Here's the interview from G4.
Ten Minutes with John Miliuswritten by Coury Turczyn
The Director of Conan the Barbarian Enters the Video Game Arena with Medal of Honor: European Assault
John Milius earned a Hollywood reputation as a true he-man film director and writer, co-writing the screenplay for Apocalypse Now, and directing the ‘80s classics Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. ("Wolverines!") He was also the fellow who coined Dirty Harry’s signature catchphrase: "Go ahead, make my day." And now he’s entered the video game industry by consulting and writing for the latest chapter in the Medal of Honor franchise, European Assault. A hardcore World War II history buff, Milius was the perfect choice to bring historical authenticity and a cinematic viewpoint to the popular FPS series. In this interview, Milius talks about how writing for video games is different than screenwriting, and why future video games will be more like novels than movies.
How did you get involved with Medal of Honor: European Assault?
I was working for EA on another project. I had written a very detailed script for it, and they decided to put it on hold. And that’s about the time that this game started, really. They said, “Gee, we’d like to have him work on Medal of Honor.” So they took me over there and I jumped right in.
Had you played any war games previous to this?
I can’t do those things on my own—I don’t have the computer skills. The only war games I ever played were board games when I was a kid, like Avalon Hill and those kinds of things. Of course, I’m a guy from the ICT: the Institute of Creative Technology, which is like the Rand Corporation, a think tank. We did very, very complex war games there for the Pentagon, and we still do that. So I did know a little about this.
What was your goal on the project?
My goal was just to make it interesting and try to bring real history into it—give people a sense of the things that happened. If you’re going to go through World War II, don’t go through it in a really fanciful and unnecessary way; go through it in a way that gives you a sense of the shape of World War II and what really, historically happened and what things influenced others.
What’s the scenario behind European Assault?
The player will be introduced to the main character, (U.S. Army Lieutenant William) Holt, who’s an OSS man. Very early in the war, he’s sent off to the British to participate in one of the most daring commando raids of World War II. And in that commando raid, he finds things that lead them to other theaters of operation. Originally, it starts with following up the development of the eighty-eight artillery piece, which leads to more dark and sinister things. And by doing that, you’re able to have him go to different theaters and key events in World War II.
How did you tackle the balance between gameplay and historical accuracy?
I was always for historical accuracy, and they had to tone me down. If I was to do a game, it probably would be boring. There are certain things you can’t do. Like, I wanted to follow an armored assault, but they decided that they didn’t want to have people be in tanks. They wanted to follow ground combat with squads because it worked better for the game. I would like to see all different aspects to the event, which eventually you’ll be able to do—you’ll see it from the point of view of somebody in the air, somebody in an infantry unit or a tank, or a civilian. There’s no doubt that games will eventually come to this.
Do you think that games will ever be able to truly simulate the experience of war?
Yeah, I think games will be much more like long novels in the future; they will be much more story oriented than they are now. They’re headed that way. They’ll be very story oriented, and they’ll take a long time. So you’ll have an experience that’s a real experience. Last summer, I read War and Peace, and it took me a long time to read it, so I was immersed in Russia from 1805 to 1813 or whatever—the events of the Napoleonic Wars and the lives of the different aristocratic families in Russia. And because I was immersed in it for a long time—and because Tolstoy is a very good writer, too— I probably got a much greater feel for that period, certainly much better than if I would have seen a movie. And a game can do the same thing. I can imagine somebody doing a game that takes a month to complete in which you would have all kinds of emotions, and follow all kinds of stories.
Working on this particular game, did you try to inject drama as you would on a movie script?
I tried to do that often. But I’m just a consultant. They told me what I could do and what I couldn’t. It was sort of interesting to do it that way—just to come in, sit there, and throw my stuff out there. They used what they wanted, other stuff they didn’t. I had no ego about it. I wasn’t sitting there saying, “This is the way you should’ve done it,” because it’s a game, a different thing. And it was a relief, in a way. It was sort of a nice way to work.
How close do you think European Assault came to what you envisioned?
Well, I didn’t really envision a total picture. I just envisioned what I could help with. It’s not like a screenplay or a story, where I envisioned a beginning, middle, and an end. A whole story is a much different thing, especially when you write a screenplay and direct it.
How was it different working as a video game writer as opposed to being a film writer?
Well, in video games, there really isn’t “a writer”—there are a lot of different writers, and a lot of different aspects that go into it. So the story voice you’re trying to make is subject to what can be done and what’s exciting gameplay. Gaming hasn’t really reached the level yet where the story is very important or that you’re following the events of the story very carefully. It’s like a broad over-story. It’s very, very different in a movie where every line is important, and there’s the whole concept media dramaturgy. But this is kind of fun. It’s still in a very crude stage; this is going to change a lot in the next year—and in the next five years, it’s going to be unrecognizable. If it continues the way it is, in five years games will be extremely sophisticated and much, much different from what they are now.
Are you planning on doing any more video game projects?
Yeah, I love doing this. It’s really a lot of fun because it’s a certain kind of creativity without pressure. And everybody loves to live in a world of fantasy, so to speak—to go back in history. That’s why we have re-enactors.
Well, King Conan is pretty well on hold. Warner Brothers decided they’re going to do their own version of whatever they want to do with Conan. They’ve sort of put it in deep, deep freeze. I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Warner Brothers and ask them what their wisdom is. They’ll probably do an animated, kid-friendly Conan.
Is there any information you can divulge on King Conan?