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Chasing  Call of Duty  was  Homefront 's folly, says Gearbox boss
Chasing Call of Duty was Homefront's folly, says Gearbox boss Exclusive
July 13, 2012 | By Christian Nutt




Last week, Gamasutra posted an expose on the downfall of Kaos Studios, developer of Homefront, THQ's attempt to enter the military shooter genre.

This week, Gamasutra had a chance to talk to Gearbox president Randy Pitchford, who heads up the Borderlands studio. The conversation turned to bad decision-making at studios and publishers. Asked by Pitchford for an example of a bad situation, Homefront sprang to mind.

"I tend to be careful about talking about other people's business," said Pitchford.

However, he quickly identified one red flag: going for the Call of Duty audience. "Right off the bat, I'm suspicious of that approach, right out of the gate. That might not be the best strategy," said Pitchford.

"The [game's] what-if scenario is kind of interesting," said Pitchford, but "it doesn't take a lot of risks from a gameplay point of view," he noted.

But what gives Pitchford pause is the fact that while Kaos is no more, Crytek is working on the sequel. "Somehow that decision was made that 'We are going to build this game and hope it becomes an IP'," he said.

"That suggests that the people at THQ that were making the decision, at the time, that Homefront was worth betting on again, but not with the same developer, which is interesting," he said.

"Is the problem with the developer? Is the problem with the IP? Is the problem with the market? Is the problem with the promise that they were making?" asked Pitchford. "I don't know what they think the problems were, but they haven't given up."

He also seemed skeptical of the choice of Crytek for the game, given the company's ability to build its own IP. "I wouldn't have put them on that," said Pitchford. Not "until I heard about it," he said.

To compete with Call of Duty, he said, "you really have to go for it. You really have to spend a lot. You have to not only out brute-force the market leader, but out-clever them. The game has to be better, the marketing and production better have to be... Everything has to be bigger and better."

Gearbox was able to carve a niche for itself with the multi-million-selling Borderlands, released in 2009. While it's a first-person shooter like Call of Duty, its premise, art style, cooperative multiplayer and randomized loot system differentiate it from the large selection of triple-A military action games. Borderlands 2 is slated to arrive in September, published under Take-Two Interactive's 2K Games label.

Expect more from the interview with Pitchford on Gamasutra in the coming weeks.


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Comments


David P
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I couldnt disagree more with him saying "The game has to be better, the marketing and production better have to be... Everything has to be bigger and better" this is such a flawed development concept and its whats ruining games. Sometimes simplicity is best, the reason people originally loved cod is because it was simple and you could just get in it and play it similarly BF1943.

If someone wants to make the next best FPS title in my opinion it should be simple, stable, beautiful and engaging. If you combined the best elements of cod and battlefield and cut out all the crap in between. Thats a game I would play 24/7

Vincent Hyne
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@David

He's not talking about making the "next best FPS". He's talking about making a CoD clone.

The reason we know this is what he's talking about is because he's making Borderlands 2, a game which is arguably a much better game than any Call of Duty, yet will not compete with it in the slightest when it comes to sales.

Coincidentally, I believe he's using your argument to make his own FPS.

Adam Learmonth
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Anthony, he very much does go into detail. The hypothetical game he's comparing to the CoD franchise must be more expensive to make ("spend a lot"), have more content regardless of quality ("bigger") and have more successful "marketing", i.e. have yet more money thrown at it. None of which equals "better" when it comes to gameplay.

JB Vorderkunz
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@ Adam

You're making a lot of assumptions that are not implicit in Randy's words. "regardless of quality" seems quite the opposite of his intent. In fact, by "bigger and better" I believe he means that it has to do all the things CoD does but better, and do more as well. But you're free to your interpretation: "...But in Communist Russia, article misinterprets you", as a wise man once said.

Andrew Wallace
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I pretty much agree. Homefront was pretty much just Modern Warfare with a Red Dawn skin on top, but a good two hours shorter than the MW games.

Michael DeFazio
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let me first say, everything i am seeing with Borderlands 2 looks great, and i think that game is going to be a great success.

...but i don't get the same feeling with "Colonial Marines" ...this seems to fit into the crowded "gritty space shooter" genre (Dead Space, Gears, Halo, Lost Planet) and everything i've seen of this game looks derivative (i just frankly don't see who is going to buy this game, especially given the last AvP game was mega-bomba).

Perhaps they have something new up their sleeve they have not shown, but it boggles my mind that they seem to be doing exactly what they think crytek is doing (trying to take a 2nd or 3rd tier franchise and compete with the big dogs (Gears, Halo) with yet another "gritty space shooter" (and i love the aliens franchise btw).

Luke Skywalker
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@ Michael

A better comparison would Left For Dead. It's got 4 player co-op with a vs mode that I suspect (though not confirmed) will ape Left For Dead's. I think that's the market they are going for, and they seem to have put a lot of love into crafting a spiritual successor to James Cameron's film.

