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Sean Dunn, creative director at THQ on Homefront, has his work cut out for him. He has to help shape the vision of a game which is poised to enter the most competitive segment of console games -- the military first person shooter, currently still dominated by Call of Duty.
With a longtime background in the industry, Dunn has served as publisher producer on games like the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series at THQ's offices in Los Angeles.
In this latest task, the possible rewards are huge, but the chances for failure are also tremendous given the cost of entering and the state of the competition -- and an audience which seems happy to continue to buy and play a Call of Duty game for a year.
Here, then, he explains what he thinks will make Homefront stand out from its competition, and how the decisions were made by THQ and its developer, Kaos Studios.
The discussion takes in the successful creation of narrative in games, the need for perfect multiplayer, the lessons learned from the studio's last game, Frontlines, and more.
You're a creative director on the publisher side. It seems like most publishers have slightly different arrangements about how they oversee these kind of projects. How do you guys handle it?
Sean Dunn: So we take that classic publisher producer role, and we break it up into two different roles. There's a creative side, and a project management side. So project management side deals with contractual issues, dates, budgetary issues, things like that. And so they have the sucky job.
The creative side, we get the fun stuff. We are basically there as primarily editorial, so we take a number of tools that we have at our disposal and generate feedback on the title. We do usability testing, control testing, things like that, comparative analysis of competitive product.
We really try to help the developer polish the product as much as possible. And so, we just provide as much data as we can. We're not so much directing as just assisting in getting rid of those sharp, nasty corners and making it nice and smooth.
From a publisher's perspective, it's important to try to grab a slice of the military shooter pie. That seems to be the biggest pie right now. When you guys sat down, did Kaos pitch Homefront?
SD: Yeah, it's been a joint effort, really. You know, Kaos had the core idea for Homefront and it really resonated well. It wasn't the classic take, on whether it was WWI or WWII or random Middle Eastern country. That idea of the U.S. being invaded was just a different piece.
The head of our publishing, Danny Bilson, comes from the Hollywood industry; he was writer on Rocketeer. And his teacher was John Milius, so that's how we got Milius involved with the project and it was this perfect kind of synergy of getting the right kind of narrative talent involved with the right developer. So it's been a really nice kind of collaborative process with this game.
Do you think that as a publisher that you do have to go for that? Or is that not your personal concern?
SD: It's not really my personal concern. I'm charged with making sure that the game is highly polished and very palatable and very accessible. But also it's not really THQ's concern; we're more towards the idea of making awesome games and awesome games will sell well. Really, trying to be representative of some portfolio is not kind of where we are at this point.
Kaos came from a military shooter background, so it's a natural progression for them. But we didn't really want to be kind of a "me too" in that area, so… It's more about taking the product ideas the studios come up with and just insuring that they had really high quality marks.
There have been a lot of words between EA and Activision lately. They're each pointing to the other one and saying, "You squelch creativity!" "No, you squelch creativity!" And that's kind of the hot button issue, really -- enabling creativity in these kind of organizations.
SD: It's very difficult. I mean, in the past THQ has squelched creativity. It's difficult for a publisher not to impose some type of will upon development. At THQ, we're really trying our best not to do that. We're trying to bring in really high quality design talent.
You know, our creative directors are not owners of the product -- really they're there to collaborate with the teams. Again, it's difficult when you have sales and marketing entities and people, you know, there's millions and millions of dollars invested in these projects and sometimes there are pushes being made that can be seen as squelching creativity. But we really strive to make that as painless as possible and do that as little as possible.