It’s In the Game…or not

Army Game Proves U.S. Can’t Lose

Future Force Company Commander (or F2C2) is the follow-on computer game simulation to the very successful America’s Army. It features the the Army’s upcoming Future Combat Systems (FCS) and demonstrates how the high-tech networked army of the future will kick some serious tail. Because it’s designed to:

“They didn’t ask for hole punchers,” says Mark Long, co-CEO of Zombie, where the game was built under contract. “High tech has all kinds of low-tech vulnerabilities and they didn’t want the vulnerabilities programmed in.”

And Susan Nash, an e-learning expert and associate dean at Excelsior College in Albany, New York says the game presents an “artificially rosy view of warfare”:

For example, there’s no consideration that military power or technology could fail or be jammed, she says. And the enemy doesn’t learn, in contrast to a certain real-life conflict where the hallmark of insurgents is their ability to rapidly gain knowledge and evolve.

“All their use of technology is so off-label, so future-forward,” Nash says. “And you’ve got to figure the enemy is playing the game too.”

Long wanted to see the enemy evolve, based on his own experience in the Army and defense contracting.

“The first time a UGV toddles in for reconnaissance, insurgents will stare at it until the air strike follows,” he says. “The second time, they’ll throw a blanket over it and run. The third time, they’ll immobilize it and plant an IED because they’ll have figured out someone has to recover that million-dollar piece of equipment.”

Now, as far as games go, this isn’t terribly newsworthy. Every combat game ever designed presents an “artificially rosy view of warfare”, so to pretend that this is suddenly not acceptable is, well, sort of dumb.

Another problem I have with the angle this article takes is that it presents the game as a misleading recruiting tool:

More than anything else, Nash is bothered by the fantasy the potential recruits may have that they’ll end up the commander riding a joystick rather than understanding what military life means.

“You don’t see the day-to-day boredom, you don’t see broken legs and equipment failure,” she says. “You don’t see that the military is mostly grunts and only the grunts on the ground die.”

I’m not really defending the use of this game as a recruiting device, but I’m also not ready to crucify recruiters because the game doesn’t glorify “day-to-day boredom”, “broken legs”, and “equipment failure”. That’s pretty close to repudiating Need For Speed 3 because it doesn’t focus enough on oil changes, insurance premiums, and hot seats after letting the car sit in a sunny parking lot.

Yes, the military hopes to woo potential recruits with this game. And yes, the game probably overrates FCS. But let’s not get too carried away bashing the military over it. (We should, instead, be bashing the real concerns that FCS projections seem to present an “artificially rosy view of warfare”.


  1. MO, Even back when I was active duty, computer simulations were very common as training tools. I was involved with countless of these, where networked computers tied into a complex video game created for the purpose. Very little flexibility, easy to crash when going off-script, and, by this enlisted man’s opinion, fantastically dull. But, definitely $$-savers. At least for staff pogues like myself, who could refine required skills without having to spool up a whole mech/armor task force and tool it around the countryside for a coupla weeks.

  2. Well, Armed Assault is going to be released in the US in the next couple of months. It’s the sequela to Operation: Flashpoint, which I spent far too much time playing recently. It’s quite realistic, quite fun and does not glorify war.. much. For one thing it’s very easy to die. There’s also typically a lot of carnage, a lot of blood, and a fair bit of boredom. You get shot or blown up and you usually die right away. Most of the game involves learning how to take cover, how to avoid detection, set up ambushes and spot the enemy before they spot you, so you can plan engagements. It also requires a fair bit of map reading and planning. I think Armed Assault is going to be awesome for anyone who really wants a realistic infantry simulator. I bet you can pick up a copy of Operation: Flashpoint cheap (get the Resistance version, it has the latest patches, all three campaigns, and newer weapons/vehicles). Ignore the slightly cheesy graphics and enjoy the squad-level tactics. Eventually you get to directly command up to 11 others, and indirectly command a couple of other squads sometimes. You also get to play US Army soldiers, special forces, Russian Army soldiers, Spetznas, and irregular militia. You can be a grunt, or a tank commander, or a helicopter pilot. Some missions involve sneaking into a well-defended installation at night to steal documents, others involve assaulting a town defended by tanks and mechanized infantry. It’s quite diverse.

  3. Oh, I should mention, if anybody does feel like buying this game, be aware that there are two versions of ‘Resistance’: one is an upgrade for the original game, the other contains the original game plus both new campaigns. Obviously you want the latter. I forget what the pack is called but make sure it isn’t just the upgrade :)

  4. I have to agree with Nicholas: OFP is an excellent ‘almost-sim’ of combined arms warfare. There’s a version called Virtual Battlefield Simulator (aka VBS1) which is used by various militaries for training… Fun stuff. It’s been out since 2001 and I still find myself toying with it on a daily basis.

