Posts Tagged ‘Computer Games’

Navy “VESSEL” – Newest Military “Video Game” Training Tool

February 16, 2009

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Video computer gaming is coming to the Navy as a training tool adapting to a new generation of gaming Sailors.

“This has the look-and-feel of a first-person role-playing game, but it would be better to call it a training simulation designed to enhance a Sailor’s critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making and ultimately ‘on-the-job’ performance,” said Rodney Chapman, director of Learning Strategies (N9) at Naval Service Training Command (NSTC).

“But because a recruit comes into the Navy growing up with gaming technologies it’s hard to get away from calling this a game.”

The new Navy video computer training tool is called VESSEL and stands for Virtual Environments for Ship and Shore Experiential Learning. VESSEL is a computer-based game that combines and resembles first person role-playing, educational and real-time strategy games.

“This is uncharted waters,” Chapman said. “We are using game based technology to supplement instructor led training. This strategy should lead to improved Sailor readiness and performance where the Navy can introduce real time fleet concepts to Sailors at various stages of their career. We happen to be starting this effort in Great Lakes, however, the strength of this technology is applicable and will help improve all Sailors no matter how senior or experienced.”

Although there are flight simulators for Navy pilots and Navy surface officers to learn navigation in large bridge simulators, VESSEL can be accessed by popping a disc into a Sailor’s computer in a workspace or office, like inserting a disk into a PlayStation or Xbox.

Through partnerships with BBN Technologies, Intelligent Decisions Systems Inc., (IDSI), University of California Los Angeles, University of Central Florida, the Office of Naval Research, Recruit Training Command (RTC) and NSTC’s N9 Department have designed a computer-based video “game” training tool built to be an adaptive product to enhance learning and build confidence in handling shipboard scenarios and casualties such as flooding and firefighting.

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Dr. Clint Bowers, a psychology professor and evaluator with UCF, said the computer “game” and gaming in general that many Sailors are familiar with “has a certain intrinsic quality that motivates young people today.

“If we can tap that motivation so that a Sailor wants to go back to their room or compartment and play and learn and not feel they are in a classroom, we think that will be a great thing.”

Bowers also said his team has seen Sailors who have participated in the evaluation since October 2008. He said they have demonstrated a high level of interest when exposed to the software and that it does have an appeal for today’s generation of gamers. “It’s one thing to build a game, but we need to make sure it works and we are seeing that it is.”

The current “game” or first simulation is designed to have a Sailor investigate a space aboard a ship for flooding from a cracked fire main. A Sailor is introduced with a short story of how he or she has transferred from Naval Station Great Lakes to their first ship in Norfolk, Va. After boarding the ship, the Sailor enters the “game” in a first-person role-playing scenario and must report to his or her repair locker after the general quarters alarm has sounded. From the repair locker, the Sailor is sent out as an investigator and directed to look for a possible flood in a certain space.

A Sailor will need to find the space by locating the correct “bulls-eye” (numbered identification outside the space on the bulkhead, or wall) and, once found, go into the space where they will find there is flooding from a crack on the fire main. The Sailor then has to call Damage Control (DC) Central and report the situation.

“A more senior enlisted Sailor might want to shut down the fire main and cut off the water, but that would be wrong in this simulation,” Chapman said.

“We want the Sailor to report the flooding to DC Central using the shipboard phone IVCS (Integrated Voice Communications System) in the space, then go back to the repair locker and pick up the equipment they might need (Jubilee Patch), bring the equipment back to the space and properly patch the pipe.”

In the simulation, there is only one way to seat the Jubilee Patch, by putting it on the pipe and sliding it from the top down over the crack. If the Sailor doesn’t seat the patch correctly, the video will force it off.
A Sailor is also graded on time from reporting to the repair locker, finding the space with the flooding, reporting to DC Central, returning to the repair locker and patching the pipe.

If a Sailor does all this properly (using the certain buttons on the computer keyboard to move around and grab things) he or she then needs to call back to DC Central and make a final report of what they did and how they accomplished the task. An example of what the Sailor might report would be, “flooding was secured by properly applying Jubilee Patch over crack on fire main in space 1-109-2-L, Admin Berthing. There are two inches of water on deck, or there is no water coming up through the grates. Request dewatering team sent to compartment.”

After a Sailor has made a final report and has been told that a dewatering team has been sent to the space, objectives for the evolution show up on the left side of the computer monitor with a green, yellow or red mark. If an objective lights up green, the Sailor has successfully met that objective. If yellow lights up, the recruit completed the objective but was marginal and could have been faster making reports, getting the right equipment or took too long patching the fire main. A red means a failure for that particular objective and the things performed incorrectly will be identified and the Sailor will need to go through the task again.

When the objectives have been graded, the Sailor will then be directed to an Individual Development Plan (IDP). The plan is based on how well they did and what areas may need. The Sailor is then told where to go to receive more instruction on the areas that need work.

