Microsoft

Six Days in Fallujah [X360/PS3/PC – Cancelled]

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.”

Vice president Anthony Crouts told the Wall Street Journal that Konami was “not trying to make a social commentary”.

“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.”

Although Atomic announced that it would not give up on the development of the game, things did not improve as the months went by. So, in August 2009, we learned that Atomic was laying off its entire workforce:
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.

2005 Version

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.

2007 Version

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.

2008 Version

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.

2009-Q1 Version

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?

Order Revealed

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.

2009-Q3 Version

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.

Conclusion

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

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Dragonkind [XBOX/PS2 – Cancelled]

Dragonkind is a cancelled fantasy action adventure game developed by TriLunar for Xbox and PlayStation 2, around 2002.

Set in the fantasy world of Vermilion, Dragonkind follows the adventures of a young man named Grail who has the mysterious ability to control the power of dragons. This ability causes problems as well as provides great benefits, and launches Grail on a series of escapades that carry him across the world. The game story evolves as Grail journeys into and out of adventures and to a final conclusion that answers questions about his past and his role in the future of the world…

The game was officially revealed in April 2002. Worthplaying wrote:

TriLunar, LLC announced today their newest game title, Dragonkind. Combining the action and exploration of classic platform games with the depth of story and character found in console role-playing games, Dragonkind promises to deliver a unique experience that is only possible with the power and flexibility of today’s newest generation of console platforms.

Set in the fantasy world of Vermilion, Dragonkind follows the adventures of a young man named Grail who has the mysterious ability to control the power of dragons. This ability causes problems as well as provides great benefits, and launches Grail on a series of escapades that carry him across the world. The game story evolves as Grail journeys into and out of adventures and to a final conclusion that answers questions about his past and his role in the future of the world… or does it? In the spirit of classic comic book tales, things in Dragonkind are not always as they appear to be.

“I’ve always been fascinated with video games,” says Joe Madureira, President of Creative Development, “and I had been looking for the opportunity to express myself creatively in real-time 3D. Our goal is to make Dragonkind feel like a real-life comic book with all of the great characters, story and action found in today’s best comics. With today’s technology, you can create fantasy worlds of unprecedented depth and detail.”

Game play in Dragonkind will feature a mix of action and adventure. Key features in the game include:

  • Stunning 3D world featuring the art, look and feel of noted comic book artist, Joe Madureira.
  • An epic tale of good and evil; of love, honor and destiny! (With a little humor squeezed in when you weren’t looking)
  • Unique friends and enemies, each with their own roles and personalities. Crafty rogues, roguish sea-pirates, piratical warlords – you get the idea.
  • Extensive 3D lands of mystery and adventure to discover and explore. Secret areas and special locations will keep you searching for more.
  • Run, jump, climb, swim, ride, sail and fly your way to success. (And even go on a train ride or two).
  • Devious enemies and nefarious traps that require timing and strategy to defeat. Race across a field of ice floes with a sea serpent at your heels, ride an avalanche, wrestle a dragon, and much more!
  • Story driven quest objectives and open game world allow a high degree of non-linear game play.
  • Great battles of swords and strategy that increase in difficulty as you yourself become mightier. Summon the power of dragons to your aid with lava rain, ice comets, and earthquakes!
  • Thrilling music and thundering sound effects.
  • Cinematic camera control heightens the sense of adventure.
  • Simple, intuitive interface keeps you focused on the game, not the controls.

“Today’s video game fan demands great story in addition to great game play,” says Greg Peterson, TriLunar’s CEO. “With Dragonkind we are taking the best aspects of console platformers and blending the best aspects of console role-playing games. We will know we’ve created a hit when people will be able to walk up to our game and start playing immediately, and still be hooked days later. Our story, game play, and technology will all support one another, so that the final package will take people on a journey of entertainment that remains fresh and engaging all the way through the game finale.”

Dragonkind is being developed for the Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox. Scheduled release date is 2004.

However, the project was quickly cancelled after its announcement. It was announced in August 2002 on the now-defunct website of TriLunar:

TriLunar Shuts Down Operations – August 27 • 2002

We have a disappointing announcement. Due to lack of resources, we have had to cease development of the game Dragonkind as well as close down TriLunar. The company was funded 100% internally, and without access to an external source of capital, we are unable to continue operating. This decision disappoints us as much as it probably disappoints all of our fans and supporters.

TriLunar has ceased all internal development. Work on the game Dragonkind has stopped and will not be starting up for the foreseeable future. Additionally, we are no longer accepting solicitations or employment applications.

We at TriLunar appreciate the unprecedented level of support we received over the course of development. We know it has been a tough road for our friends and fans as well as ourselves.

One thing which never failed was our team’s unflagging enthusiasm which was buoyed by support from the fans, the press and our families. We would like to thank all of you. We hope one day to return to you as much as you gave to us.

Take care and continued success.

-The TriLunar Team

In March 2003, it was revealed that Joe Madureira was working on another game, Exarch, which will become Dungeon Runners.

In November 2009, French website Gameblog got in touch with Joe Madureira. Dragonkind was briefly mentionned:

G.B.: Did you immediately experience the same success in video games?

J.M.: No, not at all. But do you really want to talk about this?

G.B.: Yes, of course! It’s interesting to know what that might have brought you…

J.M.: In fact, my first attempts at video games were horrible. I created a game called Dragonkind, but our previous company (TriLunar) lost too much money and we went bankrupt. The game was never finished. Today at Vigil Games, we work with people I met through Dragonkind. So this experience finally allowed me to meet the right people. It’s still very important.

Article by Daniel Nicaise

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Citizen Zero [PC/XBOX – Cancelled]

Citizen Zero, also known as Identity Zero and formerly known as BigWorld: Citizen Zero, is a cancelled futuristic sci-fi Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game developed by Micro Forté, with the support of sister company BigWorld Technology, from 2000 to 2004, for the PC and the Xbox.

As we can read on the old Micro Forté website, Citizen Zero was set in the future, on a distant solar system:

Welcome to Typhron

The Setting – Citizen Zero is set on Typhron, a penal colony established by United Military Industries. Contact with Earth has been lost, leaving the colony in permanent lock-down and trapping the inhabitants in a few enclaves. Life on Typhron is tough, but the possibilities are endless for the strong.

Live as a Team, Die as a Team – Work as a team, deploying special class abilities, devastating combo attacks and multi-stage takedowns to defeat a wide varity of deadly AI enemies with their own special attacks and powers.

Find a Faction that suits your style – From the battle-hardened Marines to the brutish, streetwise Syndicate, the 5 NPC factions provide a look and a hook for every player, creating instant online community.

Although apparently revealed before this date, the first glimpse of information that are still available for Citizen Zero dated back from February 2000 on IGN:

(…) For gamers though, the most interesting announcements from MicroForte at AGDC were regarding their Big World project.

What was confirmed was that the project is currently being pitched as both a PC and PS2 title, with the ability for players from both systems to play together. Other lofty technical design goals were floated such as 100,000 players per shard, a low 33kbps upstream requirement for best play, and a realistic and scalable indoor/outdoor 3D engine.

Everything sounded fantastic, but with a Beta-test date of mid-2001, it would be some time before we would be able to see anything more to evidence on how work is progressing towards those goals … or so we thought.

