The U.S. Army is out in full force at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles this week.
In a tent outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Army is offering video game enthusiasts the chance to stand atop a Humvee and use a real (albeit modified) machine gun while playing a part of the America's Army - Special Forces game, projected on three walls at the expo.
Earlier this week, the Army released the latest version of the game, updated with a new mission for players, called the Q-course. America's Army - Special Forces, first released in 2002, has more than 5 million registered players. The game is used to "educate the American public about the U.S. Army and its career opportunities," according to the game manual.
"The technology is what we use for actual training," says Major Chris Chambers, who directed the E3 presentation for the Army. "We brought it to E3 because it's also really cool."
Across the street from the Army's Humvee tent outside the expo, the Army is putting on a real-life demonstration of the game. Every morning, a group of "Golden Knights" parachutists jump from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at 2500 feet into a parking lot across from the expo. And each afternoon, actual Special Forces soldiers use a converted auto dealership next door to run through a "grab mission" taken from one of the levels in the game with "real equipment, weapons, and uniforms," Chambers says.
The Humvee machine gun, which has been modified with a laser to let it become part of the America's Army game, runs all day nonstop. Each person is allowed to play for two to four minutes.
'Frag Dolls' Rule
The Army's booth inside the expo is a bit more mundane, but still tries to make an impression.
"The booth looks like a mud-brick fortress that you might find in central Asia," Chambers says. At the front, gamers can play the "America's Army" PC game at 10 kiosks, and another eight kiosks have a sneak peek of the upcoming "Rise of the Soldier" console game for the Playstation 2 and Xbox, Chambers says.
A group of "Frag Dolls," paid female professional gamers, take on all comers. Chambers says they're undefeated against all challengers--including Special Forces soldiers.
Another part of the booth is set up for a "virtual urban combat experience," he says. The virtual soldiers start out with real-world equipment, including Kevlar vests and helmets, and M4 assault rifles. After a combat briefing, "we let them kick the door in, and they're jumping through this room and the enemy is shooting at them," Chambers says. Of course, that shooting is coming from projected screens, again from a part of the America's Army game.
The Army is giving away the game at E3. It can also be downloaded at no cost from the Army's Web site.
This expensive show, run by a team of 30, is not a recruiting event, Chambers insists. It did spark the interest of one young man, a member of the staff running the convention center, he says. "He started getting pretty fired up about the possibility of joining the army," Chambers adds.
But Chambers says he is at the expo for the same reason as the other exhibitors: to showcase the game.
"We intend to be a major player in this industry for a long time," he says.