SWAT game rewards non-violence
September 7, 1999
By Robin Lloyd
(CNN) -- As social commentators point fingers at video game violence, there is a computer game on the horizon where players tote MP5s, Benelli shotguns and sniper rifles but are rewarded for saving lives and de-escalating conflict.
Set in Los Angeles in 2005, those who play SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle must save hostages in settings which include an LAX control tower, a network television studio, a Hollywood nightclub, upscale hotels and a bank.
Ken Thatcher, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and an element leader for its SWAT unit, was the main consultant for the game's designers at Sierra Studios in Bellevue, Washington.
"This game will reward you for maybe not shooting someone where a lot of games reward you for going in and shooting people up and that's a 'good job,'" Thatcher said.
The first-person game makes you the element leader of a five-man SWAT team, with named characters. Players get more points for stunning adversaries than for killing them, while focusing primarily on saving hostages' lives and securing evidence.
The LAPD's SWAT team was the nation's first hostage-rescue team of its kind, forming in 1967 and popularized in a 1970s-era TV show.
"It's not Hondo and the guys speeding around in the white truck," Thatcher said of his police work. "Hollywood and TV shows portray SWAT teams as rumbling, stumbling gun nuts. In Los Angeles, we're just the opposite."
Instead, the focus is law enforcement and non-confrontational approaches, he said, something he tried to convey to SWAT 3's designers.
Gear, weapons, tactics
The game is not 100 percent realistic, Thatcher said, but it captures some of what makes SWAT work challenging.
Thatcher was the model for the motion capture component of the project and talked game developers through how a SWAT team would respond to barricades, hostage situations and VIP details.
In the game as in real life situations, team leaders must outfit their teams with gear and weapons, assign positions and make tactical decisions.
Decisions include when and where to use lethal force, choosing to move in either stealth or dynamic (aggressive and sometimes violent) modes, identifying targets and deciding whether or not to use mirrors, chemical agents and stun grenades.
Players use SWAT tactics like maximizing distance to potential threats, leaning and "slicing pies" around corners and doors, using angles and plans to maximize the field of fire and stacking and entering rooms using correct procedures.
Not a 'shoot 'em up' game
Rod Fung, the game's producer, said SWAT 3 is not a "shoot 'em up" game, but there is more shooting and hostage rescue than there would be in an actual SWAT scenario, which typically involves warrant arrests or barricade situations.
"They rarely ever take a shot," he says of the LAPD teams. "The LAPD consider that a successful mission and in our game that is a successful mission and you will be awarded medals on the same criteria as the LAPD, like the medal of valor."
The game is set for release in November and will have a suggested retail price of $49.99.
Thatcher said the game as is would be useless for training, an activity to which the LAPD SWAT dedicates 40 percent of its time. But the same technology could be used for computer-generated training aids in the future.
SWAT tactics have evolved with the times, and buzzwords like "problem-solving" now drive decisions. But in the field, the road gets narrower, he said.
"The problem is there's only a couple ways to solve problems," he said. "Either it's going to be dynamic or non-dynamic. That's it."
For Thatcher and his colleagues, the ideal strategy is non-confrontational. For gamers bored with that, there's always Kingpin.
SWAT 3: Close-quarters preview
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