PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 19/04/2020

WATU goes digital

Occasional PAXsims contributor Sally Davis has been working on a little something (again) during lockdown. Read about what she’s done, and then try the demo at the link at the end of her blog post!


 

WATU1

Hey look where we are! It’s the Western Approaches Tactical Unit and it’s digital and it’s an interactive story all about their marvellous work!

First challenge

Figure out the school layout from stills. Turns out, there are two distinct buildings. This ties up with the contradictory talk of WATU being based in a temporary building on Exchange Square due to bomb damage, and WATU being based in Derby House which is definitely not a temporary building (but it took bomb damage to the roof in early 42). Here’s the first pass at the geography:

WATU2.png

And some comparisons to the real thing:

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The Tactical School Duty Officer’s desk (centre) I think is actually out the WATU door (bottom right in the plan view). I think it may have a second door off-camera in front of Roberts (seated) that is the door in in the bottom left shot, between the missing wall section and the right-hand curtain/screens (there’s actually a door there, opened and forming part of the screen under the curtain. But it’s wildly difficult to tell from the available photos, so I cheated and put it behind the white wall in that photo instead.

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It was looking pretty good till I added people…and then the accidentally vast length of the hall became apparent…and it wasn’t till I had my player walking around that I realised the screen peep holes are about 7ft off the ground. WATU: standing on the shoulders of giants ? (I’ll get my coat).

I’ve got a lovely pack of low-poly WW2 artwork. It’s D-Day-focused, so mostly US Army and French civvies, but it’s perfect for prototyping. I love all the period posters in it. I will be adding my own, and tidying up the gash posterisation of the WATU logo. My next challenge is to get to grips with Blender and start hacking the characters to make WRNS and RN uniforms. Not quite as simple as just re-colouring the texture’s PNG since the ladies are wearing the wrong kind of hat. I’ve posed them by pulling around their mecanim rigs, which works pretty well.

Challenge Two

How do we move? I’ve gone for an old-school point-and-click mouse adventure feel. So I set up a nav mesh and let unity worry about route planning. I hooked up the player character animation so she walks while she moves. I’ll hook up some interaction animations later on, so she talks when you’re interacting with people etc.

WATU5Blue areas are walkable. You can see a couple of snafus I need to sort out still, like you can walk through Higham. And I need to make a “look at this thing” call for when you click on something interactable. I’m still figuring out how the camera/click-to-move will work. At the moment you can’t turn her round, you have to click near her feet to make her turn to get a view of the direction you want to move her in. But I don’t really want to go first-person-shooter AWSD to move. Once I’ve got cinemachine hooked up I’ll be able to fix some of that and make it less top-down shooter and more discrete ‘scenes’ in the room where the camera pans around as you move more than follows you. That and the cut-to-dialogue shots will help balance out “I need to see where she can go” vs “but now I can’t really see what’s right in front of her.” There are a couple of places you can stand and the camera is on the wrong side of the wall, too

Challenge the Third

Let’s make this interactive. I’m using Ink for this, the interactive story engine behind 80 Days (this is a marvellous game, play it if you haven’t already!), and the Unity Ink Integration package. Ink is a really interesting scripting language meant for writers rather than coders. It’s really simple to get to grips with, and entirely focused on making Choose Your Own Adventure narratives. What’s really exciting is how well they’ve implemented the unity package, so you can write a story in Inky (a nice little app that compiles-as-you-write so you can test out the story)…and then hook it up to anything in your unity scene: the story can control game objects…or you can use game objects to control the story. The vanilla setup is to have the ink story written to a UI canvas, offer you buttons for your choices, and use your button click to tell ink the choice you made (exactly like the vanilla compile-to-html Inky output). But you can do much more awesome things with it. I’m drawing inspiration from three places:

  • The Intercept: a really pleasing but simple re-skin to suit a story set at Bletchley Park. When I say inspired by, I mean to steal the typewriter skinning (it’s under MIT licence, they encourage such things) for some of my game.
  • JRPG example: here’s a nice presentation showing off a bunch of off-label uses for ink in unity. The JRPG bit blew my mind (link to the project files at the start). I started with this and I’m slowly replacing the artwork/functionality with my 3D version. I’m going to take it further and tie animation to the choices you make, too, so if something in the room gets mentioned, say, the character doing the mentioning can look towards it (and by doing it in scripting, it’ll work for dynamic locations…so a view-giving from a Wren will point to where things really are on the plot).
  • Cinemachine‘s state-driven camera system and magical shot-blending-wizardry (I firmly believe inside this package is an homunclus cameraman) means I can use the ink story state to drive cinematic dialogue without having to create cut-scenes. My player can wander up to a character, JRPG-stylee with a follow-camera, and switch to a close-up shot/reverse-shot while they talk. My player can choose to take a view-giving during the tactical game and we’ll switch to a peephole view of the plot.

Here’s my JRPG logic so far: it’s placeholder stuff at the moment, just proving the point that I can make you steer the story by who you physically talk to rather than text-based choices.

