There’s absolutely no doubt that Apocalypse Now is an iconic part of film history. This is the movie which shook up an entire generation – and still proves immensely powerful today. When it comes to the world of video games, it’s honestly surprising that no one already created an Apocalypse Now game before now. The closest we’ve come so far is Spec Ops: The Line – a great game in its own right. At the end of January, Erebus LLC launched a Kickstarter campaign for an official Apocalypse Now game. It didn’t take long for news to spread. By the end of the day, pretty much all fans of Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark film knew of the project. So too did tons of gamers.
And yet, instead of running away with its $900,000 funding goal, it has so far chugged along at a scarily slow pace for a project with such strong name recognition. This left some folks who backed the project immediately after learning about it scratching their heads. How could anyone not pledge to Apocalypse Now in video game format? It isn’t the fault of the property itself. The issue lies entirely with how the Kickstarter pitches itself. Instead of offering a slick, well-designed campaign page, we’re presented with an incredibly long winded and amateur attempt. In many ways, if not for the early verifiable press coverage it received out of the gate, it could have easily been a project a fan put up without any legal right before promptly being shut down. That’s how the campaign honestly appears.
You don’t have to be a crowdfunding diehard to feel this way. On launch day, I took a look around Reddit, Neogaf, and other forums to see many calling the campaign sketchy. Despite its status as a legitimate Kickstarter it just didn’t have the look and feel of one. Apparently Erebus LLC think their pitch is just fine as it has remained – typos, contradictions, and all – the same since launch. The only real shakeup was the posting of their first video game footage earlier than intended. Yes, one of the most ridiculous mistakes was launching without putting together a trailer of the actual game. Fortunately, they rectified this quickly instead of keeping to their initial “we’ll post footage in about a week” promise. Even then, a recreation of the Apocalypse Now cinematic trailer doesn’t quite fulfill that urge to see some early gameplay footage.
So let’s delve into how and why this campaign simply doesn’t seem right – even though it is legitimate. First, take a look at the very first thing said about the Apocalypse Now video game by the team themselves:
“We’re making a first-person perspective survival and horror game with strong roleplaying elements. No open world. No long walks. No twitch shooting. All tension. All tactical decision making. Some outcomes determined by Player skill and some by Character skill. Psychological decision making in your dialogues with other characters. And a heavy emphasis on an RPG-like narrative with branching outcomes.”
Can you tell what kind of game to expect from vague remarks such as these? At best, we know to expect a horror game with strong narrative focus and dialogue choices which alter your path in the storyline. It is absolutely not a shooter but also apparently not a walking simulator, or any game with an open world, either. Oh, and “it’s like Fallout: New Vegas…” if you removed the vast, open world, and action elements, I guess. As it turns out, they’re actually intending to focus on stealth gameplay. That’s cool and can totally work! It’s just annoying that it takes them paragraphs of meandering to finally give a semi solid explanation of what players should even truly expect from their game.
That’s not to say that they don’t confuse the explanation just a bit lower down the page by contradicting themselves, because they do. “Unlike a traditional RPG, the emphasis is not choosing dialogue, but rather actions and postures.” After slavishly painting Apocalypse Now as a game defined heavily by dialogue-based interactions, this completely refutes it in one go. For example, this sentence completely suggests a heavy focus on dialogue as a key gameplay component: “Your skills will affect your dialogues, what dialogue choices you have, and will open up different avenues of approach to the characters in the world.” But, just like this is Fallout: New Vegas without tons of that game’s enjoyable elements, it is both a dialogue choice-heavy RPG and also not one simultaneously.
At the end of the day, though, the most ardent fans do not likely care what kind of Apocalypse Now game they get as long as one materializes at all. Even from that perspective there’s still some rather eyebrow raising elements to this whole campaign. The worst of the bunch is the matter of funding. Anyone who did not read the page all the way through may have easily missed the single sentence remark explaining that a successful Kickstarter for Apocalypse Now is not all this game needs to be made. Far from it. Even with $900,000 secured, they will continue to seek fan funding by way of a continuous campaign on their website. They’re certainly not the first to use this idea. For example, Star Citizen has been outrageously successful by doing exactly this.
The issue is that this is hardly mentioned on the Kickstarter page. It’s not even touched upon in the Risks and Challenges section. Instead, we’re given a tiny snippet explaining that they expect to raise an additional $5,000,000 from fans after collecting their Kickstarter money. Given that the Kickstarter is going so slowly – and frankly doesn’t look like it will make it – expecting five million bucks on top of that shows some serious hubris. At this point, the website does not discuss any potential risks of this additional funding campaign nor does it offer a closing date. We can only assume it’ll end prior to the estimated release window of 2020. Let’s say that Apocalypse Now fans scrounge together enough additional funds and attention to dramatically fund the Kickstarter in its final hours. That won’t be the end because Erebus LLC have already stated they need that additional five million from the public – and no doubt many backers will hear of this for the first time at that point.
What happens if Apocalypse Now is funded but additional money barely trickles in and they don’t get aid from a third party? Will the Kickstarter funding simply disappear into the ether? Will refunds be offered? There’s no information to go off on concerning the point of their next crowdfunding initiative. All we know is they acknowledge the risks inherent with crowdfunding, but must not feel it applies to them enough to speak more in depth about this very real concern. None of this is necessarily the fault of the developers and teams involved in the production of this game. The fault lies primarily with whoever failed to understand what makes a successful campaign when preparing to jump into crowdfunding. Even if they don’t have much information about the game, they could have at the very least made it look like they did.
It feels like everyone involved in the decision to launch a Kickstarter expected the Apocalypse Now name would be all they needed. By invoking the classic film, and its director, they would be able to simply ride the money train for months and years to come. That is obviously not the case, as we’re seeing. While some folks did back after only hearing “Apocalypse Now: The Game” many more savvy consumers took the time to look at the actual pitch. They were able to see for themselves how sloppy it is and how little explanation of the actual core game is available. Some even took note of the total asking price of $5,900,000 when you put the Kickstarter and other funding goal together. It is not safe to hedge an entire campaign off of name recognition, especially when asking for heavy sums of money. There must be at least a little something to back a project up. Apocalypse Now simply doesn’t have enough support provided by its own campaign to raise a compelling reason to fund it.