05 February 2009

I have a great idea: it's called "Command and Conquer"

A thread on Small Wars Journal as well as a post on Ghosts of Alexander recently had me thinking back to my days in the captains' career course.  I believe that many here will sympathize with me as I tell this story.

We played out various tactical scenarios in the miltary simulation Janus.  (Or, as we always called it, J-anus)  It never ceased to amaze me that the state of the art simulation was essentially a 1970s-era program that looked as if it came straight off an Atari 2600 cartridge.  If you think I'm exaggerating, you can actually find a commercially licenced version of this game under the title "TacOps", (released in 1994, but upgraded to be infinitely more user-friendly).  Worse yet, I came to learn that the Janus system apparently costs some $2 million per year in maintenance and upgrades.  

For a generation raised on real-time strategy games like Command and Conquer, Janus is reviled.  It's slow, it's ugly, it's cumbersome, and the controls are not intuitive.  The most gorgeous enemy icons since the video game Pitfall move across the screen and are "zapped" by friendly icons.  Only I'm not certain how or why certain icons zap others.  I had a platoon of M2 Bradleys zap a MiG-27 attack jet.  Unless the soldiers inside are turning their M-16s skywards (and can hit an aircraft capable of Mach 2), I really wonder how they accomplished this. 

Seriously, how difficult would it be to edit Command and Conquer:  Generals for military use?  They already have military-style vehicles, the interface is easy and fun to use, and weapons have a certain effect on one another--rocket launchers penetrate armor, but they're not good against troops, whereas machine guns are great against soft targets but not at hard ones.  It would require some re-working, but it's doable.  C&C:  Generals also has a faction with suicide bombers, Stinger missiles and Tech-vees.  I mean, how relevant is that?

The threads in Ghosts of Alexander and SWJ talk about a COIN or nation-building themed simulation.  Instead of going through Janus, why not use Civilization IV?  Hey, the whole point of Civ IV is to basicially manipulate what we in the military call PMESII (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information) within your little city or society.  Fail to build an aqueduct or sewage treatment or hospitals and your civilization doesn't work.  Try to conquer a city that is culturally alien and not receptive to your presence?  You'd better start building social services and theaters, and stationing a lot of troops in a city certainly helps also.  Okay, maybe it might be a little unrealistic if the local Afghanis start building Chichen Itza or something, but hey, the Taliban blew up their Buddah statues, they need a little something.  

And the good thing is that these games are now available in the $9.99 bin at Best Buy.  Not endorsing a product here, just saying.

Focus:  If you had to develop a 21st Century war sim for the US military, what would it entail?

Bonus:  Someone on cracked.com already answered this (in satire).  

I want [my] Public Support Meter [at the top of the screen] to rise and fall according to Troops LostLength of ConflictInnocents Killed and Whether or Not There is Anything Else On TV That Week. I want to lose 200 public-support points because, in a war where 8,000 units have been lost, one of my Mutalisks happened to be caught on video accidentally eating one clergyman. Then, later, my destruction of an entire enemy city will go unnoticed because the Nude Zero-Gravity Futureball championship went into overtime. 


SJ said...

If there are already groups using FPS engines to develop simulators for infantry and riflemen, I don't see why they can't at very least take the engine for an existing game and then build their own simulation on top. Heck, Civilization IV already provides the toolkits and everything.

It almost makes me want to go back into CS graduate school, get myself an ARL grant, and write them a frickin' company-level simulator.

Unknown said...

A small quibble, TacOps/TacOpsCav was not a "licensed version" of JANUS. I coded TacOps to be the anti-JANUS. :)

Best regards, Major H.
TacOps Developer (now more into sailing)

Starbuck said...

Good Sir, I am honored.