The realistic qualities of video games today make them increasingly
valuable tools for military training, officials said. But they also
recognize that glitzy Hollywood-style animations offer only partial
solutions to the challenges that have emerged in military training.
Both military and industry experts debated the virtues of gaming
technology during the Interservice/Industry Simulation Training
and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla. The annual event is sponsored
by the National Training Systems Association.
Training-oriented video games and PC-based training tools are known
as “microsimulations”, explained Marine Maj. Chris Sharp,
of the College of Continuing Education at the Marine Corps University,
in Quantico, Va. Some microsimulations focus on physical and mental
skills needed in combat. “I work with majors and captains,
so we are focusing on decision-making skills,” explained Sharp.
The benefits of microsimulations are many, according to Sharp.
They are accessible, since they operate on PCs. The technology is
reliable and inexpensive, having been refined in the entertainment
field for more than a decade. That also makes them user friendly.
“They’re intuitive. They were built for a two-year-old
or a 12-year-old to understand,” said Sharp. And they allow
players to interact via the Internet.
Another advantage Sharp sees in the use of microsimulations is
the ability to record the missions played. “If you’ve
ever done a flight simulator, you might find that you spend more
time reviewing what you did than actually playing the game.”
Sharp also discussed some unique requirements for video games used
by military trainees. One was a chain of command element where the
various levels of commands can be played. For that reason, Sharp
would like to see compatibility between games. “Not necessarily
to have one game execute everything, but a console that can support
an aviation model played along with a tank simulation,” said
Sharp. These elements can be seen in games such as Close Combat,
made by Atomic Games, in Houston. Close Combat is a series of games
based on different World War II battles.
Commercial games are seeking a middle ground “between pure
simulation and a fun game,” said Brian Upton, of Red Storm
Entertainment, in Morrisville, N.C. One of the company’s most
popular games is Rainbow Six, based on the series of books by Tom
Clancy. It is a close-quarter fighting and counter-terrorism game.
Red Storm was to make the game “as real as possible, while
still easy to play and accessible to consumers,” Upton said.
“Part of the fun for our players is the realism.
“There are things that you can do in the real world, because
of the training you do or the capability of weapons, that just aren’t
fun for the player. For instance, you can shoot somebody from two
miles away in the real world,” explained Upton. In the game,
that person would be just a tiny pixel. This takes away from the
tension level and excitement for the player.
LB & B Associates Inc., in Columbia, Md., has developed the
Military Element Tactical Trainer Simulation (METT Sim) based on
a commercial platform. “We took the gaming elements out of
it and increased the realism as much as we could,” explained
Michael Bradshaw, systems division manager for LB & B. “There
is ballistic data, and we modified the weapons, based on expert
advice from former Marines.” METT Sim is PC-based and can
stand alone or can be networked for up to 16 players.
According to Bradshaw, the players are in control of the scenario,
thus enhancing team decision-making skills. Players can be friendly
forces, noncombatants and opposing forces. “We can map any
location true to life,” Bradshaw said. “Any uniform,
any skin texture, anything you want we can make. ... An American
embassy in Russia can play against an embassy in Poland,”
Sharp noted that the Marine culture has been slow to adopt the
games for training. That is why he shies away from calling them
games and calls them microsimulations instead. Marines are given
the software, and it is never unwrapped, said Sharp. “They
see it as just a game.” But as the realism grows, so does
And there is no end in sight to the boom in gaming technology.
“Next fall, Microsoft will be releasing its desktop box, the
Microsoft x-box. It will have a price of under $300, and the x-box
is equivalent to a 700 Megahertz P3 [Pentium 3] running a G4 graphics
card,” Sharp said. “That means that it will go through
about 3 million color rounds per second on a box that cost under
Alias Wavefront, a subsidiary of SGI, headquartered in Toronto,
has a three-dimensional animation program called Maya. The Maya
Composer is a video-based product known as “The Swiss Army
knife of Hollywood,” said Edward M. Ward, a branch manager
for Alias Wavefront’s federal systems, in Chantilly, Va. “It
is a low-end compositing tool.” The Maya Composer can take
one scene and change the background. If the scene was shot in the
fall, but the action of the movie is supposed to be in the spring,
Maya can change the background without changing the people or objects
in the scene, explained Ward. For intelligence analysts, this technology
allows them to locate an object or person of interest and track
“They can zoom in, clean up the image and track the object
the entire time it is in the camera’s view,” Ward said.
