bilson's brief but reverberating check-ins: Getting Bils0wned.

Part of the problem, an ex-staffer says, is that as a "Hollywood guy", Bilson's creative approach didn't necessarily lend itself to game development. "We can see the stuff he was really good at, which was helping guide the story, create hype... if you look at the marketing for this game, aside from the story, it was one of the best marketing campaigns in games," says one staffer, adding that Bilson "excelled" at directorial elements like motion capture shoots and voice-over recording, where he was often present in person.

"On the other hand he's not qualified to talk about game mechanics," the source continues. For example, if Bilson didn't like a gameplay sequence, he'd ask developers why they couldn't "just shoot it from another angle." That made lists of bulleted feedback frustrating.

Another staffer says Bilson's feedback wasn't necessarily harmful to the game, but his public statements were often upsetting to the team. For example, Bilson announced plans for Homefront 2 long before Kaos was near finishing Homefront -- and without giving them a heads up. And when anonymous complaints about intense crunch on Homefront leaked to the media, Bilson's suggestion that long hours were not only ingrained in the studio's culture but also to be expected upset many.

One source tells us the minimal expectations for all members of the studio were six months of 12-hour shifts, six to seven days per week. But actually, according to the ex-staffer, most of the studio was clocking 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week, during that six-month window. Some worked that schedule for 14 months, and jobs were at risk if the time quota wasn't met.

The staffer describes "inhuman, combative" leadership and labor under a system of fear. Many employees say their health and family relationships suffered -- and hearing THQ execs tell the media that crunch was reasonable and expected felt like a slap in the face, as the crunch came from poor management and an unhealthy environment, not because the work ethic dictated it.

Yet many ex-staffers seem to generally like Bilson: "I think Danny's being crucified a lot and I think that's unfair," one says. "He wasn't necessarily the problem. He had a way of doing things, and he burned a lot of bridges because he was a ballbuster, but if you look at the core games he's done, that's the only thing keeping THQ in business right now."

Bilson also came up with much of the high-level story ideas for the game. Although Red Dawn scribe John Milius is credited with writing the script, multiple staffers tell Gamasutra he ultimately wrote not a word of it, despite the game containing at least 20,000 lines of dialog. Most former employees credit Kaos writer C.J. Kershner with Homefront's script.

This failure to appropriately credit contributors was something of a final insult to many ex-employees once the game was out, as many staffers who left for more secure work found themselves relegated to a "special thanks" section. One former employee who left the project late even says his child was left out of the credits' list of "production babies," a petty slight.

In the studio's last days, the team felt worked half to death and wrung dry, and there was a prevailing sense that there was no way a publisher THQ could keep a studio like Kaos open after Homefront, even though the publisher -- and Bilson in particular -- vouched for the team's talent till the end.

At the point, GM Dave Votypka "had one foot out the door," says a staffer whose opinion is that the final nail for Kaos came when THQ learned Votypka was seeking a better job -- because "there was nobody internally that was going to step up."

THQ brass informed Kaos that its future would depend on Homefront's sales and critical reception. As of the time the studio closed, the game had sold 2.6 million units and had a 71 Metacritic aggregate. "Call me cynical, but I think the plan was was to close the studio regardless," one source says.

But many say they knew the writing was on the wall when THQ began publicizing its new Montreal studio to the press, about six months before Homefront's ship date. Kaos employees watched the studio tour videos online, gazing enviously at a state-of-the-art facility in which the publisher had clearly invested heavily.

"Montreal, which THQ had been hyping for some time, had the potential to become a multi-project development center with a rockstar creative team and the Quebec government offered great tax incentives; Kaos, by comparison, was a one project studio in the most expensive city on the planet," reflects the source.

