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How  Homefront 's development was 'Bils0wned' by THQ's EVP
How Homefront's development was 'Bils0wned' by THQ's EVP Exclusive
July 6, 2012 | By Staff

July 6, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

In a new Gamasutra feature, numerous ex-staffers from the ill-fated Homefront developer Kaos Studios give their accounts of what exactly went wrong, and how it led to the studio's closure.

Homefront was supposed to be the title that proved THQ was on the rebound, and could compete with FPS behemoth franchise Call of Duty. As such, THQ EVP Danny Bilson became passionately invested in a number of creative decisions.

"He got very involved during the middle of our production," a source reports. Fortunately, many of the employees felt that Bilson's creative input ultimately made the game better, with one noting, "I really can't slam the guy... He gave us a great opportunity and all the resources to accomplish it. We didn't exactly deliver."

However, there was one decision he made that really put pressure on the team -- making North Korea the occupying force of Homefront, despite how unlikely a significant U.S. invasion by such a small nation would be.

The rest of the Kaos team had originally envisioned the invaders as Chinese, but THQ feared that such a portrayal would hurt its prospects for business in China. Hence, the North Korea idea stuck, leading to a "demoralizing" atmosphere amongst the employees.

Soon, Bilson's brief but reverberating check-ins on the game's development began to be known as "getting Bils0wned." Employees were aware that he was really good at helping with the game's story and creating hype for the title, but he wasn't so great with game mechanics, leading to frustrating design feedback.

The full feature, which explores the many issues that Kaos faced from mismanagement and emotional tension, to the departure of co-founder Frank DeLise, is live now on Gamasutra.

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Joshua Hawkins
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I thought the North Korea aspect was actually more realistic than people gave it credit for. Essentially NK is one of the few countries left in the world that relies purely on internal resources so in the event of a world wide oil crisis or such it would pretty much be life as normal for them.

Anyway I always hate when somebody from publishing comes in 1/2 way through production, and starts to request adding in features. Even if they're good ideas it means you have to take everything apart put it in there, and make sure it's not breaking anything. Depending on the complexity of the feature it always sets you back months. I really shouldn't single out publishing for doing it either several times internal forces do the exact same thing, and it's even worse cause they should know better.

Dave Smith
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the North Korea idea was still pretty bad. their 'life as normal' is barely above starving. the idea is still pretty laughable. The game reeked of creative compromise.

Joe kennedy
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First and foremost let's get the facts right, the reason why HOMEFRONT bombed has to do with the poor designers and producers that lead that production into hell.

Yes Bilson didn't help either with these decisions but whether you fight the Chinese or the Koreans or Dr Seuss himself; the game has to be fun and up to the level of a COD to compete. Kaos had plenty of time to address fundamental issues with the way the game was crafted but instead chose to simulate it. Then having clueless designers like this guy: "" coupled with the likes of Bilson and several hundred lost producers micro managing what they have no business managing you get UTTER FAILURE!!!!

Homefront never had a solid prototype, never had combat metrics, never had experienced leadership in its infancy to really crank out a shooter that would make much impact to the industry.
Chinese, Korea or Godzilla; who cares!!!! How about making FUN,....FUN!!!!!!!!

demoralizing really cause of an enemy palette?

Be for real!!!!!! What nonsense!!!!

Maria Jayne
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I've not played homefront yet, however I tend to agree, who my enemy is, is irrelevant to the quality of gameplay. I'm entertaining myself with a video game, suspension of disbelief is a given.

Dave Smith
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Of course game play is all important, but the Korea idea was so dumb it led me to believe they had no idea what they were doing. It could be CoD for all I know, but I'm not gonna find out.

Adam Moore
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This may come as a shock to some, but the primary demographic for console FPS games generally don't care about single-player campaigns or stories.

Dave Smith
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There is a bizarrely huge percentage of players who buy these games and never crack open the multi player as well.

JB Vorderkunz
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As someone who's not yet in the business it's tough to judge - but this seems like throwing someone under the bus to CYA... maybe not, maybe Bilson was the root of all evil, but it seems like he's being used as a mitigating factor for under-performance.

I may be wrong - but sorta like 38 Studios, it's seems like there's no clear cut hero/villain dynamic here...

Joe kennedy
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Well I am in the business and I was there at Kaos during HomeFront, I can tell you that this article isn't entirely accurate!

I'm NOT a fan of Bilson and I'll admit that but lets be for real gentlemen, the game sucked because KAOS didn't address pre-production correctly. Like most failed projects they spit out an interesting game play video and got funded. That is not a game demo or prototype with proven metrics and yes,... it was INCREDIBLY PATHETIC especially for the real talented veterans they managed to convince to hop on board; slightly mention in another Gamasutra article "Kaos Descends: How Homefront's Developer Met its End"

What's even more pathetic is they did hire on late in the project some really strong seasoned vets but for reasons that escape me, they didn't allow more seasoned professionals help shape the course of success but instead the project was hijacked by a bunch of clueless producers, studio heads, and lead designers struggling with "know how" not from a real shooter franchises to ship this crap!!!!

