Lawrence Sonntag got the chance to speak with Haris Orkin, a screenplay and video game writer whose previous credits include Dragonshard, Red Alert 3, and Call of Juarez, and its prequel released this week, Bound in Blood.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood deals with some sensitive issues. Featuring a pair of brothers who fight on behalf of the Confedaracy during the American Civil War, and an Apache war chief whose family is murdered by the U.S. Cavalry, things get intense, even controversial. With video game content always under the watchful eye of concerned parents and jumpy legislators, TGR were keen to talk with Bound in Blood writer Haris Orkin for his take on the potential for controversy in the upcoming Call of Juarez prequel.
"They’re pretty fearless at Techland about that kind of thing. I mean, having a character that can read aloud from a bible and shoot a gun at the same time, that’s pretty fearless of them to create that," Haris said, referencing Reverend Ray McCall from the first Call of Juarez. "They aren’t afraid to be controversial. But then again this game isn’t intended for children."
But the game isn’t controversial for controversy’s sake. Haris believes that when it comes it to potentially touchy issues, tip-toeing around them is not the solution.
"We deal with issues like racism, slavery and the oppression of Native Americans and Mexicans in south Texas. Once you go into those worlds and create a story around them, to skirt those truths or pretend they don’t exist does them a disservice. This is an issue with video games – they’re often so violent. If you’re going to deal with violence, I think it’s good to put it in perspective."
Perspective comes in the form of a third McCall, a minister, who acts as the “conscience” in the game, constantly trying to pull Ray and Thomas back from their murdering ways. This allows Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood to present two different takes on its violence, and adding characters like the third McCall rounds out the story in a way most violent games do not. Haris and Techland approached the game with serious intentions, striving to be historically accurate and deal with the issues of the day, not least because some corners of the audience are on edge about the subject matter:
"I’ve been reading some of the forums. Some people – not very many – are concerned that the playable characters are on the side of the confederacy. Some people simplistically believe that everyone who fought on the side of the south was evil. The truth is, the causes of that war were very complex. There were northerners involved in the slave trade and southerners who didn’t believe in slavery. When the war started it was more about state’s rights versus federal control. The truth is, most of the soldiers fighting for the Confederacy were not slaveholders. Maybe 20 percent had slaves. Atrocities were committed on both sides. Many of the actual outlaws of the time were former confederate soldiers; Jesse James and his brothers, the Youngers. Archie Clement. So the McCalls were based somewhat on those actual outlaws. Confederate soldiers who suffered the brutality of war and lost everything they had.”
Due to their connection with slave owning, many equate the Confederacy with evil. While Haris believes taking an objective approach towards the issue will prevent upsetting most players, there are certain considerations he undertook.
"It’s something I definitely thought about as we did it. You don’t want to endorse the Confederacy," Haris cautioned. "The idea was the McCalls were not slave holders and they actually deserted the Confederate army to protect their family. After they deserted, they were chased by Colonel Barnsby, their former commanding officer. Barnsby is the more evil character, though the McCalls are hardly angels. Barnsby wants to resurrect the Confederacy and he truly is a racist.”
Having said that, the American Civil War and slavery aren’t the only hot-button historical issues in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.
"[It’s the] same with the Native Americans.” Haris explained. "We talk about the white suppression of Native Americans, specifically the Apache, and how that fueled their anger."
The whole game won’t be deadpan and serious, though. The first Call of Juarez featured idyllic western scenes such as walking through a town with shuttered windows, rolling tumbleweeds, and mine cart chases complete with track-switching levers. The second game extends that tone.
"The story sounds very serious, but there’s also a fair amount of humor. The brothers banter as brothers tend to do. It’s probably closer now to a spaghetti western than a classic John Ford western," Haris said. "We also mixed in a little Deadwood, since that inspired us all as well. I guess I would call it a post-modern western along the lines of Unforgiven or The Wild Bunch.”
Our thanks to Haris for chatting with us. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood will feature all the stagecoach chases, six-shooter duels, and rolling tumbleweeds you could want when it releases for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows PC on June 30.