And Kaos' own studio was rife with facility problems. Employees describe an "absolute dump" where, by the end, some staffers had desks beneath stairs. One men's room urinal sprung a leak, and someone's idea of repair was to stick a trashcan underneath it with a warning sign. One ex-employee estimates the urinal went un-repaired for some seven months, and that the "Urinal Bucket" became something of a symbol for the hopelessness and irrelevance the team felt when compared to THQ's shiny new Canada studio -- the one THQ would soon announce was taking over Kaos' franchise (before ultimately signing Crytek for the sequel.) 

The entire triple-A studio, gutted by layoffs and talent drain, found itself with nothing to do but support the game it already launched. It was clear to everyone then what was going to happen next.

"We cost a lot, and we did not meet [THQ's] expectations for quality," one says.

Though many of the former team members we spoke to are disillusioned and seem like they'd be happy never to work together again, there's still a core group of friends sharing positive energy, who say they hope to form a startup together in the near future. "The fact that Kaos was still chugging along, and the fact that it even still had a chance despite all these stupid things that happened, is a testament to how good that core team is," one says. "That team could have gone on to do some great stuff."


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Related Jobs

AtomJack
AtomJack — Seattle, Washington, United States
[08.22.14]

Level Designer
FarSight Studios
FarSight Studios — Big Bear Lake, California, United States
[08.22.14]

Lead Android Engineer
Churchill Navigation
Churchill Navigation — Boulder, Colorado, United States
[08.22.14]

3D Application Programmer
Glu Mobile
Glu Mobile — Bellevue, Washington, United States
[08.22.14]

Lead Engineer






Comments


Andrew Grapsas
profile image
:) I miss all of my brothers and sisters in arms from my Kaos days. I really do. So many amazingly talented people. Don't miss working there, though.

Irania Colon
profile image
I agree, I miss the people not the job :)

Allen Brooks
profile image
If this is what happens when you give your team names like Trauma and Kaos, then I'm calling my game company Everything's Fine Studios.

Xavier Sythe
profile image
Doublefine?

Aaron Karp
profile image
It's disappointing to read this. Homefront had great potential, and it sounds like the team's heart was in the right place, but everything else was an absolute mess. The game has flashes of excellence that hint at what could have been in a perfect world. I hope those involved find happier climates as they move forward with their careers.

Stephanie Vivian
profile image
I love Homefront, I still play it, almost daily for lunch breaks or with team mates, I have built a core group of people around it via social feeds, this game was sadly such an oversight in the industry, I also feel it was released at a very bad time, as well I dont feel they marketed it that well.
If anyone wants to play, Im on! and still hold hopes for Homefront 2, will it be as good as Homefront, one can only hope. cheers to Kaos

Vincent Hyne
profile image
I'm reading this, all that effort and talent, for what?

A first person shooter with a Red Dawn concept.

Wow.

Even if everything had gone according to plan, I'm not all that certain that the game would warrant success in the first place.

I'll save my tears for projects like Trico and teams like Team ICO.

When those concepts and technological achievements get bogged down (precedent set by ICO and SotC), that's a damn, DAMN shame.

That a Hollywood wannabe blockbuster that attempted to copy another more popular game hasn't panned out, be still my heart, I can't say I give much of a damn.

When the entire team learned that what they were doing was working on a Red Dawn FPS, they should've all quit the company and applied for jobs somewhere else.

Keith Burgun
profile image
Yeah, this mostly echoes my feelings about the studio. Like, for the costs of keeping KAOS running for one month making their generic FPS, you could fully fund 3 or 4 really innovative and interesting indie games.

Another example of too many resources being in the hands of people without ideas.

brandon sheffield
profile image
you say that like it's so easy to just quit your job and get another one! especially after you've already invested time and effort!

Jorge Hernandez
profile image
Or more realistically... they will try to act like professionals and do their best on what they are being paid to work on.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Adam Moore
profile image
I only work on things I want to work on, and I am proud of the work I do. I don't work on projects that I feel like are a waste of my time or skills. Life is too short to work on projects you aren't proud to be a part of.

