Six Days in Fallujah is a modern military tactical first-person shooter video game developed by Highwire Games and published by Victura, that was released in Early Access exclusively on PC, in June 2023, with future versions planned for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
The game take place in the infamous Second Battle of Fallujah of the Iraq War. It follows the United States Marine Corps‘ 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines as they fight the Iraqi insurgency in the city of Fallujah. It contains two different campaigns, one when you play a squad of Marines who have to battle the insurgents, and an Iraqi family trying to escape the city in the midst of the battle.
But before being known in this form, Six Days In Fallujah was a very different project having experienced a very chaotic development which aroused controversies, the departure of its first publisher, and ultimately, the closure of its original developer, all the way back from 2009.
Initially, Six Days in Fallujah was a Third Person Shooter developed by Atomic Games and published by Konami, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The background of the title was already identical to the final product. It was officially revealed in April 2009 by Konami, and Joystiq managed to get an interview of some people involved in the game:
Six Days in Fallujah is clearly a very big deal for the publisher. Light on actual footage, the segment was focused on the high level of realism and accuracy its developer hopes to instill the title with. Just how accurate? That’s what we wanted to find out, so, along with fellow bloggers, we sat down with Atomic Games president Peter Tamte, creative director Juan Benito and US Marine Corps Corporal Michael Ergo, a veteran of the battle and adviser on the game.
You’ve said you have Marine veterans who fought in the battle actually working on the title. How exactly?
Tamte: It’s important for us to say, you know, that there are actually three communities that are very affected by the battle for Fallujah. Certainly the Marines. Certainly the Iraqi civilians within Fallujah, and the insurgents as well. We are actually getting contributions from all three of those communities so that we can get the kind of insight we’re trying to get.
When you say insurgents are “contributing,” what do you mean, exactly?
Tamte: I need to be careful about the specifics that I give. There’s a much broader context to that. I should answer it this way: I think all of us are curious to know why they were there. The insurgents [came from] different countries. And I think we’re all kind of curious about you know – they went there knowing that they were going to die, many of them knew that they were going to die, and they went there to die. And I think that that’s a perspective that we should all understand.
Have you actually spoken to insurgents?
Tamte: They’re involved in the creation of the game as well, as are Iraqi civilians. That’s important to us. It’s true. The game — the influences for the game came from the Marines that returned from Fallujah. But quite frankly in talking with them, it’s um, many people would just like this to be a recreation and we can’t recreate that without getting the perspectives of all the people who were involved.
How exactly are the soldiers contributing to the game? You’ve mentioned maps and battle plans, but do they point to a place on the map and say, “This went down right here?”
Benito: Absolutely. In certain cases we’ve recreated the battles and engagements of the Marines involved to an extremely high level of detail. Including incorporating some of the Marines who were there at the time during the operation in the location that they were in. And you as a Marine can experience an interact with them and fight right alongside them in the actual event in which they were fighting in the battle of Fallujah.
So the actual troops who are advising you will be in the game?
Tamte: You will interact with Marines who were in Fallujah in those particular locations.
Benito: We’ve scanned and recreated their faces and replicated [them] and put them in the game.
Would you say the game is actually going to be “fun”?
Tamte: The words I would use to describe the game — first of all, it’s compelling. And another word I use — insight. There are things that you can do in video games that you cannot do in other forms of media. And a lot of that has to do with presenting players with the dilemmas that the Marines saw in Fallujah and then giving them the choice of how to handle that dilemma. And I think at that point, you know — when you watch a movie, you see the decisions that somebody else made. But when you make a decision yourself, then you get a much deeper level of understanding.
Benito: And that’s a really important point because we recreate the events as factually and as accurately as we possibly can. And there will be a broad range of reactions and opinions on the experience itself. And for some, they may have fun. They may enjoy it. We are recreating and presenting these events and people, I think, will have their own individual reactions to it and those will be across the board. And that’s what we want. We want people to experience something that’s going to challenge them, that’s going to make them think and provide an unprecedented level of insight into a great military significance.
Will players encounter situations like friendly fire or accidentally shooting civilians?
