Tamer Asfahani gets a rare opportunity to catch up with Atmoic Games big cheese, Peter Tamte, to discuss the controversy around Six Days in Fallujah and the studio’s latest project, online FPS Breach.

Talk to me about Six Days In Fallujah. Is that going to happen now; is that definite?

Oh yeah. We’ve got to wrap up some deals with some publishers on that, but as far as Atomic is concerned it’s one of our highest priorities to release that game.

Obviously I want to focus on Six Days, as that’s a game that I think is particularly important. Especially with games being release now like Medal of Honor, that take the whole idea of telling the story of the people who were on the ground during that battle. I presume you’re still sticking with that survival horror genre.

I don’t know if I’d describe it as a survival horror game as much as I’d say there are aspects of the survival horror genre that inform the interior combat in the game. I would say there’re things like the pacing, for example, and the use of surprises, et cetera. The idea for that actually came from the Marines themselves. We had a number of Marines, when they got back from Fallujah, who told us that they felt that going through these darkened buildings inside Fallujah reminded them of playing a survival horror game, and so we kind of worked off of that and expanded on that to say there are aspects of the survival horror game experience that applied to it. But we don’t want to call it a survival horror game because there are many aspects of the survival horror genre that are just not applicable, whether that be the supernatural, the over-the-top blood and gore… That’s really not what Six Days in Fallujah is all about.

It’s interesting you said the Marines had said to you that coming into some of these buildings reminded them of videogames. That must have been really bizarre to hear, for somebody to be comparing very tight battles within tight streets to a videogame.

Yeah. These guys play videogames, right? It’s their medium of choice. [Laughs] They spend more time playing videogames than they do watching films. A lot of these guys, they play videogames when they’re in the field, when they’re deployed and they’re waiting for things – they’ve got Xboxes and PlayStations and they play games. So yeah, I think it’s very natural for them to compare their experiences in real life with their experiences playing videogames.

Marines are, on the whole, young men. Presumably videogames are a huge part of their culture, which I suppose would be half the reason why they would’ve wanted you guys, or a developer, to create a game about their experiences. Surely their stories are valid too?

Many of the Marines that we’ve worked with are in their early 20s, or so. There are some that also go into their 30s and 40s, who’ve been helpful in the creation of Six Days in Fallujah, too, but certainly a lot of them are in their 20s and this is a generation where nearly everybody in that generation – and in our generation, I should say! [Laughs] They play videogames. This is natural. I certainly would agree with the direction you’re asking there, which is that sometimes people from other generations don’t understand that.

I don’t get why, if the Marines are willing to talk to you about it, a publisher would drop the title. I undestand and I know that there’s still a lot of controversy around the subject matter because it is quite a fresh story, but Peter, just make it clear. You’re not trying in any way to glorify war, or to create it as a cash cow. What was the reason behind it, how did you get involved with the Marines, and where did the idea come from?

The idea for Six Days in Fallujah started with Marines who came back from Fallujah. We had been building training systems with the Marine Corps for a number of years before that, and that work brought us very close to many of Marines, especially in the 3rd Battalion 1st Marine division. Those Marines, the 3/1, ended up being one of the battalions at the heart of some of the most challenging parts of the Fallujah operation. We’d grown to be great friends with a lot of these guys through the creation of the training systems before that, and after they got back from Fallujah – I mean, immediately after they got back from Fallujah – I got phone calls from a couple of those guys, and they explained to me the experiences of Fallujah and what they had gone through. I’m fairly well informed about military matters, but a number of the things they were telling me were things I had not heard, read, and just didn’t know about. Right away, they asked us. They said “We’ve worked with you before. We trust you to do the right thing here. Is this something that you’d be interested in creating a videogame about?” And I said “Based on what you’ve just explained to me on what happened in Fallujah, absolutely we would be.”

And so it kinda went from there. One of the questions I asked, too, was “I know you guys, because we’ve worked together for a number of years. I know you’re interested in this, but how do you think the other Marines would feel?” And they said “I think they’d be very supportive, but let’s go ask them.” I went out to Camp Pendleton shortly after that and spent time with a number of Marines. There was overwhelming support for it. These were Marines who’d just got back from Fallujah – overwhelming support for the game. So that’s how it came about.
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What about the USMC as a Corps? Did you have the support of the Marine Corps, rather than the troops themselves, or was this something that was done to basically tell the story of the normal Marine – and if so, did that not contravene any kind of Official Secrets Act? Did you have to clear this with the United States Marine Corps through your Ministry of Defence?

Because we do so much work with the Marine Corps and the training systems, those conversations went fairly well, so there were not really any issues there with the Marine Corps because of the relationships that we’d established over the years with them. I cannot speak on behalf of the Marine Corps – I have to be very clear about that. As far as the Marine Corps’ official position on Six Days in Fallujah, I’m not the guy to ask.

What I’m trying to get at is: could the fact that the United States Marine Corps wasn’t officially supporting it have been a reason why Konami freaked out and dropped the title? Maybe they’d made a few calls, realised that the US Marine Corps as an organisation, as it were, wasn’t really au fait with it and didn’t really know much about it… Could that have been a reason why Konami dropped it, or were the reasons made perfectly clear?

