“The stuff people think they know about war and combat, what they see in the movies and on the news, it has very little to do with reality,” says Mark Wheeler, Cold Furnace Studios Chief Military Advisor. “The only way to get at the truth is to listen to the stories veterans have to tell. But vets rarely tell their stories. Not the way it really happened. People need to know how truly horrific war can be.”
Mark is a combat veteran with over 25 years experience in the Canadian Armed Forces and multiple deployments. For some years, he considered writing a book about about his time in the armed services. He planned to call it They Paid Me to Do This, taking a little bit of a dig at the CAF in his title. For Mark, it was a way to bring the truth to life. But he realized this wasn’t necessarily the only way of getting his message out.
“Video games can be a great medium to tell stories,” Mark continues. “But people aren’t using this medium to its full potential. We hope to change this — to use video games to tell real, authentic stories.”
And so the concept behind Cold Furnace Studios and the company’s first game under development, Atrocity: Field of Hands, was born.
Although the game is a first-person shooter, Cold Furnace’s approach to games isn’t about rewarding players for head shots. There will be no gold-skinned guns on offer in its games. What players will be rewarded for is following the Laws of Armed Conduct and the Geneva Conventions. They will need to make ethical and moral decisions along the way. Ballistics will be true to life and realistic.
And games in the Atrocity franchise will show the horrors of war as they really are, beyond the glory the public is so familiar with seeing. The company is veteran operated, and a team of Military Advisors is part of the video game production team to ensure an authentic perspective in its games. Military Advisors don’t just consult with artists, writers, designers and devs on technical aspects of the game, but work closely within the team to build the feel and atmosphere and to guarantee that a real combat soldier’s or medic’s viewpoint is a central element.
Mark tells a story of a deployment to Afghanistan – one of the many that has stayed with him over the years. Two little girls had been blown up in at IED attack. Being qualified in tactical combat casualty care, Mark was one of the soldiers called in to help stabilize them.
“You see the awfulness and futility of all of it,” he says. “Nobody should ever have to be exposed to that kind of pain and suffering, especially not a 4-year-old child.”
Another deployment that particularly stands out in his mind, one of his first, is Mark’s time in Bosnia during the civil war there in the mid-1990s with a NATO peacekeeping force. There, he witnessed the aftermath of widespread ethnic cleansing. Part of his unit’s job was village outreach. Mark describes an afternoon where he and others were sitting outside a home having coffee with one of the townspeople. His host casually mentioned that he’d had a son who was beheaded with a chainsaw on a chopping block in the front yard. Mark and his patrol also spent a month in a ghost town in what he describes as “the house of a family that had been ethnically cleansed,” a town whose residents had been systematically eliminated.
“For certain factions, the atrocities they committed were a point of pride,” he says. “It’s so easy to say this side is the villain, these are the bad guys and we’re fighting the good fight. But it’s not the reality. All of this horror is a consequence of war, and it affects everyone.”
Mark hopes his company’s games will give people a window into some of the realities of war and armed conflict, as well as a view of what soldiers face in combat in a society that is increasingly separate from its military – and where wars are fought in far away and distant places. Cold Furnace’s games, including Atrocity: Field of Hands, will present players with plenty of action, but also realistic tactical decisions, unexpected outcomes and difficult moral quandaries. The company’s games will also humanize combatants, portraying the down time of warriors relaxing and coping with warfare, as well as engaging in gallows humor, romantic relationships and other types of camaraderie.
“You can’t just sweep the ugly realities under the rug,” concludes Mark. “They have to be brought to light. We intend to do that.”