“This was a great experience,” Seaman Apprentice Melvin Cooks, 18, from East St. Louis, Ill., said. “I think this will help Sailors in here at Great Lakes and in the fleet to strengthen and refresh what they learned at boot camp and in school.”

Cooks, a student at Boatswain’s Mate “A” School was an early test-subject of the “game” adding that with tools like Battle Stations and VESSEL Sailors will be more prepared to handle situations and emergencies aboard ships and in the fleet.

Chapman called the IDP the most important thing for each Sailor.

“Ultimately, besides the usability of the ‘game’, we’ve put in enhancements with the Individual Development Plan. If I believed they were going to walk away from the test and remember what they were supposed to work on, I’d be sadly mistaken. We are going to deliver an Individual Development Plan with further instruction and training to make them better Sailors,” he said.

Early indications of improved Sailor performance are encouraging and impressive, according to Chapman. Two groups of Sailors were selected to participate in a study that required them to secure flooding in a main space aboard USS Trayer (BST 21), a 210-foot long Arleigh Burke-class destroyer at RTC, the Navy’s largest training simulator. Both groups had basic damage control training but had no previous exposure to the Trayer’s internal compartments or design. Only one of the two groups played VESSEL. The Sailors who played VESSEL found the flooding compartment using a bull’s-eye, learned from the “game,” in half the time of the Sailors who didn’t play the game (two versus four minutes). Sailors had less than half (eight versus 17) of the communications errors when making reports to DC Central. Twice as many (50 percent versus 25 percent) non-VESSEL participants repaired the leak without permission and 50 percent of the non-VESSEL participants secured the fire main without permission. No one from the group exposed to VESSEL secured the fire main.

Even though N-9 and ONR have been testing the “game” on recruits from RTC since October 2008, the VESSEL is not geared toward passing Battle Stations 21, the final test for a recruit before graduating from the Navy’s only bootcamp. Battle Stations 21 is conducted aboard Trayer a week prior to graduation.

“We didn’t specifically build this for Battle Stations 21, because we knew there would be a far reaching benefit to the rest of the Navy enterprise. We purposely built this so it could be used at RTC or delivered to TSC (Training Support Center) and other training or shipboard commands fleetwide. The educational outcome and benefits will be consistent if you are in recruit training or out in the fleet. Whether you are a recruit, a bluejacket, chief or officer; this will benefit all Sailors.”

The NSTC N-9 team is working with ONR to build more scenarios to accompany the flooding evolution. They are exploring adding oil on top of the flooded water, placing “hot” electric wires in the space, and there will be personnel casualties in the space.

“We are going to add firefighting to it as another training opportunity and continue to build out to be an enterprise-wide learning tool,” Chapman said.

Chapman hopes both delayed-entry personnel as well as Sailors out in the fleet will be able sit down at a computer, put in VESSEL and use it as another training tool.

“We are entering an era where we are demanding more from our Sailors and they have to master things in a shorter period of time. We no longer have the luxury to put Sailors through long periods of training,” Chapman said.

“The nice thing [about the ‘game’] is technology will help us supplement today’s training in a well defined strategy. “Hopefully, in the future this will be just another tool in a Sailor’s toolbox that will help a Sailor identify a situation and react in a positive way to save the ship and save a shipmate.”
Scott Thornbloom (NNS)

Military Computer Games Evolve: DARWARS Successor Planned

December 8, 2008

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The U.S. Army will spend $50 million to upgrade its video game training system, reports Digital Alchemy. DARWARS Ambush, the current first-person shooter (FPS) video game, teaches soldiers how to handle ambushes and roadside attacks, but is limited in the number of players it can host. The new game in development, Game After Ambush, builds on it, promising to integrate real world data and allow trainers to modify the game on-the-fly.

History of Military Gaming

August 29, 2008
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Gaming has long been an important tool used by militaries to assist in training, analysis and mission readiness. What began 5,000 years ago as warfare models using colored stones and grid systems on a board has evolved into state-of-the-art computer-simulation systems that allow users to customize their virtual experience based on real-life events.

Military simulation games evolved over time, eventually leading to the Roman legions’ sue of sand tables and miniature replicas representing the battlefield in the 1st century A.D. They were visual tools used to play out strategic scenarios. These devices remain in use today at military academies and schools, but are slowly being replaced by computer simulations.

Early Systems
The greatest advancements in pre-computer war games came in the mid 17th century, said Roger Smith, chief scientist and technology officer for the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. Germany’s Christopher Weikmann designed “Konigspiel,” “the King’s Game,” one of the earliest warfare board games, which allowed a player to visualize the movement and actions of his forces on a playing board.

“That was the beginning of the most important changes. Before that everything was literal, a direct representation of the battlefield with no way of abstractly representing behaviors,” Smith said. When the Germans started using paper board games, they were able to estimate battlefield actions using probability and other forms of mathematics.

