Back through the mists of time and space, long before teenagers and young adults were locked in virtual global wars on Xbox Live, there were these mystical places called arcades, where young and old alike plucked in quarters to machines, and enjoyment was had by all...and no game ranks as high in my mind, has 1987's XENOPHOBE. I've been a gamer since 1982, and I was a kid during the apex of arcade popularity, and I spend my hard earned allowance on various arcade games, but none sucked down by quarters more than the MSF alien shoot'em up, Xenophobe. So, sit back and enjoy the read about a lost classic of 1980's MSF video games at its finest. What is Xenophobe?
The original 1987 arcade game featured a tri-split horizontal screen that allowed three players via nine different characters to combat evolving hostile alien life called xenos with a variety of futuristic weaponry in all manners of science fiction settings. Reaching the goal of clearing the bases, shuttles, ships, and stations of the xenos seems easy, but the aliens make their best attempt at being serious green assholes at every turn. Xenophobe was known for creative, vibrant graphics, addictive gameplay, and some references to ALIENS and Star Trek back in the day. One of the features that differed Xenophobe from the rest of the split-screen games was that a player could pursue their own course of action, not being tied to the screen that their fellow players were on. Each 'level' was timed, if you and your fellow xeno hunters couldn't clear the structure, than the transporter discs from the assault transport ship (one my favorite VG ships!) would whisk you away prior to a self-destructive protocol, and a catalog of your recovered items are entered and points received. Victory was met with a different music, a point bonus, and catalog of the items. There was no end to the arcade game, it would just roll over locations and increases the difficult. I've read on a couple of websites (for what it is worth) that Xenophobe's development was cut short, and rushed into arcades to cash in on the popularity of ALIENS, causing for some of the items in the background not to usable along with the pickup items that are scattered about.
The Story of Xenophobe
This comes from the ATARI Lynx version:
"Terror in Space...a team of space mechanics sent to repair the planets vital space stations sent a frantic signal for help. No one could understand the message. It was thought that they had run out of supplies or air, or maybe that the temperature control system on the space station had failed, resulting in intense heat and bone splitting cold. Until one day, unexpectedly, one of the maintenance transport craft returned, flown by only one man. He was severely wounded. The tale he told was one of terror. He told of strange creatures that took over the space station and began to breed. He described strangle eggs hatching into pods. The pods turned into skin-sucking critters and ultimately into nasty, spitting snotterpillars. When asked about his companions, he could not answer. His face twisted in terror, he collapsed to the floor. With his last breath, he gasped the word everybody on the planet dreaded-Xenos.
These were the creatures of nightmares. When the planet was first settled, the new colonists were attacked by those hideous creatures from the outer worlds. Only after suffering heavy casualties were the colonists able to fight off the Xenos. Since then, frequent attacks had caused the people of the planet to protect themselves by developing a complex system of space stations to warn of Xeno attacks. But now Xenos have overrun the space stations and the planet is in grave danger. The Xenos could use the artificial climate of the stations to become acclimated to the planet's atmosphere. If the Xenos could successfully adapt for permanent life on the planet, then humankid is in jeopardy. It happened on the old world, Earth, and now it could happen on the new world. An understaffed and ill-equipped group of space gladiators has been dispatched to exterminate the wicked menace. But even if they manage to locate and use the artillery scattered throughtout the space stations, they may not be able to withstand the terror of what they are about to see. The people of the planet may have waited too long. It may be too late".
Wow...that's the best they could come up with for this game? Have they never seen ALIENS? Game manuals are now a dying art...and I can see why.
The Game Specifics
There are three sets of characters, reds, blues, and yellows, with several being aliens (including a duck with a doctorate!), four guns, and seven types of xenos to kill. The Xenos are represented in a life-cycle chain that leads from an egg-pod to the colony Queen, all the way to the queen-bitch, the Mother Festor. There two stages of egg-pods, one with armor, and one with less armor that is about to burst! This leads to the Critter, a crab-like beastie with the ability to chew on you, but they die easily. The Critter gives away to the Rollerbaby, who are a pain in the ass! These take two forms, one is a fast ground-hugger that looks like the bastards from ALIENS, and when the Rollerbabies caught a look at you, they roll up like an Armadillo, and bashes into you.
Only the Fogger or the impact grenades can destroy the rollerbaby when it is playing a basketball. This form leads to the warrior type, the 'Snotterpillar', who can take the most damage, spit toxic goo, and knock you down with a jumping attack. That brings us to the final two forms, the colony queen or 'festor' that is seen in the shadows of the infested structures, that immobilizes you with eye-zapping powers, then drains your health...nasty little bitch. In the ATARI handheld Lynx version, it was possible to travel to the Xeno homeworld, enter a cave, and there was end game stage boss: the supreme queen-mother of the Xenos, the Mother Festor! I've just read this online, but never seen any Lynx screenshots, or videos to prove this actually happens. When it comes to the weapons of Xenophobe, you start off with the Phazer, that does the same amount of damage as your fists, but has a longer (barely) range, and is the only gun that the armory-robot brings you if and when your gun is destroyed by a jumping 'pillar. One of the more handy weapons in the entire game comes as the second weapon you can your hands on, often on the first target location: the laser blaster. While it does a little more damage than the Phazer, however, the damn thing nearly shoots across the screen, given the player the ability to empty entire rooms quickly! Much shorter in range,but greater in firepower is the lightning cannon that fires a lightning bolt and easily takes down the 'pillars with a few shots. Even deadlier is the fogger or puffer, also called the 'extermination gas gun'. This oddball weapon puffs out a cloud of deadly smoke that makes the xenos melt away, but your range is basically the same has your fist. Historical Context of Xenophobe There were three events going onwhen Xenophobe was being developed by Bally Midway Manufacturing, the Xenomorph from the ALIEN universe was one of the most common space monster-creatures at the time, and there was no game based on ALIENS in the arcades at the time, and lastly, arcades were still uber-popular. Just one year after the release of ALIENS, Xenophobe was widely launched into the arcades of America in 1987, That was not by chance development...or was it? Some video game historical sites state that Xenophobe was in-development when ALIENS hit the sliverscreens, and the game was rushed into development by Bally Midway who hoping to cash in on the popularity of that film.