After the AGDC official program had concluded we were able to get a first hand look at how Big World is shaping up graphically. What we saw was quite amazing. Steve Wang took us through a demo level set inside a major metropolis that had a very Blade Runner feel to it. The graphics looked great inside and out with highly detailed environments that created a great atmosphere even with no music or sound effects. The characters that we saw have some wonderfully detailed bodies and faces with a good variety of human and alien models. Some of the alien models looked particularly special. The animators had also done a great job at bringing all the models to life when moving around and when interacting with each other. The screenshots we have seen so far do not really begin to do the engine justice.

While the look of the engine was indeed impressive, our enthusiasm is tempered knowing how much work is still to be done on the multiplayer code and on refining the content to fill the massive environment. We did get a quick glimpse at the work already completed in the content department and could see evidence of detail and a lot of volume already. (…)

More about its background and gameplay was published shortly after on the now-defunct official website of the game:

Citizen Zero is set in the isolated Ulruan solar system, containing four planets with possibility of habitation – only three of which are currently known to be habited. Thanks to one of the many mysterious machines to be found on the planet, travel between the inhabited planets is achieved via teleportation devices, whose workings are still little understood.

The Planets

Neo-Eden

First coined by prisoners of NE6744 as an ironic name for their home, Neo-Eden has become the focus of the system and the base of operations for most citizens. Its capital, DeMannon’s Ladder, has emerged from its humble origin as a stark and utilitarian prison building to become a bustling modern metropolis. Neo-Eden is also home to Portal Town, the majestic, crumbling folly built by the greed of humans but now occupied by the Cybrids. Outside, Neo-Eden is a desolate but not inhospitable wasteland where many have made their home as Frontier settlers.

Ulrua
Ulrua is a tropical swamp world, filled with vegetation, marshes, and vast oceans. After emerging from slavery at the hands of the Guardians, the amphibious Beziel race adopted Ulrua as their ideal home a short time after the Great Riot. Ulrua attracts hunters and explorers, and is the site of a long-running conflict between the Beziel tribes and the less accommodating mining companies of Neo-Eden. Despite this, Ulrua is generally a peaceful planet in which the Beziel race live their tribal lifestyle and are most accommodating of human and cybrid visitors.

Trinn
Trinn is the most arid and ravaged of the habited planets, its surface little more than desert. Its capital Purgatory-Central – a sarcastic riposte to the name `Neo-Eden’ – is notorious as the home of prospectors, spies, smugglers, renegades and those seeking to escape the law. Its surface is littered with the ruins of an alien civilisation, and is the site of the most advanced manufacturing plants. It has become the base of operations for the much-despised Technical Houses, made up of citizens who use their control over the advanced technology to support a decadent lifestyle.

There is a fourth planet in the Ulruan system, for which habitation is a possibility. However, its gravity is only two-thirds of normal and little is known about its surface. Decades ago, it was visited briefly by a Guardian exploration team and a gateway portal was built. However, the research team subsequently vanished and the gateway has stubbornly refuses to activate ever since. For the moment, it exists only as an image in a telescope. Even then, its surface is obscured by thick clouds, which seem a metaphor for its mysterious nature.

The Cities

DeMannon’s Ladder

The town of DeMannon’s Ladder was originally the main jail building that housed the inmates of the prison settlement. After the Riot, it was entirely reclaimed, and is now an enormous enclosed city comprising some 1.9 million residents. It is fully climate controlled and contains ample facilities to contain its 1.9 million residents – a prime concern for its rulers, the DeMannon’s Ladder Council. Having quietly discarded the concept of democracy some time ago, the DLC aim to keep their residents docile, comfortable – and devoid of the desire to divest them of their considerable power. Therefore, most residents wholly believe the myths (and sometimes, the truths) about what lies outside the high walls of the city – the dangers of Portal Town and, worse still, the Frontier. These rumours are increasingly being ignored.

Despite the general push by citizens to make Neo-Eden a planet worthy of its name, no number of neon lights and chrome can completely obliterate the dark past of DeMannon’s Ladder, and it remains a town, where darkness is always just around the corner from light.

Portal Town
Before the great Riot that ended Neo-Eden’s tenure as a prison planet, a number of prisoners staged a daring escape from the main building, headed by the humanitarian scientist Benito DeMannon. The masterly jailbreak involved thirty prisoners. The Guardians, lazy and corrupt as they were, either did not know, or did not care. Besides – no one could possibly survive unprotected on Neo-Eden for long. Or so it was thought.

Outside, the escapees decided to build an extravagant town to which they planned to smuggle the entire population of Neo-Eden. However, they were soon torn apart by infighting, and DeMannon realised with horror that they had become no better than the Guardians. The Great Riot occurred soon after, and it was he who established the idea of a fair council to run the city that came to bear his name. Meanwhile, the buildings, wrought of poor, cheap materials, soon began to literally crumble into dust. Portal Town, as it was eventually named, became a Cybrid ghetto, and an odd and sinister place where structures that were intended to gleam simply sink into their own rust.

Purgatory-Central
Purgatory-Central, while small, is a hotbed of activity. Established by the corrupt Technical Houses, it is protected from the savage sandstorms by atmosphere shields. The DLC pays little official attention to the governing of this shameful place, therefore most justice meted out there is of the renegade nature, regulated to a small degree by the aforementioned Houses. Naturally, it has become a magnet for ruffians and desperados of all kinds. In particular, it has recently become the base of operations for spies for hire, mistrustful of the conventional avenues towards work. Intrigue and grey morality form the mainstay of the city.

Purgatory-Central is also the centre for trade in rare earths and other minerals, which are extracted by automated robotic machines. The machines are hunted and captured (often at great risk) in order to steal their precious cargoes of minerals. It is also the home of the notorious Dune Races, a favourite pastime and entertainment for the gambling-mad inhabitants of the city.

The Gameplay

Career, job, or hobby … it’s your choice

Missions of any sort may be found via the Continuum or your personal CommuniPanion, However, the big rewards come via game organisations called the Overarchy who conduct their own missions to promote their goals or sabotage their rivals.

Earn Valuable Rewards

The Overarchy can provide you with specialist training, money, resources, cool equipment and extra perks you cannot gain elsewhere.

Build your skills

A persistent record of your growing character skills and experience are kept on the server, along with your personal affiliations and grudges. With 46 different skills, there’s always something new to try out.

A Mission Tailored for You

The Mission Generator looks at your personal history of contacts, affiliations and grudges, your mission preferences and skills, and your standing within a faction – and offers a choice of missions that are specifically tailored to your needs and level of experience. Locations, items, and characters involved are all dynamically generated.

Real motivations, Real friends and enemies

As the game progresses, characters will begin to appear repeatedly in your quests. A cast of sworn friends and bitter enemies will soon grow in your personal history.

Sophisticated NPC Reactions

Form valuable alliances with realistic NPCs, whose attitudes towards you will change for better or worse, depending on your standing, and your treatment towards them.

Work your way up the ladder to success

As your skills and experience increase, so will your standing in the Overarch – and so too will the attitudes of your superiors warm towards you. You will gain access to new and exciting areas, equipment, and experiences. You may even start your own Overarch, to devise and distribute missions to others.

Deal with your past

As your pre-mind erasure memories begin to return, you will learn of relatives and friends from your former life. Will they be a part of your new life or are you content to let bygones be bygones? The answer is up to you.

