Educational simulations offer a cheap — and sometimes more effective — way to train soldiers for the complex challenges they will face on the battlefield. Developing such simulations can be equally complex, as the process typically involves a lengthy back-and-forth dialogue among military officers, procurement officials and computer programmers.
But new software allows the users themselves to write storylines, dialogue and scenes. The software’s manufacturer, Caspian Learning, is touting its product, Thinking Worlds, as a more efficient method for updating simulations to match the ever-changing realities of the battlefield.
The program lets the relatively unversed create their own video games, rather than pay programmers to do so. Several defense contractors and technology companies, including IBM, have leased Thinking Worlds, which costs $1,500 per year.
Thinking Worlds Chief Executive Officer Graeme Duncan demonstrated the product at a recent technology exhibition. He modified a scene in which a U.S. soldier interacts with an Iraqi truck driver. Duncan chose 3-D characters, vehicles and settings from a series of templates. The program also would have allowed him to upload his own graphics.
“Defense companies can create software themselves — cost-effectively and rapidly,” he says. “You don’t have to throw the software back and forth from contractor to customer.”
In his demo scene, players were instructed to click on dialogue options for the U.S. soldier. Each one led to a cultural lesson in how the soldier’s words might be interpreted by the Iraqi. When players chose dialogue deemed culturally insensitive, the chance of an insurgent attack increased.
“The enemy’s tactics are evolving, and the U.S. government needs to be able to adapt its technology just as quickly,” Duncan says. “This product lets the government respond immediately to what’s happening in the theater.”
Simulations developed with Thinking Worlds can be packaged as standalone programs, or they can be embedded into websites. Users own full rights to their simulations, meaning they can sell the programs they develop without paying royalties to Caspian.