The U.S. Air Force has launched a new video game that seeks to both entice new recruits and also highlight
the services non-traditional missions, such as humanitarian
relief and unmanned aircraft operations.
USAF: Air Dominance, which will be shown at NASCAR races
and other events, puts prospective blue-suiters behind a joystick
as they fly three missions: piloting an F-22 fighter thats
coming to the aid of a friendly F-4 under attack by hostile MiG-29s,
controlling a Predator unmanned air vehicle on a photo-reconnaissance
run and flying a C-17 transport plane dropping humanitarian cargo
in a war-torn nation.
First things people think about the Air Force are pilots
and fighters, said Sgt. Marv Daugherty, with the Air Force
Recruiting Service. Thats a very small minority of the
Air Force. We want to show that there are other things out there,
like UAVs and cargo planes.
The game will inevitably be compared to the highly successful Americas
Army, but the Air Force has chosen a different approach. While
Americas Army can be downloaded on home computers,
USAF: Air Dominance can only be played on specific computers
in Air Force mobile recruiting centers.
The game will be installed on six kiosks inside a tractor-trailer
that also serves as a mobile movie theater, said John Lee, a senior
strategist at GSD&M, the advertising agency retained by the
Air Force for its recruiting efforts. In addition, 28 recruiting
squadrons will each have two kiosks on trailers.
USAF: Air Dominance is simpler to play than Americas
Army. While the Army game intends to provide a realistic rendition
of Army doctrine and tactics, the Air Force aimed more for an arcade
game than an ultra-realistic flight simulator. The game is easy
to grasp, and each mission only lasts a minute or so. Its
designed to briefly let spectators at NASCAR and other events play
for a couple of minutes, and then direct them to the recruiters.
We were trying to have a three to five minute experience,
so multiple people could experience it, said Lee. We
cant have hundreds of people playing the game for an unlimited
amount of time.
The games developers say that they could have made it far
more realisticbut that wasnt what the Air Force required.
We made it more arcade-ish at the request of the Air Force,
to make it more fun and playable, said Billy Cain, vice president
of Critical Mass Interactive, the developer of the game. While the
result is aircraft that dont fly as realistically as the flight
sims in the entertainment market, neither does the Air Force game
have the brutal learning curve of simulators such as Microsoft Flight
If we were to make it a simulation, Cain added, It
would not be playable by the man on the street. Somebody coming
for three minutes of game play would find themselves falling out
of the air or shot down.
Those involved in the project bristle at comparisons to Americas
Army. They point out that USAF: Air Dominance only cost
$250,000 and took just three months to develop, compared to more
than $8 million and several years to develop Americas
Army. The rapid turnaround was possible because Critical Mass
used an existing flight simulator engine. Americas Army
was a much, much larger game and had a much longer timeframe to
do it, Cain added. These guys had millions of dollars
to spend and years to create it. We basically got a document on
one page that said, you have three months to get it done.
For that reason, USAF: Air Dominance wont be
pushing the graphics envelope. It is designed to run on low-end
computers in Air Force kiosks, which means the software has to function
with minimal memory and old video cards. The graphics in the
game are state of the art, but most of the fancy graphic tricks
have been turned off, said Cain. We could have everything
from rain on the canopy to wind effects. With a faster machine,
you would get better graphics, higher-resolution textures.
However, even if the graphics arent rich, at least theyre
accurate. All of the aircraft have been created with painstaking
detail so they are accurate to size and scale, Cain said.
The designers also compensated for the graphics by trying to make
the back-story more interesting. During the humanitarian aid drop,
for example, there are explosions on the ground as combatants battle
it out. As the UAV flies toward its targets, vehicles pass below.
The challenge with the UAV was to make it entertaining,
said Cain, an experienced developer whose company has worked on
previous flight sims as well as the award-winning Spongebob
Squarepants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman.
Youre essentially going from Point A to Point B,
he said. So we tried to make the terrain fun and have things
happen in the background.
Lee said the game is a test to see whether a flight simulator will
be a big draw at Air Force recruitment events. Its very
scaleable. We can add better graphics, more aircraft, and make it
available online. Daugherty said the game will eventually
be on CDs that can be played on home computers.
USAF: Air Dominance replaces the Air Forces previous
kiosk game, which was a quiz game. It was more educational,
said Lee. But the target audience didnt like it that