'Apocalypse Now' Devs Have A Plan To Make Their Game Stand Above Other Movie Games


In the video game industry, studios work on projects given to them by publishers. What happens when the publisher runs out of money? Games get cancelled, and developers move on. What doesn’t happen as often is a team coming back together years later to work on a new project, especially when that new project has the backing of Francis Ford Coppola.

Apocalypse Now, the video game currently raising funds on Kickstarter before continuing over the next few years on the official website, is the eventual product of one such game cancellation. Montgomery Markland and Rob Auten, game director and lead writer respectively at developer Erebus, talked to iDigitalTimes about Apocalypse Now, how the team came together and what it takes to make a good video game based on a movie.

“We all tangentially worked together on a project for Obsidian called Aliens: Crucible,” Auten said. “It didn’t make it to the market.” While Aliens: Crucible was coming along well in development, publisher SEGA had to make a choice between it and Aliens: Colonial Marines. Crucible was cancelled and we all know how that turned out.

“We reassembled a year and a half ago to really form together as a band and start working on what will be a more refined version of the game,” said Auten.

As for how the idea of an Apocalypse Now game even started, it was Coppola himself that was interested in the project. The game Erebus is making is a survival horror game, the same framework from the Aliens game the team developed at Obsidian. What attracted the Coppolas to this particular project and working with Erebus was the fact that it wasn’t another military shooter.

“When I first had the opportunity to pitch to the Coppolas on our take of an Apocalypse Now game, I said it’s not a shooter, it’s a horror game,” Markland said. “To my understanding, I’m the only one who said that. Every other person who came into the room said ‘it’s a shooter in Vietnam.’”

Markland is an admitted Call of Duty fan, and loves shooters, but knew that the genre just wouldn’t be right for an Apocalypse Now game. “When I say it’s not a shooter, it’s not that I don’t like shooters, it’s because it being a shooter is not appropriate for the source material,” he said.

Video games based on movies, and especially movies based on video games, have a notorious reputation for… not being the highest-quality experiences. The team at Erebus understands this, and feels they have a grasp of what it takes to make a proper game based on a movie, especially one as respected as Apocalypse Now.

“I think there are a few words that if people embrace, it makes the translation from movies to games and games to movies much more smooth and much more successful. The words are specificity, authenticity, reality and loyalty to the execution of the narrative,” Markland said. “A lot of the translations on either side of the industry didn’t succeed as well, because they have ignored these fundamentals.”

There are some positive examples Markland had, to highlight what he means. “The ones that do [work well], like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and the Silent Hill movie, are successful because they were super specific about the world, the characters, the story and the details,” he said. “They were authentic with those details. They embraced the world that was already established and they were loyal to the narrative tradition that the other version carried.”

To do this, Erebus will have to build on what has come before it in a gaming sense, and make it work within an Apocalypse Now world. “You have to say ‘OK, what parts are we going to improve upon and what parts are we happy with from the tradition that this particular game lives in,” Markland said. “Once we have the gameplay mechanics, we can impress upon them the specificity, authenticity and reality of the Apocalypse Now motion picture world.”

Of course, what works for a movie won’t necessarily work for a game. At the end of the day, player engagement is the most important thing for a game, but Erebus also wants to stick to the source material as best as possible. “The M16s used when the movie was shot have 30-round capacity magazines. During the actual Vietnam War, they didn’t have 30-round magazines, they had 20-round magazines,” said Markland. “Then the question comes, do we deviate from the motion picture in this one specific regard or stay true to it?”

To Markland, the answer is obvious. “If it’s narratively significant, we stay true to it. If not, we make it historically accurate,” he said. “If historical accuracy or narrative significance is not engaging to the player, then we look at changing it.”

Seeing as how Apocalypse Now the movie is only two and a half hours long, a game would have to create additional content to make it longer. This same approach will be used when making parts of the game not seen in the movie. “We’ll create additional content, but that content has to be in simpatico with the motion picture itself,” Markland said.

Apocalypse Now is still very much a work in progress, and will require years more work to complete. As of right now, a release is scheduled for 2020, with PC confirmed for sure. “I don’t want to commit to a platform outside of PC right here in the early days of 2017 when we’re targeting a 2020 launch,” Markland said. “We don’t know what consoles people will want the game on.”

However, porting games to other consoles is now easier than ever, so Markland is confident the game will be on whatever platform players might want.

Ultimately, that’s what Apocalypse Now is all about: to make the game that fans want. “The only two people that matter for a successfully crowdfunded Apocalypse Now game are Francis Ford Coppola and the individual player,” Markland said. “Neither of those two groups will ask us to dumb the game down, to make it more simple or to rush the game out to meet a deadline.”

So what do you think? Are you going to be supporting the video game adaptation of Apocalypse Now? What other video games do you think were successful translations of movies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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