American Zoetrope, the film studio founded by Francis Ford Coppola, is traveling into the heart of darkness with an all new venture: a crowdfunded video game based on the iconic film, Apocalypse Now. The 1979 film, which stars Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter Kurtz and Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin Willard (with memorable performances by Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and others), has become a classic in American cinema with near universal acclaim. The story takes place during the Vietnam War, and Captain Willard is sent into Cambodia to assassinate Kurtz, who has established himself as a god among a local tribe—discovering the horrors of war in doing so. An extended version of the film, Apocalypse Now Redux was released in 2001, and now it’s time to take things to the next level with an interactive experience.

“Forty years ago, I set out to make a personal art picture that could hopefully influence generations of viewers for years to come,” said Coppola in a press release. “Today, I’m joined by new daredevils, a team who want to make an interactive version of Apocalypse Now, where you are Captain Benjamin Willard amidst the harsh backdrop of the Vietnam War. I’ve been watching video games grow into a meaningful way to tell stories, and I’m excited to explore the possibilities for Apocalypse Now for a new platform and a new generation.”

Montgomery Markland, Apocalypse Now game director
Montgomery Markland, Apocalypse Now game director

To maintain creative freedom and to match the creative integrity of the film, the Apocalypse Now game is being funded through Kickstarter, which marks the first step in a three-year project. Its team of developers are industry veterans who have worked on games that include Battlefield, Gears of War, Far Cry, The Witcher, Fallout: New Vegas and more. The game’s director, Montgomery Markland, was the lead producer for two of the most successful crowdfunded games of all time: Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera.

Markland spoke with [a]listdaily about how the idea to create a psychological horror game based on Apocalypse Now came into being and how the developers were working with Coppola to make it a reality.

“We came to work with Mr. Coppola as we pitched his studio, American Zoetrope, several years ago about turning his motion picture into a survival horror role-playing game,” said Markland. “With the way the industry has progressed over the past few years, now seemed like the right time to realize our vision. To quote Captain Willard: ‘Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one.’”

In discussing the inspiration for making the game, Markland said, “This line did not make the final cut, nor the Redux, but Captain Willard does have the line in the narration script: ‘War is a game.’

“Obviously, war is not a game. War is about more than pulling a trigger. We believe trigger-pulling gameplay has driven most of the history of video games, and we’re going to create something fresh by relying on great things from our cultural history. Mr. Coppola has shown his vision for the future once again by trusting us to do so.”


When asked to list the challenges of making a video game based on one of the most iconic movies of all time, Markland said, “Specificity, authenticity, reality, and translating a unique point-of-view into a new format, on new platforms for a new generation. We want to stay as true to the motion picture as possible, while also giving players a new and unique perspective on the horror of war.”

As for how closely the game will follow the plot of the movie, Markland explained that “the critical path of the video game will follow the narrative of the motion picture—but we are building a role-playing game with moment-to-moment narrative decision making, so your version of the narrative of Apocalypse Now will vary from every other player’s version of that narrative. If you want to sit on the boat at Nha Trang, drop acid and ignore your mission, be our guest.”

Markland also discussed why the developers turned to crowdfunding, when many publishers would probably be very eager to back an Apocalypse Now game. “Mr. Coppola went outside the studio system to create a motion picture that was war, instead of just being ‘about war,’” said Markland. “We’re going outside the publisher system to create a video game that is Apocalypse Now, instead of just being a licensed consumer product.”

prototyp_still_lowrez_02We asked about how the developers are getting the word out about the campaign, and Markland said: “People first. Gamers first. Crowdfunders first. And then we have also been sharing the news with press and other influential people we hope will find this project interesting on a personal level. Apocalypse Now is a classic motion picture, and we will really be looking to the community to help us spread the word of the Kickstarter organically through their personal social channels, and world of mouth. The people will tell us exactly how much they want this video game; that is the beauty of crowdfunding.”

Markland then detailed some of the backer rewards. “There are fifty-two unique backer rewards that range from a digital copy of the game, to physical recreations of key motion picture narrative elements like the dossier Captain Willard reads about Colonel Kurtz, to actual props from the motion picture pulled from the Francis Ford Coppola Presents and American Zoetrope archives, with more to be revealed through the Kickstarter. We’re offering a diverse and compelling range of Backer rewards for fans at any level.”

Similar to his approach with the film, Coppola will be working closely with the game development team. “Mr. Coppola has been intimately involved in the creative decisions throughout the pre-production process,” said Markland. “Mr. Coppola retains his grand vision that helped him direct many of the greatest motion pictures of all time. At the same time, much like how he mentored and collaborated with filmmakers from John Milius to George Lucas, he is the ultimate collaborator and understands that any creative enterprise is a symphony, not a solo act.”


Markland also shared his thoughts on why the film and its dark themes can still captivate audiences, even though it has been almost 40 years since it hit theaters.

Apocalypse Now carries on a thousands-of-years-old storytelling tradition that begins with Homer’s The Odyssey, carries through Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and found its most gripping expression in Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius’ screenplay and motion picture,” said Markland, “and will soon live again in an interactive form for a new audience.”

“I first watched it in high school in the nineties with my friends at my girlfriend’s house and we endlessly quoted the characters while shotgunning Miller Lites,” he continued. “Most of us weren’t alive when Apocalypse Now was released. None of us were alive when the motion picture was filmed. None of our parents were married when the script was first written. And yet, timeless stories are timeless.”