Through his novelizations of their exploits, author Raymond Benson has put words into the mouths of legendary soldiers Solid Snake and Sam Fisher and became only the fourth person to write stories into the canon of James Bond, 007.
He returns with Homefront: The Voice of Freedom, an original novel based on the upcoming game from THQ and legendary screenwriter/director John Milius (Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian). In the not too distant future, the United States has been invaded and occupied by an East Asian alliance led by a reunified Korea and it’s up to a rag-tag resistance movement to take their country back. Newsarama recently sat down with Raymond to talk about his book, the game and the popularity of their various combinations.
Newsarama: To those unfamiliar with it, what is going to surprise readers about the setting of the Homefront franchise?
Raymond Benson: It's frighteningly possible. The videogame story starts in the year 2027. The novel starts in 2025 and brings the readers up to date with the game's background. The events that Milius, THQ, Kaos Studios, and I came up with occur between now and 2025. They could very well happen. For example, we predicted that the son of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il would succeed his father long before this fact was recently announced in the news. It wasn't exactly clear who the heir would be beforehand. Beyond that, there are a number of twists and turns in the story that will keep readers on the edge. This will be true of the game, too.
Nrama: If there is one, how would you like the “message” that this book delivers to be received?
Benson: In many ways it's a cautionary tale. We speculate dire consequences for America regarding the economy, gas prices and other societal infrastructures over the next 15 years. Aside from being a rocking thriller, I would hope it serves as a warning to us today so that we can prevent some of these disasters from happening.
Nrama: For non-gamers, what kinds of books, or even specific titles that they like would end up enjoying Homefront: The Voice of Freedom?
Benson: Not only is the book a "prequel" to the videogame, we also designed it to be a stand-alone speculative thriller. Anyone who reads and likes thrillers should enjoy it. You don't have to be a gamer or even be familiar with the videogame. It's a separate, unique tale to the Homefront universe with different main characters; however, characters from the videogame do make cameo appearances.
Nrama: You’ve written several ‘game universe’ novels, what special challenges does that bring to the table?
Benson: There are many, but one main area of difficulty for the tie-in writer is dealing with action in a “shooter” style videogame. No one wants to read pages and pages describing how a character blasts away bad guys. The author must turn this videogame convention into a believable and suspenseful sequence.
Then there is the opposite problem. No one wants to read numerous pages of a character sneaking through an environment without getting caught. This is the object of some videogames such as Metal Gear Solid. The player, as Solid Snake, must avoid being discovered. The player will feel tension and suspense with his/her hands on the controls. But if this situation was written in prose, it gets dull pretty quickly.
The writer needs to strike an entertaining balance between action and inertia, which some hardcore fans of the game may have found objectionable! They don’t realize that a story such as this doesn’t work the same way in a different medium. Action or non-action must be appropriately adapted for a reader, not a player.
Another challenge is quickly ramping up one's knowledge of the franchise if you aren't familiar with it in the first place. You have to be a quick study. Being a former gamer and game designer helps, too. I worked in the gaming industry for over a decade. That said, writing tie-ins to movies/TV and/or games include the same challenges that are present when writing original novels. You have to write a darned good book!
Nrama: What is your opinion of novels written as tie-ins for game releases, do you think it has a positive effect on literature in general, or a negative one?
Benson: As a founding member of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers [www.iamtw.org], I would like to think they don't have a negative effect. There is a small group of writers who specialize in this sort of work, and for an author struggling in these days of publishing woes, it's welcome bread-and-butter work. No, I don't think novelizations are any less a quality novel than an original work. If they're done well and tell cracking stories, then what's the difference? Some great best-selling titles in the past are tie-ins: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke is a tie-in, written in conjunction with the making of the film; Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov; many Star Wars and Star Trek and James Bond books; and many more.
Nrama: How was working with John Milius? Was it a collaborative process, or was there a firm structure you had to work in?
Benson: Milius came up with the concept and universe, it's his "brand," so to speak, THQ and Kaos Studios weighed in on developing it into a game, and then it was decided to bring me in to write the prequel. I was given a two-page outline that loosely laid out the kind of book story-wise they all wanted. I fleshed it out into a detailed treatment, which was submitted for everyone's approval, including Milius. I then wrote the book; Milius contributed welcome notes on the final manuscript. So, in short, I was free to create the book as I saw fit as long as I adhered to original directive. This is the best of all possible tie-in writing situations, and I'm proud to share the credit with Milius.
Nrama: Would you like to return to the Homefront franchise in novel format again?
Benson: Absolutely! If the game and book sell well, there will certainly be more games and books. I fell in love with the characters in the novel and want to follow their journey beyond what happens in the first installment. I hope readers will feel the same!
Homefront: The Voice of Freedom is available now online or from your local bookseller. The Homefront game will be released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on March 8, 2011