INTERVIEW: Walt Williams, lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line, talks about the dark side of war
War’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Spec Ops: The Line
I recently got loaned a build of Spec Ops: The Line, and played through the first few chapters of the game.
While the squad-based third person shooter doesn't really innovate in terms of gameplay, I found it very memorable because of its narrative.
Instead of putting you in the role of some gung-ho, nameless soldier, you're put into the shoes of Captain Martin Walker. A veteran who's seen his fair share of death and destruction, his past experiences, plus your decisions while playing the game, shape a dark and dreary vision of warfare.
Well-written and quite shocking at times, the parts of the game that I played make me very hopeful for a final game that will remind people that war isn't about glory. It's about soldiers, civilians, and the lives that are affected by it.
The lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line, Walt Williams, recently took the time to listen to a few questions about the game. Here are his answers to our queries.
When creating the game's story, were you inspired by real-world events? Were there any specific ones?
Spec Ops isn't a story about global conflict. It's a story about what happens to people when they're faced with an increasingly bad situation. It's about the line separating expectation from reality -- how we see ourselves versus who we really are. So, no, Spec Ops was not inspired by any real-world conflict, current or historical. It is, however, inspired by seeing soldiers return home from these conflicts... seeing how they have been changed by the experience.
What made you choose Dubai as the setting for the game?
The city is truly unique in the world because of its extravagance, architecture and feeling of utopia that is part of its mystery and reason that attracts many people to visit it each year, so in that respect it's a really interesting location for a game. From a narrative point of view we wanted to select a location that is realistically isolated from the world so we could create this natural catastrophe that "could" effectively cut them off from the outside world, and it being located in the desert is the perfect for some of the other themes we were developing. And finally, so far Dubai has never really been featured in games or movies, and yet everyone has seen or heard about the crazy projects done there. Building an artificial island in a special shape - the palm island - or the highest tower in the world are distinct landmarks that most everyone knows.
You obviously wanted to create a game that brought more attention to the mental and emotional anguish that soldiers go through. What made you want to do this?
We wanted to place the player in a situation where their morality would be challenged to an extreme point. Military duty, on paper, is always twisted by the reality of extreme situations soldiers will have to face. How much can you endure on a journey to hell and back? This theme is not new and has been used in many movies and books. Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are great examples of media that also have explored this theme . Similarly themed movies like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon or psychological thrillers like Miller's Crossing or The Manchurian Candidate.
After having played through the first ten chapters, I've come across a few situations where you could make a choice. These choices came with grave consequences. From my point of view, a recurring theme seems to be that there are no good choices in war, just difficult ones. Is this what you've intended?
Rarely is there a "good" or "bad" decision to be made, and even more rarely, one which results in a happy ending. We ask the player to approach the gray area surrounding these difficult moral questions, and make decisions based on his own interpretation of these scenarios. There isn't a good or bad way to play the game, and the narrative reflects that as the player progresses deeper and deeper into the inevitable Heart of Darkness.mag