Benito: We wanted to recreate the pressures and conditions the Marines faced and that includes adhering to the proper rules of engagement. So for example, as you may have seen in the demo, there’s an unarmed individual at the start and the Marines didn’t fire on him because he was unarmed and that was in accord to the rules of engagement at the time.
Further details were shared in the Issue # 248 of Gamepro Magazine in May of the same year, but as I was unable to find it on dedicated website nor Archive.org, I decided to take the following information on the dedicated Wikipedia page of the title:
The team at Atomic Games interviewed over 70 individuals, composed of returning U.S. Marines, Iraqi civilians, Iraqi insurgents, war historians, and senior military officials, and learned the psychological complexity of the battle. The game’s director, Juan Benito, elaborated that “Through our interviews with all of the Marines, we discovered that there was an emotional, psychological arc to the Battle of Fallujah.” According to one of the developers who worked on the game, the development team also consulted non-fiction books about the battle as part of their research, such as Patrick K. O’Donnell‘s We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah, incorporating their recollections into the game’s events and story-line.
Atomic Games described Six Days as a survival horror game, but not in the traditional sense: the fear in Six Days comes not from monsters or the supernatural, but from the irregular tactics and ruthlessness of the combatants in Fallujah. Benito stated that “Many of the insurgents had no intention of leaving the city alive, so their entire mission might be to lie in wait, with a gun trained at a doorway, for days just waiting for a Marine to pop his head in. They went door-to-door clearing houses, and most of the time the houses would be empty. But every now and then, they would encounter a stunningly lethal situation… which, of course, rattled the Marines psychologically.” GamePro stated that for Benito, depicting the fear and misery of the battle was a top priority: “These are scary places, with scary things happening inside of them. In the game, you’re plunging into the unknown, navigating through darkened interiors, and ‘surprises’ left by the insurgency. In most modern military shooters, the tendency is to turn the volume up to 11 and keep it there. Our game turns it up to 12 at times but we dial it back down, too, so we can establish a cadence.”
Atomic Games stated that Six Days would feature destructible and degradable environments using a custom rendering engine, which they claimed surpassed the destructible environments of the Battlefield series, let alone any game released or in development at the time. Atomic Games clarified these destructible environments were not a “goofy, out-of-place marketing gimmick”, but a deliberate feature to reflect the actual Battle of Fallujah, during which U.S. Marines used explosives to breach buildings and demolish structures insurgents were hiding in. Tamte stated the game would feature “a meticulously recreated in-game version of Fallujah, complete with real life Marines lending their names and likenesses, as well as recreations of specific events from the battle. It’s almost like time travel. You’re experiencing the events as they really happened.”
Only two days after its announcement, project was already met with controversies as we can read on Gamesindustry:
Six Days in Fallujah, has drawn in calls for its ban by British military veterans, family members of soldiers and anti-war groups.
“Considering the enormous loss of life in the Iraq War, glorifying it in a videogame demonstrates very poor judgement and bad taste,” Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was killed by a mob in Iraq while serving as a Red Cap, told the Daily Mail. “It is particularly crass when you consider what actually happened in Fallujah.”
“These horrific events should be confined to the annuls of history, not trivialised and rendered for thrill-seekers to play out, over and over again, for ever more. Even worse, it could end up in the hands of a fanatical young Muslim and incite him to consider some form of retaliation or retribution. He could use it to get worked up and want to really finish the game.
“I will be calling for this game to be banned, if not worldwide then certainly in the UK,” he said.
Tim Collins OBE, a former colonel famed for an eve-of-battle speech in 2003, agreed.
“It’s much too soon to start making videogames about a war that’s still going on, and an extremely flippant response to one of the most important events in modern history,” he said. “It’s particularly insensitive given what happened in Fallujah, and I will certainly oppose the release of this game.”
Best-selling author and former SAS soldier Andy McNab, however, defended Six Days in Fallujah. War, he said, has been peddled as entertainment by the media for years.
Furthermore, he argued that the UK does not understand the Fallujah conflict in the same way as the Americans – a nation that lost “more soldiers [in Fallujah] than the whole of the British Army has in Iraq and Afghanistan combined”.
