Call it “Halo: Kandahar.”
The Army is looking for ideas from the private sector on how to build a “virtual world” for training soldiers. But the requirements the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command outlined in its June 2 request for information don’t sound that different from many popular Playstation or Xbox video games.
The Army wants the game to contain highly complex, interactive environments that precisely recreate real-world terrain “on a 1:1 scale,” changing weather conditions, basic physics and collision detection, and realistic vehicles and weapons. And the virtual world should be able to handle 10,000 players and in-game characters at a time in a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) environment. MMO games allow thousands of players from all over the world to play against each other over the Internet.
The game would allow players to talk to each other via voice or instant message, similar to the way the online Xbox Live network lets gamers plot out strategy or trash talk one another. Some of the planned first- and third-person gameplay features sound a lot like those found in war or action games like “Halo” and “Grand Theft Auto.” For example, when a player aims a scoped weapon such as a sniper rifle, the Army said the camera view should zoom in through the scope on the target. And when a player dies, he will “re-spawn,” or resurrect, so he can keep playing.
The game will even need to support 7.1 surround sound, which could allow players to hear “insurgents” sneaking up from behind them.
This isn’t the first time the Army has delved into the world of video games. Its free recruitment game, “America’s Army,” was a smash hit and has been played by more than 9 million people since 2002. But unlike “America’s Army,” which was available to anyone, this new program will not be open to the public and will feature a classified version that will be on a private network shielded from the Internet. Even the unclassified version should only be played over a secure, encrypted Internet connection, the Army said.
Peter Singer, director of the Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Defense Initiative, said such a game could be a great way to teach tactics and how units can interact. Games are better teaching tools than dry lectures, Singer said, but he cautioned that they shouldn’t replace real-world, “muddy boots” training.
“One thing video games don’t do well is simulate the fog of war, those unexpected things that pop up,” Singer said. “I think it’s exciting, but [the Army]will need to find that balance” between real and virtual training.
Companies must submit their ideas by June 23.