Further details was shared in February 2001, this time by Gamespot:

(…) Characters can choose one of three playable races: humans, biomechanical cybrids, or the beziel, an athletic alien race. As former members of the penal colony, characters enjoy certain advantages, including complete freedom of travel. This freedom makes them valuable to the Overarchy, a group of powerful organizations that will assign missions to those who show the greatest potential to help advance their particular interests. Players will find one of the organizations, known as an Overarch, that will match their playing style.

BigWorld: Citizen Zero is scheduled to begin beta testing at the end of 2001, and it is expected to be released sometime in mid-2002.

In the spring of 2002, the project was showcased at the Game Developers Conference. Both Gamespot and IGN wrote previews on the game. IGN wrote:

From what we saw of the very basic frame of Citizen Zero, the game will be focusing much more on action and adventure than most of the other massively multiplayer games we’ve seen so far. Combat is handled by locking a target on to whatever it is you’d like to shoot or kill with whatever weapons you might have. At that point, you can fire at whatever rate you like and try to dodge whatever attacks come back at you. Unfortunately, that’s mostly what I got to see in the way of ranged gun combat. The melee combat was a bit more interesting. Lead Designer Paul McInnes set up a little bit of a sword duel between himself and another and what ensued was pretty interesting to watch. Animations will fit together so that it looks as though you’re actually fighting a duel. Swords clash together at the right spot and animations blend together well.

Political factions in the game are divided up into the Overarchy. This Overarchy has the different factions inside of it. Hooking up with one of these guys will be how you get your missions. Depending on the faction you work for, you’ll receive different orders regarding different things. So you may end up making hits on certain NPCs or PCs depending on if they’ve pissed your faction off in any way. The political situations in the game will not only show in terms of what these groups think of you, but also what the groups think of each other depending on how you act.

These missions will also take into account your skill set and how you might be able to help out your faction more efficiently. The game lets you “unlearn” a skill so that you can master a new one, letting you reinvent your character over time as your interests change. Just because you’re good at one thing or another doesn’t mean you have to take certain missions, they’re just suggested to fit your playing style and wants.

This fits in perfectly with the team-based missions that will be built into the game. These sound particularly fun and will work in ways that those in EverQuest and games of that ilk can’t pull off. This is for a couple of reasons. The game will generate missions that take specific example of some of the long list of skills available in the game. One particular example that fits well, which also happens to be on the game’s website is a mission where you’ll need a hacker to open some doors, a demolitionist to blow up the contents in a building, and a couple of snipers hanging out to cap any guards that come along in the meantime. Coordinating efforts towards a common goal instead of everyone just hanging out in the same place waiting for an unsuspecting creature to spawn so you dog pile it before it can clear the sleep from its eyes is appealing.

Along this teamwork focused line are features that will literally allow for helping hands. Some points in the game will not be accessible to the lone gunman. So if you have a friend to bring along, you can actually kneel down and give a player a boost up to a ledge and wait for him to give you a helping hand up. The animation for this sequence was a kick to watch and should definitely add even more helping and social aspects to a genre that has already really blossomed in those areas.

Of course, if you don’t necessarily want to be involved in the sticky politics of one of these groups, it seems that you won’t necessarily need to get involved. You can just hunt a little along the lines of what you do in EverQuest, killing and looting as you go. You can go freelance as a bounty hunter, you can just adventure, or you can even give it all up to get really good at racing. That’s right, racing. I think I forgot to mention it, but the BigWorld tech also comes with vehicle physics. There will be several vehicles in the game itself, including the Ripper hoverbike that looked like a hoot to pilot. Citizen Zero will have leagues just for racing these things. So really there’s a wide variety of stuff to do even if you don’t go on missions constantly.

Gamespot added:

Though we didn’t see too much of the game’s ranged combat, we did see that Citizen Zero’s melee combat will actually let you parry your opponent’s attacks and even break your opponent’s guard with a forceful blow. But since Citizen Zero will also be an action game, it’ll let your characters fight against each other and the game’s sci-fi enemies (we saw a tribe of nomadic humanoids and a herd of human-sized, dinosaur-like reptiles) in real-time, as well as do other things you might expect from a 3D action game. For instance, players will be able to make their characters climb onto ledges and scale walls. Micro Forte’s developers actually approached an exceptionally high wall with their characters, and had one receive a boost from the other, then reach down from the wall to help his companion clamber up.

While it would seem that the attempt to also code the game on the Playstation 2 had been dead and buried for a long time, Microsoft announced that an agreement with Micro Forté had been concluded in October 2002, without further information:

Microsoft has signed a first-party publishing agreement with Australian developer Micro Forte for an upcoming Xbox online game. At the game’s foundation will be Micro Forte’s BigWorld technology, which is an online engine and toolset that’s designed to smoothly scale up to include many more players than is possible in current online games. While BigWorld’s practical player limit won’t be known until there’s a final game to test, the number may be up to the millions, according to Micro Forte’s estimates earlier this year, or at least hundreds of thousands, as Microsoft has specified.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the specifics of the Xbox game or to say whether it’s related to Micro Forte’s online action game, BigWorld: Citizen Zero , which was revealed earlier this year as an example of the BigWorld technology.

After going silent for a whole year, the title resurfaced at the Game Developers Conference 2004, with, from this point on, an additional Xbox version also planned:

Citizen Zero is played from an over the shoulder perspective where the main character takes up roughly 25 percent of the screenspace on the left side. It borrows a ton of conventions from the almighty Halo, including two weapons per character, two grenade types and separate shield and health meters; which make the whole thing feel like an online massive multiplayer version of Brute Force. It’s class-based so you’ll see a variety of weapons like a .44 magnum pistol, scorpion energy weapon, sniper rifles and rocket launchers designated for different types of characters. The biggest departure from the Halo/Brute Force convention is the selection of “powers” different classes will have available to them. There are also specialized weapons that mimic some of the super powers different characters.

In the demo we saw, one character had the ability to heal both the shield and the super power reservoir for his teammates while another character could turn invisible at will for a short period of time. The healer also has the ability to jumpstart deceased troops on the battlefield who haven’t disintegrated. Yet another character has the ability to fire a slowing shot that will incapacitate the legs of human enemy soldiers. There was also a “draw fire” super power that allowed an extra durable “tank” type character to get any enemy he targeted to turn and engage him automatically. This would allow teammates to easily dispose of those enemies, yet it has to be quick enough before the character drawing fire draws too much heat and dies. If he survives, it’s no problem for the healer to replenish his shields and super powers quickly.

The whole concept would be to have dozens of players (we hear 40 per game is the goal) having to work together as a team to accomplish goals. In the mission we saw three characters assaulted a futuristic prison taking on increasingly difficult waves of enemies until they confronted the all-powerful warden. You capture spawn points along the way so players won’t have to start way back at the beginning should they die. But it’s still about watching each other’s backs and using your special abilities intelligently to assist your comrades and assuming they’ll do the same for you. The intention is for the action to be fast paced yet still require the player to use some smarts and some strategy to get the most out of the gameplay system.