Other sites say that Xenophobe was specifically designed for capitalization of the popularity of ALIENS. This cashing in on the popularity of the ALIEN xenomorph was a common trend at the time, the 1980 Task Force micro-game Intruder that used the basic image of the Xenomorph for a similar setup as the ALIEN movie. Oddly, the Intruder micro-game took place on the space station Prometheus! Unlike arcade titles like I, Robot, Xenophobe was quite common, and the original Xenophobe arcade cabinet are still bought and sold to this day. I nearly bought one when I was single in 1998. My wife would have totally sold once we got married...chicks.
Impact of Xenophobe
Few current gamers know of this alien shoot'em up, and most of the fans of Xenphobe are in their thirtys (just like me), so did Xenophobe have much of impact on the wider world of video games? Not really, save for separating gamers from their cash, and the rash of ports that existed until the early 1990's. The true indirect impact of this game came when I think that 20th Century Fox began to realize the lost revenue stream from not having their own arcade shooter based on the ALIENS universe, which changed in 1990. For the most part, Xenophobe is just a beloved title that has gone on to being loved by its fans for years. One of the more dedicated fans of the game, constructed a 3-D RPG game based around the D&D Expedition to the Barrier Peaks complete with models and custom gaming environments.
Check it out: http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=43&t=41542 The Many Faces of Xenophobe: Porting it to the Home Consoles
The video game industry worked differently in 1987 than today. Home video game consoles of today are incredible powerful, allowing for truly amazing gaming experiences, and most games are solely developed for the home video game market. When I was a kid, the arcade held the majority of premier titles of the world of video games, save for games like Legend of Zelda, and we all wanted to ability to play Double Dragon in our house with our friends. This led to video game companies to port the arcade titles quickly to the home consoles for some cash. Often, these were letdowns in terms of graphic, gameplay, and sound, but it was better than nothing. Back in 1987, Xenophobe was a big hit, with quarters flying into the machines. I often had to wait in long line for a chance at killing Xenos at my local arcade in Bartlesville's Washington Park Mall. From 1988 to 2004, the game would be ported to home consoles, handheld gaming systems, and gaming personal computers, with varying degrees of success on mimicking the arcade hit. The NES (1988)
The first to get the port was the uber-popular NES 8-bit system, and it made sense. The NES was the most popular home system at the time, and given the popularity of the system and the arcade game, it was win-win...well, until you played it. Xenophobe for the NES is ugly, and is a shadow of itself from the arcade title. Gone where the dense backgrounds, there were only three characters to chose from, odd color scheme, framing issues, and a limited number of locations that randomly appeared. However, the title music was faithfully replicated, unlike many other ports of the time. There was the additional elements of the hovering laser sentry cannon that you could reprogram, or it will shoot at you and the grenade-sentry cannon. Most modern reviewers rate this NES port has 'poor' to 'bad', especially when compared to the ports to computer gaming systems of the time. Despite the low reviews, Xenophobe was hit, and most people I knew with an NES had the game, and it was a hard rental game to get your hands on in '88. The ATARI 2600 Jr. (1990) If the NES port of the game was ugly, than this ATARI 2600 Jr. port of Xenophobe is the Momma June of Xenophobe ports! In 1990, the good ole 2600 was redesigned, labeled '2600 Jr.' and made to cosmetically linked to the more expensive 7800 system (which I had). Watching game play on youtube of this port is painful, and only would be acceptable if the game been released in 1983 not 1990! According to the Atari Age website, Xenophobe for the updated 2600 Junior system was a super rare cartridge that I never personally saw back in 1990, save for catalog scans and official ATARI advisement.
The ATARI 7800 (1989)
This is the home port that I have the most experience with, since I had an ATARI 7800 system in 1990, and the game back-in-the-day. I was massively excited about this release, and ordered from Sears, and wait six goddamn weeks to get it. While it was not the ugly mess of the NES port, it was...well...boring. The flat , oddly colored backgrounds, non-existent sound, one character type, and flat gameplay left me switching out games quickly. While the 7800 port was closer to the arcade in some ways, it was still an odd bastard version of my much beloved arcade game. The ATARI Lynx Handheld (1990)
When the handheld ATARI Lynx 16-bit first full color system came out in 1989, it blew the the Gameboy with its an odd yellow-and-black scheme out of the water, and I knew a few people that had one....oh, and it was expensive. ATARI would redesign it in 1990 to overcome the steer bulk of the Lynx, but it didn't help, the Lynx would be phased out when ATARI poured its final breath into the ATARI Jaguar (which I had). The Lynx port of Xenophobe was much different than any of the others. It allowed a limited multiplayer aspect, along with some new playable characters, including a Xeno and a robot, a different (and very cool) opening animation, a jet-pack, different traveling animation between infested bases, and lastly, the ability to kill the Queen bitch of the Xenos! Despite being confined to a handheld device, the Lynx port looks good and plays closer to the arcade version than most of the home consoles until the PS2/Xbox port of 2004. The ATARI XE (1989)
Back in the heyday of ATARI, they marketed several computer systems, home video game console games, and other hardware. One of the more 'lost systems' was the XE. Back when the 7800 came out in the late, late 80's, the XE could be seen in the catalogs, and on the shelve, and was an mix of the ATARI PCs and the 8-bit gaming platform. The system sold terribly, and is rare today. Much like all of the ATARI gaming hardware of the day, a 8-bit port of Xenophobe was being developed, and nearly complete, when it was cancelled along with the entire XE system. The website ATARI Age got their hands on the prototype and played it, and while it was similar to the 7800 version, it had odd habit of coloring the Xenos the same color has the background!
The ATARI ST (1989)
The ATARI ST was a home personal computer system that launched in 1985 and lasted until 1993, and is well known for its musical abilities and software. This PC computer port was only for a single player, but featured a number of characters, colorful design, and the basic gameplay of the arcade game. Little is available on the game without me downloading it, but it seems similar to the computer ports of Xenophobe of the day.
The Amiga Home Computer (1989) The Amiga computer was an off-shoot of the Commandore 64, and was considered the more expensive, and more upgraded PC. While the Commandore 64 was used mostly for games, and some homework and bill paying, the Amiga had upgraded audio and graphic applications. Naturally, the graphics were upgraded for the games on the Amiga when it was released in 1989, same year has the Commandore 64, and even used the same box art. This could be one of the better full-color Xenophobe ports during the initial run.
