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This Developer's Life: Six Days in Fallujah
by James Portnow on 06/22/09 05:37:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This Developer’s Life: Six Days in Fallujah

Dear Reader:

Sorry, they’ll be no lifestyle or gossip today, I want to talk about something a bit more serious.  I want to talk about Six Days in Fallujah.  

For those of you who don’t know what Six Days in Fallujah is, I’ll get to that in a moment, but for right now I have something I want to get off my chest:

As game makers we are weighed not on the merits of our work but on the name of our medium.  This is a sad and shameful fact.  Shameful to those who judge us, but perhaps more shameful to those of us who won’t stand up for the work we do.  We cannot run at every controversy or hide behind that mantra of self dismissal “we’re just making games” anymore. 

If we are to grow as a medium and evolve into something with the social, artistic and commercial reach of the other mass media we must be willing to stand up, as an industry, and defend works of merit rather than meekly abandon them whenever objections get raised. 

It’s a travesty that the only time we come together is to defend our use of ultra-violence…

Six Days:

This is something I’ve been mulling over for a while, probably since before Nintendo rejected Imagination is the Only Escape, but when I saw Six Days in Fallujah on Fox News it all came to a head for me.  For those of you who don’t know, Six Days in Fallujah is third person combat simulation about the second battle of Fallujah being developed by Atomic Games and, from what I’ve heard about it, it’s about as close to a documentary as we’ll ever come.

The game’s inspiration is novel and, in my opinion, noble.  Atomic’s not a huge studio, they were doing some side work helping the US Marine Corps develop training tools when the battalion they were working with was called away to Iraq.  When the men returned they started telling the Atomic devs about their experiences if Fallujah.  Many of these marines were young guys, guys who play videogames, who probably considered games to be one of their comforts in the desert, who perhaps even, in their brief moments of rest and quiet, used them to find a few minutes escape from the horrors they had been dropped into.  These guys came back and told the developers from Atomic that they wanted people to understand what they had experienced, even just a little part of it; they asked the guys at Atomic to make a game about what they had lived through.

I run a small studio, I know what greenlighting a project like this means, it’s a big risk.  It’s not something you do unless you really believe in the project, and I don’t think the guys at Atomic believed that Six Days was going to make them a hundred million dollars…

The project was slated to be published by Konami, then Konami pulled the plug in response to groups arguing that making a game about the Second Battle of Fallujah would disrespect those that died there, not because of the content of the game but because it was a game.  Now, Konami, I respect you guys, I love your games, and I know the pressure you’re under as a business to maintain your brand and to avoid even spurious law suits, but sometimes values must trump all that.  I know that if you believed Six Days in Fallujah was going to disrespect the dead you would never have given it the go ahead in the first place - you’re a better company than that - so why run for cover at the first sign of dissent?  If you’re going to do anything worthwhile, someone is going to object to it…and as I understand it, the objections in this case weren’t even that vehement or widespread.

By caving here you validate all the accusations.  You legitimize calumny founded in ignorance and guarantee a larger outcry the next time you try to publish one of these games.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this video.  When the host on Fox smiles sweetly and says to the CEO of Atomic Games “Mr. Tamte, I think I’ve read in the notes that you’ve lost your funding…tell me a little bit about that” all his credibility vanishes.  To that audience, even we had agreed, this game should not be made.

Those men returning from Fallujah deserve better than this.

Moving On:

I’ve heard it argued that we need a rebranding, that we need to take on a new title for our labor, that, in much the same way that comic books had to take on the name “graphic novel” to garner recognition and respect, we too need a new moniker (“Interactive Experiences” perhaps?).  This is probably true.  We also need to expand the scope of what we do to include more of the human experience and address a broader set of ideas.  But before all this we need to stand up without fear and embrace what our medium has become and what it has the potential to be.  We cannot continue to marginalize ourselves by pretending we only craft products for children.

This will take real courage from within the industry.  It will take the bravery to face critique and the fortitude to weather outcry.  It will ask that we expose ourselves to short term financial risk and that we don’t back down from early losses, firm in the knowledge that we are doing right.  We will have to be steadfast under the scrutiny of the world and resolute when asked to justify ourselves in court of public opinion.  It will ask that, for a moment, we give up ease.


But if we can do this, we can do good, real good, with our medium.  If we do this we can expand the industry and bring whole new genres within the purview of “games”.  If we do this we can turn a greater profit while providing more meaningful experience and reach audiences hitherto unthinkable.  If we do this we can perhaps elevate some small portion of our labor to an art… But if we do this we will no longer be able to pretend as if what we do doesn’t matter.  If we do this we can never go back to the way it was before.

