Decades have passed since Apocalypse Now gave the world an unforgettable glimpse at the madness of the Vietnam War, but despite game creators' obsession with conflict no game, though Spec Ops: The Line came pretty close, has quite captured the same dark and surreal terror. The new Apocalypse Now game has a better chance than most as it's being back by Francis Ford Coppola himself.
"Forty years ago, despite my past successes, I had to go outside the film industry to make something that I hoped would have a lasting effect on audiences," Coppola tells Glixel.
"I dove into the Vietnam War without a parachute. And today I've been joined by new daredevils; a team who want to make an interactive version of mine and John Milius' story that puts you in the middle of the war. You are Captain Willard but you don't have to make the same choices he made."
The game will be developed through a collaboration of veteran developers and film studio American Zoetrope. Montgomery Markland will direct the project, a producer with years in the movie and game worlds who worked on post-apocalyptic role-playing game Wasteland 2 and futuristic role-playing epic Torment: Tides Of Numenera. Rob Auten is the writer, and his resume includes work on shooter Battlefield: Hardline, the weird The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and the gun and chainsaw madness of Gears of War: Judgment.
The closest games have come to Apocalypse Now so far is the 2012 shooter Spec Ops: The Line, but this take will focus less on action and more on the decisions you make. It’s survival horror, “the horror, the horror” but in the midst of war.
"We talked about this as a character story, in Vietnam," says Auten.
"We started talking very early about the survival horror genre but then really looking at a way to depict the horror of conflict, when you have people pitted together in such a visceral space."
He talks about looking at indie horror games like memory and monsters nightmare Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and more sparse, bone chilling games for inspiration.
"But then layering onto that the elements of the narrative and the presence of these characters and giving them the ability to judge you. That’s how we think of it," he says.
"In the film when the chief character is killed by a spear and he tries to puncture Willard with the spear that’s sticking through his chest you know that there’s just some kind of visceral hatred and fear. We’re giving players the ability to alter their own versions of the story, what if you didn’t kill the person with the dog? What if you didn't trade the fuel for time with the Playboy bunnies? All these decisions that are made in the film. The ability to take a really fraught and intense environment, character-centric choices and bring these two things together, that’s the plan."
Auten, who has had access to all the notes, footage, props and storyboards from the making of the original movie, believes that this is the opportunity to take something that has a place in the culture already and then use it to tell a different type of story of conflict. It’s about avoidance and strategy rather than Call Of Duty style run and gun.
"There are plenty of bullets shot in the movie but if this was just the moments I don’t think it would be true to the spirit of the film."
The project has rejected the usual blockbuster game publishing route in favor of crowdfunding, and the campaign goes live today. American Zoetrope is asking $900,000 and for a $10,000 pledge you can score a tour of the family Coppola archives and an invite to the wrap party. It certainly makes a change from the usual signed shirt and limited edition print.