The Commandore 64 Home Computer (1989) Anyone who had the badass Commandore 64 home gaming computer system was in a league of their own when it came to the experience of video games in the 1980's. Given its popularity, Xenophobe was ported to the computer system in 1989 on 5.25 disks and was more of a full-color gaming experience than most of the ports, but featured only two players, and some rather cool box art.
The ZX Spectrum (1989)
Most American gamers today are unaware of the 8-bit ZX Spectrum home computer gaming system that arrived in 1982, and disappeared around 1992. This was a British made home computer system similar to the Commandore 64, and the games were played off of cassette tapes or floppy disk! Xenophobe came to the ZX Spectrum in 1989, just like the Commandore 64 port, but was two player, and featured more of the arcade game feel than the console system of the day. The game featured nine characters players, more fluid frame rate, but limited color, and rather flat environments, and the music is played throughout the gameplay, and often drowns out the gameplay soundtrack. BTW: the opening music is nearly epic enough to be sampled by Deadmau5!
The Xbox/PS2 (2004)
We fans of the game finally got our wish fulfilled in 2004 when Xenophobe came to the original Xbox and the PS2 bundled in the Midway Arcade Treasures 2. Undoubtedly, this was the best home port of the arcade due to the power of these home console systems that allowed for a complete port of the arcade to the Xbox/PS2. three players at one time, just like the original cabinet. This is still one of the games I held onto for my original Xbox, and still break it out every once and awhile for rekindling memories.
Can You Go to the Xenos Homeworld?
When this game was big in the 1980's, there was a rumor running around my middle school lunchroom at Madison Middle School, that there was end level of the game. It was where the players went to the Xeno homeworld, to kill the Queen Mother. I heard a wild tale of some kids in California operating in teams for days to find the homeworld on the original arcade game. Now, in the era of the internet, I can finally know that rumor was a complete fabrication...the Arcade game would just repeat the levels, increasing the difficulty until you die. It was designed for maximum quarter-pumping, not a campaign. That was until 1990, when Xenophobe was ported to the handheld color ATARI Lynx system. According to some sites and message boards, the queen mother (the Mother Festor!) appears at Level 23, when you travel to a moon, enter a cave, and square off with the queen mother bitch. However, the final boss wasn't the xeno queens were are used to, according to several sources, it was an organic wall that fired eggs at you, while tons of other xenos in various stages of develop swarmed you. I've not been able to confirm this, nor any screen-captures of the battle or anyone that has done it...after all, the Lynx system was expensive and rare at the time, and even more so now.
Will There Ever Be an Next-Gen Xenophobe?
Will we lovers of this 1980's alien shoot'em up ever see a upgraded Xenophobe shooter on the Xbox 720 or PS4? Could the side-scrolling action be replaced with room-to-room clearing of space stations and moonbases in first-person shooter view? Okay, back in the late 1980's/early 1990's, there was no attempt by Bally Midway to develop a sequel for Xenophobe back when the game was popular, and that the game's last exposure was on the original Xbox and PS2 in 2004, it is highly unlikely. That is a real shame for all of us fans of Xenophobe and ALIENS, because a solid alien shoot'em up descended from this 1987 classic game could be pretty kick ass.
Email From the Programmer of XENOPHOBE: Howard Shere!
On June 13th, of 2014, I received an email from the programmer of Xenophobe. Here is the email that Mr. Shere allowed me to share: It was really nice to see such deep coverage of the first game I wrote the software for! As far as the Aliens license, Bally had recently fought a court battle because of the Alien pinball machine (which they produced without securing the rights) and management went back and forth at the start of the project on if they'd license Aliens. They decided not to and the artist created some great art for the game which is unique, but reminds people of Aliens. Just before we were about to ship, Bally changed their minds and wanted to license it and we had to fight to keep that from happening because our artwork didn't really look close enough to be an Aliens game, better to look sort of like it than to claim we were the real thing and look wrong. We were also told not to use the system we used for the controls, where the names of the actions changed as you moved in front of things, because Bally had decided that people who played video games didn't want to read. We proved them wrong! Working on that game was great fun!
No matter how you try to reinvent the genre that you write in, you cannot escape certain themes that are the bedrock of the genre. Throughout the majority of military science fiction, there exists ten key themes that most or all MSF writers and creators fall into. That is not always a bad thing. for example, Bungie entered into the super-soldier genre in 2001 with the Master Chief in the original HALO game, and set a new and better standard for MSF super-soldiers. Since 2008, I've written books with every one of these themes, even devoting entire novels to one specific type, attempting to explore and redefine. The vast majority of these themes have been covered in-depth on the FWS blog since our founding in 2010, but there are few still still waiting their turn.
Without a doubt, the oldest theme in fictional thought or writing is the concept of the super-soldier. Early man depicted and celebrated the concept of the ultimate hunter, and slew mythical beasts, and monsters of the darkness. Within the fables of mythology, the theme of the great hunter and bold warrior are common, and speak to an intrinsic need in mankind for these types of warfighters. Super-soldiers allow the author/creator to explore the length that humanity will go to win wars. While the circumstance of what fuels the need for super-soldiers varies, along with the methods used to achieve their 'super' status, and who is among ranks of these elite warfighters, they all communicate that long held desire for the ultimate warrior. FWS discusses this topic in-depth back on September 07, 2012
2. Armored Power Suits/Mecha
It seems that mecha and powered armor is at the core of most of the foundation works of MSF, and during my childhood, there didn't seem to be an anime without some form of APS or Mecha. These types of futuristic military technology allows for an instant communication to the audience that this is the future. While big-robot mecha MSF anime and mecha is less popular than in the 1980's, powered armor is still going strong. Mecha was covered in-depth by FWS, on August 08, 2012, but the iconic powered armor has not been. That will be corrected for the 3rd anniversary of FWS. Expect a massive blogpost on that one.
