Thursday, July 4, 2002
Washington Attempting to woo computer-savvy young people, the Army will release today the first installment of an ambitious new computer game that will let players be all they can digitally be.
The game, which will be free on many gaming Web sites and www.americasarmy.com, lets a player assume the role of a new recruit on an Army team pitted in an online battle against terrorists.
While it is meant to be fun, the two-game set also was designed as a recruitment tool.
"With this game we hope to educate young Americans and present them with a realistic, engaging view of today's modern Army and its opportunities," said Lt. Col. Casey Wardynski, head of the Office of Economic & Manpower Analysis at West Point and the originator of the game.
The full project, called "America's Army," will be available this fall. Today's release is a scaled-down version of the "Operations" half of the game, a tactical combat game that will be familiar to fans of popular titles like "Quake" and "Half-Life."
Players will be able to undergo basic training and fight in 10 multiplayer missions, including one to defend an Alaskan pipeline. More missions will be released until the full release of the game. Officials said they wanted a slow rollout to make sure their server computers could handle the traffic.
Army game developers visited 19 installations to interview soldiers and take photographs of everything from tanks to the texture of bricks on building walls.
The other half of the game, called "Soldier," involves role playing similar to the popular game "The Sims." Players pick one of about 20 Army careers and learn new skills in order to try to earn the rank of sergeant.
Players will learn military tactics, Army values and more about careers opportunities such as military police, infantry and even avionics repair.
The developers struggled with several portions of the combat half of the game, particularly with how to depict game violence.
"We were very careful on the blood thing," Army spokesman Paul Boyce said. "The team even debated about whether or not to make a noise" when bullets strike an enemy.
They ultimately decided to keep it silent and show a red blotch, similar to a paintball hit. The game is rated for teens.
Operations punishes players by kicking them out of the game if they shoot a teammate or break the rules of engagement. If the player returns, they are confined to a tiny cell at Fort Leavenworth, complete with a harmonica playing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
Another hurdle for the game designers is how to organize the two teams, which can have up to 32 players per side. Since the game is a recruitment tool, the designers didn't want anyone to play as a terrorist. The enemy is always a team of terrorists, who are depicted as sinister figures in fatigues, according to Boyce.
A player on Team A will always fight as a U.S. Army soldier and fight players on Team B depicted as terrorists. But the opposing Team B "terrorists" will see themselves as Army and Team A as terrorists.
While it sounds confusing, Boyce said that it would be seamless to players.
"As far as you're concerned, when you see the enemy approaching you, they are the enemy," Boyce said. "It's all a matter of perspective.
"No one can opt to be the bad guy in 'America's Army.'"