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Konami announces Six Days in Fallujah, based on 2004 Iraq battle

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Six Days in Fallujah, an upcoming game based on the 2004 battle in Iraq. Credit: Atomic Games.

Updated, March 30, 2010: Atomic Games, the developer of Six Days in Fallujah, announced it is actively seeking a new publisher for the title. In the meantime, Atomic said it would release another first-person tactical shooter, called Breach, this summer. You can read more details here.

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Updated, 5:52 pm: This post has been updated to include quotes from Mike Ergo and Mike Zyda. It also substitutes the term “troops” for “soldiers” in several cases and clarifies a comment from Celia Pearce to say that a realistic game about war that is fun is an oxymoron.

Eddie Garcia (left), a former U.S. Marine, and an unidentified former soldier consult at the Atomic Games studio in Raleigh, N.C. Credit: Atomic Games.

... the intimate and harrowing experiences of three dozen U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. As far as video game idioms go, it’s a traditional third-person tactical shooter that puts players in the combat boots of U.S. troops during the multi-day assault.

At first blush, the game looks like many others in its genre, including Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. The environment is realistic, the weapons are modeled after actual guns and explosives used in Iraq, and the player takes on the role of a Marine who is part of a four-person fire team, charged with clearing the city of insurgents.

What separates Six Days in Fallujah, however, is the game’s primary goal, expressed by Atomic Games President Peter Tamte, during an interview last week:

For us, the challenge was how do you present the horrors of war in a game that is also entertaining, but also gives people insight into a historical situation in a way that only a video game can provide? Our goal is to give people that insight, of what it’s like to be a Marine during that event, what it’s like to be a civilian in the city and what it’s like to be an insurgent.

A game about war that is both fun and realistic can be considered an oxymoron, said Celia Pearce, professor of digital media and director of the Experimental Game Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Making a fun game about war is hypocritical, because war is not fun,” Pearce said. “That’s why many shooters have cartoon hyper-violence that’s just physically impossible. It’s exaggerated for the sake of entertainment. And it’s also done to distance people from the violence, because it’s an obvious special effect.”

Tamte and Juan Benito, the creative director of Six Days in Fallujah, say they’re trying to broaden the scope of what’s considered entertaining in a shooting game. “You can have entertainment that’s not just about violence, or just about Care Bears and rainbows,” Benito said.

Another game that tried to straddle the line between realism and entertainment was America’s Army, developed by the U.S. military. But the game had a third objective: to help recruit future soldiers. “All art has a point of view, even America’s Army,” said Mike Zyda, who directed the development of the game while he was director of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation Institute in Monterey. “The point of America’s Army was subtle: You want to do right by taking weapons away from the enemy. In the end, is that propaganda?”

The developers of Six Days in Fallujah did not want to take sides in the conflict, preferring to stick with the troops’ stories rather than make statements about whether the war was justified.

Tamte and Benito believe players will still find the game compelling. One reason revolves around the stories told in the game. More than a dozen Marines are featured in documentary-style video interviews that are interspersed with the game’s action. The Marines reappear in the game itself, doing pretty much what they did during the war. One tells the story of how he furiously wrote a letter to his wife and begged a chaplain to give it to her if he died. Another, Eddie Garcia (pictured above), talks about how his right leg was shredded in a mortar attack, and how he suffered survivor’s guilt after he was taken out of combat. Their actions are recreated in the game as players encounter the soldiers’ avatars.

“What interested us were the soldiers’ stories,” said Anthony Crouts, Konami’s vice president of marketing. “Some of these soldiers came right out of high school. They went from boys to men in the span of two weeks.”

Benito also thinks players will find the game fun for the same reason boys love to play with miniature soldiers. “It’s about having a challenge, then formulating a plan to overcome that challenge,” said Benito, who co-founded Red Storm Entertainment, the developer behind games based on Tom Clancy novels. “Overcoming that difficulty is a big part of the fun.”

This is where games and movies part ways as an entertainment medium, Tamte said. “The basic difference between a movie and a game is that the player can make choices in a game,” he said.

One of the most difficult choices facing troops in Iraq today is identifying civilians from insurgents. These choices are often made under fire, in split seconds. Sometimes, the combatant makes the wrong decision. As a result, the military has prosecuted a number of troops, including a Marine who is charged with murdering an unarmed captive rather than take the time to bring him back to a prison. But many choices, both in the game and in real life, aren’t as cut and dry. What if a woman is running toward you at full speed, and you tell her to stop but she doesn’t?

“Our opportunity for giving people insight goes up dramatically when we can present people with the dilemmas and the choices that faced these soldiers,” Tamte said. “It’s a chance to really give them a better understanding and empathy.”

-- Alex Pham


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