3. Powered Armor vs. Insect Aliens In the founding classic of MSF literature, Starship Troopers, the theme of powered armor infantry verse insect-like hostile aliens was firmly established, and created a theme that will repeated often in future FWS works...including my first novel. This theme really works well within MSF stories. First off, powered armor sets the human soldiers apart from today's military, and makes these soldiers' abilities more superhuman, allowing them to tangle with these bug bastards. Insects creep people out, all human beings have experiences with them, and given that there are more insects than humans, it is easy to imagine them has an aggressive alien foe. Not only were insects popular in 1950's B-movie drive-ins monster fare, but also with the release of ALIEN and ALIENS, there was frightening dark vision of what could be waiting out there for us. It seems that this theme in MSF works is not yet played out, and will continue for years to come. FWS discusses this topic in-depth back on March 17, 2012
At the moment, the US military is opening more combat roles to female soldiers, and with the irregular wars in Iraq and A-Stan, there have been more female soldiers involved in direct combat than ever before. While this struggle for opening combat roles to women continues, MSF is already cast their vote in favor of a fully integrated military, where future female soldiers serve right along side males while battling seven foot bugs on other planets. This trend of female soldiers in futuristic off-world conflicts only seems increases as the years go by. Why do some many writers/creators feature female soldiers when our military still is not completely open to women warfighters?
Part of is that female soldiers allow for more character development with romance, emotions, and sex angles, also it sets their fictional military immediately apart for contemporaneity society. Another part could be related to the progress of society as a whole. It is no longer the 1950's, and society is more open to females in all types of roles. I, too, am insanely guilty of using women has main characters in my own MSF writings...hell, I play as the female Shepard on Mass Effect! For me, military female characters offer more room to write and explore the character. FWS will be covering the female soldiers and science fiction sometime in 2013.
5.Laser Blaster Everywhere!
For nearly a thousand years, humans have used chemical (hence the name 'firearms') explosions to propel metal projectiles into the flesh of their enemies. About a hundred years ago, the use of light and heat was seen has a replacement for the old bullet, and back 1898, science fiction and directed energy weapons entered into a long partnership with the heat-rays from War of the Worlds. From the era of pulp-sci-fi, to the post-Star War/Star Trek handheld laser blasters. the laser gun has been a hallmark of military science fiction soldiers. While it seemed that this theme would continue forever, especially with the US Navy about to deploy lasers on their surface warships, the bullet has coming back. Since the 1980's, the new MSF theme of 'kinetic weapons are just better' has risen in popularity, while the laser blaster is seeing a decreased. However, just wait unlit the new Star Wars movies come out. FWS will be covering laser DEW in an upcoming blogpost before the end of 2013 and will be called: Laser-the Killer Light.
6. Mildly Military
Every single MSF story I've read, watched, or personally written, has this theme embedded into the core of its structure...even in my own stories or MSF stories by military veterans. Mildly military is not always a bad theme in MSF as a whole, because it is necessary evil to move the story along with getting bogged down in the complex nature that is a military organization. Some authors/creators use special forces, or elite military units, or super-soldiers to dislodge their characters from the military bureaucracy. Then there are the works that portrayal the military more like high school and offers characters that would have been drummed out of the service long ago...Anime is especially guilty of that....the Bridge Bunnies from Macross/ROBOTECH anyone? FWS will be covering the Mildly Military theme in MSF at a later humorous blogpost.
7. Aliens Want Earth
The single longest-running cause of wars in science fiction is alien invasion for domination and possession over Terra. From the 4th century Mahabharata, to the Western literature founding classic of science fiction, H.G. Well's War of the Worlds, all the way today, it seems that all the grey beings from the Zeta Reticuli want our little green-and-blue marble. While the reason vary greatly, from they want our women, to our water, to Strawberry Ice Cream, but primarily, it is because of the rarity of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way. FWS covers this theme in a blogpost on July 13, 2012.
8. Unified Earth
Since the heady days of the League of Nations in 1920, all the way though the United Nations of today, there has been an attempt by Terrans to unite the 100+ nations of the global under a single flag and government (One World Order, anyone?). Yeah..that hasn't happened...but in military science fiction, our brave space marines normally serve some type of unified Terran government. At times, the unification of Earth occurred due an alien threat, nuclear war, or colonizing of the stars. Much like directed energy weaponry, the concept of future soldiers serving an united Terra has lost some popularity...one could blame it on ALIENS.
9. Robotic Soldiers
Since the first days of robots in science fiction in 1920 with R.U.R, all the way through today with Black Ops: II, one of their projected roles has been for use as soldiers. Used in fictional works to be either the aggressors (Terminator) or even the hero (ABC Warriors), robotic soldiers often demonstrate the horrors of future wars. At the moment, we are beginning to see the use of robotic warriors in the battlespace with UAVs and UGVs, and there more plans for an expansion of these robotic soldiers.It may be logical for the future of warfighting to be conducted by toasters, especially when considering the question of war among the stars, however, there is the Burnside's Zeroth Law of Space Combat. This important law of sci-fi writing that dictates correctly that an audience connects more to flesh-and-blood warfighters than toasters, and allows the author/creator to explore the human-side of future conflict. FWS will be devoting a future blogpost on this law of fictional space wars and robot-soldiers later on.
10. Ground Troops Only
In the era of modern warfare, where tactical air support, armored vehicles, and artillery are critical tools of the warfighter under the umbra of combined arms, the majority of MSF projects that future soldiers will go into battle alone. At times, this is rightly justified by the author/creator outfitting their elite future warriors in powered armor and envisioning them as futuristic world-crushing stormtroopers. Some justify the 'ground troops only rule' due to transporting tanks, planes, and heavy equipment being a bitch to haul across light-years. Most of the time, it seems that the 'ground troops only' rule is because the author/creator didn't bother to think hard enough on the topic of future war...or bothered to read my blog. FWS will be covering the 'ground troops only' rule in a later blogpost.
In the next two years, more military science fiction films are incoming to the big screen. With works like All You Need Is Kill with Tom Cruise, Ender's Game, Pacific Rim, AVATAR 2, and portions of Tom Cruise's Oblivion and Will Smith's After Earth, are bombarding the local movie houses, so, it seems logically that Ridley Scott would push his long-awaited adoption of the MSF classic, The Forever War to the front of his production company's schedule. You would think that...but that doesn't seem to be the case. While working on the news feed blogpost about the lack of story for another Prometheus film, I read that Ridley Scott has two films he's working on, and either one are The Forever War...so, what the hell gives?! In 2008, Ridley Scott seemed seemed excited about making this film that took him over 20 years to acquire the rights...then nothing for FOUR years?! What the hell is going on with the Forever War movie?! The Shadow of Prometheus looming over the Forever War?
