Monday, April 09, 2007

MONSTER WARGAME MONDAY: One paid for by the Air Force, another which can furnish a good teaser movie reel

Over the weekend your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow began a wrestling match with Point of Attack 2, a tactical-level universal weapons system simulator programmed by HPS Simulations. For once, I won.

Point of Attack 2's development was funded by the US Air Force and at some point HPS turned it around for a "game." One uses "game" in quotes because it's definitely an acquired taste as pure entertainment.

It is another monster wargame, massive and too complicated for anyone who wants to sit down at the desktop for an hour of diversion. As is standard with such things, the initial build was massively bugged. So the first task for any buyer, and -- one assumes -- also the military user, is to patch it with a number of downloads from the developer.

The game is also designed so that it can play itself.

A user can load a scenario, set both sides to artificial intelligence, and allow the game to conduct war. The computer cranks. Statistics and results are tabulated in a spread sheet. The scope of victory or the nature of defeat is determined.

DD's first game was one of the canned scenarios, an al Qaeda attack on a base security team.

The action takes place on Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque and Point of Attack 2 contains a satellite map of the area upon which to wage it. One notices right away (note screeshot) that it's suitable for modelling urban combat just about anywhere.

Stryker team about to smack an al Qaeda section hard. Note civilians, indistinguishable from enemy. If they don't shoot at you, don't engage them.

Point of Attack 2 makes the fog-of-war a central part of the simulation. In this case, terrorists are hard to spot unless directly shooting at Blue Force. The player gives orders, a frustrating exercise when compared with consumer games since, as in real life, such orders aren't followed precisely. They also may not be executed at once.

Because confusion and imperfect or delayed intelligence and command-and-control are integral to the simulation, it behooves the player to not micromanage everything -- the exact opposite of BestBuy-stocked wargames.

In this scenario it became apparent that the actual tactical situation wouldn't be knowable for awhile. And this, indeed, turned out to be the case. The units under command had to be allowed to fight and search according to their SOP's -- standard operating procedures -- which are a huge part of the game's programming.

Right now, DD can see you thinking: "That looks like it could be used to re-enact John McCain's trip into a Baghad market!"

Indeed, Point of Attack 2 can do that.

It also models the use of chemical weapons, tactical nukes (5 kilotons) and even a number of systems and weapons which haven't been deployed or made.

For example, the developer states: "The simulation focuses on action at a tactical level, and painstakingly models the capabilities and effects of conventional weapons, along with developing technologies such as lethal/non-lethal Energy Weapons and Point Missile Defense systems."

One such "lethal/non-lethal energy weapons" is included in the Kirtland AFB attack scenario.

In one of the game's final tally sheets, kills chalked up to various weapon systems are seen below. The energy weapon, truck-mounted, is arrowed in the screenshot.

The reader will notice Hummvees with machine gun mounts were way more efficient at killing terrorists/insurgents. The "energy weapon" -- called a MASER --was slow and had difficulty acquiring targets. It could have been left in the garage.

How did the battle turn out? From the kill spreadsheet, it's obvious Blue Force stamped out the terrorists/insurgents. Even armed with a car bomb and a few machine-gun armed Toyota trucks, they didn't do well.

In the days to come, DD will get to exchanges with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and chemical warfare, software bugs permitting.

Point of Attack 2 webpage.

Last week, Lock On, the monster modern air combat simulation from Russia, was mentioned in connection with development of an iteration of that wargame for the Air National Guard.

The originating company, Eagle Dynamics, has seen its revenue stream go from the entertainment business to government contract, so much so that it delayed roll-out of product for its gamer cult audience.

Part of this fanatic cult audience makes "movies" with Lock On, using the game's eye-catching graphics and internal capture software. Clips and scenes are then extensively edited using software like Vegas.

While there are limits to the photo-realism in Lock On, clever users have learned to make them almost unnoticeable by diddling color saturation and using the kinds of washed-out or gritty tones that are common in modern television shows and videos.

The most successful Lock On movie is called "No Fear." Made a couple years ago, it is always being freshly uploaded and usurped at YouTube by young people wishing to make others think they're really creative.

Nine minutes long, it's set to music -- Edgar Winter's "Dying to Live," paradoxically originally written as an anti-war song, and The Drowning Pool's "Man Without Fear," the theme for the movie, Daredevil.

It's here.

It's a noir recruiting commercial for jet fighters. The USAF could make great use of it if not for the fact that it stars Russian Flankers shooting down F-15s.


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