In July of the same year, it was Xboxworld.au who managed to detail some playable weapons in the game:

There are 27 types of weapon in the game, with hundreds of major variants in each category. A big part of the game is unlocking better weapons, and better versions of your current weapons, as you progress in the game. The game mixes some classics like the sniper rifle, assault rifle and shotgun with a few new weapons as well. The planet is home to alien ruins, and humanity has adapted alien devices to their own end, which make some pretty vicious energy weapons and weapons with all sorts of exotic effects.

Remote detonation mines – drop, run, detonate, a wide variety of effects (damage, acid area attack, EMP blast, disrupt invisibility shield).

Orbiter – Launches a target-seeking drone that can be detonated for happy gibbing mayhem.

Viper – A close range “backstab” weapon that does massive damage and sets the victim on fire.

Acid Grenade – A nasty illegal weapon that incapacitates while it kills.

IGN, for its part, got a 3 parts long interview with additional background:

What are the important events in the backstory that brings us up the beginning of the actual gameplay?

Paul McInnes: Typhron is established as a penal colony by United Military Industries (UMI), a tough-minded mining and aerospace corporation, with the aim of exploiting enigmatic alien ruins called the Machina using prisoners as free labor. They establish a classic “prison without walls” by fitting all prisoners and colonists with a security chip inside their brain that limits where they can go and what they can do. As part of the process, they wipe the personal memories of all the prisoners. The colony progresses for 30 years, and during this time, rumors start spreading through the penal colony of secret experiments and alien ruins. Eventually, a special investigations team supported by elite marines is sent to explore.

Shortly after they arrive, the interstellar beacon that allows faster than light travel is sabotaged, and the main colony control center destroyed. The colonists and prisoners find themselves cut off from Earth, with no chance of rescue for decades, the automated security systems in permanent lockdown and under attack from Black Ops troops, monstrous robotic creatures (called automata) and struggling to survive without the supply ships from Earth.

Luckily for the inhabitants, a few prisoners start to regain memories and find that their colony designation has changed to zero. Not only can they elude the security systems, they can tap into secret facilities that allow teleportation and revification. The Zeroes are the only free agents in a world in lockdown, a world that is in desperate need of their services.

What means of travel will be available to move around, and how quick and easy will it be for players to do so?

Paul McInnes: Travel times are a big issue in MMOG design. We want players to have fun exploring and traveling through an exotic world without feeling like they are “treading polys”. We also want travel to be interesting, even a bit dangerous. Players get around the world with a mix of walking (well, running), rippers (speed bikes) and teleportation.

Rippers – rippers are small speed bikes used as patrol craft by the authorities. They run on broadcast power so they are restricted to areas between broadcast towers. This gives players a chance to race against each other and rip around the world but still limits the bikes to a fun form of transportation. Expansion packs will add ripper-based missions and additional vehicle-based content, along with regions suited to vehicle-based activities.

Walking – outdoor adventurers are mostly on foot. The travel distances outdoors are carefully chosen to keep most journeys brief while allowing longer treks if required. Most importantly, traveling on foot keeps the game exciting by exposing players to the dangers of the wilderness.

Teleportation – as a Zero, your character can hack into the teleportation system. You can teleport from the wilderness back to the nearest town and from town to town (once you have unlocked the teleporter in the town). This isn’t free, but it allows players to move around quickly and use towns as bases for their forays into the wilderness. For example, you can travel outwards on foot, go hunting or foraging then recall back to the nearest town to sell your goods without having to worry about the slow journey back.

How many factions are there, and in what ways do they differ from one another?

Paul McInnes:

UMI: the amoral character working for the amoral organization. Suits the mercenary style of player. Lots of elite equipment and a mixture of espionage and military style missions.

The Syndicate: prison gang turned professional, ruthless and rather brutal in their efforts to dominate the urban sectors of Typhron. They have sneaky equipment designed to intimidate.

The Marines: the square-jawed military types that arrived just before the crisis, they have the best standard military gear and do missions that involve special forces operations and direct military conflicts.

The Smugglers: the loveable rogues who steal anything that isn’t bolted down. Stealthy and have access to illegal items and the best survivalist style gear. Missions tend to involve stealing, collecting intelligence and the occasional lightning raid.

The Nokturnals: part spy ring, part resistance movement, part X-files investigation, the Nokturnals are dedicated to learning the truth about Typhron and mastering the Machina technology. This secretive faction has access to the most esoteric Machina technology devices.

How did you go about creating and implementing the kind of combat system you wanted to have? What features and elements did you decide to focus on and emphasize?

Paul McInnes: We took a very hands-on experimental approach and tried a variety of different formulas before we found the Citizen Zero model. I should add that this part of the game is fully playable right now.

Enemy groups – Most of the time, you are fighting a mixture of enemies at the same time. This is the strategy used by games like Doom or Diablo II; you need to know which enemy to tackle first while avoiding the attacks of the others. This has all sorts of good consequences. It means that the mixture of enemies is more interesting than the individual opponents. Try fighting a room full of guards while dealing with a sniper and a pair of assassins, and you’ll soon get the idea.

Character classes – There are six classes in the game based on three basic roles of attacker, defender and commander / support. Attackers have strong attacks and weaker defenses, and can finish off damage-based combos. Their role is to take down the biggest enemies as quickly as possible while staying alive. Defenders have strong defenses, medium-range attacks and various abilities for rescuing teammates and interfering with enemies. They provide a mobile “front line” that protects their team mates. Their ability to push deep into a battle and disrupt the enemy gives them a key role as crisis managers. The commanders have medium defenses, weak attacks, the ability to set-up combo attacks, revive team mates and various abilities for buffing.

Special attacks and abilities – You can deal with the weaker opponents using basic weaponry, but the tougher ones need to be managed and defeated using various special attacks and abilities. For example, an enemy officer trying to activate an alarm panel can be stunned (interrupting their efforts), slowed before they reach the alarm panel or gibbed using an explosive orbiter combo attack. Victory depends on deploying the right ability at the right time against the right enemy in the midst of a fluid, fast-changing battle. This is where the character class roles really become important. It also makes combat far more tactically varied than a standard shooter. Players also need to manage a finite (recharging) power supply. Run out of power and your abilities are useless. In abstract this isn’t very different from classic fantasy MMOGs, but in practice, the fluid nature of the battles, the emphasis on ranged attacks and the speed with which the abilities need to be deployed makes the special abilities feel more like an extension to a shooter than a classic MMOG.

Combos – The most powerful attacks and abilities are deployed in the form of combos. One class initiates the combo (e.g. a commander sends a target-seeking orbiter to the target) and another class finishes it off (e.g. an attacker detonates the orbiter). Some of the sweetest moments in the game happen when a combo is used at just the right time to avoid a crisis or to take down a boss monster. Combos really reward team play, and in a tangible and incredibly satisfying way. We know that cooperative action games are extremely popular (if rare), but by adding explicitly cooperative actions, we take that team play to the next level.

Enemies with abilities – Enemies can do more than just do damage. The more interesting enemies have special attacks, defenses and moves that require different counter abilities or tactics to overcome. For example, some can use a reverse teleport ability to move a character closer to their location, forcing the team to adapt to the new situation. You don’t want your commander standing in the middle of the enemy’s ranks.