  5. Nicholas, For a feel of what DOD computer simulations can be like, look at ‘Armored Task Force’ and ‘BCT Commander’ at the Shrapnel Games site. Quite complex and difficult to get good at. I’ve owned ‘ATF’ for probably 2 years, have played it off and on, and still suck. The AI can be very capable, but it’s not paying attention to detail that will usually cost you the game. One example: It was a small-scale Fulda Gap-type scenario. The ATF commander’s mission is to delay the commie hordes for such-such time. I felt confident, as the scenario was one I had gamed out a zillion times as a soldier and felt comfortable with. The terrain was a bitch, trying to get the long-range fields of fire that I wanted with my TOWs, but worked up a half decent plan centered around the defense of the only bridge in my AO. One little tactic I tried was to put Dragon teams on the reverse slope of a couple steep hills. They couldn’t see the bridge (I had eyes on from elsewhere), but they could see the road that came off it, which allowed rear shots at tanks as they passed, which in turn did alot of damage. So between the Dragon teams and the TOW/Bradleys I had forward I’m racking up the kills and thinking I’m a stud. Until I realized that for quite a few seconds in a row there was no firing or explosions, but the the relentless red stream of commie icons is still coming over the bridge. See, the whole thing is in real time (with varying rates of compression), so you tend to notice that sort of thing. And there was no firing or explosions because my Dragon guys were out of ammo. So I learned about supply in the game the hard way. Then a flight of SU-25s showed up, which smoked the back of both the hills my Dragons were on, and some of the Brads that I thought were well concealed, so I learned the hard way about better deploying ADA. Well, and so on and so forth. If you have the patience to learn the interface and the time to learn NATO planning and maneuver graphics, you’ll like it.

  6. GeekLethal : interesting.. that sounds a lot better than ‘America’s Army’ and ‘F2C2’. Anti-air is definitely something you have to worry about in the real world. Not so much in Operation Flashpoint, only because they typically don’t include too much enemy air power. That’s primarily because it’s a squad-level game and you rarely have any integral anti-air and also because it’s generally hard to target a unit as small as a squad, on foot, from the air. In real life it’s definitely a big concern though. So is running out of ammo. I usually end up stealing AK-47/74s and RPGs. They work better than an M-16 that’s out of bullets or a LAW that’s already been fired :) I like realistic games, because unrealistic ones tend to get un-fun for various reasons. One is that they typically throw stupidly large numbers of enemies at you, because you’re so hard to kill, and at some point it just gets frustrating trying to fend them all off. Also the AIs in unrealistic games tend to suck. The most frustrating thing about realistic games, like the one you described, is sometimes the AIs seem to do ‘impossible things’. In my case, the model which determines who can see who in OpFlash is a little simplified, and occasionally means you get shot through opaque obstacles like trees, when there really should be no way for them to be able to spot you. In your case, it may be that your Bradleys WERE well-concealed, but it didn’t simulate that well enough for the AI. However, I guess it’s fair that they might spot them on thermal imaging, or might have seen them firing and back-tracked the position from there. OpFlash certainly makes the AIs aware of your position much better if you’re shooting. (Same for the player, since you can sometimes spot muzzle flashes, especially in dark conditions.) That’s why it pays so much to make engagements very short and one-sided. If you can take out all enemies in your line of sight in say 15 seconds, they have no time to seek cover, spot you and return fire. It also helps to engage them before they get too close, since it takes them longer to bring accurate fire onto you, giving you longer to attrit their forces first. It’s also why it’s such a good idea to seek cover & concealment. Another fun thing about OpFlash is the scale of some of the missions. There’s a single mission scenario called ‘Battlefields’ which has about 6 squads on your side, plus some armor, and slightly more on the other side. It’s still pretty small scale but it’s impressive seeing so many people running around, and it’s quite different in terms of execution than the missions where you have to act alone.

  7. Nicholas, Myself, I’m a grognard at heart- RTS stuff is too easy to get hung up on some kind of bullshit glitch that costs the whole scenario to unfuck. For turn-based wargames, I begin and end with ‘The Operational Art of War’, now up to Volume 3, which includes previous editions, some fan based stuff, all appropriate patches, and runs on Win XP. I’m a bit of a stickler for NATO map symbology, so I get that, and I like operational-scale scenarios, which is the heart of the game. What you give up is the grunt’s eye view of the ground you’re maneuvering over.