Allen Brooks
profile image
@Adam

"I only work on things I *am fortunate enough to be employed to work on,* and I am proud of the work I do. I don't work on projects that I feel like are a waste of my time or skills *because my unique combination of skills and luck have afforded me this luxury*. Life is too short to work on projects you aren't proud to be a part of *as long as life events don't occur that force you to work on projects that you don't like in order to survive or provide for your family.*

Fixed that for you <3

Adam Moore
profile image
@Allen Touche.

Vincent Hyne
profile image
The last sentence of my post was hyperbole, meant to emphasize the fact that there are no tears to be had in spilling milk over a project with an abysmal goal set from the start.

Everyone who worked on that project thankfully got paid, and it's good that they were paid because there sure as hell isn't any other redeeming quality about working on a project that's sole goal are sales pursuits manifested by poorly copying what the industry competition is doing.

Whether or not people should or can hold down jobs was never a point of debate.

The quality and merits of the work done by the people who made Homefront are.

David Serrano
profile image
"I'm reading this, all that effort and talent, for what? A first person shooter with a Red Dawn concept."

I agree on this point. It was a textbook example of throwing good money and talent at bad, ill-advised or outdated ideas.

Christopher Scott
profile image
What exactly is the general managers role that made them so accountable to the disaster?

What happened to the producers?

What lessons should people running their own studio take from kaos mistakes?

brandon sheffield
profile image
the bit about the north korean push is very interesting to me, because when I visited the THQ headquarters in montreal, they had flown out a bunch of Homefront folks. I had a long argument with one of the game's directors about how implausible it was, which I never wound up publishing, because ultimately it just looked like me attacking the game's premise (which I was, I suppose) without much good pushback.

I now realize he wasn't upset with my dissent - he was most likely upset because he agreed with me and couldn't say so.

Damir Slogar
profile image
How implausible comparing to what? Surviving multiple bullet wounds? Or maybe being able to continue the game after you die? It's a game. Not everything has to make sense. Just like in the real life.

brandon sheffield
profile image
Damir, if you don't buy into the premise of what you're making, it is a significant problem. I don't think that's difficult to see. there are implausible motivations and then there are implausible actions that support gameplay constructs. north korea had nothing to do with serving the gameplay.

Duong Nguyen
profile image
Homefront actually missed an opportunity. There is no question that there is an underlying fear in America about China rise, warranted or not it's there in the American subconsciousness. Games like movies which find their moment at the right time and place can create cultural monuments to give voice those subconscious thoughts. That's what Red Dawn did, right during the height of the Cold War. Homefront could have done the same but for some reason maybe fear of controversy or greed for a few extra Chinese dollars? They switched out the antagonist and now it will be forgotten no much longer, I guess it can atleast be a lesson to all about creative compromises.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Epona Schweer
profile image
From the conversations I had with folks working production and design on Homefront at the time I reckon that's a highly plausible reason for being upset.

I read a lot of emails at the time along the lines of "Damnit...this is hurting the game and we can't say anything!".

It's unbelievably frustrating to care so much about the concept, watch upper management tear it to bits in response to fleeting market trends and know that if you say anything you might lose your job for it.

Colin Schmied
profile image
Yeah the decision to use North Korea was just terrible. I imagine for some it completely knocked out any legs the game may have had. When I heard about it I immediately dismissed the game outright as I figured anyone who would come up with a concept so silly (that wasn't played for laughs) wasn't going to make very good decisions regarding anything else.

I was actually surprised to read a number of positive things about the game when it came out. I had assumed it would be garbage. It sounds like they had talent, the studio just did not have much leadership and vision.

Dominik Dalek
profile image
I think that the real problem with Homefront's premise was that Americans have difficulty accepting that anything could happen on their homeland. Zbig Brzezinski once said something along the lines of "Americans fight wars abroad, we're not accustomed to having enemies on our land". That's pretty much spot on and I'm not surprised people didn't buy it. But it's no less probable than what Modern Warfare sells. It's all a matter of setting, not premise.