Structured combat environments – You can fight enemies outdoors, but Citizen Zero really shines in more structured combat settings. For example, you will encounter alarm panels throughout most enemy bases. If an officer activates the alarm, doors slam shut, turrets activate, reinforcements are summoned and interception squads are added behind your team. The team can usually deal with this, but it slows them down, costs them team lives and in some cases, puts the whole mission at risk. Weapon emplacements can be used by enemies, but can be turned against their owners. Snipers tend to lurk in hidden and inaccessible places. This means that players need to use the mission layouts to their advantage, find cover, and be aware of tactically important points during a battle. It also means that the same enemies will play in very different ways if the environment is arranged differently.

When we team up and head out on missions, how diverse a range of computer-controlled opponents will we have to fight? What are some examples of different ones?

Paul McInnes: The game features a wide variety of opponents that are each designed to have a strong “personality”, work well as part of a mixed group, adapt to different settings (e.g. use alarm panels), and move and act in a way that keeps the firefights fluid and exciting. The most obvious difference is that enemies are mobile and often elusive, will hide behind cover and move around to outmaneuver the players. This is a game where the combat is a firefight, not a melee.

Assassins are acrobatic enemies with the ability to turn invisible and do heavy damage from behind. More advanced versions can use grenades and mines, heal themselves while invisible and use fast regeneration shields.

Shocktroopers are enemies with medium armor and a powerful directional shield that protects them from most attacks from the front if they are crouched behind the shield. This means that players need to use grenades, anti-shield weapons or get behind the troopers in order to defeat them.

Walkers are mech-like bipedal security robots. They are the least mobile of all enemies, but make up for it with heavy defenses and various weapon systems. The strongest walkers can dominate a room, forcing players to use cover and indirect attacks to bring them down.

Missions in online worlds are often seen as repetitive. How do you intend to make and keep them fresh in your game?

Paul McInnes: There are hundreds of mission layouts in the game based on five outdoor settings and four indoor styles (military, research, machina and urban). The enemies and other elements (e.g. alarm panels) are dynamically selected and positioned based on the defending faction, mission level and difficulty.

The different mission types play quite differently (e.g. rescuing hostages versus killing a VIP). Players can tackle missions of different difficulties, ranging from easy to legendary, providing a range of challenges to suit all levels of player skill.

Shifting the discussion away for topics directly related to combat, what kinds of major activities will there be aside from fighting?

Paul McInnes: Each character has its main class, which determines combat abilities and sets of skills that give access to RPG or non-combat roles. The “secondary classes” include:

Survivalist: expert in outdoor adventuring, dealing with HKs, locating and extracting resources and stripping extra loot from enemies defeated in the wilderness.

Splicer: expert in stripping security protection from loot items and creating computer “scripts” for tweaking performance of machine parts, character implants and some items.

Crafter: expert in refurbishing and upgrading game items of various kinds.

Blackmarketeer: character has access to fences and other dodgy NPCs, allowing them to find and sell illegal and proscribed items.

What is the status of development at the moment, and which aspects if any have received particular attention and emphasis?

Paul McInnes: The game is in early alpha. We have been developing the technology for over five years now. We have been developing the game itself for two years on the Xbox, but we maintained the PC client as part of the BigWorld technology program and the game is fully playable on PC.

What plans do you have for public beta testing? What is your projected release date and how confident are you of meeting it?

Paul McInnes: There will be an open beta in the middle of 2005, with a closed beta some months before.

The PC version of the game will ship late 2005, with the Xbox version to follow in early 2006. 

Afterwards, Citizen Zero fell completely into oblivion. It was only revoked in February 2007, more than 2 and a half years after the IGN interview, in a press release, relayed by Gamesindustry, announcing its cancellation and the announcement of another MMORPG project titled Super Spy Online:

Micro Forté, a leading Australian developer of MMOs, today announced that it has cancelled development on the “Citizen Zero” project, with internal development now focused on a top secret spy-themed MMO.

Steve Wang – Head of Studios for Micro Forté commented, “Although we were sad to stop working on CZ, we are extremely excited about the progress of our spy project.”

The top secret project has been in production since mid ’06 with a core development team working out of Micro Forté’s Australian studio.

“We’re not giving too much away at this stage,” commented Micro Forté Lead Designer, Paul McInnes, “Obviously our new project is a spy-themed MMO, but it incorporates new game-play elements and technologies that we are really looking forward to delivering to the public.”

Steve Wang added, “We are at an exciting crossroads where many new game-play styles and experiences have become possible in virtual world environments. This is a great opportunity for us to leverage our 7 years of development in the MMO space to bring the social MMO experience together with game-play that has been traditionally the domain of single player games.”

It is unclear why Citizen Zero was cancelled after more than 4 years of development. During the GDC 2002, Gamespot revealed that the BigWorld engine required a budget of about $8 million dollars alone:

Micro Forté, the developer of Fallout Tactics, has announced an early-access program for its BigWorld game engine. The program will let developers license the engine, which is the result of an investment of some three years of development and about $8 million dollars.

After the cancellation of Super Spy Online and the failure of their multiplayer Arena Shooter Kwari, both critically and financially, Micro Forté and BigWorld were sold to Wargaming.net in August 2012 for $45 million, becoming Wargaming Australia. In October 2022, the development studio was acquired by Riot Games, and rebranded as Riot Sydney. Wargaming has retained the technology that powered their games, on which Citizen Zero was based, alongside the publishing arm of the company.

Article by Daniel Nicaise

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XCOM (The Bureau: XCOM Declassified) [PC, PS3, 360 – Cancelled]

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a science-fiction tactical Third-Person Shooter game released in 2013 on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, developed by 2K Marin and 2K Australia, and published by 2K Games. It is based on the turn-based strategy series of the same name.

Before being released in this form, the game was initially planned to be a First-Person Shooter with horror elements. Its development was very chaotic and spanned approximately for 7 years, with various changes of responsabilities and developers, alongside communication issues.

The development story of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was shared in August 2013 by Polygon. It began in 2005 when 2K Games/Take-Two Interactive acquired the licence from Atari which was in financial trouble. The following year, the publisher bought Irrational Games which operated in 2 studios, the main office in Boston, Massachusetts, and its subsidiary in Canberra, Australia. Both companies were tasked to work on a new X-COM game and started some different pitches:

In 2005, Take-Two purchased the rights to sci-fi strategy franchise X-COM from Atari. In retrospect, its motive was obvious. The publisher was in the midst of acquiring an enormous amount of talent, and wanted an established video game franchise that could be pushed immediately into development. Following their acquisition by Take-Two in 2006, Irrational Games and sister-studio Irrational Games Australia were renamed 2K Boston (we’ll continue to call it Irrational for clarity, since it switched back to its original name later) and 2K Australia.

Both studios quickly began conceptualizing X-COM games. At this point, Irrational was still a year away from releasing BioShock, which would rocket the studio and 2K Games to mainstream relevance. Irrational team members liked the idea of a second project, and Ken Levine was an outspoken fan of the original X-COM games. A small group crafted a handful of pitches. One of the earliest pitches, claims a source, was a loyal sequel to the classic X-COM games. The engine Irrational used to power its tactical superhero game Freedom Force seemed like a perfect fit for X-COM’s tactical strategy design. However, that concept was scrapped early on for an X-COM first-person shooter.

