Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now wouldn’t have made a good video game in the 8-bit era, where stories were simple and screens only scrolled one way. Now, in an era where games unfold over dozens of hours and boast open worlds both vast and vibrant, things feel better equipped to encompass the sprawling, morally complicated milieu of Coppola’s Vietnam.
A Kickstarter launched by game studio Erebus late last month looks to make such a game a reality. The Apocalypse Now game has been called an “immersive, psychedelic horror RPG,” with director Montgomery Markland describing it as “Fallout: New Vegas on acid in Vietnam.” It sounds ambitious as hell, with Markland telling Polygon “it will include everything you see in the theatrical cut, everything in the redux cut” but with “player choice, engagement and immersion.” Even Coppola was into it, saying he was “excited to explore the possibilities for Apocalypse Now for a new platform and a new generation.”
Sounds amazing. Almost… too amazing? The Kickstarter was canceled midday Wednesday, with all crowd funding moving to the game’s site. Soon after, The Verge published a piece outlining the troubled history of both the game’s origins and those behind its development, including Markland.
The Verge’s piece is essentially the story of a troubled game studio, Killspace, who in 2009 attempted to produce their vision of Apocalypse Now (among many, many other games) but failed, producing only the little-loved Yar’s Revenge in its three-year lifespan. Speaking with former Killspace employees, The Verge learned that under Markland and producer Larry Liberty—the names behind the crowdfunded Apocalypse Now—the studio was beset with problems:
Employees — who spoke on condition of anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements — complained of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages, erratic and out-of-touch management, and financial decisions that made an already bad situation worse. One person called Killspace “the worst-run company you could possibly imagine.” Another simply referred to their time there as a “nightmare.” And all of them expressed serious misgivings about the crowdfunded Apocalypse Now.
“People are plunking down money to see something, and to play something, about a property that they like,” says another source. “But I think that they’re just probably about to be set up for some disappointment.”
Though these previous accounts should provide misgivings for those pumping money into the project, The Verge does point to some positives about the current campaign.
In some ways, the Apocalypse Now crowdfunding campaign seems like an overt attempt to avoid the problems of Killspace — or at least to learn from them. Erebus is described as a single-project studio, not a wide-ranging one; in fact, its name is specifically a reference to the boat in Coppola’s original film.
The Verge also speaks to Markland, who denies several of the anonymous claims regarding his erratic behavior, poor leadership, and ability to actually produce a game. He promises a finished game by 2020 and cites the movie’s troubled history in response to the current controversy: “The one thing I do know,” he says, “is that Francis Ford Coppola went into the jungle planning to shoot for 14 weeks — but didn’t come out of the jungle until 500 days later.”
Yeah, and while he was there he looked like this. Godspeed.