Utter complete waste of time in the empire state! So lets take a stroll down memory lane shall we and see these rockstars of game development,....

Was Bilson a pain in the ass, sure but Kaos had plenty of time and money in an industry that continues to struggle for these kinds of opportunities, in my mind there's no excuse. Too many wigs with arrogance and fake reputations not fiscal responsibility to both the publisher and fellow developers that are really trying to stay employed in this business.

Here's something that's really annoying and I'll say this politely,...the media plug these individuals like their the second coming!!! Often letting us folks know through multiple announcements or articles that they're taking positions elsewhere or that these individuals have something to say about the market, seminars, or some other event when in fact,....these guys are as relevant as the BUM IN THE STREET.

This isn't news and isn't necessarily exciting to see these individuals infect other projects.
If you want a good reputation then start acting like professionals and make fun entertainment which,...back in the day wasn't such a big deal to come too.

This is the main reason why we as developers are continuing to see AAA projects on a decline. Let core developers make the game and CUT THE FAT!!!!!!!

JB Vorderkunz
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Hey Joe,
Thanks for the info. It seems like new folks have to cut their teeth somewhere, but at the same time how many failures is too many? One shot to make it or break it seems harsh but that's the reality in a lot of other industries...Wow, really giving myself a pep talk on breaking in to the game game =)

Mu LaFlaga
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@ Joe

I've been seeing your posts for a while now and was always wondering why they were so full of vitriol. A company would get shut down and you'd be slamming whoever was in charge - and at first, I was taken aback, like 'have some decency, ffs!'

Now it all makes sense, and I applaud you for laying down the truth. If more people working in the industry did the same, I'm sure there would be a small list of names that constantly popped up - people who directly caused failure after failure. I'm sure HR tries to stay in the loop, but since there are so many applicants it's easy for these guys to slip through the cracks. I would bet they would love a list like that. You talk about cutting the fat? I say amputate the dead weight. It's a cancer that kills the rest of a tightly functioning unit.

The game industry, AAA in particular is full of ultra talented artists, across all different disciplines. To the brass, they're just thought of as the asset creators, and oftentimes the guys in the limelight are the least deserving. The artists (grunts and pawns at this point) are the ones who get hit with the ridiculous crunches, take on the big problems, and reap a relatively small piece of the success. If the title fails, their heads are the first on the block. The guys who caused the downfall are often scooped up for bigger salaries, and if they're suits at corporate, they're compensated with huge golden parachutes.

The field was a different ball of wax a console generation ago. Some artists I've talked to just several years older than myself describe experiences that are hard to imagine - but for some reason those "top" guys never seem to be pining for a job. They leave a trail of destruction in their wake, yet are hired at bigger and bigger studios to wreck havoc once again. Some of these artists won't work at certain studios because they know that one idiot was recently employed there and is now making another dev team's life hell. I've only been in the industry a few years and already I've seen guys in leadership roles that had absolutely NO IDEA wtf they were doing, or were outright terrible at it.

You have to give it to those guys, though. They often have golden tongues and can often talk/scam their way out of anything. That's some talent right there :)

If we were to look at all of the studios that closed in the past 10 years, the big budget failures, and the heads of each discipline when it happened I'm very curious to see what would pop up. I don't mean just a quick cross-reference, but dig deeper as to WHY things went wrong. Talk to some of the guys on the teams. Was the crunch unbearably brutal? Was the project massively over-scoped? Were decisions made frivolously? 9 times out of 10 that's the fault of the directors at the top, or a suit at corporate.

Why not start a website where people can submit reviews anonymously and start cleaning out the garbage. There's a whole generation of young, up and coming developers and you guys have already been through hell and know how not to treat your teams. Why not make the next 20 years of your time in the industry the best time of your life, and be the first group to NOT burn out the youngsters? With you guys now being seasoned veterans, it'll be harder for the dead weight to BS their way into positions of power.

Buck Hammerstein
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i played the game, i liked some of the mechanics and would have given it a better "score" than most did on the 'net. it had some flaws game wise but the idea that the enemy choice demoralized the team is an indication of other issues.

it like saying the quality of the coffee available in the office made the team put together a mediocre game. it was poor leadership, experience in the genre and allowing a weak vision create a game that had limited "fun."

north korea or china didn't really matter as after the initial cutscene from the bus the enemiy was a generic as can be.

Joe kennedy
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Well since you started that one,....THE COFFEE DID SUCK!!!! ROFL

Patrick Haslow
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Joe when did you leave Kaos?