But translating the storied strategy franchise into a new genre proved difficult. Concepts were created in rapid succession, most of which never made it past the storyboard phase. Ownership of the project bounced back and forth between the Boston and Australia offices as both teams struggled to find a way forward. The pitches shared some similar elements, like the theme of resistance. One pitch imagined Earth post-invasion and full of resistance fighters. The intention was to create scenarios in which humans were outclassed, outmatched and outsized. A source describes one storyboard pitch in which a hero — who resembled Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl — placed boom boxes on plinths in a city square, inspiring humans to rise up against their alien overlords.

In another pitch, which developed into a full demo, the player escaped a commandeered an alien vessel by selecting a location on Earth and transitioning from the ship, through the cloud and onto the ground. In a later scene, the player climbed the back of a giant alien, searching for a way to kill it. This demo was, according to a source, “E3 ready.” Most of the single-player pitches came from Irrational. 2K Australia, meanwhile, focused on creating a multiplayer mode. One demonstration involved asymmetrical team-based multiplayer, with one side playing as humans and the other as aliens. The mode, according to one source, was similar to the Aliens vs. Predator series, with the various races having unique abilities and weapons.

In 2007, following the advancement of BioShock’s development, Irrational Games took the decision to fully focus on that project, leaving 2K Australia as the sole developer of the new X-COM game. The multiplayer mode planned by them was dropped in favor of a single-player campaign. However, later in that year, 2K Games decided to put 2K Australia as a support developer for 2K’s other subsidiaries. For more than 2 years, between the release of the first BioShock and the release of its sequel in February 2010, the X-COM project wasn’t a priority:

By 2007, BioShock had taken shape. Seeing BioShock’s potential, Irrational head Ken Levine decided the studio wouldn’t continue development of an X-COM game, and the project transferred fully to 2K Australia. The multiplayer prototype was scrapped, and 2K Australia began work on a single-player campaign. Though, according to a source, team members at 2K Australia chose to build off one of Irrational’s final concepts: a first-person shooter set in the 1950s in which humanity is woefully under-equipped to fight an invading alien menace. The rest of the game — the story, the mechanics, the point — would be revised.

From late 2007 to early 2010, 2K Australia was tasked by the publisher to act as the developer equivalent of the supportive best friend to the publisher’s other studios. First it helped Irrational finish BioShock, then contributed to the game’s PlayStation 3 port. In 2007, a handful of high-level employees left Irrational to found a California-based studio called 2K Marin, which was built initially to create BioShock 2 and become a premier studio within 2K Games, producing a new IP of its own. 2K Marin needed help, though, so 2K Australia supported the development of BioShock 2 until its release in early 2010.

For three years, alongside this work, a small group within 2K Australia continued work on X-COM, but finding time and resources was a chore. Progress slowed. With BioShock 2 finally out the door, the team looked ahead to finishing X-COM and establishing 2K Australia as leading triple-A studio. 2010 should have been a great year for 2K Australia. With BioShock 2 shipped, the studio finally had its chance to lead a game, and escape this unexpected de facto helper role.

Some people at the publisher side of 2K believed 2K Australia had had a good deal of time — three years by their count — to nurture the X-COM pitch. They were pleased with the initial concept — even though, one source claims, the original vertical slice had been built by a skeleton crew. They named their pitch “X-COM: Enemy Unknown.” The creative leads at 2K Australia wanted the game to be mysterious, and hoped to create a first-person shooter that elicited fear and confusion. The subtitle, Enemy Unknown, wasn’t just a play off the original X-COM’s European title, which was also Enemy Unknown. It was more like an explicit mission statement: You could see the enemy; you could fight the enemy; but you could never truly know the enemy.

The elevator pitch was essentially the original X-COM meets The X-Files, set in the 1950s to 1960s. The time period — something close to it, at least — would survive years of revisions. Practically everything else would not. As a government officer, the player had neither the weapons nor the technology to fight the futuristic aliens that were invading Earth. But they did have a handy camera. The core mechanics of the game were researching and running, with a splash of shooting. The player’s most important skill was photography.

The pitch was, in some ways, strikingly similar to those of the original X-COM games, despite being first-person. The player would select missions from a number of locations on a map. While the general construction of a stage would remain the same each playthrough — the streets and homes of a suburb would be static, for example — certain aspects of the missions would be procedurally generated. So the enemies you encountered, the location of valuable information, the entrances to rooms, the time of day and the mission goal would be a different combination each time, allowing the player to freshly experience the same stage multiple times.

The other half of the pitch focused on the X-COM base. After collecting information, the player would return to an appropriately retro 1950s military base. Here, the player would complete research goals and devise strategies for future missions. The art direction was abstract. Aliens would be wisps of air, globs of goo or puffs of clouds. The first enemy was the titan, the large obelisk that would later be the iconic centerpiece of the game’s marketing materials.

Character 3D model named ‘Rebel Girl’, owned by Irrational Games. Might be from the 2006-2007 iteration.

As it was pointed out by Polygon, following the release of BioShock 2, a large part of 2K Marin was brought in to help 2K Australia developing X-COM. While the single-player campaign was still the focus of 2K Australia, 2K Marin began creating a brand new multiplayer mode for the game, this time similar to Left 4 Dead games. However, communication issues started to surface, as both developers were located on different continents:

Following the release of BioShock 2, 2K Marin’s staff was divided into three groups. The first was a small, multi-discipline team assigned to BioShock 2’s downloadable content. The second consisted of five of the studio’s senior employees who would conceptualize and pitch a new IP for Marin to begin following X-COM’s completion. The final group, which consisted of most of the studio, was assigned to X-COM. To alleviate communication issues between two continents, the publisher assigned 2K Marin to multiplayer responsibilities, while 2K Australia continued work on single-player, (…)

The work seemed doable, according to multiple sources, if not ideal. The division of labor resembled something akin to a outsourcing, and Marin was too large and responsible for too much to have minimal creative input. Marin spent the first few months developing multiplayer designs, building a framework and modifying 2K Australia’s single-player engine to run multiplayer settings. The earliest multiplayer prototype was a survival game in which four players worked to reach a certain point on a map. It resembled Left 4 Dead, complete with an artificial intelligence director deciding when and how to spawn enemies.

Meanwhile the relationship between 2K Marin and 2K Australia remained creatively and structurally confusing, further troubled by the difficulty of simply scheduling a daily conference call across an 18-hour time difference. Most communication took place between the mid-level producers at both studios, who would pass along task lists from Australia to Marin. Team members at 2K Marin felt they didn’t have a direct line of communication back to 2K Australia for when they had questions or alternative ideas. Both sides craved the simple ability to sit in a room with co-workers and hash things out.

XCOM was officially revealed in April 2010 by 2K Games. The same day, decision to merge 2K Australia into 2K Marin was made. This wasn’t well received by many members of both studios for different reasons, and, above all, the communication issue between them was still there. Quickly, it was all clear that the single-player mode and the multiplayer mode wouldn’t reach the alpha state milestone scheduled for November 2010, and 2K wanted a public presentation for E3 2010. Again, the multiplayer mode was scrapped, and 2K Marin had to help 2K Australia for the single-player campaign:

On April 14, 2010, the publisher merged 2K Marin and 2K Australia under the single banner of 2K Marin. It’s unclear whether or not this was an intentional play to artificially bond the two studios. Whatever the case, the name change was not well received by many members of both studios. Australia felt it was losing its identity. Marin felt that it was absorbing a team of developers it hardly knew. The press release quaintly referred to the two as “sister studios.” On the very same day, 2K announced XCOM to the public.

