Six Days of Fallujah, made by konami. Doesnt say what console but it looks interesting from the read...
In a darkened hotel room just south of San Francisco's downtown, Peter Tamte, president of Atomic Games, is excitedly running through the details of the company's latest project, "Six Days in Fallujah." Mr. Tamte and his team tapped dozens of soldiers who were involved in the real-life 2004 battle for the Iraqi city to add realism to their action game, which the company plans to release next year.
Verisimilitude is par for the course for military games which often tout their faithfulness to real battles and wars. As the capabilities of videogame hardware have burgeoned, the bar for realism in games has been raised. But Atomic Games wants its new release to be more than a game. The company sees it as a new kind of documentary.
"For us, games are not just toys. If you look at how music, television and films have made sense of the complex issues of their times, it makes sense to do that with videogames," Mr. Tamte says.
Videogames are not foreign to using real-life events as fodder. Many military games such as some of the popular Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series are based on past American campaigns during the various wars over the last century. The "serious games" movement, which often seeks to teach a particular message or idea, frequently draws on current events as well. MtvU, the college version of Viacom's MTV, launched a Web game called "Darfur is Dying" in 2006 to teach about the atrocities in the Sudan, and non-profit Global Kids and developer Gamelab created "Ayiti: The Cost of Life" that challenges players to keep a virtual family of five alive and healthy in Haiti.
But Atomic Games argues that releases like those, while drawing from real facts, are still just historical fiction. "Six Days," which uses actual events as its backdrop, is billed as having far deeper roots in reality and will be the first major game released about the ongoing war in Iraq. "We replicate a specific and accurate timeline -- we mean six days literally," says Mr. Tamte. "We track several units through the process and you get to know what it was like from day to day."
[six days in fallujah] Konami/Atomic Games
To develop the game, Atomic is working with more than three dozen soldiers who were in Fallujah, consulting thousands of photographs (some of which were mailed on memory cards from Camp Fallujah), and looking at classified satellite imagery to ensure that the game's appearance is faithful to the actual location. In addition to creating the game, Atomic will also use some of the material to create a training simulation for the military.
Eddie Garcia, a Marine sergeant from the Bronx, received a Purple Heart after being injured on the first day of fighting in Fallujah. Having worked with Atomic on one of its past titles, he was involved in the design process from the very beginning. He tweaked how characters communicated with their superiors and walked them through the different tactics the Marines used in battle.
One of the most important contributions to the game was Mr. Garcia's diary. During the battle, many Marines carried a small notebook to keep notes about their positions and their activities each day. Mr. Garcia, for example, had marked the exact time that he had launched a particular illumination flare during the battle which could then be incorporated into the game. In aggregate, the notebooks gave Atomic an overhead view of the entire battalion's movements.
"It's easy to be an armchair quarterback [about war] when you're at home. There were 19-year-olds in the Marines making life-altering changes," Mr. Garcia says. "I think this game will add some humanity to the subject."
Atomic Games had to create new technology to match the Marines' fighting style. Unlike many cinematic depictions of ground fighting, Marines in Fallujah often opted for knocking over the rebar-and-concrete houses with bulldozers or by calling in air strikes, rather than bursting in the front door. Atomic was forced to create a new game engine, the software that governs the physics and appearance of the in-game world, to depict the structural damage. In the game, buildings fall apart and columns crumble under the onslaught of bullets and grenades.
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The new technology becomes immediately apparent when the game is played. Atomic chose an over-the-shoulder point of view to simulate the look of an embedded journalist following your squad, and players must duck and dive into cover. Because all the elements of the game are destructible, hiding spots become more precarious and deteriorate through the course of the firefight. Players can use this to their advantage to knock over walls and expose enemies or chip away at columns that might be shielding an aggressor's position.
But according to Atomic Games, "Six Days" lacks one notable aspect of documentary: commentary. Recent films such as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" have popularized a more argumentative style of documentary filmmaking. But those involved in the new game said they didn't want to push a particular viewpoint and certainly weren't taking a stance on the morality of the invasion.
"We're not trying to make social commentary. We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience," says Anthony Crouts, vice-president of marketing for Konami, the game's publisher. "At the end of the day, it's just a game."
Creating a game absent of political overtones may prove difficult. Although Atomic Games is talking to Iraqis involved in the conflict, they haven't decided whether players will be able to fight as an enemy against the marines. The game is still in development and Atomic may change its mind. "We're still deciding what's appropriate to include," says Mr. Tamte.
"The process of constructing the game will have built-in decisions made by the creators that will have ideological overtones," says Aram Sinnreich, an assistant professor of global media at New York University. He says that choices that videogame makers make to add and excise content are no different from those of filmmakers. "What goes in their product constitutes a bias."
In parts of the "game-amentary," as the developers of "Six Days" have called it, users are forced to make hard choices. In one opening sequence, an enemy bursts from a door without a weapon in hand. Players can decide if this character qualifies as a hostile and can act accordingly. Whether you choose to shoot the unarmed person will drastically change your experience with the game and will be heavily based on the player's own support or objections to the war. Those personal feelings are complicated by the need to survive to succeed in the game.
"There are things you just can't do with passive media," says Mr. Tamte. "The decisions you make in the game -- we can make you someone else."
While these questions about documentary elements in games may be new, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ken Burns says the standards of good documentary work, regardless of medium, will remain the same as those established by Aristotle. "We're all bound by the same ancient laws to tell our stories," he says.
Write to Jamin Brophy-Warren at Jamin.Brophy-Warren@wsj.com