The U.S. Army is in the market for a next-generation first-person-shooter (FPS) training game that will incorporate the latest video game technology. The game will replace Virtual Battlespace 2, the Army’s official tactical training game since 2008.
With a July 12 close date for questions and comments, officials are likely now digesting responses to a June draft Request for Proposal. Published by the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, it essentially calls for an updated version of VBS2 rather than a revolutionary change in gaming. VBS2, from Bohemia Interactive Simulations, has become the mothership of tactical simulations for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, as well as other nations such as Britain and Australia.
There are a plethora of add-ons and modifications, from IED training to foreign language instruction, plus versions for Special Operations Command and spinoffs such as VBS2 Fires for indirect fire training. The Army wants the next-generation sim to continue to work with these add-ons, thus eliminating the need to reinvent the virtual wheel. It also wants the sim to operate on PC, Web-based and mobile platforms, and integrate into a live-virtual-constructive environment. The plan is to have industry offer solutions to these requirements, including how to adapt the latest gaming technology.
“We are letting the multibillion dollar gaming industry develop the revolutionary capabilities; then we will select the technologies that satisfy our requirements,” said Rob Bowen, chief of the Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager for Gaming (TCM-Gaming).
PEO STRI declined to comment on the draft proposal.
In addition to the RFP, a 243-page technical requirements document and a 13-page checklist spell out what the Army is looking for. The game should be able to run on two different hardware configurations: an Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 4 gigabytes of RAM, the Windows 7 operating system and 512-megabyte Nvidia Quatro video card, as well as a faster Intel i7 processor with an AMD FirePro 1-gigabye video card. It must include specific terrain databases, including terrain for the Middle East, tropical areas, Eastern Europe, high-desert and mountains, and U.S. urban environments. It must also allow players to call for indirect fire and air strikes using communications systems such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Game publishers are reluctant to comment at this stage, but they do say that the state of the art has advanced considerably.
“Most FPS games support multi-core processing and photo-realistic 3D rendering,” said Bohemia Interactive CEO Peter Morrison. “Many engines now support publishing to multiple platforms, such as PC, mobile and Web browser, which generally wasn’t possible five years ago. There has also been a wide-spread maturity and acceptance of middleware, which is encouraging from a re-use perspective. In short, the game engines of today are more versatile than those previously available.”
The FPS contract is estimated to be $44.5 million over five years, with the bulk of that funding for technical support and annual licensing for an Army-wide enterprise license.
Morrison did not say that Bohemia will go for the contract when it is finally released, though that seems likely, as is a response from America’s Army, the U.S. Army’s recruiting game, which is also used for many training applications. VBS2 edged out “America’s Army 3” during the first — and somewhat controversial — selection process.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of PEO STRI’s draft RFP is mention of a potential family of games that go well beyond tactical training. These include a Construction and Management Simulation to “to support full spectrum operations that includes lethal and non-lethal tasks and missions. The gaming solution must portray the political, military, economic, social, informational, and infrastructural (PMESII) conditions and associated second- and higher-order effects of decision-making relative to those conditions.” Other possible acquisitions include a massive multiplayer online game, a real-time strategy game (“Starcraft” is an example of the genre), and a turn-based strategy game (such as the “Civilization” series).