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Truman turns into virtual playground for navy crews.

The Navy is investigating whether a video game that replicates operations aboard an aircraft carrier can help train ship and aviation crews.

Modeled upon flight deck operations on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, "24Blue," was developed by the Hunt Valley, Md.-based gaming company, BreakAway, Ltd., in conjunction with the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training.

The objective of the game is to launch a sequence of fixed-wing aircraft--including the F-18 Hornet, the EA-6B Prowler and the S-3B Viking--off the carrier quickly, before it is attacked, says Mike McShaffry, head of the company's Austin, Texas, studio.

"If you don't run it in 40 minutes, the Sparrow missiles and the [close-in weapon system] cannons fire off on the carrier, and you have a failure case, because you didn't do your job fast enough," he says.

To give the game as much fidelity as possible, the Navy's Education and Training Command flew McShaffry and three of the game's development team out to the USS Truman for a first-hand look at how crews handle flight deck operations.

The experience was illuminating and educational, says McShaffry, and allowed the team to design realistic scenarios.

"For example, the Viking can't fold its wings down on the fourth catapult while the jet-blast deflector shield on the third is up, because they would actually collide," he says.

Maneuvering aircraft without running into anything else or off the deck and burning fellow crewmembers with jetwash were only some of the other hazards he and his team learned.

"All these dangers, these things can happen to crewmembers and air craft on the real flight deck. So we tried to model that as realistically as we possibly could," says McShaffry.

At the Serious Games Summit in Arlington, Va., McShaffry gave National Defense a demonstration of the PC-based simulation prototype. Using a standard game-controller, players can select various hand signals that allow the flight deck character to direct aircraft. The simulation looks and plays much like any commercial first-person action game. It is designed to prompt players on their next objective, such as whether to launch a particular aircraft or to move it to a different location on deck so that another one may pass.

"A lot of people that are signing up to join the Navy are kids who understand video game technology. And so they expect a very high degree of fidelity and interactivity," says McShaffry.

The simulations game engine, Gamebryo, is created by Emergent Game Technologies. It uses a physics system created by Ageia. BreakAway's technologies fill out the rest of the game's backbone, including the artificial intelligence system and the user interface.

The goal of "24Blue," says McShaffry, is to prove to the Navy that game technology can be used for training.

The Navy conducts basic aircraft handling and flight deck training in a traditional classroom with labs at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Pensacola, Fla., says Angela G. Heard, head of NETC's enterprise learning and performance strategies branch. There are no simulators associated with aircraft handling training at the center, she added, but advanced training is conducted using mockups or inactive aircraft.

"We are excited about using game simulations as training and assessment applications," says Heard. "24Blue" is "engaging, relying on discovery learning principles and provides assessment capability."

BreakAway is trying to develop its "serious" side of the business, to "make sure we are the evangelists for gaming and game-based technologies over to the military side ... because the military has been a trailblazer in simulations," says Deborah Tillet, vice president for the company.

"A lot of people in the Navy, in the military, already understand that the technology is fantastic to have. I think the hard part is finding the right people in the military, and, if you're in the military, finding the right game company," says McShaffry.

Working with customers outside of the entertainment industry is often difficult for game companies.

"It's kind of like throwing apples and oranges together and hoping they mate, and they probably won't," says Tillet. Working with the military poses its own kind of challenges.

"We're often dealing with subject matter experts, somebody who's the expert on bomb and blast application. And we have to convince them that we are experts in our own right," says Tillet.

In addition to adapting to culture differences, game companies must traverse a fine line when producing military simulations to achieve a balance between entertainment and education.

"If you make something too much fun, it doesn't actually achieve the training goal, and so it's a very tricky thing to do," says McShaffry.

Tillet says BreakAway met with NETC representatives in December 2004. Subsequently, "24Blue" was born. Following the team's July visit to the USS Truman, the production of the simulation began in earnest last September.

It didn't take very long for the team to complete the product, says McShaffry. In November, the company presented a prototype to NETC officials at a gaming and simulation conference in Orlando, Fla.

The response was really positive, says McShaffry. Experienced Navy aircraft controllers came up to the company's booth and tested out the simulation. Some weren't garners, he says, but they learned the interface in 60 seconds. Some even thought it was a done product and expressed interest in picking up a copy to brush up on their skills in preparation for deployment.

As the Navy continues to analyze the game, the BreakAway team is working on the details for moving on to the second phase of the project, says McShaffry.

"I think the Navy would really love for this to become officially America's Navy' so it's not just a training tool, but it's also a recruiting tool," he says.
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Title Annotation:WARGAMING
Author:Jean, Grace
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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