“Culturally it is totally different in the US,” McNab told TechRadar. “In America it is not as if this is ‘shock horror’ – everybody has been watching it on the news for the last seven years. The hypocrisy is in the fact that when the media wants a ‘shock horror’ story they will focus on something like this.
“In America a 90-year-old and a 12-year-old will know what happened at Fallujah. It’s on the TV, there are books about it. The game is a natural extension to that; it is folklore. The only difference being that it is presented in a different medium.
“If the game stands up and offers Americans those soldiers’ stories, then, why not?” he said.
Plus, added McNab, America’s Army has been simulating real-life events for years, and really this is no different to “killing Nazis or drug dealers” in other games; games that he has seen soldiers playing on laptops while on tour in Basra. “Culturally they are more up for it,” he concluded.
In direct contrast to his approach, however, was the Stop the War Coalition peace group, who said glorifying the Fallujah “massacre” is “sick”.
“The massacre carried out by American and British forces in Fallujah in 2004 is amongst the worst of the war crimes carried out in an illegal and immoral war,” spokesperson Tansy E Hoskins told TechRadar.
“It is estimated that up to 1,000 civilians died in the bombardment and house-to-house raids carried out by invading troops. So many people were killed in Fallujah that the town’s football stadium had to be turned into a cemetery to cope with all the dead bodies.
“There is nothing to celebrate in the death of people resisting an unjust and bloody occupation. To make a game out of a war crime and to capitalise on the death and injury of thousands is sick.
“There will never be a time when it is appropriate for people to play at committing atrocities,” added Tansy. “The massacre in Fallujah should be remembered with shame and horror not glamorised and glossed over for entertainment.”
“We’re not pro-war,” he added. “We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience… At the end of the day, it’s just a game.”
All these reactions pushed Konami to officially leave the project on April 27, just 21 days after its announcement:
According to an article out of The Asahi Shimbun, Konami has dropped out of publishing controversial shooter, Six Days in Fallujah. The article blames Konami’s decision on the overwhelmingly bad reception the title received from Western audiances after its announcement.
“After seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail, we decided several days ago not to sell it,” a public relations official of Konami said. “We had intended to convey the reality of the battles to players so that they could feel what it was like to be there.”
We recently reported on layoffs at Atomic Games, which followed after Konami pulled out of its partnership with Atomic Games for Six Days in Fallujah. The company blamed its inability to secure full-scale funding for the project, which forced a reduction in size at the studio.
Atomic did not comment on the number of affected employees, simply stating that development would continue with a smaller team funded by sister company Destineer Inc., which purchased Atomic in 2005. However, IndustryGamers has heard from an anonymous source who claims, “Out of 75 people, less than a dozen are left and about a third of that isn’t even developers. The remaining team is basically a skeleton cleanup crew that will be gone soon too. They are trying to downplay the extent of these layoffs, but the reality is that Atomic is pretty much dead.”
We’ve put in an inquiry with Atomic Games to find out about the current state of their business but have not heard back yet.
Strangely enough, contrary to most of people thought back then, Atomic wasn’t still dead, and some more information was shared by IGN in March 2010:
A source close to the game’s development confirmed to IGN this morning that Six Days in Fallujah is still planned for release, though no expected release date or publisher was named.
“I can promise you that game is still coming out and it is finished,” the source said.
Six Days in Fallujah got off to a rocky start last April when then publisher Konami dropped the title just weeks after revealing it to the press. Our source said Konami was “too scared” to publish the title after the negative reaction the title garnered.
In August, Atomic Games suffered layoffs due to the studio’s inability to secure a funded publishing deal. While the total reduced headcount was never confirmed, reports at the time suggested nearly 80 percent of the staff was let go with only a skeleton crew remaining.
The fate of the studio was very much left up in the air, but this news seems to indicate Atomic Games is still open in some capacity.
During the PAX East that took place in the same month, Atomic revealed a totally new game, Breach, which was a team-based first-person shooter multiplayer game that featured destructible environments, just like Six Days in Fallujah. It was released in 2011 but sold poorly and definitely killed Atomic Games and Destineer a few months later. In the credits of the game, 23 people worked on it, counting Human Resources. A special thanks section dedicated to people who worked on Six Days in Fallujah can be found. That section contained a total of 51 persons, including former Creative Director Juan Benito.