In the press release, the game was simply called XCOM. No hyphen. No subtitle. The words “Enemy Unknown” were abandoned, though the press release emphasized the “unknowable” theme of 2K Australia’s original pitch, mentioning the player’s “frailty — against a foe beyond comprehension.” The press released described XCOM as a “Mystery-filled first-person shooter from the creators of BioShock 2,” which wasn’t entirely true. 2K representatives clarified that the game was being led by the the Australian division, referred to by this wordy label: “the Canberra, Australia arm of 2K Marin.”

Renaming the studios didn’t fix their problems. The team in Marin continued to receive instructions via task lists from Australia, and resentment began to build within both studios. Marin wanted more creative input — its name was now on the project. Australian wanted its chance to lead a project — even if it was now the “wing” of another studio. The name didn’t fix the the studios’ biggest problem: a fruitful line of communication wasn’t coalescing.

By May, it was clear that Marin’s multiplayer and Australia’s single-player would not meet the alpha milestone scheduled for November 2010. 2K chose to scrap the multiplayer and assign Marin to help Australia complete the single-player campaign. The two developers, separated by half a world, had barely a month left before XCOM’s scheduled first public presentation at E3 2010.

Subsequently, the tasks were shared with 2K Marin in charge of mission design, and 2K Australia the strategy layer base. But some struggles were still there, especially for 2K Marin’s programming and animation departments, which were unable to properly execute 2K Australia’s vision regarding the enemies. On the other hand, communication improved a lot, but, slowly, 2K Marin started to have more and more influence on the design:

To maintain a degree of compartmentalization and prevent communication issues, 2K Marin was assigned “Field Ops,” the first-person missions, while 2K Australia worked on the strategy layer of the XCOM base. Though designing the base was 2K Australia’s priority, the studio’s leads also directed the design for field ops, being developed by Marin. This, according to many sources, caused a good deal of creative tension.

2K Marin’s various departments struggled to execute on Australia’s direction of mysterious levels and unknowable enemies. Sources say the themes were difficult to express in moment-to-moment gameplay. Animators struggled with telegraphing the attacks of the amorphous goo enemies, and programmers failed to express how the enemy or the player took damage. Despite the game being labeled a first-person shooter, its core mechanic was research, via taking photographing evidence and retrieving information. The goal of a mission was typically to keep an enemy alive, and extract research from it. But because most enemies lacked faces, artist and programmers labored over ways to express the direction a character looked and whether or not the player was in its line of sight. This made the stealth nature of research missions particularly difficult. The very simplest mechanics of most games — like knowing whether the enemy was looking at the player — were made difficult by the too-alien nature of Australia’s enemies.

If the project wanted to progress, problems needed to be worked out face to face, person to person. So the leads at both studios agreed to make it happen. To ease the tension and clear the lines of discussion, the two studios began swapping small groups of employees, sending developers on the nearly 12-hour journey across the Pacific Ocean from one location to the other, for weeks and months at a time. It sort of worked. According to many sources, communication gradually improved, but the building frustrations had taken a toll. An exodus of employees had already begun. With communication improving, 2K Marin slowly influenced the creative direction of the project. Leading up to E3 2010, the studios began to focus on research and upgrading abilities within XCOM, and decreased the emphasis on strange, mysterious encounters. The design was changing.

A vertical slice of the game was ready and showed behind closed doors at E3 2010. Reactions from the media were very mixed, as many had difficulties to understand why this new entry was a First-Person Shooter, instead of a turn-based strategy game. Many previews based on this presentation were written. For its part, Joystiq concluded:

While there are still some unanswered questions — 2K Marin wouldn’t say whether or not you can issue squad commands, for one — I walked away from the demonstration fairly impressed. At the very least, 2K Marin has nailed the feeling of the old X-COM games, especially the feeling of otherworldly fear during missions. If the research progression manages to be as addicting as it was in the originals, XCOM just might surprise some die-hard fans. It certainly surprised me.

But after E3, troubles occured following the departures of two key members of 2K Australia, prompting, again, 2K Marin to gain more influence in the design department. Also, concerns were still present for the enemies design, which was responsible of many gameplay’s problems, and the decision to reboot the project was taken. Several pitches and prototypes for new features were made by 2K Marin:

In late 2010, 2K Australia was rocked by the high-level departures of Art Director Andrew James and Design Director Ed Orman. 2K Marin plunged into the leadership void, quickly taking on additional creative responsibilities. Members of Marin had already been promoted to senior roles, even before the departures, so they were easily slotted into the updated org chart.

There was internal concern amongst leads at both studios and the publishing side of 2K that XCOM would not be completable if it continued down the path of “mysterious” enemies and a research-based mission structure. The project underwent a small reboot. The leads wanted to protect much of the work that had already been done on the game. The hope was to find something that would improve XCOM, and allow it to ship sooner, rather than later. The overall structure would remain the same, but the in-level experience would change.

During the reboot phase, the game’s leads at 2K Marin wanted to establish whether the backbone of the game would be shooting or stealth. Members of the various departments within Marin began rapidly creating pitches and prototypes for supplemental features, pushing again for familiar, readable tropes from other games. Some of these included a Splinter Cell-like mechanic where enemies saw the player’s last known position. Another prototype resembled a traditional third-person shooter. At one point, a suspicion system was in the game, in which the player’s unusual behavior would alert the aliens, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Around this same time, the designers decided to give the player control of the two squad mates, an option that hadn’t been available in the 2010 builds. Control of squad mates was initially limited, but made the game more strategic, and inspired some team members to pitch the shift from first-person to third-person, allowing the player to see more of the battlefield. The ideas would be grafted onto the current build to, ideally, strengthen what was already there. One source describes this iteration of XCOM as “a victim of its own timeline,” stuck with systems and tools that had been chosen years earlier. Intentionally or not, the groundwork was being laid for a larger reboot.

2011 wasn’t getting better for 2K Marin and the game. First with the cancellation of their new I.P. in order to refocus resources on XCOM, then with new changes for the title: story, level design and enemies. 2K Marin became the lead developer instead of 2K Australia:

The Marin directors who had been working on the new IP were gradually put on XCOM, and the new IP was canceled, further damaging the morale of the team at Marin. One source claims many employees had taken jobs with the studio on under the impression BioShock 2 would be followed by the new IP and the studio would become one of 2K Games’ premier developers. XCOM had been seen, at first, merely as a small, quick support job for 2K Marin. Suddenly, the new IP was gone and the team was stuck in what was beginning to feel like a development quagmire. Some at 2K Marin felt as if they’d inherited another studio’s problems.

Whether or not XCOM would be released seemed, briefly, inconsequential. The purpose of 2K Marin had changed. It wasn’t to be 2K’s new premier studio which would — alongside Irrational and Firaxis — produce high-budget games based on its own IP. Instead 2K Marin had become something else: a clean-up team.

Jordan Thomas, who served as the studio’s creative director, became the narrative lead and overhauled XCOM’s story. The previous version hinted at American civil rights issues in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Thomas brought these story details into the main storyline, and moved the story to the year 1962 to play off global Cold War paranoia.