While some of us really liked Scott's return to sci-fi films, myself included, but there was some backlash from ALIENS fans, confusion by audiences and while it did make money, the studio thought it could have made more (greedy bastards) and blamed the script writers and Scott. Prometheus was to be the return of Scott to the genre of sci-fi, which two of his previous sci-fi films are considered legendary. But Prometheus was greeted with mixed reviews and marked by recent script troubles for a continuation. Could the shadow of the troubles for Prometheus be looming over the Forever War production? This could be one of the primary reason for the delay. Scott may want to be distance between him and sci-fi for awhile, and the studios may also agree. Promtheus could have cost us the Forever War. The Script vs. the Book?
There have been no less than three major script writers for the film, David Peoples (who penned BLADE RUNNER and Soldier), Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z), and DW Harper (All You Need Is Kill). What does this say about the translating the classic novel into a big summer MSF movie...alot. While it is only 264 pages, the novel covers the thousand year long Eternal War, several major changes to the human society, and the bizarre military career of William Mandella. Streamlining the length of time, and the skipping over changes to human society and their sexuality could be one way, but it would undercut the book's plot and point, making it bland. It could be broken up over three parts, much like the 1990 Belgium graphic novels, but somehow that doesn't seem like the most effective use of a Forever War film...it should be done in one shot, allowing the audience to experience the horror of hard-science deep space warfare, and the futility of this Eternal War. There also maybe some uneasiness over showing the entire human race has homosexual (Those Westboro wingnuts wouldn't see it for sure!) and then there is the stasis field that renders the modern weapons of the Eternal War obsolete, forcing the soldiers on both side, to resort to bladed weapons. That could be really strangle on film...and if people have not read the book. What has me worried: the IMDB Plot and Explaining Time Dilation
Much like above, the plot of the Forever War relates heavily on time dilation...but could a screen-writer explain this phenomena of space travel to an movie going audience that are expecting some along the lines of Starship Troopers? That does not have me has worried has the basic plot outline that appeared on the imdb.org entry for this film. It said that an elite group of soldiers are sent into deep space to deal with an alien threat, then upon returning, these soldiers find that 20 years have passed at home while they were gone on the expedition that lasted a few months. So...does this mean that we are going to see more than one battle? Will we not see the entire Eternal War as per the novel? The plight of Marygay and William? What about the changing sexual habits of Earth? To be honest, I'm not impressed if this all we are going to see of this landmark MSF novel.
Recent Tragedy and a Booming Career?
Everyone that has seen the talent of Tony Scott, mourned his recent passing, and with this being Scott's last brother, we can only image his sadness. This is coupled with a booming career, where everyone seems to want to work with Mr. Scott. At the moment, he is heading up The Counselor, looking at making a film based the classic book A Brave New World, a BLADE RUNNER sequel, a Bible movie, about fourteen other film/TV projects! Prior to the Forever War catching his fancy in 2008, he was getting quite serious about that A Brave New World film.
Ridley Scott Should Look at the Forever War Graphic Novels
Translating the novel to film could be easier for Scott since Marvano already adopted the novel into a series of graphic novels back in 1988, and I am hoping that Ridley Scott has copies of this, or at the very least, his screen-writers. This is due to the wonderful job that was done in streamlining some of the novel's elements, but preserving the spirit and horror of the original text. Before the end of 2013, FWS is hoping to offer a full review of all three of these MSF graphic novels. The Other Attempt to bring the Forever War to the Screen
During the late 1980's, director Stuart Gordon met with Joe Haldeman when he was hired to direct a four part TV-movie series based on the Forever War, that would have possibley aired on PBS. When the funding was cut, and the script was transformed into play that ran in Chicago(?) for six-weeks in the late 1980's, and had a budget of $750,000. I've attempt to hunt any information on the stage play, but nothing seems to exist. What does exist, is one or two of the Neal Adams' concept art for the film, and these are the only images for the aborted effort. Oddly, Stuart Gordon and Joe Haldeman would work on another film the B-grade Robot Jox.
The Timeline of The Forever War film
October 12, 2008-Ridley Scott confirms that he has secured the rights to the book
March, 2009-After seeing AVATAR, Scott confirms that the Forever War will be filmed in 3Dand he's got a 'good writer' on the script. It was later confirmed that David Peoples (BLADE RUNNER) was working on the script, which could be the first screenplay for the film.
Summer 2010-Rumors of another script-writer working on yet another script.
August 2010-Screen-writer Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z) is confirmed as writing the four script for the film,
November of 2012-DW Harper, who adopted All You Need Is Kill, has been tapped to write another script for the movie. Author Joe Haldeman called it "the fourth rewrite"...are we missing someone?
This the first blogpost in a new series about the forgotten real-steel weapons throughout history, and first on the list is the first mass-produced assault rifle: the Sturmgewehr 44. I first laid eyes on the StG44 at the 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City when I was about ten or eleven in 1986 or 1987. When I asked my Father about why this rifle looked like the AK47, he informed me that this Nazi gun had led to the AK. At this time, there was no Call of Duty nor Brothers in Arms and the storm-rifle was nearly never seen in WWII movies. Before we get into the meat of this historical weaponry blogpost, I just want to say that I think Hitler was a mass-murdering fuckhead who I hope is rotting in the coldest pit in hell. While I respect the 3rd Reich's invention when it comes to modern warfare and some technologically achievements, namely rocketry, the ideals of the Nazi Party show the worst elements of the human heart and how a society of good people can become twisted. The wholesale slaughter of people due to some religious or biological difference is not what a proper or descent society does, and Germany paid the price for that bloody ideology. Now that is done, let us move on with the gun. In this blogpost, while this assault rifle goes by many names, FWS will primarily refer to this weapon has generally the STG44, save for when referring to the range of similar weapons.
