Homefront: The Revolution is a game that is lucky to be alive. The title began development in 2011, from a studio the began life as Free Radical Design. Five years later, I'm here in the United Kingdom to play the culmination of years of change and upheaval. Homefront: The Revolution is a game about the idea of exacting change and the studio's checkered past is a testament to that idea.
"We launch in May of this year. We're in March right now. So, we started working on this game late 2011. How the hell did we take so long and why? We've had a few ups and downs," explains Dambuster Studios boss Hasit Zala.
What is now Dambuster Studios began years ago as a familiar studio to PlayStation 2 era players: Free Radical Design. Zala himself was "their very first employee", working as a senior programmer on TimeSplitters, the game that would come to define the studio. He later became the team lead and lead programmer for TimeSplitters 2 and 3. In February 2009, after ten years as Free Radical Design, engine developer Crytek purchased the studio.
"That was six years ago. When we started with Crytek, we were console experts and so we were brought on to help move CryEngine to consoles," says Zala.
Free Radical Design becomes Crytek UK, helping port CryEngine to consoles and working on the multiplayer for Crysis 2 and 3. At the time, Crytek is looking for more though. It wants to be a major game publisher, so all of Crytek studios are looking for their own projects. This is where THQ enters the picture.
"Crytek's vision of each of their studios was to have an IP of their own. So we were working on Crysis, but we really wanted to have our own IP," Zala explains. "Around 2011, THQ came and put a big sack of money on the table and said 'Hey, we've got this IP Homefront.' Basically, they weren't happy with [the first Homefront], but really liked the IP.
Crytek UK becomes the new steward of the Homefront franchise, following the closure of Homefront developer Kaos Studios earlier in 2011. Development on Homefront 2 begins and things are looking up to Crytek UK. Unfortunately, THQ isn't doing too well during this time. The publisher is already dealing with mounting losses: there's the uDraw tablet's failure in late 2010 and the dropping of the Red Faction and MX vs ATV franchises following poor sales and fan reception. In March of 2011, Homefront's release actually causes a major stock drop.
Crytek UK is doing well, but the foundation it stands on is crumbling.
"Towards the end of 2012, [former executive vice president Danny Bilson] and his guy do a review of the game. As they were leaving: 'We've got some investors coming around. Can you do that presentation and impress the hell out of them?' Those people turned out to be Jason Rubin and Jason Kay. You could see something was up."
THQ doesn't really survive 2012, filing for bankruptcy on December 19, 2012. Crytek UK is still plugging away on Homefront 2 as THQ offers up all its assets for individual auction. Crytek sees the chance to pick up the Homefront IP for cheap and takes it.
"It was one of the deals of the century to pick up the IP for a very small amount. So now Crytek own the IP, which is even better," says Zala.
Crytek releases Crysis 3 in 2013, published by EA. Instead of the sprawling unique gameplay of the first Crysis, Crysis 3 does not stand out in the AAA shooter crowd. It doesn't do too well for the company and this is when Homefront 2 starts to become something else. In a review of Homefront 2 with Crytek founder Cevat Yerli, Zala finds out that the team can expand its horizons. Homefront 2 at the time is like the original Crysis, with expansive, but linear levels. The team at Crytek UK is building towards their dream though: an open-world Homefront.
"I sat down with Cevat and said 'But really, this is a stepping stone to the Homefront 3 that I want to do, which is an open-world shooter.' Cevat turns turns to me and said, 'Why aren't you making that game?' I didn't know I could! I flew back, had a studio meeting and said 'I've been talking to Cevat and we're going to go open-world!' And everyone is excited for about a week," says Zala.
The new Homefront concept is simple for Zala.
"The vision I sold to the team was, 'Let's make Half-Life 2 in an open-world environment.' So we started doing that," he says.
A year later, Crytek is having cash flow problems. Kotaku reports that Crytek isn't paying its employees on time in June of 2014. Those reports are absolutely true.
"We hadn't been paid and the studio looked like it was going to close," says Zala. "We were in a situation for months where we weren't paid. In the meantime, Deep Silver had been brought on to be a co-publisher. When they realized what was going on, they had enough belief in the team to approach Crytek and they effectively bought out Crytek UK."
So Crytek UK undergoes another change. It becomes Dambuster Studios, a Deep Silver subsidiary. Homefront 2 becomes Homefront: The Revolution. And the developers in Dambuster Studios' Nottingham office keep working on their dream and vision. The world has changed around them, but the studio remains the same. Dambuster's team of 120 still has its nose to the grindstone.
"It's worth stressing that it's the same studio," says Zala. "I sit in the same place. We have the same code base. A few people have left and we've had to do some rebuilding, but it is very much the same team. About a third of the team left. We've been here the whole time, making Homefront."
"I think about the development of this game in a post-modernist parable. Out IP is about guerilla fighters. The team feels like guerilla fighters trying to get this game out. We've had to fight and struggle to get this game made."
So what is Homefront: The Revolution?