Our salvation shan’t be found though fear and trembling…

---

As always, you can reach me at jportnow@dbzcorp.com or jamesportnow on twitter.


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Comments


Reid Kimball
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Excellently written and inspiring.



I don't agree with "we too need a new moniker (“Interactive Experiences” perhaps?)."



Isn't this doing the same thing you criticize the industry for doing, not standing up for our work? Why can't we educate people that games don't have to be for children, can take many forms, material and digital and can cover any topic that can be imagined?

Bryan OHara
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I definitely agree that we need to stand up for our work but also try to step away from the image of "kid's toys".



However, unlike comic books, the video game industry is evolving where comic books remained static. We are moving in new directions in an attempt to expand our horizons to anywhere we dare to go. Things like Project Natal are a direct result of this evolution. Maybe a rebranding isn't needed. Following current trends, its possible that one day video games will refer to a whole new form of interaction, not just the kids games of the past.

James Portnow
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I hope we don't need a re-branding. I was trying to cleverly sneak in a "rebranding is not nearly enough", but I guess I hit that point a little too hard.

Devraj Pandey
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But.....unfortunately or fortunately rebranding seems like a good start. Perhaps comics are a good example of the same medium existing in two similar yet quite different forms.

(I also apologize in advance for oversimplification in the following statement) The same medium exists as comics.....~20 pages of men in tights with clearly demarcated black & with characters & situations for a relatively low cost, consisting of in some cass decades of episodes & as Graphic Novels.......~200 pages of stories ranging on various topics, often presenting mature ideas & story structures, consisting of usually at most a couple of novels at relatively higher price.

This does seem like a good "starting point". Hopefully even the marketing people will be able to wrap their heads around this.

C M Williams
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Thanks for the article.



I personally believe that as technology becomes cheaper we will see what you are looking for. It will come from those that believe the same and due to resources will have the agency to carry out advancing the medium.



It is unfortunate that we work in an industry that is seemingly run by people dispassionate to the issue. They have nothing to fear as long as the money flows into the company and not out.

Jonathon Walsh
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To me Six Days in Fallujah is really just the one of the first examples that people are willing to throw support behind but it's certainly not the first victim of the danger that is self censorship. It's not just what we deem 'works of merit' that we need to defend but any form of expression at all. Where was the support for Rapelay or other AO games? I don't mention this to invalidate or argue your point, I simply want to point out that you can't be a proponent of freedom of speech by only defending messages you approve of.



"If we don't believe in the freedom of speech for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all" - Chomsky, Noam

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - Voltaire

steve roger
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I think that video games are aptly named. They are games.



Which leads me to my point. Six Days in Fallujah sounds pretty serious. But we all know that it isn't. Why because it is a video game. It isn't an art project. It isn't even being labeled under the History Channel as a game about history. No it is a FPS.



I think the Blog writer here is protesting too much. Atomic is making a FPS. They haven't announced a realistic historical experience. No they announced a FPS.



A FPS is a video game. Nothing to be ashamed about. But I don't see that it is off such a serious artistic nature that that I am going to lose sleep over the fact that Konami has decided against funding it.



This is a FPS that will be offered to the mass market of people who play violent video games. I am sure that Konami doesn't what to fund a game that might not be profitable or affect other products profitability.



It is isn't like they are refusing to fund an inner city art school.

Tom Franklin
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@steve:



"Atomic is making a FPS. They haven't announced a realistic historical experience. No they announced a FPS."



I would file this under the opposite of true. Not only is the game from the third person perspective (a minor issue with your statement), but Atomic has consistently been touting the authenticity of the experience they're attempting to create. It's been billed as a documentary with elements of survival horror from the very first announcement:



http://www.gamepro.com/article/previews/209651/six-days-in-falluj
ah-revealed/



I think if you look at any of the older Close Combat games, you'll see they have a good track record of treating this type of thing with respect.



I'd like to know where you got your info if I'm wrong, but everything I've seen refutes this statement

steve roger
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I read that it was a FPS. So, based on your comment I just googled "FPS six days in Fallujah" and got lot's of hits describing it as a FPS (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=FPS+six+days+in+Fallujah+&bt
nG=Search&aq=f&oq=&aqi=)and others saying it wasn't a FPS.