The Historical Context of the STG44's Emergence
The world that StG44 was born into was an age of great change in warfare. Not only were tanks, planes, machine guns common on the new battlefield, but the standard bolt-action rifles were just starting to give way to semi-automatic battle-rifles, like the Soviet SVT-38/40, German Gewehr 41, and the American M1 Garand. The closest thing to a portable fully-automatic rifle in service were the light machine guns, like the Bren, BAR, and Canadian Huot Automatic Rifle, which chambered larger full-sized rifle cartridges, and had heavy-duty frames to match the cartridge. This made it difficult, but not impossible, to use these types of weapons like an assault rifle. Parallel to the development of the LMG, were the 'automatic rifle' that the bridge between the LMG/Battle-Rifle/Bolt-Action, and was first seen in 1887 with the Mexican Mondragon Rifle. Some of these interesting Mexican rifles saw action in World War One. However, the 'assault rifle' pattern that the StG44 followed was original pioneered by the Tsar-era Russian Fedorov Avtomat rifle developed by Captain Vladmir Grigoryevich Fyodorov. Not only was the Fedorov Avtomat rifle fed from a magazine, select fire, and used a intermediate cartridge, all hallmarks of the assault rifle. Only about 3,000 were produced, and saw limited use in the World War One, the Russian Civil War, and in the Winter War with Finland. All of the automatic rifles that came about where rare guns, and not adopted on any wide scale, while submachine guns and light machine guns were becoming standard for any military. This gap in firearms technology was where the StG44 found itself during the closing years of WWII.
The Importance of the StG44
In 2009, in my last year at university, I was taking an 20th century history class that required a major research paper on something that changed the 20th century. While some took up the Vietnam War, or the nuclear bomb, or even Dr. King, I decided to research the the AK-47, and via that massive project, I learned at great about the Sturmgewehr 44 and it's role in firearm's history. When it comes to the importance of the StG44 assault rifle, it stands as the progenitor of the primary tool of infantry warfare in the post-war years,proving the concept, intermediate cartridge, and the effectiveness of this new type of weapon. Adding to the legacy of the StG44, a portion of it's DNA can be seen in the most prolific assault rifle in history: the AK47. Without the development of the Sturmgewehr 44 and large-scale adoption by a major military, it is likely that assault rifles (and even the term) would have been delayed for years. Is the StG44 Related to the AK47?
My Father told me during my initial exposure to the StG44 that the AK and this German gun were direct related, and it was cosmetically easy to see. However, if you ask the inventor of the AK47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, he will hotly denial any connection to the Sturmgewehr. He states that he never had seen an StG 44 until well after the AK was in production, and that Fedorov Avtomat rifle and the American M1 Garand were the real fathers of the AK, because Kalashnikov read the designer of the Fedorov Avtomat book while he was recovering from his war wounds in Soviet hospital. This makes sense, even if the StG44 was used for the development of the AK, because of what Kalashnikov had seen on the battlefield. Naturally, given his hatred for the Nazi Germany, he wouldn't credit them for anything to do with the pride of his labor and his Motherland. We know that Soviet troops carried the MKb-43 when they killed the owners on the Russian front, and some of the American M1 Carbine were shipped over for evaluation by the Soviets, which all could have led to the AK gumbo. We also know that German small arms technicians and their labs were captured by the Soviet during the closing days of the war. While there is some cosmetic similarities, and both use an intermediate round, banana-magazine, the AK47 uses an gas-operated rotating bolt while the StG44 uses an gas-operated tilted bolt. However, there seems that the much forgotten Soviet Shpagin AS-44 could have been the other donor in this Maury Povich-style 'who's the daddy' drama of the AK47. More on this gun in a later Forgotten Weapons blogpost...sorry to be a tease.
Why was the StG44 Forgotten?
The question begs itself, 'if the StG44 was so revolutionary, than why is rarely seen or mentioned?' I think one of the main reasons is that it was developed by the Nazis...and they aren't the most popular people in human history. Due to the horrific actions of the Nazis and how they are universal hated, all that they developed, good or bad, normally has a stain on it. Really, only the VW Beetle escaped that fate..maybe because it's cute? We also have to remember that the StG44 was developed and deployed originally in secret from the Fuhrer and by the time the power of this new type of infantry weapon was understood by Hitler, the war was pretty much over, and only some of the units did receive the new rifle.
Given the year that the StG44 was finally being put into full production, Germany was being hit hard by Allied bombers and the Normandy Invasion. The under attack factories and supply lines were struggling to turn out supplies for the guns that were already in use, let alone the new StG44 with its new cut-down 7.92x33mm cartridge. While weapon was used by Allied forces (we have pictorial evidence), and StG44s were shipped back to armory labs in Allied nations, only a few groups used them post-war, and the cartridge fell out of use. Within a decade, weapons similar to the StG44, like the H&K G3 and AKM began to replace the older Nazi weapons, and the Sturmgehwer moved to obscurity.
The History of the StG44-PART ONE: The Predecessors
With war raging over much of Europe, the science of combat was again evolving, and in 1939, both the Russian and the German military leadership realized that their old bolt-action rifles and sub-machine guns were as not effective on the modern battlefield of the Second World War as they were in the Great War. Research had shown that most engagements were at an average of 300 meters, and even less in urban situations. Within the military high command of the 3rd Reich, the HWaA, there was attempt to forward infantry combat to the next level via a new weapon systems which was fueled from the Soviets attempting to field their own semi-automatic battle-rifle, the SVT-40. Not to be out done by the Russians, the HWaA issued contracts to several arms companies to develop a 'maschinekarabiner' or machine-carbine (or MKb in German military terms). The Haenel prototype MKb by designed by Hugo Schmeisser, and found be superior to the Walther fielded design
One of the key elements that separated the MKb concept from the battle/bolt action rifles of the era was the military-created intermediate cartridge, the 7.92x33mm round. The bulk of the 3rd Reich used the 7.92x57 Mauser cartridge, which would destroyed the MKb platform under full automatic fire. This was not a unique invention of the German arms markers, the use of an cutdown bullet came, most likely, from the Russian Fedorov Avtomat that used the Japanese 6.5mm Ariska cartridge. 1942, two arms companies, Haenel and Walther had developed very similar prototype fully automatic rifle systems. These became known has the 'MKb42(H)' and the 'MKb42(W)' and were put into testing. The first combat use of the just passed MKb42(H) automatic rifle is believed to have occurred around March of 1942 at the Demyansk Pocket and/or Kholm Pocket in the Russian village of Demyansk, that lays south of Leningrad. For two months, a pocket of German soldiers were besieged by Soviet soldiers, and their means of support were airdropped supplies. The story goes that the German breakout was helped by an air-drop of about two dozen MKb42(H) that allowed the Germans to suppress and move out of the hotzone. Confusion remains about if this actually happened the way it has been recounted, if it was at Demyansk or it was Kholm, or even both. Some believe that what was actually dropped by an Ju52 was the uber-rare twin-magazine MP40s called the MP40/II, or that the story is just that, a story. While on limited field trials several changes were made, to incorporate design elements of the rejected Walther design, namely the hammer firing from a closed bolt. About 11,000 of these modified automatic rifles were put back out into the field. Two element removed prior to the run of the MP43 and MP44, the longer gas expansion chamber and the bayonet lug.