In the following years, Six Days in Fallujah occasionally came to our memory here and there in the press. Thus, in August 2012, more than a year after the closure of Atomic Games, we could read on PlayStation Lifestyle that at some point, SIE Santa Monica Studio could have been implicated in the game as it was hinted by David Jaffe:
Sony might have once considered publishing Six Days in Fallujah (…)
The reveal comes from David Jaffe, who tweeted about Sony developer Allan Becker, saying [emphasis added]:
Very proud this week of Allan Becker, my former Sony boss and the man who started Sony Santa Monica.*
He toots his own horn so damn rarely I bet the man doesn’t even know he has one to toot! So allow me to do it for him:
A few years back, Allan left Sony Santa Monica to take over Sony’s Japan Studio after a very, very successful run as the SM studio head. When he was at Santa Monica he spearheaded a lot of amazing games, (…). He also was the guy who funded and supported L.A. NOIRE for a long time before that game left Sony and went to RockStar, along with SIX DAYS IN FALLUJAH and bunch of other very imaginative, cool games that never came out but clearly carried the banner for ‘games as art/games-being-more-conceptually-meaningful-than-games-as-action-movies’. (…)
Jaffe’s language isn’t totally clear that Becker funded Six Days while at Sony (hence this being a rumor), but considering Becker joined SCE in 1997 and hasn’t worked anywhere else, it’s unlikely he meant otherwise.
That information was eventually confirmed, nearly 10 years later, in April 2021, by the way.
In September 2012, Peter Tamte was reached by Gamespot and shared some more information about what was going on back then:
Tamte’s vision for Six Days in Fallujah remains unchanged. (…) Authenticity comes in the form of video interviews of Marines recounting their experiences of the battle, interspersed throughout the game, as well as near-perfect re-creations of Fallujah neighbourhoods using satellite photography.
Atomic wants everything in the game to be destructible, from individual bricks to entire buildings, in order to accurately re-create the intensity of urban combat and the complications that arise from situations that involve fighting in close quarters in a civilian-heavy environment. To achieve this, the development team built the game on a new game engine designed to handle realistic structural damage to infrastructure. (However, this engine was built for the current generation of hardware, which Tamte said will end before Six Days is ready. Atomic said it is not yet ready to reveal how this will affect the game’s design.)
Three weeks later, Konami cancelled its publishing deal with Atomic. Tamte said that the decision came as a shock to Atomic, which up to that point had received nothing but support from the publisher.
“There were literally no disagreements between Atomic and Konami’s American team. We all saw Six Days in Fallujah the same way. It was the board of directors for Konami’s parent company in Japan who just got freaked out about the controversy.”
Tamte said that the board of directors of Konami’s parent company in Japan ordered the US unit to pull out of Six Days because Konami “didn’t want its brand associated with the controversy”. He still believes this was a mistake.
“I think if they had waited longer to let our story be heard, they would have benefited from the outpouring of support we’ve received for Six Days in Fallujah as people began to understand more about what it really was contemplate new ideas about what a video game could be. This takes time. Unfortunately, Konami’s board of directors didn’t seem to understand.”
More surprising than Konami’s decision to walk away from Six Days in Fallujah was the amount of encouragement and feedback Atomic received following the loss of its biggest financial backer, including more offers of help from Marines who were eager to take part in the game’s development. The challenge that Tamte and his team now face is gathering the money needed to finish the game, although not necessarily from another publisher.
“I would not say that we’re focused on finding a publisher. Our focus is on finding adequate funding. The rest can get worked out.”
Last year, Tamte started a new company, Theory.io, specialising in productivity software for tablets, mobile phones, and computers. While Theory.io won’t be involved in Six Days in Fallujah, Tamte will still be involved with the project until its release, for which there is still no set time frame. While Tamte recognises that there will always be some people who don’t want to see Six Days in Fallujah get made, the outpouring of support that Atomic has received has convinced him that the team’s efforts will not go to waste.
“I know that the story we’re going to help people experience is compelling. And, ultimately, this is what matters the most.”
