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

Six Days in Fallujah
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.

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.

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There have been books, movies, poetry and even rap songs coming out of the war in Iraq. Now, there's going to be a video game, one based on the November 2004 battle in the Iraqi town of Fallouja that left dead 38 U.S. troops and an estimated 1,200 insurgents.

The idea for the game, called Six Days in Fallujah (The Times spells the name of the city differently), came from U.S. Marines who returned from the battle with video, photos and diaries of their experiences. Instead of dialing up Steven Spielberg to make a movie version of their stories, they turned to Atomic Games, a company in Raleigh, N.C., that makes combat simulation software for the military.

Wars throughout the ages have inspired great literature, including Homer's "The Iliad," William Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" and Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front." Wars also have provided grist for Hollywood's mill, which has churned out numerous World War II films with cigar-chomping soldiers played by square-jawed actors such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Recently, movies such as "Apocalypse Now," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Black Hawk Down" presented grislier views of war.

Today's warriors are more likely to pick up a game controller than a paperback. "The soldiers wanted to tell their stories through a game because that's what they grew up playing," said John Choon, senior brand manager for the game at Konami Digital Entertainment in El Segundo, the publisher of Six Days in Fallujah.

One is Mike Ergo, who was in a Marine infantry battalion during the battle in Fallouja and is a consultant on the game. "Video games can communicate the intensity and the gravity of war to an audience who wouldn’t necessarily be watching the History Channel or reading about this in the classroom,” said Ergo, now 26 and a junior at the University of California at Berkeley. “In an age when everyone’s always online or playing games, people’s imaginations aren’t what they were, sadly. For this group, books may not convey the same level of intensity and chaos of war that a game can.”

The game, scheduled to be released sometime next year, is ground in ...

U.S. Marines at Atomic Games
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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