Read Omohundro was the commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, during the Second Battle of Fallujah. The battle in Iraq had some of the most intense street-to-street fighting that Americans have encountered since the Vietnam War.
Omohundro, along with dozens of other veterans of the battle and Iraqi civilians, consulted on a project that aims to tell their story and detail the violent and terrifying nature of urban combat. But instead of a book or film, where most war stories are immortalized, they're putting out a video game.
Omohundro's unit lost 18 Marines, while another 67 were injured during the deployment.
"At first, it was kinda surreal. All the input I'd provide in a relatively short period of time ... could be played back digitally," Omohundro said. "There were some emotional moments because when that stuff starts playing back, certain things occur and you have to realize that you're seeing a replay of moments."
"Six Days in Fallujah" is set to release later this year after a decade in development hell. The multimillion-dollar project was nearly complete a decade ago before it was canceled.
Peter Tamte, CEO of the game's publisher, Victura, blamed the cancellation on a few things, including rising costs for the game to compete with "Call of Duty" and backlash from mostly partisan media arguing it was "too soon" to depict an ongoing conflict in a medium that is ultimately supposed to be "fun" for a player, or even that the Iraq War is a black eye in America's story that should be buried.
That opposition has simmered over the years, with some still demanding that the game be canceled.
"No media can tell the full story of any battle or war. It's fair for people to expect us to not to create propaganda," Tamte said. "In order for us to do that, we have to tackle some of the difficult subjects of the battle."
The game offers those who were there an opportunity to share their stories and detail the battle, which left nearly 100 Americans and some 800 Iraqi civilians dead.
Tamte started interviewing Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, just a few months after their return from Fallujah, and the game's team employs a full-time staffer with a journalism background whose job is to fact-check and conduct further interviews.
"We had some of the most contemporaneous accounts of the battle," Tamte said in an interview with Military.com. "It was two or three months after, and we had them on camera for hours."
His priority is keeping the game grounded, he added. It's one thing to make a fictional and arcade-like game like "Call of Duty," but once you seek out realism and tell true stories, the small details become critical, he said.
"I helped make sure the jargon and terminology was right," Omohundro said. "We also talked about utilization of tanks, pieing corners, and how radio traffic would be conducted."
Consulting on a game also means crushing incorrect ideas civilians might have about weapons, such as the power of a fragmentation grenade.
"[A game designer] was showing me the architectural effects of a hand grenade destroying a building, and I had to explain that a grenade does not destroy a building," Omohundro said.
At first glance, nothing about the game necessarily stands out. It appears like yet another first-person shooter such as "Call of Duty," in yet another war-torn environment. But instead of the fast-paced nature of those games and their bombasic, Tom Clancy-style approach to military stories, Tamte says "Six Days in Fallujah" will be grounded, slow-paced and based on the real experiences of veterans.
In real combat, unlike games such as "Call of Duty," troops generally do not face waves of enemies with unlimited ammo. Tamte and his team hope to deliver more realism. As in real urban warfare, just one or two bad guys can stop an entire company of troops.
One of the most dangerous parts of urban combat is entering buildings and getting through what the military refers to as "the fatal funnel," a tight space offering no protection -- usually a doorway -- where troops need to get through quickly to avoid being bogged down by enemy fire. Once in a building, troops need to figure out where to go, and it's impossible to know ahead of time. A wall on the immediate right or left can change the entire flow of a gunfight.
"The person who goes in first is never wrong," Jason Kyle, who served as a squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, during the battle, explains in a video promotion for the game.
This is because the first person to enter a room has a split second to decide where to go and how to react. Questioning that person's decisions can throw off the flow of entering a "fatal funnel" and put troops in grave danger.
In other video games, players can replay the same scenario over and over and learn the correct way to enter each building.
However, "Six Days in Fallujah" throws a wrench into that with an innovation called procedurally generated rooms, Tamte said. Each time a player enters a building, the walls, doors and furniture will be randomly generated, meaning every room will be different every time, even if replaying a scenario.
"Six Days in Fallujah" won't be the first game to tell a war story, but it will be in an extremely limited library of games that sought original source material and portray real service members, who are still alive today, in the story.
Each level of the game begins with a "Band of Brothers"-style live action interview with veterans who took part in the mission the player is about to see.
"Missions begin with an interview with a Marine or soldier who participated in the event," Tamte said. "As you play, that real person narrates what happened during the real event as you experience it."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.