Although the Vietnam War took place more than 30 years ago, the conflict still stirs up strong feelings amongst Americans and indeed people worldwide. Tackling the subject in videogame form was always going to prove controversial, and up to this point you could argue that we've seen some fairly gratuitous examples. With Men of Valor, however, 2015 is determined to try and avoid making a political statement or offending anybody. Yet, at the same time, they've chosen an African-American man for the lead and aim to touch on some of the delicate racial issues that were unfolding at the time... There are certainly some aspects of the equation that don't quite add up. In the concluding part of our interview with 2015, we asked Cayle George about some of the more controversial aspects of Men of Valor: The Vietnam War...
Eurogamer: What sort of research did you do for the game, and how did you benefit from it?
Cayle George: I think the best thing about doing research is it gives you inspiration. Almost every single mission has something that's pulled out of history. The game takes in the whole timeline of the Vietnam war, so you'll progress through the early parts of the war on through the Tet Offensive and reclaiming parts of the city of Hue after that, and so on, and so a lot of the battles that take place were researched and we kind of got a feel for what the average marine was experiencing at that time or maybe we'll focus on a specific battle and actually try and recreate some of that battle. A good example would be a compound in the city of Hue during the Tet Offensive, which was one of the few places not overrun by the NVA, and you get to defend the compound, and there are a lot of structures that were actually there set up in the map, and you're able to interact with characters and deal with some of the action that actually took place there.
The research basically helped us out a lot with those types of things, and also in trying to help us give a very authentic feel to the game; for example you won't find any weapons that you wouldn't actually have found in Vietnam, and you won't actually find any weapons that you wouldn't find during that period in which the battle you're fighting takes place. You wouldn't immediately find an M-16, an M-14 or a Thompson or anything like that. As you progress through the game the NVA drop the AK-47 and move on to the Tek-56 which was a little more robust. And as the war evolves you can see some of the history through some of the documentary-type footage that we have in the game and things like that, and I think that provides an authentic experience for the player.
Eurogamer: You must have been inspired to a certain extent by a lot of Vietnam films.
Cayle George: Yeah definitely.
Eurogamer: Any in particular?
Cayle George: Well, just me personally, I'm a big fan of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and those are great films, and I think what those films do really well is create a really unique mood. I think we tried express some of that in Men of Valor. In Apocalypse Now there are some very surreal scenes, like the scene around a bridge, where they're going down the river and they come across that bridge and there are some lights on the bridge, and there's guys just hanging out, not really fighting, kind of fighting. And there's a guy with an M-79, who's named Jesus or something, shooting... and it's very weird, and you know in our case sometimes we have guys who are sitting around smoking pot in a bunker, while guys two feet away are shooting and dying, and weird stuff like that I think provides a very interesting mood.
Eurogamer: One of the other things that Vietnam films did was that they tried to make points about the conflict. Are you trying to make any points with Men of Valor?
Cayle George: Definitely not, actually. We're not trying to make any points or draw any conclusions about the war. Basically our objective was just to present the war in a realistic manner, be true to its form, and the player can make any sort of conclusions or assumptions from that. But we felt like being historically accurate to the best of our ability and making the game fun. The player can decide whatever they like about that. But we're not making any sort of political statement with the game. I think one of the hardest things about a Vietnam game is everybody has their own opinion about it. A lot of people would say that the war is horrible and then some would say it had its purpose. So I think pretty much just trying to present it accurately is the best way; that way everyone can decide what they want.
Eurogamer: One of the things you did do was to choose an African-American lead. What was the thinking behind that?
Cayle George: Well it was definitely a conscious decision to choose an African-American protagonist. The Vietnam war happened during a time right around the civil rights movement when there were a lot of politics between blacks and whites - delicate racial issues - and we try not to involve anything related to that in the game, but some of that is brought up in some of the character development, and we chose an African-American player because a good number of marines and GIs who fought in the war were African-American, and with that we can provide a unique perspective on the history of the time for the game.
So you kind of get a little bit of history and feeling about that in some of the letters that the player writes home, you get some of the developments of what might be going on back home in terms of how his family and African-American families are feeling about things, how his brother is doing, who eventually comes to the war and that you meet during the game. And actually during the action too. When you're fighting alongside some of the Arvn troops who are the South Vietnamese, who are fighting the North Vietnamese, and when you're fighting alongside them one of them comments during a cinematic sequence, 'Hey, why's this guy fighting in this war when he goes home and he's not even a real citizen?' We try to interject a little bit of what was going on at that time, and what the African-Americans in the Vietnam war might've been feeling.
Eurogamer: Do you worry that people might think that that sort of thing is a little crass?
Cayle George: There will probably be some people who think it's a gimmick. But I think you have to pick and choose what kind of things you want to show, and I think it's definitely not done with any intent of making it come off that way. Personally I think it provides a pretty unique perspective, but if people think it's crass, then they'll think it's crass. [Laughs nervously]
Eurogamer: What are you personal views on the Vietnam conflict?
Cayle George: What are my person views? Um, well there's lots of things there, could you be a bit more specific?
Eurogamer: Do you think it was the right thing for America to do?
Cayle George: No I don't. Personally I don't think that the war was the right thing. I don't speak for my company when I say that, but you know... I grew up in Berkeley, California, my parents were hippies, I was kind of raised as a sort of classic idealist in a household like that. I'm very actually anti-war. I don't agree with the Vietnam war at all. And I think it's interesting making a game like this because some of the things we try to show in the game, like Dean the main character, I mean he volunteered for Vietnam, you know wanting to do the right thing for his country, thinking that he should do his duty as a citizen. And it's interesting that a lot of people probably felt like that during the Vietnam war, that, hey, they should support their country, that's what they should do, without taking a step back and really thinking about what was going on and asking, you know, what are we doing over here? Like, what's the point?
Eurogamer: Does it make it hard to work on something like this, feeling that way?
Cayle George: I don't think it makes it difficult to work on the game, because I know it's just a game, and I enjoy making games just for the fact of making them, you know.
Eurogamer: Do you think it influences you in some way?
Cayle George: Maybe, I'm not sure. But you know, it's not like our game says, 'Hey, Vietnam was the best thing since sliced bread.' So I just try to look at it in my own view.