Following our recent review of Homefront: the Voice of freedom, the novel to accompany the upcoming Homefront title from Kaos Studios, we were offered the chance to interview the author Raymond Benson. Having written a series of other novels and games including many James Bond titles, as well as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid books, we were keen to talk to Benson about the Beatles, the scary possibility of a Korean invasion and being killed repeatedly in FPS games.
The Gaming Review: Firstly, congratulations on the Voice of Freedom. When Titan sent us a copy to review I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was one of the most addictive and exciting books I’ve read for a long time. How pleased were you with the end result?
Raymond Benson: I’m very happy with it! It was also a lot of fun to write. The working relationship between me, Milius, THQ, and Kaos Studios was the best it could be.
TGR: I have trouble keeping a description of the book concise when someone asks me what it’s about, and end up rambling on for 10 minutes while giving away half of the story in the process. How would you summarise the Voice of Freedom for anyone who knows nothing about it?
RB: Fifteen years in the future we’re at war with North Korea on our home turf. Journalist Ben Walker sets off across America to document what he sees and ends up becoming an underground “voice of resistance.”
TGR: Game tie-ins are traditionally a mixed bag which can make potential audiences quite sceptical about the quality of what they have in front of them. How does this affect the amount of pressure you feel when writing the story for a game as opposed to other styles like your previous James Bond novels?
RB: I approach every novel I write as if it’s an original one and make it the best I can. As long as there’s a good story behind a videogame that one can fashion into prose, the rest is just knowing what any good writer knows—dramatic structure, character development, and how to create suspense.
TGR: The history behind the storyline is a series of small events that all appear perfectly feasible, with an end result that is all the more frightening thanks to just how potentially possible it is. With the world’s politics quite fragile at the moment, how did you and the other writers and game’s developers feel about tackling such a risky storyline?
RB: The “back story” had already been developed by Milius, THQ, and Kaos Studios before I came aboard the team. They needed all this for the videogame, so it was in place. I agree with you, it’s all very feasible and frightening. I had to take this “future history” and tie it in with the characters in the book, mainly Ben Walker and the Korean operative who’s after him. None of us, of course, want to see any of this future history come true.
TGR: As you mentioned, you co-wrote the book with John Milius, who of course is famous for working on Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn. What parts did the two of you play in coming up with the original ideas and padding it out into a novel? Did you enjoy the experience of working together?
RB: John was the creative force behind the videogame and its universe. When I came aboard, I was given a rough 2-page outline of how he and THQ envisioned the novel and what it would be about. I fleshed that out into a more detailed prose treatment for everyone to approve before proceeding. I structured the story, created characters and locations, and planned most of the events that take place. During the writing phase, I was in constant communication with THQ and Kaos Studios with questions, so that the book wouldn’t contradict the game. Finally, Milius read my first draft and gave me welcome notes. It was a very good experience.
TGR: How much freedom were you given to bring your ideas into the storyline? Were you bound by many limits set in place by the game’s development team?
RB: I wasn’t bound by anything, really. Everything I wanted to do with the book is in there. It was an ideal situation for a tie-in writer.
TGR: Without giving too much away, the end of the book opens up a range of possibilities for integrating references from the novel into the game itself. Are we likely to get moments during Homefront that will spark memories for those who have read the novel without really meaning anything to your average gamer?
RB: You don’t have to read the novel to play the game, and you don’t have to play the game to read the novel. We meant for the book to stand alone and be a good thriller in its own right. That said, there are characters from the game who make cameo appearances in the book. A couple of chapters in the book take place in Montrose, Colorado, where the game is set. Ben Walker, the novel’s protagonist, briefly interacts with the same resistance group that the player is with in the videogame. That’s really the only direct tie to the videogame.
TGR: How would you react if you were asked to work on further novels to run alongside, or following on from, the Homefront game’s story? I’m sure most people who read the Voice of Freedom would be interested to see how the characters’ lives panned out after the closing moments of the Voice of Freedom.
RB: We’re all hoping there will be more. I suppose it depends on sales of both the game and the novel!
TGR: There are some great musical references throughout the novel, were these decided early on or did you manage to use it as an excuse to listen to hours of music for “research” purposes? It certainly made me want to go and dig out my Beatles CDs..!
RB: That was all my invention. I needed a good cultural reference that the resistance groups could use as a code, because the North Koreans would be unfamiliar with it. I tend to bring music into all my works because I’m also a musician and a rock and jazz aficionado.
TGR: Finally, as Homefront is out quite soon, will you be giving it a thorough run-through when it’s released?
RB: Ha, I’ll try! Even though I was once a game designer myself and a huge gamer, the “shooter” genres are not my strong suit. I’m more of a role-playing adventure guy, as these were the kinds of games I created. I’ll certainly play Homefront, but I’ll probably die in the first five minutes—over and over and over…!
TGR: Huge thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Congratulations again on the book and we’ll wait with eager eyes to find out what happens next!
RB: Thank you!