The game resurfaced in April 2018 when former Level Designer Nathan Cheever shared his work on Gamedeveloper. We learned that development began in 2005 and that the project had to be reduced in scope. In his personal website, we also can read:
I didn’t originally join Destineer to work on Six Days in Fallujah (SDIF). After Turok I wanted to contribute to projects that had a longer shelf life than two months. I found that with Destineer’s new sister studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was focused on Serious Games.
The first project was Judgmental Shooting Simulator (JSS) — a program used to help government agencies like the FBI and CIA deal with dangerous situations. The second project was code-named Magic Bullet — a fictional espionage game, but grounded in reality with assistance directly from the CIA for authenticity.
The experience of our Raleigh team was getting noticed by Destineer’s home studio near Minneapolis. At first, several of our senior members were flown there to consult, support, and become familiar with SDIF. The title had been in production for two years already, building technology from the ground up. SDIF eventually eclipsed Magic Bullet when the company President transferred the project to the Raleigh studio. The majority of Minneapolis studio was asked to move to Raleigh and join the JSS team to complete SDIF. (…)
(…) As with any game production, the original goals evolve over time. These typically involve some form of scope-reduction to help focus the project and elevate quality over quantity. Over the course of four years, SDIF went from 30 missions to 8.
The original campaign for SDIF had 5 missions for each of the 6 Days — 30 levels total. The game world was based on the actual city, so each gamespace was huge, at roughly 40,000 game units (most tactical shooters feature less than half of that).
Vehicles were the remedy for this scale. My impression was a game that rivaled GTA in scope and complexity.
Reality checked in and the campaign was reduced to 19 missions. With the exception of the 1st Day, each Day now featured 3 missions each. Vehicles were relegated to special cases or as backdrop. No freeform driving allowed.
The gamespaces themselves were reduced in size as well, shrinking down to a manageable 12-20,000 game units (the size of an Uncharted Level if folded into a sandbox). This change allowed the team to have more control with moment-to-moment action. At the original scale, the only way to populate non-critical areas would’ve been procedurally, which risked being repetitive and uninspiring.
The third iteration occurred when the project moved to Raleigh. The total missions were only reduced by one, but the scale of each gamespace was downsized to 10-12,000 game units (somewhere in the ballpark of a Gears of War level). The change was due to technical reasons. With all of the sheer destruction we were estimating, anything larger wouldn’t fit in tech performance or memory.
When Konami entered the picture in early 2009, the project was now bound to a schedule. To ship in 2010, SDIF was reduced to 12 levels. Their physical size remained the same. Each Day had 1-3 missions. Each mission was to be introduced and/or followed by an interview with a Marine who was there.
Previously scope-reduction hadn’t disrupted the highlights, events, or people met in the game. During this last change however, I had to start picking the best events and put aside less dynamic ones. Like previous versions, the experience featured 2 Fire Teams (mixed with real Marines) the player switched to depending on the location and event.
This campaign happened to be my favorite version. It had the right amount of distinctive events and variety to make the experience dynamic and memorable. One thing that set it apart from the other versions were several detached sequences that took place before each Day began. The player was thrown into the middle of intense situations lasting 60-120 seconds, playing a different Marine each time.
In contrast to regular Campaign pacing, there were no tutorials or forgiving second-chances, no reloads. Experienced players would be quick on their feet, recognizing their position and gear. Inexperienced ones would be caught in the chaos and fear of the moment. You dealt with whatever the outcome was. Did you survive? Were you wounded? Did you save your team?
When players began the final level of the game, they would realize those sequences were flash-forwarding to this final location. Familiar buildings, sights, and sounds from those frantic moments were now all connected.
Several Fire Teams were present during Hell House. Each flash-forward recorded your choices and assigned them as goals to supporting AI Marines. They now retraced your decisions while your own Fire Team attempts to suppress the conflict.
In a multiplayer session, each player would experience these flashes individually. The game would randomly choose which “recording” to use, based on the number of participants in the final level. When the game was complete, players were allowed to replay these series of events and attempted a different outcome.
Like the rest of SDIF, this feature was not meant to trivialize the tragedies or heroism of the Marines who were there. It was developed to teach players the choices and reality of war. Training simulations have been doing this for quite some time. SDIF was an attempt to add an emotional narrative within in a high-quality product.