In 1811, another German, Baron von Reisswitz, developed “Kriegsspiels,” a more detailed board game using contoured terrain and porcelain soldiers, which introduced the concept of a starting scenario with a stated military objective, Smith said. The Germans were “creating the foundations of mathematically driven warfare that would be programmed on computers in the 1950s.”

Inventors further refined the board war game in the 1950s with hexagonal overlays to track movement and engagement, and a combat-results table for calculating attrition and movement, which incorporated the impact of terrain on combat activities, Smith said.

“The RAND Corporation was working on a system to present theater-level warfare in a form that would allow more mathematically accurate actions than those found on sand tables and board games of earlier centuries,” he said.

At the same time, Charles Roberts, an entrepreneur awaiting his Army commission, developed a similar game. Both systems also introduced combat-results tables and the use of dice to add random events and outcomes to the “battle.”

Roberts established Avalon Hill, a commercial entertainment company, in 1958, and used the military planning and training tools to popularize war-gaming as a form of entertainment. “Thus was born the lasting tension between games as serious military tools and games as a form of entertainment,” Smith said.

Casual players wanted a user-friendly game, but the military needed accuracy and began using computing machines to assist with more involved calculations. Technological advances made these devices more accessible, Smith said, and incorporated more detailed mathematics and logic into game play. The forms of the games themselves though, remained relatively unchanged.

Computers Arrive
The Army Operations Research Office at Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University developed the first truly computerized war games. Beginning with “Air Defense Simulation” in 1948 and the “Carmonette” series of simulations in 1953, these systems eliminated much of the manual work of moving pieces, rolling dice, looking up results in a table and calculating final results, Smith said.

“The players could focus on the tactical movements and leave the complexity of manipulation to the computer,” he said. Game size was expanded, limited only by the computer’s capabilities.

As developers’ understanding of the power of the computer grew, they were able to “incorporate mathematic and logical algorithms that were far beyond what could be managed with a human-driven paper game,” Smith said. The 1970s saw the first iterations of today’s networked, multiplayer simulations. Games like the McClintic Theater Model at the Army War College, not only improved mathematical models of warfare, they incorporated attractive system graphics.

In today’s personal-gaming age, Smith said entertainment games and technologies are being modified and used in the military domain, and traditional games have been re-tooled for casual gamers and sold for entertainment.

“We are much more comfortable with using entertainment technologies for military training today,” Smith said. Military-training simulations like JANUS and SIMNET have been incorporated into simpler commercial games. “America’s Army,” a modification of Unreal Tournament;” DARWARS Ambush,” and adaptation of “Operation Flashpoint;” and X-Box’s “Full Spectrum Warrior” have all been used by the military.

“Marine Doom” was one of the earliest examples of modifying games for training purposes, Smith added.

The game was an early modification of idSoftware’s “Doom II.” Marine Lt. Scott Barnett, the project officer, and Marine Sgt. Dan Snyder, a designer and modeler, tweaked the commercial off-the-shelf product in the mid-1990s to enhance teamwork, coordination and decision-making training.
“It was primitive, but they showed the big idea of using games for training,” Smith said. At the time, the Army’s leaders did not realize the full potential of COTS games and their value to military training, so research into its uses was limited.

“As games have become more sophisticated, and as the military has come to understand them better, we have been able to identify better means of leveraging these technologies for serious purposes,” Smith said. “We have come a long way in how we use games. Every year somebody takes it a stop further.”

Researchers and developers today are faced with the challenge of creating game-based software that can be deployed around the globe as the demand for them increases, Smith said. Rather than waiting for official products to reach them, “Soldiers are putting these COTS games into their own hands and modifying them for their specific needs.”

One of the few broadly deliverable products in use today, “DARWARS Ambush” has been deployed to Soldiers in the States and abroad, and has become a valuable tool for both users and developers.

“We bring the system out to the field and create a gaming lab with a networking center,” Smith said. A tech provides a series of scenarios to the Soldiers and teaches them how the tools work and how to change those scenarios to the extent the system will allow.

“The Soldiers just dive in and start ‘playing’ the scenarios,” Smith said. “Then they start adapting those scenarios to make them more realistic. They are not only learning the given scenarios, but teaching themselves to replicate real-life experiences to re-live and recreate what they’ve seen on their own missions.”

The users are able to take another look at specific events from a stress-free environment and provide developers with valuable input about the effectiveness of the training.

Smith said that modern tools for training have spread beyond combat to medical and cultural scenarios. The military has also expanded its research to varied uses of artificial intelligence.

Through a sustained partnership among researchers, developers and users, Smith said the Army continues to look at the technology within games, rather than the games themselves, as a means of creating alternatives for many of the established tools for training.

“There is more of an acceptance of these technologies every year,” Smith said. “We are better able to answer the questions that have surrounded military simulations, and we are able to more accurately translate military models into accurate simulations.”

Carrie McLeroy