America's Army 3: Army Values & Plenty of Action

Article excerpt

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LAUNCHED in July 2002, the game "America's Army" has been a runaway success on the Internet. Primarily a downloadable, online, first-person shooter PC game--and more importantly, entirely free--"America's Army" has provided unique insight into the life of a Soldier through a virtual environment.

The game's next iteration, "America's Army 3," is supported by the Unreal Engine 3 and was released June 17. Col. Casey Wardynski, project director and director of the office of economic manpower analysis at West Point, came up with the idea for the original game in 1999.

Wardynski saw the game format as the medium to tell young Americans about the Army, said Marsha Berry, game producer.

"He came up with this idea because he knew that his primary audience, which are young males, were playing first-person shooter games," Berry said. "The Army makes the perfect firstperson shooter game."

The goal of the game is to use entertainment technology to educate potential recruits and the general public about the Army by integrating the "stuff' young adults like with the things developers want to include, like Army values and quality-of-life-related elements, Wardynski explained.

"In the Americds Army' game, players are bound by the Rules of Engagement and grow in experience as they navigate challenges in teamwork-based, multiplayer, force-versus-force operations. In the game, as in the Army, accomplishing missions requires a team effort and adherence to the seven Army Core Values," according to the game's official site (www.americasarmycom).

"This 'values' thing is critical, but you've got to bring it alive in ways that are going to get (players') attention," Wardynski emphasized.

The Americds Army team said that is exactly what they've done. With the first-person shooter format, the ability to constantly update the game with new content, and the easy use and accessibility (just a free download away!), "America's Army" hit the ground running. The newest iteration promises to be even better.

One of the biggest differences in the game this time around is the use of the Unreal Engine 3. It significantly improves the graphics and abilities of the game, said Wardynski.

It "allows you to do things that are getting very, very close to Pixar quality," he said.

Unreal 3 allows for higher fidelity artwork and graphics and faster processing time on a user's machine, Berry said.

Game developers worked hard to wring all the benefits they could from Unreal Engine 3, known for being difficult to master. Brandon Foster, technical artist and associate producer, explained that adding realism and intricate systems like star tracking made things a bit difficult, but they persevered.

"Our artists have really gotten very good at the tools and learned how to squeeze all the graphically cool stuff out of it (Unreal Engine 3) in order to achieve the level of fidelity we're looking for," Foster said, "So I think we've been pretty successful."

In addition to accurate and detailed visuals--all characters have all five fingers and weapons reload like the real things--the sound in the game has vastly improved.

"The sound in our game is probably going to be the most authentic shooting sounds you've ever heard in a first-person shooter," Berry said.

"We have the developers down in a berm, where you shoot targets, and they have their sound equipment down there. When the bullets fly by your head (in the game), that's an actual sound of a bullet flying by your head. And it really, really affects the tactical game play," she said.

"You can actually tell where you are on the battlefield because of the sounds around you now," Wardynski agreed.

The "America's Army" developers also incorporated feedback from users at large, making the game more intuitive by tweaking controls.

"We've taken a lot of the feedback that (the players) have been giving us and we've incorporated that into the new version of the game," Berry explained. …