The Action and Fear chart was something I learned from Turok. It helps the story arc maintain a rhythm of emotional highs-and-lows. The remainder of the information pictured was how real events were applied to each mission. They either directly influenced the encounter(s) or provided bookend moments between them.
The last change reduced the game to a total of 8 levels, with only 1 Fire Team. The individual scenarios would be based on the real events, but the transitions between them would be an mixture of anecdotal moments from interviews and written accounts. The player would continue to meet real Marines throughout the game, but they wouldn’t be playing with them.
When SDIF was first announced, modern warfare in mainstream games were still relatively new. Since 2009, it’s been full embraced (some would say exploited to sell more games). I hope the stories behind SDIF are presented in some meaningful way in the future. If production was restarted, technical concerns and controversial issues would be less of an issue now. SDIF was always about the real people and their stories, rather than flashy explosions and body count.
In June 2018, Variety wrote an article summarizing several development anecdotes and possible problems encountered by the team:
(…) “The idea started with a Marine sergeant who had been medevaced out of Fallujah during the battle. I knew him well because he was one of the Marines who had been sent to our offices to help us build training systems. He called me just a few weeks after the battle and told me stories from Fallujah that were just incredible. … Then, he asked me whether we could build a game to recreate these stories,” Destineer and Atomic Games founder Peter Tamte told Variety.
(…) With the primary platform being PC, an Xbox 360 port and later PlayStation 3 edition were planned. “Six Days in Fallujah” would carry the Atomic Games brand, not Destineer. “Peter [Tamte] was telling the team, ‘Look, this is a very powerful brand and web address because it was really desired. We’re going to bring this brand back to life and we’re going to use this brand for a big AAA commercial game,’” says Nathan Cheever, lead campaign designer.
Self-funded development began in early 2006.
(…) Initial design opened to a square mile of city space, around four to five blocks. Faced with combat uncertainty, players would need to make snap decisions as to how, where, and when to attack as the urban scenario made it difficult to separate enemy from civilian. Key to this endeavor was destruction.
“There were options that the marines themselves faced and utilized because they have this concept called shape the battlefield where they don’t really care about walls. They want to get the best tactical position so walls come down all the time. We wanted to give the player the opportunity too,” says Creative Director Juan Benito.
“The engine could destroy everything. It was beautiful. Everything could fall apart almost down to the brick,” says producer James Cowgill.
(…) Destruction, however, is difficult to display in video games. This involves physics, graphical changes, processor horsepower, and other complications. While “Six Days in Fallujah” did progress, many of the issues faced by the team stemmed from this destruction, leading to a development that lasted years with slow progress.
“Nobody had done destruction to this extent and still hasn’t. … Unfortunately, this decision inadvertently caused us to spend the first three years building an engine instead of a game. Building the technology or a fully destructible game world created all sorts of complications that are hard to see until you’re very far into development. Everything falls out from this one decision to create a fully destructible game world, and I’m the one who pushed for it and authorized it, so it’s my fault,” writes Tamte.
Consider the location: Alongside destruction, cultural concerns enter the discussion, particularly religious sensitivities. “Even though it was a fully destructible game, we’re not going to allow anyone playing the game to destroy mosques. We don’t want that to be recorded, videoed, and then put on YouTube and it shows people laughing. Suddenly, you’d trivialized a nation’s culture,” says Cheever.
“Everything around [the mosque] can be destroyed except that. Then it looked like we were almost making a religious statement. The power of that structure and that religion,” says Benito. We had a cutscene that was based on a real video clip that we had where Marines had destroyed a mosque and a tower was falling. Very dramatic footage. We recreated it with motion capture and animation. That had to be cut because it was seen as too religiously sensitive,” referring to a decision made by unspecified higher-ups at Destineer/Atomic.
Another level involved a firefight inside a cemetery. Although finished, that level was cut because of potential insensitivity toward grave sites. Other changes became necessary for the format.
“In the real world, you might have 200 meters of flat ground to get to the next building. In a game, that’s a lot of nothing. We shrunk things and shaped things a little bit, but they’re all based on the original locations and condensed into a game,” says Cheever.
