Kaos Descends: How Homefront's Developer Met its End

Another one of those sad tales of hubris, mismanagement, and corporate culture clash.

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.

One source tells us the minimal expectations for all members of the studio were six months of 12-hour shifts, six to seven days per week. But actually, according to the ex-staffer, most of the studio was clocking 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week, during that six-month window. Some worked that schedule for 14 months, and jobs were at risk if the time quota wasn’t met.

The staffer describes “inhuman, combative” leadership and labor under a system of fear. Many employees say their health and family relationships suffered – and hearing THQ execs tell the media that crunch was reasonable and expected felt like a slap in the face, as the crunch came from poor management and an unhealthy environment, not because the work ethic dictated it.

And Kaos’ own studio was rife with facility problems. Employees describe an “absolute dump” where, by the end, some staffers had desks beneath stairs. One men’s room urinal sprung a leak, and someone’s idea of repair was to stick a trashcan underneath it with a warning sign. One ex-employee estimates the urinal went un-repaired for some seven months, and that the “Urinal Bucket” became something of a symbol for the hopelessness and irrelevance the team felt when compared to THQ’s shiny new Canada studio – the one THQ would soon announce was taking over Kaos’ franchise.


That article you cited … man, it was a crappy job of reporting.

The author asserts Kaos staffers wrote all the dialogue for Homefront, but THQ suggested John Milius was responsible for the story and dialogue. There’s absolutely no attempt to clarify this, or cut to the truth.


I don’t get it. There was one man who had a urinal in his room? Were the urinal used as an office, or maybe this guy has bladder control issues and had to have a urinal installed near his work station?

The urinal was actually lead producer on the game.

Wouldn’t the phrase then be “One man’s urinal” instead of "One men’s room urinal ". Because the men’s room seems to imply it was… you know, a men’s room, WC, John, toilet, etc…

Is you trolling? :D

Also, yeah, “North Korea invades the USA” was a dumb premise, but plenty of games overcome dumb premises. That it was so transparently done as a way to have Asian invaders but not call them Chinese, that probably had more to do with people choosing to focus on that aspect.

Sure it wasn’t the door handle of the toilet that was broken?
So everytime you had to go to the toilet, you’d have to go get a manager with a key to open it up for you.
The developers even included sarcastic criticism of this practice into the very game…


Bilson also came up with much of the high-level story ideas for the game. Although Red Dawn scribe John Milius is credited with writing the script, multiple staffers tell Gamasutra he ultimately wrote not a word of it, despite the game containing at least 20,000 lines of dialog. Most former employees credit Kaos writer C.J. Kershner with Homefront’s script.

This failure to appropriately credit contributors was something of a final insult to many ex-employees once the game was out, as many staffers who left for more secure work found themselves relegated to a ‘special thanks’ section.
Not sure, i think it clear that the ex-staff credit a guy other than John Milius, which is part of the bad feeling thing, they were not getting due credit all around the project etc. Maybe THQ paid a packet for John Milius so had to credit him, but in the end it was the actual staff at the dev that wrote most of the script? That’s the way i’m reading it, so up until this point the offical line is John Milius wrote the script, this is just shedding a new light on that official story? ergo cutting to the truth of the story?

Ah, my point was the writer relied only on reports from Kaos staffers. If you assert Milius did none of the writing for Homefront, it would probably be best to get (or at least try to get) a quote from either Milius or, at bare minimum, the THQ producer for the game.

My experience has been that the writer of the game doesn’t actually write the dialog. They write the story, and someone on staff writes the actual dialog.

I wish I was. Back to reading comprehension lessons for me.

Is it me, or was this just a poorly written/edited article, particularly the first page? Some of those sentences were just one step from incomprehensibility. I usually expect a lot better from Leigh Alexander. Wonder what happened.

You expect better? I’ve never been impressed by her writing or her presence on podcasts. Is she considered a “good” games reporter/writer?

