Army game offers something X-tra

Military input adds realism to 'True Soldiers'

Team Play: A scene from 'America's Army: True Soldiers'

Illustration by Army

War is anything but a solo act, so the Army is reaching out to Microsoft Xbox 360 users with 'America's Army: True Soldiers,' a video game eminently suited to multiplayer use.

The service is teaming up with video game publisher Ubisoft and Red Storm Entertainment for the September launch of the game designed exclusively for the Xbox 360 system.

Through Xbox Live (www. xbox.com), an online Xbox community, users can find other players and form teams or units. The game rewards teamwork and mentoring with honor points.

Users can also play as single soldiers, taking on roles such as rifleman, grenadier or sniper. By role-playing as a soldier, gamers try to learn Army values such as teamwork, leadership, rules of engagement, and respect for life and property.

Launched July 4, 2002, the 'America's Army' game series gives players a virtual test-drive of what it's like to be a soldier, from basic training through desert battlefields. Releases designed for PCs are available at www. americasarmy.com.
Army officials worked hand-in-hand with Red Storm Entertainment to make sure the content was realistic, said Lt. Col. Randy Zeegers, who served as a subject matter expert for the game. 'We participate at all levels of the game, including development and testing.'

Hundreds of war games are available from a huge array of game designers, but there's only one U.S. Army. 'We have to be more authentic and realistic than any other game out there,' Zeegers said.

Randy Greenback, Red Storm's creative director for 'True Soldiers,' worked closely with Army staff to develop the game. He got feedback on the game from real soldiers ' such as Sgt. Tommy Rieman, who received numerous honors including the Silver Star for bravery during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Greenback also met with Army staff at West Point. 'All of these events have helped shape the game, and without them, we couldn't have gotten the same kind of insight on the modern Army experience,' Greenback said.

Red Storm developers rode in multiple-launch rocket system vehicles with the Army and watched Special Forces teams train for missions.

'When you see these video games, you'll see guys carrying 50-pound machines guns,' Zeegers said. 'But in the game, they're running around like the guns weigh five pounds. I'll say to the developers, 'OK, carry around this 50-pound machine gun like you're in the game.' They can't even lift it.'

The game piggybacks on the engine of another Red Storm game, 'Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2.' The Clancy game has a lot of team game-play and multiplayer functionality in addition to a vibrant visual display, Greenback said.

Written in C++ using Red Storm's proprietary toolset, 'True Soldiers' does not reference any specific locations where the Army is involved in actual conflicts. 'We don't want to trivialize the Army's real-world conflicts,' Greenback said.

With a 20G hard drive and a wireless controller, the Xbox 360 is especially suited to playing online with other people, Greenback said.

'True Soldiers' lets players create characters they can customize. They name their characters, assign them hometowns, customize their appearance and tweak their skills.

Training exercises make up a large portion of the game, which is deliberate, Zeegers said. 'You don't just jump in and fight a war.'

But the games are not intended as some sort of stealth recruitment tool, Army officials say. 'The point is, you can't sign up for the Army on any of our video games,' Zeegers said. 'You don't play a game, and a recruiter calls you. That's not it at all. What we try to show is some aspects of Army life, making it as realistic as possible.'

Rated 'T' for teen, the game will sell for $59.99, like most other Xbox 360 games, said Jaime Borasi, a spokeswoman for Ubisoft.

The T rating means that there is no excessive blood or gore, Greenback said. It also lets parents set controls on how children can play the game.

'We have provided options that can be set to disallow using live fire or real ammunition,' Greenback said. 'By turning that on, players will only be able to use nonlethal training munitions, just as they do in real Army training events,' he said. Greenback compares the training sessions to a game of paintball. 'No one dies during gameplay; instead, they are called out and must sit down.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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