In the silence that stretches between the spasms of war, two highly trained U.S. special operations troops found themselves holed up in a gritty apartment in the middle of a sweltering city with little to do but wait for their orders.
The men filled the void by writing a scenario about the lives of the troops on the front lines in the war on terror. The resulting script, handwritten in a red spiral-bound notebook, formed the backbone for two video games — the second of which is scheduled to be released in October.
Called Medal of Honor Warfighter and developed by Electronic Arts, the upcoming game continues the story contained in that script, written six years ago.
“The game takes players on one soldier’s journey in answering the larger question of why he does what he does,” said Greg Goodrich, the game’s executive producer and head of the Electronic Arts Inc.’s Danger Close development studio in Playa Vista. Goodrich notes these games deal with the sacrifices that people in elite units must often make, including higher divorce rates and estranged children.
“It’s a deeper level of story and emotion that games haven’t always been able to tap into,” noted Goodrich. “They are more than just men with guns.”
Information about these military men-screenwriters is spare. Virtually everything about their jobs is classified — where they were, what they did, even their full names. In a telephone interview with The Times, the soldiers, now retired from active duty, identified themselves only by their first names, Nate and Kevin, in order to protect their identities and those of the troops who served with them.
Here’s what we do know.
They called it the “vent book.” In it, they wrote about what they would do if they were in charge of wiping out terrorism. They created heroes — amalgams of the mission leaders and fellow troops they most admired. They came up with plot lines, characters and missions, drawn from their work as part of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.
“The vent book became a creative process for us,” said Kevin. “And it was a really enjoyable process.”
Dog-eared from being stuffed into their gear bags and hauled across several countries where their work took them, the vent book was where the two jotted down ideas and fleshed out characters during the six weeks between missions.
While on leave in 2006, Kevin visited Goodrich, an old friend, and asked him to read a typed version of the vent book. Goodrich loved it and saw an opportunity.
EA had been looking to reboot its Medal of Honor franchise. The series, created by Steven Spielberg in 1999 as a game version of his World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Medal of Honor had fallen on hard times. It had been eclipsed by Call of Duty, a rival military shooter game that came out in 2003. EA executives felt the Kevin-Nate script was the perfect vehicle for Medal of Honor to make its modern-day comeback.
“The original Medal of Honor was less about war than the men and women who fought them,” Goodrich said. “It was about the honor and respect they had for each other. We wanted to create an emotional connection between the player and these soldiers within the narrative of a global threat. The script could do that because it was authentic.”
The first Medal of Honor remake, released in 2010, took place in Afghanistan and was loosely based on the 2002 Battle of Takur Ghar in which a number of U.S. troops were killed during a deadly mountaintop clash with the Taliban.
A month before the title was released, military officials and family members of those killed in Afghanistan objected to the ability for players to take on the role of the Taliban in the game and fight against coalition forces in online sessions. Some felt it offensive that players could kill American and other coalition soldiers.
Although it was customary in video games for one side to play the “bad guys,” officials banned the game from being sold in 300 stores on U.S. military bases. Goodrich recalled being devastated by the decision, but EA stood by the game. After removing references to the Taliban in the multiplayer mode, EA released the game in October 2010. The title wound up selling more than 6 million copies — a respectable number by console game standards.
This year’s game, which is playable on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and on personal computers, will also remove references to specific terrorist groups for online play.
Instead, gamers can choose from a selection of special forces when playing against each other online, including the Polish GROM, the British Special Air Service, the German Kommando Spezialkräefte and the U.S. Delta Force.
The original game followed the stories of the soldiers of the Neptune Squad. Many of those characters return in the latest version, but this time one of them, Preacher, takes center stage as we learn of the toll his constant travel and shroud of secrecy has had on his family. With his marriage on the precipice, Preacher is sent off with his squad to unravel an underground web of distribution for pentaerythritol trinitrate, an explosive so potent that a mere 100 grams is sufficient to destroy a car.
With the world’s headline news to draw from, Warfighter developers promise plenty of intrigue. But the emphasis on authenticity is not just a slavish devotion to reality, Goodrich insisted.
“If we can keep the game honest and truthful, we can engage our audience in a new way rather than just being another gun fantasy,” he said.
— Alex Pham
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