Philly-Set Game Homefront: The Revolution Releases Today

We talked to lead designer Fasahat Salim about setting a video game in Philadelphia — while designing it in England.

Homefront: The Revolution

Homefront: The Revolution features a stylized version of Philadelphia. This would be Morgan’s Pier in the game. You have to love what Groundswell Design Group has done with the place!

When Fasahat Salim and his team were working on Homefront: The Revolution, they realized they had a problem. The latest in the Homefront series — the first developed by Dambuster Studios, where Salim is a designer — was set in Philadelphia. Yet the setting was causing a problem.

“I think nothing quite says Philadelphia more than a rowhouse,” Salim tells Philadelphia magazine via phone from England, where the game was made. “Rowhouses are actually quite key to a lot of the areas that we have in our game … initially, they’re all quite similar from the outside, so it was kind of difficult — at least in the early stages — for us to get any kind of satisfying gameplay because everything kind of felt the same.

“To fix that, we got into this situation where we got to blow holes through these buildings and open up routes that allowed players to jump in and out of these buildings and cut through streets and back alleys really quickly. So, all of a sudden, it feels like it’s war-torn but it’s also serving a gameplay purpose.”

If you ever wanted to blow a hole through a neighbor’s rowhome, there’s finally a game that lets you do it.

Of course, this isn’t the Philadelphia you know and love. Homefront: The Revolution released today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and home computers. The game, published by Deep Silver, is set in an alternate universe where North Korea has invaded the United States. Philadelphia, now divided into districts, is ruled by the Korean People’s Army. You control Ethan “Birdy” Brady, a member of the resistance who tries to fight back and reclaim the City of Brotherly Love.

So how did a team of designers based in England set a game in Philadelphia? As Salim explains, it was a narrative choice. Dambuster is taking over for Kaos Studios, which designed the original 2011 Homefront but closed in the run-up to parent company THQ’s bankruptcy, and is essentially rebooting the series. Salim said the original Homefront’s premise — of an occupied force taking over the United States — resonated with gameplayers in America and around the world.

“Philadelphia was one of the best options for us mainly from a narrative perspective,” he says. “It is, obviously, the birthplace of U.S. independence, it’s where the Declaration of Independence was signed. You have a lot of landmarks to this day which were built on the idea of independence — things like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell. It was basically, from a narrative perspective, to base the game in a city that has this strong heritage of independence running through it.”

In order to put Philadelphia in the game, Dambuster sent a team over to the city to explore, get the feel of the city and take pictures. When they came back to England, designers continued their research on the city. What they came up with is not a “map-accurate” layout of Philadelphia, but one that allows for engaging gameplay while still maintaining the feel of Philadelphia.

The designers have already given Philadelphia sports fans a gift, as noted in a trailer last year: Sometime before the North Korean takeover, Philadelphia’s football team won the Super Bowl. Sure, they were called the Hogs instead of the Eagles, but a win is a win.

“Anyone who’s been to Philadelphia, anyone who lives in Philadelphia, will obviously recognize a lot of the landmarks and the areas that we have in the game,” Salim says. “Instantly, you also feel that there’s something not quite right about them. This is an occupied Philadelphia. There’s an invading force that’s actually governing the city, so they’ve brought in their own infrastructure. … When we were starting out, we had this idea that we wanted to make the familiar feel alien.”

The game includes missions set in major Philadelphia landmarks, too. “We’ve got big missions that actually take the player through landmarks like City Hall and Independence Hall,” Salim says. “So players will actually get to experience these landmarks in ways that they would probably never have thought. It’s kind of a war zone, you’re getting to actually be part of it and experience these spaces in a very different way.”

Follow @dhm on Twitter.