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Kaos Descends: How Homefront's Developer Met its End
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Kaos Descends: How Homefront's Developer Met its End

July 6, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Another former Kaos employee says that longtime leadership failed to adapt processes for a larger staff and a higher-end product. The highly-qualified recruits came with high salaries and relocation fees, but management wasn't prepared to make the most of that acquisition expense. "They didn't listen to the very talented team they hired," laments the ex-staffer. "You had this level of leads with tons and tons of experience, and you had the directors with much less."

The result of this misallocation of intellectual resources was that lesser wisdom often thrived. Staffers say that the main development of Homefront was actually finished within one year -- with the first two years of its three-year development virtually wasted on ideas that didn't pan out, including nine months spent on a single-player prototype that got scrapped.

Thanks to some mismanagement and emotional tension among the staff after the release of Frontlines, there was high turnover between projects, with the studio's programming talent being hit especially hard. But the biggest loss, according to nearly all the former Kaos employees to whom we spoke, was that among that wave of between-project departures was co-founder Frank DeLise, who is said to have left for personal reasons.

DeLise is described by his former colleagues as the studio's passionate head and heart, and a resolute problem-solver who built the studio from scratch and liked to get as much as possible done with his own two hands. That made the gap left by his departure all the wider, as many claim there was no plan for anyone to adequately take the reins from him.

From there, morale began to suffer, as management structure felt uncertain and weak amid a revolving door of GMs and similar leadership. Many staffers reported an uncomfortable environment where art and design often felt oppositional and adversarial, thanks to a widely-disliked art director who had to be fired in the middle of Homefront. The first general manager hired to replace DeLise also didn't work out. By 2010, one ex-employee estimates that up until the game's Alpha period, Kaos lost about a person per week for about the first 30 weeks of the year.

The source describes a team picture hung in a concept artist's office that quickly became a sea of crossed-out faces as the artist kept track of who had quit.

Then there were the infamous "Davids" -- David Broadhurst and David Schulman -- brought in to fill some of the leadership role. The pair received universally negative reviews by their once-employees: "Under them, it was a tyrannical dictatorship that no person should ever be subjected to," says one. "[Schulman] walked all over people to get to the top, and it wasn't a shock that the studio revolted against him once he got there."

By the time a third David -- Dave Votypka -- was handed the GM role late in Homefront, it was too late for a turnaround; employees describe him as a nice guy who may have been out of his depth: "He seemed overwhelmed almost from the get-go," we're told. Votypka was reportedly so stressed out that he engaged in arguments about the "selfishness" of those who left a clearly-sinking ship for better offers elsewhere.

Amid these management and cultural challenges, the Kaos team still had an enormous mandate: Make a game that could compete with Call of Duty. One ex-staffer says that at one point in Homefront's development, the team made a decision to duplicate the collapsing-bridge Spec Ops mission from Modern Warfare 2 in its own engine to see how close they could get, and where they could improve.

The project was emblematic of core games EVP Danny Bilson's ambitions, and although he only checked in with the team about once per month according to staffers, he did so with a vengeance, becoming passionately invested in creative decisions. "He got very involved during the middle of our production," a source reports. "This game became the title that would prove THQ was on the rebound in a major way."

Employees mainly liked Bilson personally: "I really can't slam the guy," the source adds. "He gave us a great opportunity and all the resources to accomplish it. We didn't exactly deliver."

And many feel his creative input ultimately made the game better -- with one exception. It was Bilson's idea to make North Korea the occupying force of Homefront, despite how unlikely a significant U.S. invasion by such a small nation would be. Most North Korean confrontations with America have been little more than posturing.

The premise was widely questioned in the press, which caused the team some stress. According to our sources, Kaos had originally envisioned the invaders as Chinese, but THQ feared that such a portrayal would hurt its prospects for business in China, which has in recent years rapidly begun offering more and more opportunities for Western game developers.

Kaos suggested a coalition of Asian nations instead, but Bilson passionately preferred the Korea idea, and so it stood. An ex-staffer describes this as "demoralizing," in that the implausibility of the premise felt "stupid" to the team, and it was also frustrating for employees to see most of the press at that stage questioning the idea rather than looking seriously at the game.

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