“North Korea invades the USA” is a monumentally stupid premise, not just a dumb premise. It’d be one thing to posit a world where the USA got invaded and you’re dealing with the aftermath, but by specifically naming the invadee and picking something so idiotic, you’ve elevated it to a whole new level of incompetent design.

It’s like, you could make a game where the premise was that Superman died and you’re taking over for him and it might be a bit of a dumb idea but be workable. Homefront’s approach would have been to specify that Superman died because he took a Viagra and sprung a boner that lasted more than 4 hours and didn’t bother to contact his doctor.

Where is a doctor going to get a vagina made of kryptonite on such short notice, huh? Answer me that!

If I remember correctly they also had a “North Korea absorbs South Korea” somewhere in the story. Not that I disagree, it’s pretty transparent that the bad guys should be China, and Korea was just a way to get Asians taking over the USA.

Also, how do you know what a 4 plus hour boner would do to Superman? He’s an alien, man! You can’t know that! Maybe Viagra is poisonous to Kryptonians.

Maybe someone should call DC Comics, telling them they’ve figured out how to redo Death of Superman in a whole new way. :D

You had to read the Homefront website’s timeline to get the full story of how the US (and the rest of the world) allowed the North Koreans to attack and take over all of Asia to get a smidge of believability. The gist of it was that the US and other western powers collapsed into economic turmoil, while a newly invigorated North Korea sucked up South Korea and Japan, then China. The collapse was in fact was used by the North Koreans as a pretext for the invasion as them “rescuing” us and giving aid. Keep in mind that the timeline spans out to 2027 before the game starts so there’s some time for all of this to happen.

It’s still monumentally dumb, but at least it’s better than the North Koreans just showing up out of the blue and invading tomorrow. You still have to suspend disbelief and allow the North Koreans to go from a crazy economic shithole to a world power in a few years so there’s that.

By the way, the timeline was reportedly written by John Milius, which makes sense given his gloom and doom right wing public comments throughout the years. I think he was hired specifically for the name recognition, since the overall plot resembled Red Dawn anyway and to somehow get the timeline info to make as much sense as possible and lead to the game’s events.

I just noticed that Homefront’s opening sequence was changed to include a chubbier actor for Kim Jung Un.

Anyway, I don’t think the story is any less stupid or less believable than some of the United States’ current politics. At least the game has 20yrs in hand.

So it makes sense in the way that Glenn Beck makes sense if you’d just follow his concentric-circles-on-a-chalkboard explanations of things. That’s a whole lot better.

Interestingly, Polygon has just posted a story about Kaos and Homefront which adds more to the earlier Gamasutra piece.

Tradition dictates that the head of the studio give a speech and a toast at the company holiday party, and creative director / general manager Dave Votypka had his work cut out for him this night. Many of the line developers working at Kaos blamed management for the nightmarish development cycle and whether or not they blamed Votypka personally, he was representing management that night in New York.

Votypka got up to the front of the room and looked over the crowd. Before he was promoted to leadership of the studio, he’d been popular at Kaos. He was a born straight-man, with a deadpan sense of humor and a dry, sardonic wit. He decided to indulge in a little gallows humor.

“You know, if Homefront is a success, maybe we’ll get to keep our jobs so we won’t have to crunch so hard on the next one!”

The room went dead. One producer remembers, “Now every single significant other is giving him the evil eye, because now they’re blaming him directly for completely screwing over the person that they’re with. And calling it out.”

Schulman and the single-player faction may have saved Kaos (many veterans credit him and the demo with closing the deal), but it had come at a huge cost. One executive associated with the product said that THQ was always hinting that the publisher wanted and expected more from Kaos’s next project, and the only thing that would mollify the executives were more promises on new features to make it competitive in the shooter marketplace. By the time Homefront got its green light, Kaos had given itself a huge list of obligations.

“That’s the nature of business,” remarked another department head. “How many contractors building a highway will underbid the guy next to him just to get the contract, and then go over by two years and a billion dollars? Let me bid whatever I have to to get the contract, and then renege on my promise. When it comes down to staying open and keeping a company alive and afloat, you do the best you can.”