Michael DeFazio
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@Luke
the trailers and demos i've seen seen almost directly in line with Dead Space (gritty, bloody, horror space shooter). i realize they say the multiplayer gameplay is "inspired by l4d" but it really looks more like dead space 2 multiplayer (and i'm not sure how well that community has thrived). i play and love l4d but i certainly don't get that (quirky, horror but tongue in cheek humor) vibe.

maybe it would be more in line with the "original" (never released) more gritty left 4 dead...
http://youtu.be/F3pDahm4W7E
but right now it seems the emphasis is more on scares than on having a good fun time with your friends (which is the reason why i think borderlands knows what butters it's bread... funny, bright, uplifting, good old fashion fun with your friends... none of this uber-serious grimdark aesthetic)

JB Vorderkunz
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@ Michael,

"(gritty, bloody, horror space shooter)" Other than "space" how is that *not* like L4D? I think that CM on the WiiU is going to be a seriously awesome game.

Michael DeFazio
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@JB

i play a good deal of left4dead, and (although there are zombies) the game isn't really about the horror/scares. (i mean they have levels in an amusement park with zombies dressed as clowns where you can "honk" their nose).

like i posted earlier, originally l4d was more in the "grimdark aesthetic" but they changed things (notably: character models, funny dialog, added more color and lighting) in the final version to make it more about "fun" and less a "serious affair".

if you look at video of footage for "avp multiplayer", "deadspace 2 multiplayer", and colonial marines multiplayer, what exactly is gearbox bringing to the table that is new and unique?...how does this multiplayer "out deadspace deadspace?"

i only bring this up in the context of the article with comments like:

"it doesn't take a lot of risks from a gameplay point of view,"
He also seemed skeptical of the choice of Crytek for the game, given the company's ability to build its own IP. "I wouldn't have put them on that,"

where his studio seems to be in the exact same boat with Colonial Marines... (as using the same IP as AvP). i cannot attest to the quality of the title (CM) i just haven't seen anything new with this title (and gave examples of games which seem very similar).

JB Vorderkunz
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@ Michael

My friends and I logged over 100hrs on Expert on the original L4D, so I think I'm competent to speak on it: and a lot of expert was about moving slowly and getting scared when you heard that hunter's growl at the wrong time - or got shocked by an around the corner barf-shower with no warning. So I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

BTW the clown honk was on L4D2 - which was more 'cartoonish' than the original, and also way steeper on the difficulty climb.

Michael DeFazio
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@JB
whether l4d is "scary" is a matter of personal opinion. i googled "is left 4 dead scary" and ran into this (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090314060700AAKGkQ6):

quote: "My 8 year old daughter is not even scared of it, she will sit and watch me play. "

the point in the original post wasn't to discuss Left 4 Dead in the context of Colonial Marines, it was to discuss how what has been shown of Colonial Marines has been unoriginal from a gameplay perspective. (whether it is more like Dead Space 2 multiplayer or Left 4 Dead is a matter of personal opinion, but dont imagine many people would use the words "tongue in cheek", "quirky", or "humor" to define the CM or Dead Space 2 experience, while many people would use those words to describe the "l4d" experience). cheers.

Ian Uniacke
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"but right now it seems the emphasis is more on scares than on having a good fun time with your friends "

This would be the main reason I'm considering buying it on the WiiU so myself and my teenage children can have some fun getting scared (oh noes! the aliens are coming right for us!!! and so forth.

As for the other console versions your analysis might be accurate but on the WiiU it looks like it could be a lot of fun.

JB Vorderkunz
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@ Michael

Oh, Yahoo Answers via Google Search says I'm wrong, oh Ok you win. =P
The 'scariness' of L4D and presumably CM is that you know something's coming, and pretty much what's coming, but just not when - so maybe it's a terminology misfire or something, but I DO see a link between L4D and CM - and since neither us nor anyone outside the company has played the RTM version, calling it unoriginal seems like jumping the gun.

Anyone whose eight year old daughter routinely watches L4D or L4D2 is a great parent, BTW.

Michael DeFazio
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@JB have to admit, i'm a little disappointed...for all the time i spent poking, and teasing (you have to admit quoting how an 8 year old girl wasn't scared of a game you called scary was a nice touch) i expected some point to come of this exchange, but it seems like you didn't really post to counter any of the main points of my original post:

...how randy's situation with SEGA and Colonial Marines is strikingly similar to that of Crytek and Homefront 2
...or how Colonial Marines seems like a derivative space shooter with multiplayer.

...instead we go off on a tangent about how (in your opinion) left4dead is scary. you are entitled to your opinion, and it is 100% correct, it's just irrelevant to the topic at hand.

so i figured i'd go ahead and do a little research to counter my own points (and describe why CM and CM multiplayer is going to be unique)
(here's an interesting video which describes some of the features multiplayer:)
http://youtu.be/fEAQRlHGHoY
singleplayer:
http://youtu.be/-K4VG9aIFOA?t=1m43s

1) WiiU integration on CM will include motion tracker, enemy scanning and terminal hacking on the touchpad which is innovative (if aliens are still, they don't show on motion tracker, so ambushing while hiding in the shadows is an effective strategy, also marines can't run (doesn't look like you can shoot either) when looking at the motion tracker.
2) drop in coop in the campaign (while i think DS3 has demoed this, DS2 does not)
3) 6v6 player multiplayer http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/reviews/
previews/9690-E3-Preview-Aliens-Colonial-Marines-Multiplayer
4) aliens play in 3rd person, marines in first person
5) seems like they have an alien "gestuation" mechanic where (playing as an alien) you can "evolve" into a more powerful version (i.e. a "Crusher") (not much was shown directly)
5) power loaders
6) sentry turrets

and that's what they've shown so far. also (again to counter my points) the fact they have pushed the game back until 2013 to focus on and polish the multiplayer and WiiU integration (Demiurge Studios, makers of the "shoot Many Robots" is doing the WiiU version) http://demiurgestudios.com/blog/aliens-colonial-marines-on-wii-u/ means they will have plenty of time to not only polish but add new features to make the experience new and unique.
------

see there, nothing personal, (i don't mind debating/arguing even if it is against myself). it just seems like a waste of time to "nitpick" on comments without really trying to debate the point brought up. cheers.

JB Vorderkunz
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Good response! BUT... I thought it was kinda clear that I was posting in response to your response to Luke and then subsequently to me - maybe too subtle difference...

anyway wasn't trying to call you out or even really 'debate to win' so my last comment was meant as a friendly tongue-and-cheek bowing out. have a good one!

matthew diprinzio
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First of all, it's silly to try and 'out-call of duty, call of duty.' That's a losing game. It's like trying to out-Michael Jackson Michael Jackson -- it's not going to happen. The only way to overthrow CoD is to offer something different. CoD didn't become the premier multi-player game by copying Halo, it instead offered something totally different: a realistic/historic setting, realistic weapons, faster paced game mechanics, customization, multi-platform support, etc which all catered to a broader audience. Because lets face it, all the gangsta wannabe console players tend to shy away from fantasy/sci-fi for fear of ridicule from their peers. This is why I think CoD was ultimately able to grow a larger fanbase.

matthew diprinzio
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Well I can't really speak for the console crowd, but being a PC Gamer I loved CoD because of their earlier games were so epic for the time. Copying a party system and UI doesn't make your game 'the-next-big-thing.' If it was that easy, CoD would have been overthrown by now because there are plenty of copy-cats. I am a firm believer that their earlier games are what cemented them as the premier fps franchise and now the franchise is just running off popularity and hype.

Andrew Grapsas
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Not to mention, Halo was the first console shooter to do aim assist correctly... and CoD basically has the same exact aim assist.

matthew diprinzio
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Again, another small detail that doesn't skyrocket a game to success. This is evident by the hundreds of CoD clones (Homefront) that ultimately fail for trying to out-CoD CoD.

Joshua Sterns
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Halo's control scheme was a big influence for later FPS titles including CoD.

Two weapons only. Melee and grenade buttons (no more scrolling through guns to find knives and nades).

Vehicles were also influential.

Brad Borne
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@Joshua: Merely a 'big influence'? If that isn't the understatement of the decade...

Luis Guimaraes
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@Andrew Grapsas

I'm with you here. Halo made the two-stick/sprint button/grenade button/melee button, system that's default for console shooters now. Also it was the first to feature that heavy stealthy aim-assist sum of methods. Which was copied and adjusted by CoD in it's console version too.

Luis Guimaraes
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That's right.

Andrew Grapsas
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The big thing is that CoD took everything that worked and polished the living hell out of it. That, plus they built a compelling game and franchise over a long period of time with many iterations.

I find it funny that this article came out today, as it's Friday the 13th and I'm wearing my Kaos shirt.

scott anderson
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@Andrew: So am I. Crazy coincidence on multiple levels :).

Marvin Papin
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"it doesn't take a lot of risks from a gameplay point of view," let me laugh a little bit please ... if you do not want to take risk, make something special and not the kind of think you find everywhere, because that way you have something to please the players and make them buy the game instead of other productions like bf3 or cod999.

i don't think cod is a good game but if your friends buy it, you will buy it and if a studio comes with its core MP and an online pass "features" i think it will fail. However i don't know and i would like to know whose is the fault

nicolas rx
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"The game has to be better, the marketing and production better have to be... Everything has to be bigger and better."

This is so wrong. The MoH reboot was not better than CoD, but EA sold 5M copies during the first two months.

Steven An
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Whoah so MOH was actually kinda successful, financially? Mind == blown.


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