Magazine Focuses on Army Gaming

Soldiers Magazine - Army.mil/News

WASHINGTON -- The September issue of Soldiers magazine highlights the use of gaming throughout the Army.

The same technologies used in popular video games are being leveraged to help entertain, rehabilitate and train Soldiers like never before. From using the Wii gaming console as an occupational therapy tool to enhancing training through artificial intelligence and dynamic graphics, the Army has embraced gaming technologies and added them to its ever-expanding training repertoire.

The following is an excerpt from “Improving America’s Army,” one of several Army gaming stories featured in the September issue:

In 2000 the Army and the gaming industry forged what is so far an eight-year partnership, combining Soldiers’ knowledge of all things Army with industry professionals’ understanding of how technology can be leveraged to relate the Army experience.

Col. Casey Wardynski, director of the Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and head of the “America’s Army” program, developed a concept study in 1999 that “envisioned using computer game technology to provide the public a virtual Soldier experience that was engaging, informative and entertaining,” according to “America’s Army” officials.

The Army set up the Army Game Project at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif., in January 2000. The team was granted unprecedented access to units, training and equipment, and gained information and insights that were eventually modeled in the game to contribute to its authentic Army “feel.” In its most widely used form, “America’s Army” is an online, downloadable, PC-based game that allows players a portal into the Army, from basic training to Special Forces missions.

Unique to America’s Army, however, was the incorporation of values and consequences in a first-person action environment, which set it apart from its commercial counterparts.

“We entered into a marriage of game-industry technical expertise and Army core values, and applied that to something really meaningful,” said Phillip Bossant, executive producer of the America’s Army Public Applications team.

From its earliest version, “America’s Army: Recon” (v1.0.0), players were bound by the Rules off Engagement, teamwork and adherence to the seven Army core values. Two dozen releases later, success in the game is still built upon team play, and still guided by the Army’s values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“America’s Army” was the first to use the Unreal Engine 2.0 to support its game.

“Unreal hadn’t been released yet -- our game came first,” Bossant said. “’America’s Army’ looked nothing like the other games. It had high-quality graphics, animation and sound, even though the game was free to players. I think everyone expected it to be junk. They were all surprised.”

The game was first introduced in 2002, and was an instant favorite at the annual industry trade show in Los Angeles.

Eight years later, “America’s Army” continues to be one of the top 10 online action games. To keep up with industry technical standards and an ever-increasing consumer appetite for dynamic game play, the public “America’s Army” team has consistently used new technologies, platforms and themes to enhance game play. The current version of the game, “America’s Army: Special Forces (Overmatch),” combines high-fidelity graphics supported by the Unreal Engine 2.5 with dynamic game-play options to give players a “soup-to-nuts virtual experience within which to explore entry-level and advanced training, as well as soldiering in small units,” Bossant said.

“We have virtually taken our players through boot camp and airborne training, and even introduced them to the Special Forces,” Bossant added. “Through ‘America’s Army,’ players have learned about rules of engagement, lifesaving, laws of war and Army values.”

While the AA team is currently working on a new version of the game using the Unreal Engine 3.0, the current game is still widely popular. There are more than nine million registered users, according to Bossant, and more than 900 fan sites have been established around the world.

The new game, scheduled for release in the coming year, will be faster to download, have better graphics and will expand on Army roles and missions.

More game-related stories featured in the September issue of Soldiers magazine include:

Leveraging “America’s Army” -- Using the Army’s signature game as a foundation, developers have created a range of valuable training aids and simulations for use throughout the Army.

Wii Habilitation at Walter Reed -- A successful gaming console is proving to be extremely useful as a rehabilitation and reintegration tool for wounded Soldiers.

History of Military Gaming -- From sand tables to chessboards to miniature battlefields and computer simulation, armies have always needed to “game” warfare.

Gaming for Training -- Soldiers at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, are using the “America’s Army” game to practice warrior tasks and battle drills.

AI and the Army -- The Army is combining leading artificial intelligence technologies with film-industry creativity to enhance non-kinetic training.

Go to www.army.mil/publications, and click on the Soldiers magazine tab to view the magazine issue, titled "Serious Army Gaming" in its entirety.

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