Accuracy was tantamount to the team. Benito stated he collected over 80 hours of interviews with Marines who fought in Fallujah. Infantry Officer Read Omohundro came on as a consultant. “I started talking with the software engineers and the other programmers that were making sure some of the city aspects as well as the architecture as well at movements and behavior characteristics for the weapon systems, as well as some of the marines behavior characteristics, were in line with reality of the events,” says Omohundro.
Cowgill explained a basic scenario set-up in “Six Days in Fallujah.”
“The example we used quite a bit was you’re a squad leader and you’re clearing the left side of the street down Fallujah. You see civilians on the other side of the street in their house as you clear houses. Later, you start taking fire from that house. You have three options. You can turn around and clear that house, kick down the doors and do what you need to. Maybe get some marines injured, maybe injure some civilians, but you’re taking fire from the house. The second option is to leave it for the next squad behind you to clear so that they take the risk. The third option is to call in an airstrike. Of those three bad options, which do you choose?” says Cowgill.
With technical burdens building, a decision was made to bring “Six Days in Fallujah” entirely to Destineer’s Raleigh, North Carolina location. Cheever remembers four or five levels in an alpha state after a year or more of development, and once the Raleigh team was set, “Six Days in Fallujah” underwent a reboot.
Gone was the open approach and levels condensed into tighter designs, both for the sake of destruction and scheduling.
“At the end, because the events happened on different phase lines that happened north to south, we decided to have two different fireteams [of four marines],” remembers Cheever.
In addition to a shift in focus, Cheever recalls a “death by demo” process, where the team is pulled off the main game to develop demos or proof of concepts for trade shows or potential publishers. “That halts development of the complete game because people keep getting sucked into expressing things that will not be done in the full game,”he says.
“The view at the time was always to put the best foot forward. …. that drains away resources from the main development. We’d often find ourselves creating an important demo for a specific aspect of the project, but it created quite a drain on the team,” says Benito.
Tamte disputed this schedule, however. “The game was self-funded for the first few years and then found funding very quickly the first time we needed it, so there were only 3-4 times during 4 plus years of development that we built a one-off so we could market the game to someone.”
Those someones varied over the years. Destineer/Atomic Games sought a variety of publishers, from industry giants like Electronic Arts (who potentially viewed “Fallujah” as an extension of its Medal of Honor series) or Bethesda Softworks. Atomic even approached console makers Microsoft and Sony. None of their pitches were successful. “The biggest challenge was that most of the ones that could afford to publish ‘Six Days’ already had their own military shooter franchises either in development or on the market,” says Tamte.
EA, for instance, did reboot its Medal of Honor series but did so on their accord in 2010. Others were concerned by the content and how this could impact their market share outside of the U.S.
“Some of these publishers were headquartered in Europe or Asia that have completely different geopolitical frames of reference on the Iraq war,” says Benito.
One publisher did take on “Six Days in Fallujah.” That was Japan-based studio Konami who signed on in 2008. For a year, Konami supported “Six Days in Fallujah’s” development, if not in the way the developers hoped. Announced at Konami’s Gamer’s Night in 2009, “Six Days in Fallujah” featured alongside the likes of horror games Silent Hill and Saw: The Video Game. Konami brought out a Fallujah veteran to speak, then pushed out a sizzle reel of real-world Iraq war footage combined with run-and-gun gameplay footage, muddying the message.
Basing “Six Days in Fallujah” in reality brings up a number of difficult questions. In a hunt for accuracy, a debate began internally regarding the depiction of actual soldiers. The answer was not to include real named soldiers as playable characters, although this didn’t end the debate.
“Would there be support characters that were real characters in the game? And if they are there, how do you deal with them being killed or is it just a game situation where they don’t die? Or, everyone is made up and it’s just the interviews that express the idea with the real people,” explains Cheever.
“We eventually arrived at a place where we had all of the reality in the book-ended video documentary pieces and we had it in the reality of a tactical situation, but the marines themselves were somewhat abstracted. … We worked with over a dozen marines during the entire phase of development. They inspired marine characters in the game. We didn’t show any real individual or simulating them losing their life. That would have been beyond the pale,” says Benito.
