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Entering the Battlefield: Building Homefront To Compete
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Entering the Battlefield: Building Homefront To Compete


November 12, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Very often it's like, "Well, here are all the missions. Now string them together, please." Which I gather was not your approach.

SD: No, absolutely not. Really the narrative structure for the game came first. We did pay heavy attention to what players like to do, and the types of variances that you need to have in place so that players don't get fatigued.

In a shooter, you're generally doing the same thing over and over and over and again, and that's shooting people in the face. So you try to provide the variance in how you approach that, the styles and the visual style of an area, the paces of an area, the number of enemies -- different approaches, whether they're stealth, or balls-out, or things like that.

But within that is the importance of getting actual characters' arcs in correctly, and getting the acts of the story in, and making sense, and having meaning, and whatnot, so we really feel the drive to play it out.

I'm one of those players that rarely pays attention to story in games. I've got a lot of opinions about it, but when I play, generally I'm used to not really caring a whole lot about the story and really putting gameplay first.

And for those people, there's a lot of fun to be had and a lot of different visual settings. There's a lot of work been going into really visually style the narrative so that you really feel like you're in the U.S.; you're in that very familiar setting.

I mean, down to like, you know, the type of plastic buckets that we put on the corners of the houses to catch snowmelt. If you've lived in the Southwest or whatever, it's like you recognize all these different pieces. And that's been really important that that kind of detail, crafting of that visual space that we've taken.

To return to the discussion of making sure you set the pacing of the story fed through the game so it'll work. Did you ever reach a point where you have this plan of how the story needed to hit the beats, but from a game design perspective the way things where shaping up wasn't working with this?

SD: Yeah. There're always points where you have an idea of how you want something, that turns out to not be fun. Or, if you have a gameplay piece that turns out to be just piss-poor fit in the story. Those things just don't make the cut.

So it's just a balance of finding the ones that work and the ones that don't. There are parts of the game where a portion of gameplay was just too good, and really we just kind of shut up for awhile and let people enjoy it and play, and then pick up the story.

Did you do a lot of user testing to determine how it was going? Did you do it with internal or external people?

SD: Generally, we try to keep the narrative pieces and the kind of the overarching gameplay pieces with a few trusted, talented people. We have tons and tons and tons of input that's given on things like controls and pace and feel and the feel of weapons, and so the multiplayer there's a daily test every single day, 60 to 70 people are in.

We're doing data collection on all of that, we take feedback from every single player on those things. But from the narrative standpoint, too many people just create a very genercized and bland setting. So a lot of it is putting trust in people that are in place.

If you're talking about film, the industry generally wouldn't really bring in the external focus groups until the end, right? You'd leave the creative process for a long time, but in games we are getting to the point where we're very much doing it earlier and earlier and earlier.

SD: I'm a huge fan of external data, but in certain areas. I don't want to know really what the player thinks of the story as we go through, just because there's so many disparate ideas of how that works.

But when you get 3 or 4,000 people's hands on the product and you get their feedback on controls, whether it's vehicle controls or infantry controls and responsiveness, and you watch people play and you watch and find the areas that are causing them not to be able to enjoy the game in a certain way. Or it just allows you to get rid of those blockers, those things that are in the way of people enjoying. So a lot of it is about removing the crap that gets into people's way.

I'm curious about the multiplayer. That is the core the hardcore of this generation; that's where all the fans are. It's a very, a very competitive landscape. How do you enter that space, confidently?

SD: Well, you have to put a huge focus on that for your product. I mean, if you go out and you throw 10 percent of your development time into just pasting in multiplayer, you're just going to get your ass kicked.

You know, we've seen it in the past with games that have had great response from a single player perspective, but just absolutely ignored from a multiplayer. Homefront… actually, probably the majority of the focus for this game has been on multiplayer. It's been in development for a really long time; it's an iteration off of Frontlines from a certain aspect.

You notice the drones and things like that, and some of the ground control aspect of the play. We've taken huge pains to polish up the control scheme, the responsiveness, the weapon feel, aim assist systems, you know, that you teach in friction systems, within the aim assist. Just everything we can do to make it feel right, and that I'm confident we've hit on it.

You have to go in with an expectation that you have to compete. You know, you can't say, "Oh, this is our first try" or "This is our first time" or "We don't have the budget that the competitor may have". The consumer really doesn't care; they don't care who spent more or who's had more time. It's really whatever's more fun to play.

So you just gotta go with both feet in and, you know, if you're dedicated to it and you're willing to spend the money and the time that's necessary, then I think as long as you just execute on those pieces of polish, polish, polish and iteration and iteration, then entering the market is just about putting out an appropriate product.


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