Like from videogamer.com:



Konami drops Iraq-based FPS

By James Orry - 27/04/2009 - 11:17am GMT

Negative reaction to the title cited for the publisher's decision.



Konami is reported to have dropped Iraq-based console FPS Six Days in Fallujah.



Earlier this month Konami announced a publishing agreement to bring Atomic Games’ FPS to North America, but the announcement was met with a bombardment of press and public feedback questioning the suitability of the game.



"After seeing the reaction to the video game in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail, we decided several days ago not to sell it," said a Konami spokesperson. "We had intended to convey the reality of the battles to players so that they could feel what it was like to be there."



No European release had been announced."





Regarding my comment that it isn't some realistic historical experience and that it really is just shooter is from Gamsutra where Atomic Games developer said:



"Our primary business is making entertainment games," Tamte clarifies. "The reason we have that relationship with the intelligence community is to give us access to unique subject matter that we can turn into interesting commercial video games. The training business, as revenue, is a very small part of our overall business."



Red Storm, best known for developing Tom Clancy's titles for Ubisoft, has a strong spiritual presence at the new Atomic: Benito was executive producer on the original Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, studio manager John Farnsworth managed Red Storm, and around 20 former Red Storm developers joined up.



http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22649





So, I stand corrected. It is a third person shooter. Sorry about that. But as to whether the game is a "realistic historic experience?"



I doubt that. It might have some elements of that. But it really is no more serious than the Tom Clancy games. Plus the point of the game is "entertainment." I think this is true even with the Close Combat comparison, which is also true.



I think my point is valid. Six Days in Fallujah is a aptly called a game. It is really just a third person shooter. We shouldn't get all that broken up about it.



I hope it get's made. But I don't think that it has a right to see the light of day more than another third person shooter that has been floated for mass consumption.



As I wrote before. Using this setting is a double edged sword. The developers know this. Because it is so close in time as a painful moment in recent history it gets a lot of press and free market advertising attention. The flip side is that such a hot topic can burn the developer too. But you can't get any free attention with a subject that is safe.



So, I really don't see some critical First Amendment or artistic license issue brewing here. Rather, I see a third person shooter who hits a nerve because of it's theme. But some sort of controversy that deserves a protest group to be formed to support it. Not really.

steve roger
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I did some further research and found the article that formulated the basis of my opinion:



http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/694668/Six-Days-in-Fallujah-Imp
ressions.html.



But to be fair, in looking I found a number articles that seemed to support your impressions:



http://kotaku.com/5209552/insurgents-contributed-to-development-o
f-six-days-in-fallujah



http://www.worthplaying.com/article.php?sid=61835



http://www.worthplaying.com/article.php?sid=63290



If the promises that have been made come to fruition then this game would be a must have. But not necessaryily because of the fact that it is an effort to recreate a recent and controversial battle, but because the gameplay and game engine are innovative.

Chelsea Howe
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Well - we can't call them 'Interactive Experiences' anymore because UX (user experience) designers have claimed that name for a much broader range of activities - including telling your refrigerator to automatically send you groceries when it knows you're out. More commonly it seems to be applied to websites and web marketing, so my glory glory hallelujah term is (within a month) sadly lacking.



I find video game to be dangerously outdated - in response to the comic books, I was under the impression that the term 'graphic novels' originated *exactly* because comic books as a genre were growing (SOME of them) and those new comic books needed a title that would pull them away from the men in tights the same way many of us want to pull away from mind-numbing violent FPS games with too much gore and zombies. Or similar.



"Intrinsic Interactivity" is fun, (pun!) because intrinsic motivation is as far as I know the clearest identifier of what makes a game a game, but this leaves out, obviously, the serious games that are explicitly intended for extrinsic value. Maybe since they've already called themselves "Serious Games" we shouldn't try and hug them too tightly as we think of new means of self-identification. And even if we did use it as a term, what would we call games themselves then? "Intrinsic interactivities?" Errr.....



It's a tough situation. Video games as an industry need a new marketing time, hah.

Luis Guimaraes
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Making games about real wars, specially recent ones, are a really delicate thing to do. Unless you really know what has gone on, all you can do is call more pre-concept that US games and movies are sources of brainwashing and mind alienation, to promove xenophoby and rise kids as future brainless soldiers x_x



I love our industry, It's entertaiment industry. People here in Brazil hate when a brazilian character speaks spanish in an american movie. Some even say it's made intentionally for whatever reasons... So any game about peons against peons, that die for the dominating rich classes of their countries is really a delicated theme to work on :/


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