During my research for the AK47, I read this story of the StG44 predecessors' winter heroics in several professional researched firearm books, and believe the story is correct.
Another mystery is if the MKb42(H) served in the bloody Battle of Stalingrad? We know that the main testing area for the MKb42(H) was on the Eastern Front, and there were little zones hotter than the battle for that Soviet city in 1942. There are conflicting reports, rumors, and purported pictorial evidence of its service in urban hellish warzone. It was also during its deployment to East Front that the Soviet soldiers were about to capture some of these new weapons, and use them against their former owners.
The History of the StG44-PART TWO: The Gun that Hitler Didn't Want
Given the known combat ability of the MKb42(H) and its proven effectiveness, the weapon was being examined for full-scale production to replace the old K98k bolt-action rifle as the standard German infantry weapon sometime around 1943. Before the newly minted automatic rifle could be put into full-scale military service, it would need Hitler's stamp of approval. Due to his service in the First World War, Hitler believed (in his fucked up brain) that he knew the best weapons for soldiers in the Second World War, and that didn't include the new type of weapon. He only wanted the battle-rifle, which included the Gewehr 43and K98k, machine guns, and submachine guns, and not to devote resources to the production of another weapon that used a new type of cartridge that would be exclusive to the new automatic rifle.
This should have been the end of the story with the MKb42(H), however, there set about a conspiracy to hid the existence of field-deployed MKb42(H) from Hitler. Due to Hitler's endorsement of sub machine guns, called machine-pistols (MP) in the 3rd Reich military, the conspiracy hid the Mkb42(H) improved design automatic rifle under the names of 'Machine Pistol 1943'. One of these 3rd Reich military officers hiding the assault rifle was none other the Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. These new machine pistols were issued to the Eastern Front, where the need was the greatest, and mostly to the Waffen SS troops. Reportedly, only a few Wehrmacht units received the MP43, namely, the paratroopers, the Fallschrimjagers and the 93rd Infantry Division. The MP43 was in production from December of 1942 through April of 1943, with around 50,000 rifle turned out. There two different MP43s, one being the MP43/I that was fitted with a grenade launcher muzzle nut attachment, a bulkier wooden stock, some even had an attachment for a scope, and the MP43/I only accounts for about 5% of the Sturmgewehrs produced by the 3rd Reich. Changes were made during the run of the MP43s, namely a thinner wooden stock, and delectation of the grenade launcher muzzle nut, creating the MP43, sometimes referenced to as the 'MP43/II'.
These changes were rolled into the next model of the hidden automatic rifle, the MP44. One of the big issues for this hidden weapon was that the demand greatly outstripped the limited supply that could be manufactured without Hitler or anyone else raising too many questions. These weapons were greatly prized by both the Germans and Russians, due to their reliability on the harsh unforgiving conditions of the Eastern Front, but, ammunition was limited. I've read rumors that Soviet troopers attempted to retrofit their captured MP43/MP44s to fire Soviet cartridges. Much like the automatic rifles before it, the MP44 enjoyed a good reputation and service performance, but it still was laying the shadows has the 3rd Reich collapsed.
So, how did the MP44 become the officially recognized and approved 'Storm Rifle 1944'? There are several stories that exist about how Hitler found out about the MP44. The most popular and repeated story is that during a 1944 meeting of the commanders of the Eastern Front, Hitler asked them what they needed. One general spoke up that they need more of those new rifles. Hitler was surprised and asked which new rifles he was speaking of. Somehow, Hitler was shown the MP44, and the conspiracy was discovered. There must have been worry that those involved in hiding the weapon from the Fuhrer were going to be shot at dawn, however that chanced when he actually got his hands on the automatic rifle. Some reports say that he fired the MP44, others that he was merely impressed with the design and utility, and approved of the rifle.
This meeting was believed to have taken place in July of 1944, but even that is under despite. Another story is that members of the MP43/44 conspiracy deployed their shadow weapon, in a sly move, to the personal guard of Hitler's headquarters and just by him interacting with the guards, he discovered the automatic rifle and its usefulness and finally approved it. Another story is that this new type of gun was never in the shadows and there never was a conspiracy to hid the existence of the MP43/44s from the Fuhrer. It is true that Hitler didn't approve of the widespread adoption of the new weapon, and cancelled it after the MKb42(H). It would take the head of the weapons and ammunition for the German Army to make a personal plea to the Fuhrer. After this, Hitler approved of 30,000 MP43s being turned out per month. All the story converge on one fact, that Hitler himself renamed the MP44 the 'Storm Rifle' for propaganda purposes, and allowed full scale production and distribution around early winter of 1944....but it was too late by then.
The History of the StG44 PART THREE: Late to the Party
After years of hiding this weapon, Hitler finally sees the light, and official welcomes the MP44 into the family around October 22, of 1944, and changes its name to 'the storm rifle of 1944' or Sturmgewehr 44. The StG44 would make its official appearance on the European battlefield during dim times for the Reich around December 1944. The Allies had successful invaded Nazi-held France, the Soviets were breaking into Eastern Europe, and allied bombing was hitting the centers of production for the Reich, resulting in 17% loss of production. This was important factor for the StG44 and its distribution on the frontlines. The new gun coupled with the new cartridge, and new pouches, cleaning kits, and magazines all required a switch over from the previous weapon at a time when supply lines were under stress, and raw material were more rare than when the weapon first appeared in 1942. Most of the nearly 500,000 StG44s were manufactured during its production run under various names, and began an extemely popular rifle with friend and foe alike. Reports say that the StG44 was feared by the enemies of the Reich, and was a prized item among Russian troops. After the war, the StG44 was shipped off to various Allied armory labs to be evaluated and tested. The British discovered that this assault rifle had issues with the 11.5lbs of weight, the bolt was easily blocked with a wrong hand placement that pinched the upper receiver and the stock was show to break, which all could be linked to German war-time shortages.