For full accuracy, Destineer’s team asked an American Iraq-based journalist to interview people in Fallujah, to hear their side, even some insurgents.
“I probably had sixty hours of marine interviews and another 20-25 hours from Iraq itself. … the real problem was we were going for a real documentary which meant more than one viewpoint in trying to get the whole story, being real journalists,” explains Cowgill.
That job, of an Iraqi reporter, was not an easy one and put some people in real danger. “Iraqis in Fallujah assumed he was CIA. He couldn’t go back into the city after helping us because they thought he was a spy. He had hired a couple of Iraqi journalists to get the stories and talk to people but it became dangerous for all of them after that because of that environment,” explains Cowgill.
Between a failure of pre-release marketing to tell the public about the documentary approach and the idea of insurgents being involved, “Six Days in Fallujah” came under fire. (…)
The general public’s perception of a video game, along with the content of “Six Days in Fallujah,” made marketing problematic.
“Everybody had some form of Call of Duty in their head of just a run and gun shooter, nothing but fun. The storytelling and documentary aspects were completely lost in the messaging,” says Cowgill.
“It felt like a siege. We knew what was happening in the studio. We knew the validity of the content we were making, and the vision around it. I was convinced and I think the team was as well. We weren’t able to articulate that to the outside world in the way we wanted to. It all felt like a big, unjust misunderstanding,” says Benito.
Development continued until late April 2009, the same month as the Gamer’s Day demo. On a day when Benito completed negotiations with Evan Wright, writer oof the book Generation Kill, to pen the story, the phone rang. “I had just started lunch, then I got the call that Konami was pulling the plug. Then I had to go back in and finish lunch.”
“I got a phone call from the EVP at Konami who oversaw our project to explain that Konami of Japan was going to announce it was pulling out and that it would be in the next day’s Tokyo newspapers,” writes Tamte.
Fear over “Six Days in Fallujah’s” real world content and media coverage scared Konami higher-ups. “Basically, once Konami Japan realized they had a controversial game on their hands, everything just went quiet from Konami. The support just dropped,” says Cowgill.
This did require Konami to renege on their contract, using a ‘termination for convenience’ provision. “This allowed them to pay us a fee to terminate the agreement, in which case 100% of the rights to the project would revert back to us,” explains Tamte.
Back into the publishing waters Destineer went, funded by the termination agreement, and on another hunt for a potential publisher. However, by this time, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare turned into a blockbuster, and publishers had their own counterparts already in development. Destineer even sought a studio in Russia. “Fallujah” didn’t fit their schedules, and Destineer was denied.
“After it became clear that none of the big publishers could do ‘Six Days,’ we wound down the team to just a core group and created a new game called Breach with our game engine,” writes Tamte.
“Breach was essentially the multiplayer child of ‘Six Days’ in the effort to save something,” says Cowgill.
“Breach” debuted on the Xbox 360’s digital Xbox Live Arcade service in January 2011, breaking even financially, not enough to sustain the studio. Destineer shuttered in May 2011.
With the advancement of technology and distance from the Iraq war, something like “Six Days in Fallujah” might carry market value today.
“I think now enough time has passed and people have seen the diversity particularly with virtual reality games and how that technology is so different. I’m hoping one day we’ll be able to get to a point where this documentary type video game, or this reenactment through gaming technology, will allow people to experience something that wasn’t physically possible 10 years ago,” says Omohundro.
“You would have learned something. That was the biggest thing I was excited about. If people played through it, they would have realized wow, military, war is not something to be completely trivialized,” says Cheever
To Tamte, not all is lost. Atomic Games is still a brand and he holds all of the necessary pieces.
“I archived all of the assets for ‘Six Days in Fallujah,’ including the interviews we conducted with Marines just weeks after the battle, terabytes of video, photos, and documents from the battle, as well as all the game code and art assets,” writes Tamte.
“Someday,” he said, “we are going to finish what we started.”
In February 2021, the game was officially back on track. It was released in Early Access in June 2023, exclusively on PC, with a Roadmap and future releases planned for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
Article by Daniel Nicaise