I don’t think that the decision-making had anything to do with the Marine Corps, and they certainly never communicated anything like that to us, and I don’t think the Marine Corps actually has an official position on the game itself. So I don’t think that really had anything to do with that. We never wanted an official endorsement from the Marine Corps, because we don’t want it to be seen as a propaganda piece for the Marine Corps, either. It’s supposed to be the stories of these individual Marines, and recreating those stories, and so we’ve never asked for any sort of an approval or anything like that from the Marine Corps to create the game. To answer your question, Konami told us that the reason why they were pulling out was because they did not want Konami associated with a subject matter that was as controversial as Six Days in Fallujah. I don’t have a whole lot more detail than that on the rationale! [Laughs] The decision was made in Japan, and I was told it was because they didn’t want Konami associated with something as controversial as Six Days in Fallujah, and that’s about the extent of what I know! [Laughs]

Has the game changed since the initial concept? Presumably it’s given you time to work on the game and maybe add things that you didn’t have time to do. I know you’ve got Breach coming out which we’ll talk about in a little while, but has that changed the direction of Six Days in Fallujah, or is it still true to the original thought and idea you had, and if it has changed, in what capacity?

I’m not ready yet to talk about the specific ways that Six Days in Fallujah has changed. I will say that the game started initially and still is very much about recreating the true stories of specific Marines, and what happened in Fallujah.
So it’s still true to that. We’re not taking anything away from that.

As far as the Marines are concerned, I presume that – with your links to the training systems – they’ve still been involved in the process up until now, in a sort of consulting role?

We’ve had dozens, literally dozens of Marines, who have helped out in various capacities in the creation of the game. Specifically for the game – not related to any training tools for the Marine Corps – but specifically for the game, we’ve had dozens of guys who’ve helped us out. I’ve gotta tell you that one of the most rewarding parts of our experiences of the last couple of years is the one-on-one time that we get to spend with these remarkable people.

How do you think Six Days will sit with games like Medal of Honor? It seems that, although I know this isn’t a propaganda piece, it could be misconstrued as – actually, the games industry is doing pro-western games titles to show not necessarily the political agenda, but the way in which the west’s attitude is to somewhere like the Middle East.

I don’t know enough about what they’re planning on doing in Medal of Honor to address your question, but Six Days in Fallujah… one of our points behind it is to give people a deeper understanding of the battle for Fallujah and the events of the Iraq War and the events of the Middle East, by letting people experience aspects of those events through a videogame. I have a hard time saying anything regarding whether it’s pro-west, because I am a westerner, so I walk into the experience with those blinkers on. Regardless of how hard I might try, I’m going to walk into the experience with those blinkers on. My hope, though, is that people of all persuasions and opinions about whether we should have been in Iraq, should not have been in Iraq; any of that, whether what happened was right or was wrong – all of those people will find things that they did not know about what happened inside of Fallujah that will not necessarily shape their opinion, again, about whether we should or shouldn’t be there, because we’re trying to avoid talking to that at all, but will instead just provide a deeper context and deeper level of understanding about these events that are very complex.
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There are, obviously, the dirtier aspects of the war – the problems with the jail system, Abu Ghraib, and the like. Will that feature at all? I know it’s not a propaganda game, and I know it’s about the feelings and the stories of those that were involved in the battle for Fallujah, but… is there any point in the game, or any point in exploring this battle in which we take on the role of the opposing side, and maybe even the civilians, and see that side of the story?

Well, yeah. We are certainly involving civilians and what happened, and their perspectives as well, in the experience. I can’t go into details about how we’re going to do that, but that is a part of the experience. As far as dealing with some of the other aspects you mentioned, there’s so much information related specifically to the experience of the individual Marines whose stories we’ll be recreating, that we’re trying to stay focused on that. I think that people will get a deeper perspective on it from those experiences, and we’ve got our hands full just dealing with those experiences! [Laughs]

Does that mean then that we can see the Marines training up the local police forces and the security forces to help maintain order in the towns and cities?

Well, we’re being very specific about the recreations. We’re recreating specific events that took place in those six days. There were Iraqi National Guard who accompanied those Marines, so there is involvement from the Iraqis, but I’m not ready to go into the details of what that specific involvement was.

Alright then. As far as the scope for the future of the game and possibly franchise, is this something that there’s scope to do a lot more with, and would you stick with the US Marines or would you possibly look at moving to different allied groups to retell their stories?

There are stories from across the world. We got involved in Six Days in Fallujah because of our relationships with specific Marines who served in that particular engagement, but because of Six Days in Fallujah, we actually have been contacted by people from across the world in other services, and there are certainly other stories that are begging to be told. We’d love to do that, but it’s too early to speculate as to what products we’d make. I think that videogames have been very US-centric, especially military games, and that there’s an opportunity to tell stories and create experiences that are beyond the US military. I absolutely believe that to be the case.

I presume you won’t be going back to Konami for publishing? [Laughs] [Laughs] Only rsicl!

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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