The Vietnam conflict - arguably one of the most brutal, punishing and horrific wars in modern history. Would we have like to have been there? Well, no, not particularly, unless you happen to be talking about Guerrilla's Shellshock: Nam '67, in which case we could probably think of worse places to be. We nabbed hold of Shellshock's lead designer Doug Walker to talk us through his team's gritty take on the Vietnam War...
What set you on the road to Shellshock: Nam '67, and what appealed about the Vietnam War as a setting for a game?
Walker: Our decision was influenced by the growing popularity of realistic war-based action games. This genre suited our design aspirations and current technology so we knew from day one we wanted to make an action game. With so many games based around WWII on the market, we wanted to focus on a different conflict and Vietnam was an obvious choice. It was such a well-documented and misunderstood war that it made ideal subject matter. We took this and created a game that follows a single GI on his tour of the 'Nam in 1967, without pulling any punches.
Are we really going to genuinely find content in the game disturbing?
Walker: When you're dealing with a subject like war, it's to be expected that the content will be graphic. We don't want to shock people simply for the sake of being controversial; we want to show the Vietnam War as it really was (and it was a brutalising, scary time for most participants). A lot of the horrific subject matters in the game are based on well-established facts and personally, I find that disturbing. However, we take our responsibilities seriously and we have rated the game 18, so be prepared.
How realistic is the game's portrayal of combat as experienced by the soldiers fighting in the conflict?
Walker: Our game experience is heavily influenced by the way the US forces moved around and navigated their hostile terrain and engaged their enemy and this is indicative of how the game plays, but we are not delivering a military combat simulation here.
We understand that the situations that the main character finds himself in develop during play as he becomes more "seasoned". Could you elaborate on this and also tell us how, in relation to this, the gameplay experience changes as we progress through the title?
Walker: Shellshock: Nam '67 really is the story of a single GI in Vietnam. You follow him from the first moments he sets foot on the ground as an FNG, up to and beyond 'black-op' missions. As you progress through the game, and become more proficient and deadly, attitudes of the people around you will also change. You are able to collect various items in the game which will allow you access to specialist weaponry... Or maybe just a little R and R...
What influence, if any, have the numerous Vietnam War movies that have been made had on Shellshock: Nam '67?
Walker: No single movie influenced us more than another; primarily the Vietnam War movies provided reference material for our level, character designs and special effects. They are a good resource when actually considering the atmosphere of the game, the closeness of jungle fighting and the high drama that can unfold on the battlefield.
During development, what implemented features really stood out for you and left you satisfied/happy that you were delivering what you had originally set out to create?
Walker: The two things that stand out for me are the AI and the environments.
We wanted to create an enemy that provided a fluid experience for the player. I think we achieved that; our AI is clever and devious, they'll hide and ambush you, flank you, sneak up behind you, run away and return with reinforcements. We specifically set out to represent the Viet Cong and NVA as an intelligent, motivated fighting force (because it was)
The recreation of jungle environments was a challenge but I think we have achieved stunning results, some of the best I have ever seen. Again, we made good use of our research material like actual flora databases. The result is that our jungles are actually made up from exactly the same combinations of plants and trees that you would find in Vietnam.
We've interviewed Matt Costello about Shellshock's storyline. How important has his work been to the overall in-game experience?
Walker: Working with such a respected and experienced writer was very exciting. Matt created the overarching storyline and fleshed out the major parts of the plot and provided guidance and support while we created the levels. His dialogue writing skills brought focus and humour to a difficult subject matter and helped us to portray the war in a very evocative manner.
Stripping away the setting and looking at Shellshock purely as an action game, where does it go that other action titles haven't?
Walker: When we first started we took some time to study how the US fought in this conflict. It wasn't about aimlessly running around a jungle with huge machineguns covering large distances and mowing down everything that moves. For the GI there was a great deal of trepidation and uncertainty. In SSN67 you have to think about your movements just as the US did and use the environment to your advantage.
There will always be lurking VC patrols and ambushes waiting for you so you'll constantly need to keep your eyes peeled and try and gain the advantage where possible simply just to survive your tour. The player's ability closely mirrors that of the GI's enabling them to use rocks, trees, wall and contours of the ground to supplement their combat abilities. How the player decides to use the environment is entirely up to them as there is no right or wrong way of fighting in the Nam 67.
What else is cool in Nam '67 that we should definitely know about?
Walker: Watch out for booby traps, new guy... Seriously though, from the changing gameplay, lush environments, vast arsenal of weaponry, soundtrack and design, responsive AI, stunning cut-scenes and compelling story, Shellshock is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.
If we can only afford to buy one game in September, why should that game be Shellshock: Nam '67?
Walker: If there were a license for the Vietnam War - like there is for Formula One - then this game would be it. Realistic - sometimes horrific - but never, ever dull.