A sample video showed a shot of a ship with a man walking along
one of the decks. The camera can zoom in to focus on the man and
follow him as he walks along. The software tracks the pixels that
make up the man, so he will stay the same, even if things around
Some modifications to the software had to be made to make it more
user friendly for military analysts, stated Ward. “Their specialty
is analyzing data, not the software.” So SGI and Alias Wavefront
simplified the keystrokes needed to run the software. According
to Ward, it is now an icon-based interface. There is a panel of
icons that perform what Ward called “macro-commands,”
as opposed to the individual keystroke commands. This makes it possible
for a user to be trained to use the software in about one day.
Multi-Gen Paradigm, of San Jose, Calif., is developing a program
called Site Builder 3D that will allow users to turn two-dimensional
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data into a three-dimensional
map, without having to learn any complex 3D modeling tools.
“Users would first generate terrain,” according to
Jon Zucker, a programmer for Multi-Gen. “They would texture
the terrain with either high-resolution imagery or a map, then populate
the terrain with feature data, trees, buildings, roads, forests,
light posts, whatever kind of information they have in their maps.”
The 2D and 3D maps can be viewed in a split-screen manner, and
various elements can be turned on and off. For instance, the trees
can be taken out of the map and only the building positions shown,
or vice versa, explained Zucker.
The program will not simulate an object, unless that object is
added to the data library, Zucker said. However, the dimensions
of an object, such as a building, can be used to create a model
of that size in the 3D map. Textures can be added to make it more
Beta versions of Site Builder will be tested by the National Imagery
and Mapping Agency, Marine Corps and Army for mission-planning purposes.
Zucker said the program also can be used for city planning and by
police and fire departments. Site Builder will be available, sometime
“Every TV commercial you can name today has some high end
special effect in it. We believe that training should be brought
up to that level,” said Al Lowenheim, chief executive officer
for eGad Software Company, of San Diego.
The software eGad is developing is not a static animation. It is
a model that can be dynamically modified by players in the created
environment in real time, explained Dan Fritze, a company programmer.
For instance, when modeling water, the effects of a hovering helicopter
or changes in the wind can be simulated based on the actions of
the players in the environment, and not a preset scenario, Lowenheim
“There is an expression that we use in the entertainment
business: ‘suspension of disbelief.’ When you go to
a movie, you lose yourself in the story and the characters,”
he said. “We need to bring the visual simulation environment
up to the level of the real world.”
This viewpoint prevails throughout the industry. Professionals
from Hollywood, the video-game industry and retired military officers
have converged at the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT),
headquartered in Marina Del Ray, Calif. They are designing digital
simulations to train Army crews on the Future Combat System (FCS),
the Army’s next-generation combat vehicle.
Teams of professionals from the institute visited various military
outposts to develop the scenarios for testing FCS designs, said
Ron Cobb, an industrial designer of futuristic vehicles for films.
ICT created story boards and designed drawings for the computer
models, much like the beginning of pre-production of a movie. Two
vehicles that the team worked on were the Schwarzkoff, nicknamed
the “hedgehog,” and the Powell.
Designers focused, in part, on the wheels. Each wheel has its own
motor and hydraulics that allow it to swivel, according to Cobb.
The vehicle can change directions very quickly, over almost any
kind of terrain. The Powell, a medical vehicle, has the ability
to reach victims and scoop them up, so medical staff are not exposed
to enemy fire, Cobb said. The next step is to work with military
experts on how to train users of this advanced technology.
“The games don’t have the details. The Army has the
details, but not the game know-how,” said Michael Murguia,
chief executive officer of New Pencil Inc., in Sausalito, Calif.
New Pencil is working with the ICT and the U.S. Army to develop
new training programs for the FCS. The company plans to rely on
so-called immersive simulations, which offer a high level of realism.
The core of the training, according to Murguia, is the use of video
games, but vehicles, for example, would have the correct weight
and center of gravity, as they would in the real world.
A capable artificial intelligence system (AI) also is an important
part of immersive simulation, according to William R. Swartout,
director of technology at ICT. An example is a project called Mission
Swartout cited a scenario where a Humvee crashes with a civilian
vehicle during a peacekeeping mission. The player has to decide
whether to stop to help a boy hurt in the crash or continue with
the mission. AI technologies enable complex behaviors and interaction
with the players. Characters such as soldiers or the mother of the
hurt boy can be pre-recorded and scripted.