Homefront’s Rex Dixon Talks Linearity and Level Design

GameZone had the privilege of sitting down and picking the brain of Rex Dixon from Kaos Studios on their upcoming first-person shooter that is being published by THQ.

Rex Dixon: My name is Rex Dixon. I am a lead level designer at Kaos Studios.

Dakota Grabowski: Could go into further development of what you actually do as lead level designer?

RD: The job responsibility of a lead level designer is the concept documentation and the execution of all the single player level submissions. I also have thirteen level designers that report to me, and I manage and direct them.

DG: About two years ago THQ showed Homefront at E3. Back then the whole idea was non-linearity and it seemed to be open world and everything happened on that instance. What happened to that?

RD: The story really became the focus of the game – this theme of fighting as a civilian alongside civilians. We really decided that the emphasis was to be less on player agency and more on the craft and cinematic experience in the game. While you will find the levels are more linear, there is still some player freedom. Really our focus has been on the story telling of what happens to civilians and what happens to Americans when this foreign army occupies the country.

DG: At the Homefront event two weeks ago we were speaking to one of the lead producers and they spoke about the contrast between multiplayer and single-player. How do you feel about this multiplayer experience compared to the single-player experience? If players play the single-player experience go multiplayer will it be the same exact game or will this be something totally in contrast?

RD: Yes, the context is completely different. The main difference between single-player and multiplayer is that in multiplayer you fight as the American Armed Forces. You have the apaches, tanks, etc. fighting against the Korean Army, so it’s more like a modern military engagement whereas the single-player game is really focused on fighting as a civilian alongside civilians. In single-player, you are always overwhelmed, outgunned, on the run. In multiplayer, it’s sort of like equals, equal sides.

DG: How did you go about implementing the full throttle advertisement with level design? Was advertisement placement a conscious decision? Or was that something the marketing team actually put together?

RD: No. Absolutely that came from development. Our big theme with our environmental narrative is that: “familiar has become alien.” In order to achieve “familiar” we decided early on that if we make up our own brands it’s going to feel less familiar to people than if we had actual brands of existing things. For instance, we had Lumber Liquidators in a scene that took place in a strip mall in the game that we showed at this year’s E3. In the months since then, we have been fighting to get Best Buy or Circuit City or something else to add more relevance for people. We gave THQ a list of all these brands that we wanted to use and we said, “Get us these brands to use in the game.” Honestly, most people said, “Well, what’s the game about?” “It’s about North Korea invading America and the Americans fighting back.”

Most brands said they want nothing to do with this. Over time, however, as we’ve earned some mind share and we’ve gotten some good hype coming out of two E3s, we’ve gotten a few more people interested and even involved. You’re going to find some really cool brands in the game. I would say there’s nothing huge. You won’t find a Walmart or something like on that scale, but we had some really cool niche brands like Full Throttle. There are some other big ones I can’t talk about yet, but we got some really cool surprises coming in that area.

DG: Let’s say you did get Best Buy or Walmart. Are we going to be walking into these stores, or this more like a side distraction?

RD:</b. No, you walk into them.

DG: When we walk into these stores, are we just looking at in-store items but not interacting with them?

RD: No. You fight, helicopters crash into it and they burn down. Yeah, pretty much every bad thing imaginable, you do inside this level.

Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview.