By Heather R. Smith, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center Public AffairsApril 10, 2013
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (April 10, 2013) -- Deep in a maze of corridors at the Army Game Studio here, the worlds of graphic art, gaming and military collide.
This is where artists, Soldiers and gaming experts collaborate to use games and comic books to communicate to the public the reality of being a Soldier in the U.S. Army.
Developed out of the Software Engineering Directorate of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, the America's Army game, at www.americasarmy.com, is more than a decade old. Yet it stays new and relevant with frequent updates and new product lines.
In 2009, the Army released America's Army 3, known by players as AA3, and released also the first installment of the America's Army comic series. Last year, saw the addition of the America's Army comic book app, for iPad and Android tablets, for viewing interactive issues of the America's Army comics.
Marsha Berry, Army Game Studio public game director, said the purpose in everything they do -- games, comics, apps, and future products already in the works -- is to tell the public the true life of a Soldier by exploring Army values, careers and technology.
Senior game designer John Fairchild, added that the purpose of the game has always been aimed at outreach "to kind of get across to the community that there is more to being a Soldier than just guns."
To achieve that, designers like Fairchild build into the game challenges that encourage values like team work, honor, duty, loyalty, selflessness and respect.
"You don't get big points for killing. You don't get big points for shooting other players," said Fairchild, who has been a part of the game's development team for five years. "We focus on rewarding the player for sticking together as a team, for being mission focused, and taking objectives. We try to structure the mechanics such that one guy can never be the best. You always have your battle buddy. You always have your team, your unit, and you're always going to stick together to achieve victory."
In the ten years since the game debuted, the Army has added to the game more military occupation specialties, more weapons, and more maps.
In addition to featuring various military occupation specialties, or MOSs, the America's Army game and comic book highlight Army technology, both the tried-and-true and the latest and greatest. For example, when the Army first came out with the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, or IOTV, Berry said the vest was integrated into the game before it was even deployed to the field.
Fairchild said incorporating all of the cool Army technology is one of the things he likes best about the game and his job. One memorable inclusion is a fog grenade, added to AA3, which Fairchild said reminded him of the fog screens used in the Batman stories.
"It's an instant smoke cloud and then you disappear and the enemy can't see you anymore," Fairchild explained, excitedly. "If you are taking a lot of fire, you could quickly deploy this thing and be gone. There is just tons and tons of Army tech that what I would love for a user to be playing and say 'Wow, that's cool', and somebody say 'Yeah, but that's real.'"
"You might think this is a cool game, but Soldiers are out on the battlefield utilizing this tech right now. Our Soldiers are the best equipped and the best trained. You don't want to mess with them on the battlefield because they've got all the cool toys."
The America's Army comic book, added in 2009, was a natural direction, Berry said, both because of the popularity of comic books with young gamers and the Army's long history of using comic books for communication. Since 1951, the Army has published the preventative maintenance monthly comic "PS Magazine."
"Comic books and the Army have been around for a long time," explained Berry.
The America's Army comic sets the back story of U.S. involvement in Czervenia, the fictional country where the game takes place, and tells of the humanitarian aid that the Army is conducting, Berry said.
"As we move forward, we're starting to integrate more and more between the story line and products that we put out to the public to kind of tie everything together so you can get a better broader picture of the Army and Soldiers," he said.
Fairchild said he gets great job satisfaction out of producing such a fun product that serves also such a great purpose.
"I can't think of many jobs out there where you both get to have fun as well as produce something which, to sound campy, answers to a higher calling," Fairchild said. "Lots of other game developers out there are making games for the almighty dollar. They want to make it fun because that's what will sell titles and that's what will make money and profits and they get to make more games. We don't sell our game; it is completely free. And to have the opportunity and the responsibility to tell the Soldiers' story with it-- it's a big deal to me."
Whitney Stovall, Army Game Studio marketing director, said fans of the game and comic can expect in 2013, a new version of the game, more mobile comics and further development of the back story of the America's Army products.
The team is keeping details of the new game hush-hush, but Stovall said following along with the comics and the America's Army social media pages on Facebook and Twitter will give gamers clues about what to expect.