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'Apocalypse Now' video game creators seek help from military veterans

February 25, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sunshine Sachs)
A Vietnam War epic that took a decade to make and was financed largely outside traditional channels is becoming a video game ... that will take a decade to make and will be financed outside traditional channels.

Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 classic "Apocalypse Now" suffered enough production stumbles that a documentary chronicling its process won two Emmy awards. Developers of the video game, described as a "survival horror" title as opposed to a first-person shooter with Col. Kurtz as the final boss, already have their own challenges: A Kickstarter page launched in January was canceled in mid-February, with donations well below the $900,000 goal.

Game director Montgomery Markland said the move to pull the Kickstarter page and focus all crowdfunding at ApocalypseNow.com came because of an  traffic decline at the funding site. "It was a tough decision to make," he told Military Times, "but I think the people who are interested in this project should be heartened by the fact that we didn't hesitate to make that tough decision."

Unlike Kickstarter's shorter time frame, the game's website as of Friday listed 450 days to go for its $5.9 million goal, with just more than $301,000 raised. Like Kickstarter, prizes are offered for different pledge tiers (from copies of the game to movie props to Coppola-themed vacations) and no money is collected from donors until the funding goal is met.



Markland's team also seeks support from veterans beyond financial outlay. He's created an email address, vetjobs@apocalypsenow.com, for those in the military community with experiences in the gaming industry or knowledge that may come in handy for a team attempting to re-create a part of the Vietnam War's cultural history.

"We have writing jobs open, creative jobs open, design jobs open for military veterans," Markland said, "and we might be one of the few games in military history that has sought that out."

One of the creators, senior writer Ryan Placchetti, served as an Army specialist prior to his time in the video game industry, including a 2005-06 deployment to Baghdad.


Apocalypse Now game 02
An image from early work on the "Apocalypse Now" video game.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sunshine Sachs

"I love that the lead developers have committed to creating a game experience that captures the essential emotional and philosophical impact of war," Placchetti said via email. "I have always been turned off by the unhealthy audience disconnect fostered by war inspired games. War isn't about racking up a kill count, it's about surviving with your soul intact. That, as a unifying theme, will give weight to in game choices."



TIME TO PLAY


The canceled Kickstarter campaign used the tagline "Like Fallout: New Vegas on acid in Vietnam," referencing a well-reviewed, open-world adventure game that rewards strategy above button-pressing prowess. Plans call for incorporating as many cast members as possible as voice actors, Markland said, but they'll need to move beyond their old script. The game will be about 20 hours long   four times longer than the working cut of "Apocalypse Now" and about eight times as long as the movie itself.

That's the tricky part, said Brandon Sivret, an active-duty airman who also owns two video game stores near Fort Bliss, Texas, and serves as executive officer for MilitaryGamers.com, which claims more than 3,500 members, nearly all current or former troops.

"Upon initial glance, the cinematic footage from the Kickstarter page is nice, but I don't get a feel for how the game is going to play," Sivret said in an email. "Using taglines like 'Fallout: New Vegas on Acid' doesn't give me a real sense of what they're going for. There are limited examples of combat and interface spread throughout the Kickstarter and the website, but they don't do a great job of showing that off."


Markland said the game will be true to its source material as it puts the players into the occasionally drug-influenced mind of Capt. Benjamin Willard.

"Capt. Willard fires his firearms twice in the entire two-hour, 33-minute movie," said Markland, who successfully pitched his non-shooter approach to the Coppola clan in 2010. "To us, everything about that ... says it can't be a game that is about shooting. It has to be a game about surviving." 

Sivret also pointed to two areas of concern for game-makers: An uneven track record for movies-turned-games ("GoldenEye," based on the 1995 James Bond movie, is considered a classic, but EA Sports' "Godfather" saga died after the second game) and an ever-increasing number of crowdfunded projects, many of which never come to fruition.

"They're trying to play the crowdfunding game in a field that has become saturated with titles that have not yet released," Sivret said, "so most supporters are burned out on supporting new titles. Until we see more crowdfunded games actually release, we'll probably see a few titles reach that magical multimillion-dollar jackpot, but not what we've been used to in the past."

Those whose make pledges at levels that include copies of the game as rewards are promised delivery by October 2020, per the game's website.
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