Sounds promising

One of the greatest movies of all time is going to be turned, at long last, into a sort of "horror-RPG" video game- and if the producers of the potential game have anything to say about it, this isn't going to be your typical cookie-cutter by-the-numbers waste of time and money:

My name is Montgomery Markland, and we’re making an Apocalypse Now video game, and it’s going to be for the Xbox and the PlayStation and the PC — and Mac and Linux if you play on that. One of the reasons we’re doing it is to disrupt the lethargic and stolid game and movie industries that have calcified over the past ten or fifteen years.

It used to be that great movies were made in this town, and Apocalypse Now was one of them. Apocalypse Now is still the number 49th movie on IMDB out of hundreds of thousands of movies. And it was made 40 years ago. And there’s a reason for that.

And, like I was chatting with you just a second ago, I’m just a guy from Dallas, Texas, born in Ft. Worth, went to the University of Texas, and one day I got it into my head that I would go make video games and movies out here in Hollywood.

And so, my path out here has been very different than the normal path — though I don’t think there is a traditional or normal path for anybody that ends up getting to do creative things in the game and film industry — but I came out here with the intention to disrupt things from the very beginning. And, making an Apocalypse Now game is part of that.

When American Zoetrope decided to make a game out of Apocalypse Now, they asked people for pitches, and every single big game company came in and pitched the same thing: They pitched it as a shooter in Vietnam. “It’ll be great, it’ll be easy, it’ll be profitable. We’ll reskin our existing shooter for Vietnam and ship out an Apocalypse Now version.” And American Zoetrope wasn’t interested in that.

When myself and Lawrence Liberty, the executive producer, who is also the executive producer on Fallout: New Vegas, got the opportunity to pitch, the first thing I did was I went back and — I had already seen the movie probably a dozen times — but I went back and watched it a dozen more times, because in any great endeavor, you have to respect and learn from the traditions of your culture.

Apocalypse Now is based on an 80 or 90-year-old — depending on where you count from — novella called Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad and published in 1899. And John Milius wrote the screenplay in 1969, and the movie came out in 1979. Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness and it’s about a lot of things. It’s about a personal journey, more than anything, and that’s why I think Apocalypse Now resonates to this day, because everybody has their own “journey upriver.”


And, so what started out as thousand of people telling a story around a campfire, and eventually became Apocalypse Now, we view our job as to just reverse that 3000 year process and give millions of people a chance to tell their own version of Apocalypse Now around a modern version of a campfire, which is your computer screen.

Now that is an RPG game that I would be willing to play.

Far too many video-game film adaptations are just lazy, clunky, barely functional cash grabs intended to tie in to the temporary effervescent popularity of a blockbuster film. (There are a few amazing and highly honourable exceptions- such as the entire Arkhamverse series of Batman games.) For the most part, they are predictable, boring, pointless, and completely lacking in any sort of useful replay value.

But if American Zoetrope actually goes about making this game properly, as an open-world horror-RPG designed to bring to life the deeply unsettling atmosphere of both the book and the film, then it could very well become one of the best games ever made- because its source material is amazing.

If you've never read Heart of Darkness, I recommend it without hesitation. It is one of the most spine-chilling books ever written- not because it is especially horrifying in the sense of most Gothic novels or ghost stories, but because it is one of the most brilliant and brutally honest explorations of the darkness of the human psyche that has ever been put to paper.

And its film adaptation as Apocalypse Now damn near exceeds the original book.

Who can forget the epic helicopter gunship assault sequence, with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries playing as mood music? Or Robert Duvall's superb performance as the morally unhinged Col. Kilgore? Or Marlon Brando's tour de force performance as Col. Kurtz?

Francis Ford Coppola brought war, in all of its horror and glory, to life on the screen, and made it as personal and unapologetic as a punch to the nose.

(By the way, for those interested in such things- the IRON MAIDEN song based on the movie, which is based on a book, which is based on another much older story, is really damn good too.)

A video game based on this film has a very tall order to fill. It has to be original, innovative, and fresh, in an industry where every single game franchise- including, I am very sad to say, my beloved HALO- insists on playing things safe, and the only "innovations" amount either to who can rip off whose once-groundbreaking ideas most convincingly (witness how just about every mainstream FPS now follows CoD's aiming down sights, or ADS, system), or who can out-virtue signal whom (BioWare, I'm looking at you).

On top of all of that, it has to pay homage to one of the greatest explorations of the human capacity for evil and madness ever made. And it has to do so in a medium that most people don't take particularly seriously as an art form- video games are rarely, if ever, considered to be great works of art in their own right.

But, if the attitude of the folks over at American Zoetrope is to make the game that they want to make, which pays attention to the actual source material and is interested in letting the end-user create his own experience of the hell of war while immersed in all of the psychological terror and atmosphere of madness that made the film so brilliant, then this is going to be one hell of a good game.

I'm looking forward to playing it already.


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