To streamline the development, the game was restructured as a linear sequence of levels — casting the randomized level sets to the wind. Furthermore, humanoid enemies were introduced to the cast of villains, with the previous mysterious enemies taking supplemental roles. 2K Marin was becoming the lead studio.

In the spring of 2011, 2K Games approved that 2K Marin was going to do a totally new demo for the next E3, instead of working on the current version, which displeased some senior employees. That demo was made in 10 weeks, but it wasn’t enough for 2K Marin to implement every new features they wanted to make. The pitch initially made by 2K Australia was discarded:

Multiple sources claim senior level employees at 2K Marin weren’t happy with the state of the game leading into E3. One source describes the early 2011 build as a hodgepodge of previous iterations. In the spring of 2011, senior team members asked 2K for permission to put the current version aside and instead spend the 10 weeks leading to E3 constructing a demo for the game the team wanted to make. This was a chance for a fresh start — or something like it.

According to one source, the publishing side of 2K was supportive. With the random levels and detective mode of 2K Australia’s pitch removed, the current version of XCOM lacked a hook that elevated it above a generic first-person shooter. The source claims that 2K executives were and still are vocal about releasing high-scoring games and believed more time might produce a better final product. In theory, the task was comparably straightforward: switch the perspective and add some new powers and alien abilities. The art assets could be salvaged. The game could be saved.

For the demo, the senior team members wanted to add a third-person perspective and expand squad control, but neither fit the current build of the game. There wasn’t enough time to make the entire demo run in third-person, so for a second time 2K presented XCOM at E3 as a first-person shooter — despite the fact that the 2K Marin team knew the game would ultimately use the third-person perspective. In the demo, a first-person character directed squad-mates by shifting to a third-person perspective — the shift to a paused third-person meant they didn’t have to animate the lead character just yet.

The press reacted favorably to the demo, more so than it had the year prior during the behind-closed-doors presentation. Typically, a game’s E3 appearance is followed by a slow-drip of publicity, including screenshots, trailers, developer diaries and interviews, but the XCOM project had been totally silent. Jordan Thomas explained by saying, “We just felt it wasn’t X-COM enough.” 2K announced the game’s release date: March 6, 2012, less than a year away. XCOM had been scheduled to launch against Mass Effect 3, possibly the biggest sci-fi game of the generation.

After E3, the start of what would become The Bureau: XCOM Declassified began within both studios. Cleared once and for all of the communication issues, those two teams decided to definitely pivot on a Third-Person tactical shooter, instead of a horror First-Person Shooter. But this pivot caused additional delays in the development since a large part of the game had to be redesigned:

The E3 2011 demo served as the template for the revision of XCOM as a tactical third-person shooter. Beginning with the creation of the E3 demo, both studios felt there was a clearer sense of creative direction. It was the most collaborative year, according to one source, with many more employees shuttling back and forth between the Marin and Australia offices.

According to one source, Thomas decided XCOM would be a bridge between the Firaxis game and the original series. The gameplay would pivot on the third-person tactical shooter genre, making a clear and definitive cut from the stealthy, horror style of the original pitch. The team even contracted a voice cast, recording the script in 2011. (According to another source, most of those roles would be recast over the next year.) But even with the improved work environment and creative guidance, development was taking longer than expected — particularly because the switch to the tactical genre required many environments to be completely redesigned.

The rest of the story no longer concerns those scrapped versions of XCOM. Sadly, further development of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified didn’t went well as 2K Games was the target of everything that went wrong during 5 years of development from this point on, alongside losing money in this still-not-released title. In order to solve some problems, they decided, in October 2011, to entirely remove 2K Australia from the game, and many higher-ups of 2K Marin changed responsabilities and roles, especially Jordan Thomas, who left the project and joined Ken Levine on BioShock Infinite. After some additional setbacks, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was released in August 2013 and got mixed reviews by the press.

XCOM wasn’t the first failed attempt at taking risks for the franchise. Years prior, another canceled hybrid First-Person Shooter/strategy game named X-COM: Alliance was on the way and suffered of 7 years of development before being canceled in 2002, not without having to change publishers and developers many times.

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Marvel: Chaos [X360/PS3 – Cancelled]

Marvel: Chaos is a cancelled superhero fighting/brawler game developed by Electronic Arts Chicago and published by Electronic Arts around 2006-2007, for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. It featured several playable Marvel Comics‘ characters, alongside destructible environment.

Few details were available about this game as it was officially revealed during the San Diego Comic-Con 2007 in July, and officially cancelled in November of the same year. During its announcement, Gamespy wrote:

Electronic Arts announced that famed development cell EA Chicago (developers of Fight Night and Def Jam: Icon) has signed on to build an all-new slugfest featuring Marvel Super Heroes for Xbox 360 and PS3.

Not many details apart from the game’s planned existence have been revealed as yet, but with a little luck, we may be able to score some face time with EA Chicago’s bombastic General Manager Kudo Tsunoda. In the meantime, we’ve got some quotes from madman Tsunoda to tide you over, such as, “We looked at past comic-based games to find out what was missing and what was needed to successfully translate the intensity, excitement and fiction from comics into fighting games.” Tsunoda also stated, “We’re challenging ourselves to make a game that delivers on the Super Hero promises of past top-tier fighting games.”

Unfortunately, the game was quickly cancelled and EA Chicago closed down by its parent company, as stated in November 2007 by GameSpot:

Last week, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello announced in a quarterly earnings conference call that the publisher would be weathering a round of layoffs and studio closures. At the time, the only operation confirmed for closure was the EA Chertsey studio in the UK. Today, GameSpot has obtained an internal EA memo stating that EA Chicago is also being closed.

EA Chicago is best known for its work on the Def Jam and Fight Night franchises. It had been working on a new licensed Marvel fighting game, as well as a second fighting game based on a new intellectual property. The Fight Night series has already been moved to an EA Sports studio, and an EA representative said that announcements would be made regarding EA Chicago’s other projects in the future.

The memo, sent by EA Games president Frank Gibeau, states that EA will announce the closure today, and calls it “the toughest decision I’ve made in my career–one that in no way reflects on the talent and dedication of the people who work there.” Gibeau singled out studio general manager Kudo Tsunoda as one of the best creative minds in the industry, and said that many of the affected employees will be offered jobs at other EA locations, with those leaving the company receiving severance and outplacement assistance.

“We’re willing to take risks, make long-term investments, and to support teams and individuals between launches,” Gibeau said. “But each team is responsible for staying on a reasonable path to profitability. Sticking to that strategy is what gives us the financial resources and flexibility to take risks on new projects.

“Unfortunately, EA Chicago hasn’t been able to meet that standard. The location has grown dramatically in the past three years while revenue from the games developed there has not. The number of employees has grown from 49 in 2004 to 146 people currently in the new facility in downtown Chicago. As it stands, EA Chicago has no expectation of hitting our profitability targets until FY2011 or later.”

Gibeau stressed again that the company was willing to take risks and make long-term investments, but added every game must “be committed to delivering a reasonable expectation of profitability” if the company’s corporate philosophy is going to work.

“It’s a performance commitment that binds us together and ensures we have the resources we need to invest back into our people and creative output,” Gibeau said.

Over the years, an Xbox 360 prototype has leaked on the internet.

Article updated by Daniel Nicaise

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