Homefront multiplayer preview: Funding the war machine

Homefront multiplayer
Kaos Studios' Homefront envisions a hypothetical future in 2027, when the US is in the grips of an invasion by a unified Korea. The multiplayer component takes place during the first days of the conflict, two years earlier, in 2025. Unlike the single-player campaign's guerrilla-based combat, the multiplayer represents large-scale war. There are helicopters, tanks, drones and plenty of other expensive futuristic technology to play with.

Been there, done that. But Kaos has something extra up its sleeve: Battle Points. It's in-game currency that allows players to call in vehicles, resupply themselves with ammunition and deploy special attack and reconnaissance drones -- and it's entirely score-based, so you don't have to be The Terminator to actually affect what's going on in a given match.
%Gallery-104301% Erin Daly, lead designer, broke it down for me like this: "Any time you do an action in the game that helps you or helps your team, you're earning Battle Points. You kill an enemy, you earn some Battle Points. You capture an objective, you earn some Battle Points. Mark a target with a recon drone, you earn some Battle Points. What that does is it lets you accumulate these points then start to make decisions -- how you're going to spend those points. We call it the spender/save philosophy."

Our company comes from this mod background where they've been really involved with team-based multiplayer games. They made the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield and so there's this big support in the studio for team-based gameplay.- lead design Erin Daly

So there are a variety of different situations where you can dip into your well of BP and affect what's going on in any given game. If you see an attack chopper that's putting pressure on an objective, you can purchase a rocket launcher and take it down. If you've got a strong infantry presence at a certain choke point or other objective, you can call on a land-based attack drone to come in and take 'em out. If you're on the other end, being hunted by an attack drone, you can call on an air assault drone to drop some missiles on it and take it out. There's a lot of variety in terms of what players can spend BP on.

"Really, when it comes down to it, we want players to use the points in-game to help with the game," Daly said. "It also increases the amount of action in the game, so if all players are hoarding points, then you're not seeing as many helicopters, you're not seeing as many air strikes, so we really want players to spend the points and use the tools in the game."

And all of this comes together to instill a feeling of chaos and realism to the multiplayer conflict. I've never been in a war, but with drones all over the place, explosions and missiles flying past, and my teammates barking in my ear, it all makes for a very jarring and chaotic experience -- the exact experience I imagine a conflict like this would feel like in real life. But, most importantly, it's fun to play.

"Our company comes from this mod background where they've been really involved with team-based multiplayer games. They made the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield and so there's this big support in the studio for team-based gameplay. With Battle Points you can do some really interesting things when coordinating with your teammates -- if you're in a party, you can say 'Hey, we need to take that objective, anyone got an Air Strike?' and your buddy can be like 'Yeah, I've got enough points, let me drop my Air Strike in there, clear it out then you guys can go in.' So there's some really interesting coordination efforts you can have there."

It's doubly so with things like vehicles, where I could spawn a helicopter and have a teammate hop right into a gunner seat next to me. There's a general co-operative feel to the whole experience not unlike Bad Company 2, where you have a large, cohesive team with a clear objective and several different tools players can call on to support the team.

Unlike Bad Company 2, however, the vehicles themselves have a far shorter shelf life. There aren't any Engineer classes to repair these expensive vehicles players can purchase with BP, but their shelf-life is somewhat lengthened through vehicle-specific functionality. "We want to make these vehicles feel worth the purchase, " Daly said. "Obviously players are spending points they've saved up for these vehicles and we want to make sure they're getting their money's worth." This is accomplished by giving vehicles specific defensive capabilities.

For example, the helicopters have flares that can deter incoming homing missiles and tanks have an extra layer of outer armor plating -- once stripped, it's up to the driver to position the tank's weak side away from combat in order to lengthen its lifespan. Then there are recon and assault drones, These things definitely add a more strategic element to these vehicles and helped me feel like I was getting my virtual money's worth purchasing them.

"At the end of the match, we convert all of your unspent Battle Points into XP. So that ties into that whole propulsion loop of ranking up, unlocking weapons, unlocking new drones and unlocking new vehicles," Daly told me, quelling the concerns of my inner hoarder. He also assured me that there would be dedicated servers for the game on both the console and PC, and that each match would support up to 32 players. For a pre-Alpha multiplayer build, Homefront's multiplayer component showed an incredible amount of polish and potential.

Homefront is set to launch in March 2011.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.