Army video game creates virtual training environments for soldiers

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Becoming a software developer for the "America’s Army" video game at the U.S. Army Game Studio was an unlikely career choice for Matt Roberts, who was not a "big gamer" growing up.

But after serving as a soldier in the Army, Roberts was drawn to this career as a way to empower others.

"I was looking around for what I could do and found that I wanted to keep helping soldiers to do their jobs. Simulations training in virtual environments was a great opportunity to do that," Roberts said.

Roberts served in the Army as a combat medic and after a tour in Iraq, he attended a graduate program at Southern Methodist University which led him to his current position as a software developer at the Army Game Studio.

The Army Game Studio develops games, comics and apps to showcase the true life of a soldier by exploring Army values, careers and technology.

Artists, soldiers and gaming experts collaborate in the studio to bring the reality of being a soldier to life.

The studio is best known for developing "America’s Army," the free online official U.S. Army video game that launched more than a decade ago.

Since then, the Army Game Studio has continually developed the game, innovating to the extent of applying the gaming technology to training simulations for real Army soldiers.

At the studio, Roberts’ primary responsibilities include designing new systems, game levels and environments, while functioning as the glue between programmers and artists.

His design work ranges from developing 3-D characters with motion capture suits to creating accurate digital portrayals of how a weapon should behave while firing. Roberts’ combat experience aids him in providing the authentic experience on a broad range of design elements.

"What I’d want civilians considering the Army to realize from my work is, it’s always about the team, it’s never about you. It’s about the deed, not the glory," Roberts said.

A challenge Roberts faces is to create a game with entertainment value, while maintaining a realistic, authentic experience.

With his subject matter expertise and field experience, Roberts relies on collaboration with the team to create a finished product that strikes the perfect balance between entertainment and realism.

"The Army Game Studio did a really good job of implementing what we use in the real world into their simulation. The simulated battle space is similar to what they’d see in the real world," said Joel Gwinn, systems engineer, joint product manager reconnaissance and platform integration.

Adding, "It allows them to go downrange and do everything that you would do in an actual vehicle. It pretty much builds up the same level of stress and the same need to make decisions quickly, and you have to be concise with everything you’re doing."

Part of that realism also includes incorporating Army values such as loyalty, duty and respect to remind players about the real benefits of being a soldier.

The Army Game Studio embodies those core Army values, and their work is centered on collaboration and teamwork.

"Inside the game, a lot of Army values are portrayed, like selfless service, courage, and teamwork," said Lt. Col. Joseph Crocitto, Army Game Studio subject matter expert developer.

He added, "Within the game, if you don’t stick together, you’re going to have a hard time winning against the other team. That whole teamwork concept builds on all the Army values that make us successful in combat and successful as an organization."

The team at the Army Game Studio continues to develop new and innovative applications, repurposing the gaming technology to create interactive training environments for soldiers and engaging outreach products.

Developing this new technology for training vehicles and simulations allows Army program managers to economically train their systems without putting soldiers at risk going into combat.

"If program managers can test the validity of their tactics, techniques and procedures in simulation, then it’s much easier to take the investment and go out on the real range and validate it with real weapons, real equipment, real systems and real impacts," Crocitto said.

Roberts takes pride in his work and doesn’t take his job lightly.

"I feel an immense sense of responsibility working here because on the game side I’m talking to kids about the Army. I’m representing the Army I was a part of and so I’ve got to get it right on that side," Roberts said.

He noted, "On the simulation side in particular, I’m helping train soldiers to do their jobs better, use a piece of equipment more effectively."