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VBS3 uses avatars with soldier PT scores and weapon quals

May. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Army's latest iteration of its first-person video game allows soldiers to input their PT scores. A fit soldier will perform better in the game than an overweight one.
The Army's latest iteration of its first-person video game allows soldiers to input their PT scores. A fit soldier will perform better in the game than an overweight one. ()
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Your next Army avatar will not only look like you, it’ll move and shoot like you as well.

The newest version of the Army’s popular first-person shooter video game, Virtual Battlespace, allows leaders and units to use “human dimension modeling” and input a soldier’s marksmanship and physical training scores into the game for more realistic training.

“The soldier’s actual capabilities and characteristics are modeled in the avatars,” said Marco Conners, chief of the Army Games for Training program within Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager-Virtual & Gaming. “Height, weight, marksmanship scores, PT scores. Now, your avatar’s going to get tired, he’s only going to shoot as well as you shoot, and the body shape will look like yours.”

For leaders using Virtual Battlespace 3, or VBS3, “your squad is going to react to the game like they would in real life,” Conners said.

“It enables the leader to look at their squad or platoon and see where he can improve their performance capabilities,” he said. “It helps leaders, I think, a lot.”

Soldiers often are motivated to try to improve their scores in real life, he said.

“When you do the [after-action review], because it’s recorded dynamically in the game, it’s readily apparent who’s not keeping up, it’s readily apparent who’s not shooting well,” Conners said.

During tests of the game last year, one of the soldiers said “I look fat,” according to an Army news release, citing Robert Munsey, an analyst with TCM-Virtual & Gaming.

“And the other soldier sitting right next to him said, ‘That’s because you are fat,’ ” Munsey said.

Because VBS3 was just released March 31, the Army is still developing a way to allow units to directly import soldiers’ data into the game. For now, individual commanders or soldiers have to input their personal data into the game, Conners said.

When it comes to marksmanship scores, the game incorporates a soldier’s small-arms qualifications, Conners said. Depending on the soldier’s occupational specialty, that could range from the M4 carbine or M16 rifle to the M9 pistol. The game also can take into account a soldier’s proficiency on a sniper rifle or the M249 squad automatic weapon, M240B machine gun or .50-caliber M2 machine gun.

It allows the Army to combine gaming with other forms of training, such as virtual and constructive simulators and even live training, Conners said.

With VBS3, soldiers will get larger, more dynamic training areas and better graphics, he said.

“The rendering of the avatars and the terrain is more likely what you’ll see in some of the more commercial gaming products,” he said.

The game also has built-in tools that enable a user to design a geographically specific training area or scenario, Conners said.

The game features 92 scenarios in all, but commanders also can ask their local Mission Training Center to create a specific training set, he said.

“You can say, ‘I want to use this piece of terrain in Uganda,’ give them the map of where it is, and as long as they can pull in the reference point, we can import them and then improve them,” he said.

More than 24,000 licenses for VBS3 have been downloaded since it was released this spring, he said.

Gaming will continue to play a role in how the Army trains, Conners said.

“In a progressive training environment, where you have to crawl, walk and run, this enables you to exercise the crawl and walk levels in a mission rehearsal capability so you can do those tasks prior to going out on a live training event,” he said. “Besides saving money, when you’re doing crawl and walk, a lot of those entry-level tasks, if you can work all those things out and get a base knowledge or understanding prior to going to the live training event, you enter the training at a higher proficiency level.”

VBS3: Leavenworth edition

As the Army rolls out VBS3, soldiers from the 705th Military Police Battalion have a special slice of the world within the game.

Thanks to a partnership, the Army’s gaming gurus built for the battalion a virtual version of the prison they run, the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Lt. Col. Rolanda Colbert, the battalion commander. “Last year, going into fiscal year 2014, there weren’t a lot of training dollars out there, so we had to be creative about how we conducted training.”

The 705th MP Battalion helped TCM-Virtual & Gaming validate VBS3, thanks to the relationship initiated by the battalion’s former executive officer, Maj. Brian Bettis, and its intelligence officer, Capt. Chris Anderson.

The unit wanted help recreating its detention facility so it could conduct its regular certification exercises without having to shut down part of the physical facility, Conners said.

Army Games for Training, which is also at Fort Leavenworth, initially offered the battalion a generic model of a prison so it could run a few test exercises, Conners said.

Feedback from the unit showed the training was beneficial, but leaders believed it could be improved if soldiers had a prison that actually looked like the facility at Leavenworth.

“In close coordination with them, we built a model of the [correctional facility],” Conners said. “We started in January and finished in mid-March. We’d never built a building of that complexity before.”

Having a virtual prison has made it easier for the soldiers to conduct their quarterly certification exercises, he added.

“That saves them the time of having to go in and shut the prison down four times a year,” he said. “They also train Army Reserve and National Guard battalions, so that’s 12 exercises a year without having to use the physical site itself.”

During a training exercise April 22, one of the platoons in the battalion responded to a hostage scenario in the facility within VBS3.

“There were 22 people from that platoon hooked up to the computer doing their thing,” Anderson said. “They were walking into the facility, they were entering the facility. Whatever they decided to do, the soldiers could carry it out in the game just as they could in real life.”

The training has been invaluable as the Army experiences budget cuts across the board, Anderson said.

Colbert said she plans to continue using VBS3 in her battalion’s training.

“Our ultimate goal, because every quarter we have a unit in a training cycle, we’d like to dedicate at least one day to conducting a virtual exercise using VBS3,” she said.

Colbert said she also envisions using VBS3 in a culminating training exercise for new officers and staff coming into the unit.

“There’s definitely the opportunity there to use virtual training more,” she said. “I think as the Army moves forward, as we get smaller, doing more with less, as dollars become not as plentiful as they have been in the past, having a virtual environment to practice and rehearse in is definitely value added to the mission.”

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