The History of the STG44-PART FOUR: From the Ashes... After the end of the 3rd Reich, and the division of East & West Germany, what fate befall the first widely adopted assault rifle? Some examples were shipped off to Allied armory labs for testing, while the East German's National People's Army (Nationale Volsarmee and People's Police (Volkspolizei) used the StG44 for their primary weapon until the AK47 replaced it in the 1960's. The longest government user of the Sturmgewehr 44 was 63rd Parachute Battalion of the Yugoslavian Army until the 1980's.
These were then sold off to friendly foreign powers or given away. Some where sold on the black market for hard currency, which allowed the StG44 to find its way into region low-intensity conflicts of Africa, the Middle East, the PLO/Israel struggle, and even the Viet-Cong! During the 2004 violence in Iraq associated with the Mahdi Army, photo graphics clearly showed some of Muqtada al-Sadr followers carrying StG44s. In August 2012, the Free Syrian Army had located 5,000 StG44 rifles along with ammunition in the town of Aleppo. The FSA began to field these over sixty year old assault rifles into battle. There is no information on why these WWII-era weapons were just sitting in storage.
In December of 2012, an actually World War II StG44 turned up in a Hartford, Connecticut gun buy-back program, and thankfully, this rare (worth around $30K!) military rifle was saved from being turned into a hunk of molten metal. Some rusted hulks of Mkb42(H)s, MP43/44s, and the StG44s have turned in archaeology digs recently in the regions where the Battle of the Bulge occurred.
The Krummlauf Barrel
The most unique attachments for the StG44 was the 'krummlauf' barrel that curved the 7.92x33mm bullet at an 30,45, 60, and 90 degree angles to fire around corners or cover. It was available in two models: the 'I' and 'P'. The 'I' krummlauf barrel was developed for infantry use in urban situations, were covering fire could be established without exposing yourself to the enemies. While this sounds good, there were issues. Weight was one, another was that the barrel only lasted a few hundred rounds, and if used under fully automatic fire, the thermal buildup could shatter the barrel, creating an 'shotgun' effect and lessening the power of the round. Even holes drilled into the barrel to allow some relief, but the lifespan was the same. I do not believe that the krummlauf was widely used given the weakness and added weight.
The 'P' model of the bent barrel was used in tanks, namely the Elefant heavy tank destroy that was fielded without an machine gun(!), and the krummlauf barrel would allow the tank crews to engage incoming Soviet infantry that had a nasty habit of using gasoline to lit the tank on fire because of the lack of anti-infantry armaments. Fitted along side the Model P krummlauf was a mirror-aiming device to allow the shooter some idea what or who they were firing at. Much like the 'I' model, there is little information on the operational life of the barrel, and it suffered from the same breaking issues.
What Could Have Been: The StG45(M) and Beyond
Despite the successful battlefield record of the StG44 during the closing year of the war, the German military was going to replace the more expensive assault rifle with the cheaper, light, and more compact, Sturmgewehr 1945 Mauser or StG45(M), which chamber the same cartridge, but was built by Mauser instead of Haenel. This was common during the final days of the Nazi regime, there were a number of weapons specially construct for the situations occurring in the Fatherland. Lack of raw materials, having to mobilize the national militia, the 'Volkssturm', and even using parts from Allied weapons.
This means that future of the StG44 was doomed. But what if things had been different? What if the 3rd Reich could have held off the Allied advanced in the Fatherland? What would have the future been for the Sturmgewehr 44? Some sources believe that the 3rd Reich would have developed the StG44 into a family style of weapons, much like the AK47/74. The StG44 would have become the standard assault rifle, and there would have been commando carbine, a carbine, a LMG, DMR, and so on. We know that the 3rd Reich was also experimenting with an IR aiming system, called 'Vampir' or Vampire, with the StG44 has the test-bed rifle.
Could have the StG44 Helped the 3rd Reich Win the War?
'What if' is one of the favor games of historians everywhere along with sci-fi writers.The possible victory of Nazi Germany over the Allies is a favorite topic among these circles. Some believe that if the StG44 and other advanced 3rd Reich "Wunderwaffe" programs were deployed early enough, than we'd be speaking German by now. While an effective assault rifle is a critical element in modern warfare, is not the sole determining factor of an armed conflict, especially in the 21st century. It is likely that 3rd Reich was doomed anyway when they invade Russia, lost the struggle in the deserts of Africa, and when the United States decided to enter the war. The Allies just out supplied the 3rd Reich with men, equipment, and raw material. Some believe that the StG44 could have delayed the final outcome, but that is all, just delay. Some believe that the M1 Garand being the first semi-automatic rifle adopted by a military allowed for advantage for US troops on the battlefield, especially Patton, and the StG44 could have allowed the Germans to a serious advantage in urban warfare, and force multiplier to the infantry units.
The StG44 in Popular Culture
One of the reason for the StG44 being a forgotten weapon rests largely in how few appearances it makes in popular culture. If it wasn't for video games like Call of Duty, Day of Defeat, and Brothers in Arms, then it is likely that Sturmgewehr 44 would have been confined to a few movies, WWII reenactors, gun-nuts, and mentions in books. One of the more interesting appearances of the StG44 was in the 1998 Anime OVA Jin-Rohn: The Wolf Brigade. While most people associate that OVA's armored Kerberos soldiers with a portable MG42, they do use the StG44 for missions, and the MKb42(H) in force-on-force training with rubber bullets. This is the only appearance of the MKb42(H) in any film/TV show/game. The earliest appearance of the StG44 in video games was in the 1999 game Hidden & Dangerous, however, it was featured in the sequel to the very popular EA original Medal of Honor, Underground in 2000. But, it is more likely that the Sturmgewehr 44 gain the most wide-ranging attention when started appearing it the Call of Duty series starting in 2003 with the original PC game.
The earliest film appearance of the StG44 was in the 1948 Czech black & white war drama White Darkness, and oddly, this assault rifle is only featured in ONE of the major American WWII films, 1965's Battle of the Bulge, and it featured in one small scene. I fully expected that Tarantino would have put the StG44 in Inglorious Bastards The most widely seen movie that contains an StG44 is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi where the gun is modified for the Rebel Alliance A280 and A295 blaster rifles.
Larry Vickers shoots and discusses about the StG44: