Soldiers with the 705th Military Police Battalion at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., participate in a gaming training exercise that focuses on responding to military prison emergencies at the 35th Infantry Division's Mission Training Complex. (Mike Casey/Army)
The Army has updated its premier military gaming website, just in time for the launch of the latest version of its popular Virtual Battlespace game.
The MilGaming Web portal is a one-stop shop for soldiers to access the Army’s Games for Training program. It is managed by the Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager-Gaming, and it provides soldiers with software downloads, apps, news, training events, online instruction, technical support, expert forums and training scenarios.
It also offers links to products such as Bohemia Interactive’s Virtual Battlespace 2, known as VBS2, which is similar to first-person shooter video games. Virtual Battlespace 3 is scheduled to be unveiled in February.
Recent updates make the MilGaming site more user-friendly and easier to navigate, said Marco Conners, deputy of TCM-Gaming.
“The improvements are part of a regular update cycle that helps the Games for Training program stay relevant and add new technological features,” he said.
The MilGaming site gives all soldiers — or anyone with a Common Access Card — access to training programs, Conners said. They can download apps, software and training material onto their government computers, and leaders can look up training scenarios or input data to create their own scenarios to fit their mission.
The website also includes a link to the MilSuite MilGaming Professional Forum, which allows users to exchange ideas, get help or share best practices.
Since 2011, the site has more than doubled its registrants to 31,500 from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and other organizations.
The flagship of MilGaming is VBS2, a first-person simulator. The game is used by troops from all the services and some NATO allies as well, Conners said.
The game will soon be upgraded to VBS3, which features better graphics and a larger terrain box that’s big enough to simulate a brigade-sized training event, Conners said.
This allows the Army to combine gaming with other forms of training, such as virtual and constructive simulators and even live training, he said.
“When you’re playing your avatar in the game, I’ve seen soldiers get totally immersed,” Conners said.
“It forces you to think through the processes. If you throw a grenade in the game, who gets blasted? You get to learn formation movements and proof out your [standard operating procedures].”
The game also features mounted and dismounted missions, and the ability to add elements such as improvised explosive devices, close-air support, artillery and mortars.
Depending on the scenario, soldiers playing the game also can interact with indigenous people, Conners said.
“You can practice the man-kiss in VBS3,” he said, jokingly referring to the Middle Eastern practice where men kiss each other in greeting.
To further improve VBS3, the gaming experts are incorporating into the game what they call human dimension modeling.
This allows soldiers to create their own avatars based on their actual abilities.
The program will take data such as a soldier’s height, weight, physical training test scores and marksmanship scores to produce an avatar that has “real capabilities,” Conners said.
“If you have good endurance, you have good endurance in the game. If some soldiers shoot really, really well and some shoot poorly, that’ll be reflected in the game, too,” he said.
Pilot tests conducted at Fort Benning, Ga., showed soldiers preferred their real avatar compared with the typical “superhero” avatar, Conners said.
“When I deploy to Afghanistan, I don’t want to have a false sense of security,” Conners said. “And leaders like it because it allows them to see the strengths and weaknesses of their platoon or company, and they can train to that.”
Conners said he hopes to spread the word about the MilGaming portal and VBS3.
Many units across the Army have not downloaded the game because each soldier has to be on a government computer to play the game. But most installations across the Army have Mission Training Centers that provide computers for soldiers and units to use, Conners said.
For example, the center at Fort Hood, Texas, has about 200 machines, while the center at Fort Benning has about 150.
Gaming is a good way to train soldiers before they move on to live training, Conners said.
“If your training doesn’t have an element of capturing soldiers’ motivation, then your training is going to fall flat,” he said. “This captures soldiers’ motivation and excitement level to the point where they want to train with it. It’s better than doing PowerPoint.”