Colin Schmied
profile image
@ Dominik. I think you may be over-thinking it a bit. Just looking at the various movies, TVs, and games out there Americans have no issues with being invaded in fiction. Invasion allows people to engage in justified violence (they were attacked) and revel in the underdog role (which makes victory all the more satisfying). America has the largest and most advanced military on Earth and most of it's people are well aware of that. So plausibly the only military that can threaten them is a like force on Earth or somebody from another world. It's one of the reasons alien invasions (the outer space type) are so prevalent as a theme in american media.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union there aren't many potentially threatening earth based antagonists that can fill that role easily. You have to do some narrative gymnastics to create a plausible scenario that, while maybe not very likely, does enough to suspend people's disbelief while playing the game. North Korea as the invader is just too far outside of reality to be taken seriously in a game that is trying to be a gritty down to earth take on an occupied US. Anyone just looking at map and seeing the size of North Korea and the US would find the concept preposterous. Honestly I would buy Canada taking over the US before I would North Korea.

Abraham Tatester
profile image
For what it's worth, the DPRK has one of the largest standing armies on the planet. How well-fed are well-equipped they are (and how the heck they would get over here) is another matter entirely!

Edit: Had to confirm, and yes, the size of their army is only behind China, India, and the U.S. It's even slightly bigger than Russia's.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kevin Reilly
profile image
@ Brandon - Suspension of disbelief can only stretch so far, right?

@ Dominik - ever hear of Pearl Harbor? Red Dawn had a plausible world set in Cold War 80s because Russia at that time had capacity to launch nuclear strikes and invasions (along with their Cuban allies, ha!). The DPRK can't even manage to fire off an ICBM, so the probability of them conquering America with current capacity is extremely low. China is a more realistic threat in terms of sheer numbers, air power and deep water naval capacity to pull off the logistics.

Chris Jurney
profile image
Printing anonymous slags from employees against specific individuals by name is a pretty trashy move, Gamasutra.

John McMahon
profile image
Yeah, cause those people don't need to be afraid their current employers will fire them or treat them as not trustworthy.

Chris Jurney
profile image
Maybe they deserve that and maybe they don't. You can't know based on anonymous trash talk. Printing those comments puts Gamasutra in the same wheelhouse as TMZ.

James Margaris
profile image
Hard to believe a studio where the employees all gleefully trash each other would fail!

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
profile image
"Inside the Kaos collapse is a story of a studio that ramped up too quickly under too much pressure, strove beyond its means, and struggled with uncertainty about its future, as well as creative and interpersonal conflicts."

So, like most studios in the industry. Got it.

John Bacon
profile image
The North Korean concept wasn't any more ridiculous than any other game concept. If anything, I can't believe the allegations that the team failed because they weren't making another game about Russia or China invading.

Ian Fisch
profile image
I think we've all worked for studios like this.

2.5 million sales seems like a lot for such an average game. I wonder what sales number could have actually saved the studio.

mark cocjin
profile image
Making games to compete against other companies and making games to make great games produce different results.

Salesmen and Marketers should never be given any control over the design and development of games. Ever.

James Anderson
profile image
Its the same in other industries as well, such as putting a great salesman in charge of other sales people based strictly on their ability to sell a product. Too often I've seen a failing manager turn tyrannical because they lack the people skills and leadership skills to maintain morale and motivate their people. Just like Jafar said, "You know the golden rule, 'whoever has the gold, makes the rules.'"

I've only worked for small indie studios so far and only recently got a taste (by short-term contract) of where the big money lies for what I do. *hint: it isn't in the video game industry, sadly. I WANT to make games, but the big ones that can afford to pay me enough to pay off my massive student loan debt appear to me to be places I absolutely do not want to work under any circumstances. Micromanaging, while appearing productive, takes its toll in morale, and morale greatly affects creativity. This is all from my experience and opinion, so take it with a grain of salt.

I hope better things for all of the people that were part of this sad situation.


none
 
Comment: