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Hollywood, DOD join forces to create realistic simulations for military officers

August 31, 1999
Web posted at: 12:45 p.m. EDT (1645 GMT)

by Bob Brewin

Federal Computer Week

(IDG) -- An Air Force jet jockey and a man who once helped design attractions at Disneyland have joined forces to help train military officers to react better during crises that pop up in the world's hot spots.
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Col. Kenneth "Crash" Konwin, head of the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office (DMSO), and Larry Tuch, a writer and designer with Paramount Digital Entertainment, detailed last week how their organizations have adapted Hollywood multimedia technology and blockbuster movie storytelling skills to create realistic simulations that teach military officers how to make better decisions during international crises.

The partnership is not related to the recently announced $45 million contract the Army signed with the University of Southern California to establish the Institute of Creative Technologies, which will research applications to improve realism in training simulators.

Under that contract, the Army is expecting movie producers along with computer game makers to develop new and better technologies.

The arrangement was developed after the National Research Council recommended that the Pentagon and Hollywood attempt to leverage each other's modeling and simulation capabilities.

The Paramount and DMSO collaboration also was spawned by the NRC report, and the two began working together two years ago. The first product of the partnership was realized in June with an exercise called Final Flurry, held at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

It involved a class of midlevel officers who were given a variety of multimedia scenarios driven by the new Story Drive Engine developed by Paramount and USC's Information Sciences Institute and supported by funding from DMSO.

"In the Story Drive experience, the students are like a movie audience with the teacher as a director," Tuch said.

In Final Flurry, students were plunged into a Middle East crisis involving a confrontation between Iran and the United States as well as a new hard-line Pakistani government moving close to a nuclear confrontation with India.

DMSO and Paramount emphasized that the scenario was just a fictional story designed to help teach strategic thinking.

The teacher orchestrated various scenarios based on students' reactions and decisions by sending a mix of video clips, video and voice e-mails as well as text-based intelligence summaries over a simulated National Security Advisor intranet. "This was more than a movie," Tuch said. "It's a simulation.... That means the students also have the power to react and affect the direction of the story."

The teacher fed students many of the multimedia inputs senior officers receive in the midst of a crisis, including news clips fed from a fictional ZNN-TV, designed to replicate CNN. The clips -- which dealt with an increasingly complex confrontation between the United States and Iran that included attacks on ships in the Straits of Hormuz and a biological warfare attack on U.S. soil -- were important to the exercise "because you can't go into any agency and not find the TV on," Whittaker said.

The students then took a team approach to recommending a course of action to the president. A fictional president, after following the course of action recommended by the students, appeared on an end-of-day news clip. This "amazed" the students, Whittaker said.

Real Fiction

The realism reflected the months Paramount staff spent writing scripts and background material and assembling footage to support various simulation threads, according to Nick Iuppa, vice president and creative director for Paramount Digital Entertainment.

Konwin said DMSO wants to develop projects that can be transitioned for use throughout the Defense Department, and based on initial reactions by the students, the Story Drive Engine could be a useful training tool.

Larry Whittaker, an Industrial College political science professor who worked on the project, said the Story Drive Engine enhanced the exercise by "making things real, challenging and dynamic.... The students did not want to leave the room."

Paramount brought both its technology and storytelling experience to the Final Flurry exercise, Tuch said. Though DMSO and Paramount relied on plain multimedia software and hardware technology to support the Final Flurry exercise -- with Macromedia Inc.'s Director serving as the main software platform -- they want to push the technology more with future Story Drive Engine simulations, according to Judith Dahmann, chief scientist at DMSO. To speed up the process, Dahmann said DMSO may tap into software technologies that will enable them to use automated characters such as lifelike "virtual friends," which crudely respond to human communication such as e-mail.

Konwin said DMSO wants to support the administrative and warfighting sides of the department, which fits in well with an area that Dahmann believes is ripe for the kind of realistic scenarios produced by the Story Drive Engine: the acquisition community. "This can bring a lot of drama" to acquisition scenarios, Dahmann said.

Tuch said that multimedia exercises foster team building by actively engaging players in a scenario "that definitely is going on outside the room."

He called team building "one of the broader implications" of the enhanced-simulation environment.

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