WATU6.png

At the moment the “game” is that you need to speak to Roberts. If you haven’t spoken to Roberts yet, everyone else you interact with will say go see him. The first time you speak to Roberts he gives you the dit and sends you off to learn about the problem. Now the other characters will speak to you. Eventually you’ll be able to interrogate Higham about his experience on convoy HG76 to win knowledge about what the U-Boats are up to. The second time you speak to Roberts he challenges you to test your theories against the tactical game.

All the -> ENDs are telling ink to yield control to unity again, and unity uses the = interact knots in the story to pick up where things left off. Here’s Higham in unity:

WATU7.png

Higham (temporarily a pilot…he was XO of an aircraft carrier, does that count ?) and Tooley- Hawkins are waiting for you to enter the green box Trigger Volume. It’s a trigger collider, and there’s a player controller script listening for OnTriggerEnter and OnTriggerExit events. Update is listening for you to hit space to interact, and will ask ink to resume the story at the knot associated with the trigger volume you’re in. In this example we’ve got a character you can talk to. But you can also interact with the gramophone (it doesn’t cue up story, but you can put on some period music) and the filing cabinet (this is where I’m going to use The Intercept’s typewriter skinning and let you look through the red books).

In this bare-bones version the text doesn’t give you choices yet (because I haven’t implemented buttons in the dialogue box). Once that’s done you’ll be able to have conversations with people and pick what to say. I’m also going to make this context-aware text. Ink allows me to declare variables to keep track of stuff in-game, and then change the options you get and colour the text based on the value. It’s another way ink goes off-label from the book-based CYOA branching narrative; it allows you to keep the narrative fairly linear (the same stuff happens) but change who does it or how they feel about things. This is a great blog explaining the concept. It feels like the right answer for an Explainer game about WATU where you don’t want the story to go off the rails (they have to follow the history) but you want it to still feel like they have agency. Here’s the next- step in my prototyping, where Roberts gets increasingly irritated with you for talking to him but not accepting his challenge. Ink’s a bit messy down in the weeds, so I’m using yED to keep track of my game logic as I go.

WATU8.png

Eventually I’ll have something as complex as this crime scene example. My plan is to implement a dictionary of knowledge very much like this, to track what you’ve learnt about convoy HG76. If you have noticed certain things from talking to Higham and other characters, or reading the Confidential Books, you’ll get the option to try that out in the tactical game. If you don’t know these facts you won’t see those branches of the story, and Roberts will get annoyed at you. I want to balance the game nicely so you can’t win by blind-guessing (or knowing the answers already!), and you don’t have to sit through endless chatter to learn the one thing you’re missing, and you come away having uncovered the facts without it seeming to railroad you into a linear narrative.

That sounds super-complicated and weeks-of-coding to pull off, right? But no! With ink all I have to do is come up with the text of that branching narrative. I’ve got my knowledge dictionary planned out (I’ve been red-penning the HG76 narrative, thank you Ed Butcher and the Maritime Warfare Centre for scanning the not-Confidential-any-more Books for me), and I’m deciding who/what to give the nuggets to, and what flags I need to keep track off…one of the things I want to capture about the story is how the Wrens made it work. Roberts was kind of a dick towards some people, so I intend to use that impatience tracker as a marker for how much of a yes-man you currently are. If Higham can see Roberts has been sharp with you, he’ll open up a bit more about HG76 (he was sunk out of Audacity on this convoy, it’s how he ended up at WATU, and probably why he didn’t make a good impression with Roberts).

Try out the barest-bones concept demo!

You can play the super-simple demo here (or click the WATU crest below), at simmer.io …health warning: it takes a while to load, and I’ve found (at least on my Mac) you need to toggle full-screen mode to get it to work (you can toggle out again; for some reason it starts paused and won’t un-pause except by full-screen-ing). The game isn’t really meant for WebGL but it’s a convenient and platform-agnostic way to share a sneek peek.

WATU colour

Click the WATU crest to give it a try.

Instructions

  • When there’s dialogue on-screen, left-click to continue the story.
  • Left-click anywhere on the floor to move (if you click on a wall it will interpret that as the floor on the other side of the way if there is any).
  • When you’re standing near a person or the gramophone, press space to interact.
  • Heads up, the gramophone plays music, so put your headphones in if you need to. (Actually, do it anyway, because the sound is spatially-aware and it’s a cool effect!)

 

Sally Davis 

GUWS: How to start a career in wargaming

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On April 22, the Georgetown University Wargames Society will be hosting yet another of their excellent free, online panel discussions—this time on “How to start a career in wargaming.” Details and registration via Eventbrite.

Panelists

Becca Wasser: Becca Wasser is a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where her primary research areas include wargaming, international security, and U.S. defense and foreign policy in the Middle East. She specializes in designing and running structured strategy games for the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense. Becca is also an adjunct instructor in the BSFS program, where she teaches a course on analytical gaming. She is a graduate of the MSFS program at Georgetown University.

Jeremy Sepinsky: Jeremy Sepinsky is the Lead Wargame Designer at CNA, the Navy and Marine Corps’ FFRDC. He started at CNA in 2013 and has been the primary facilitator and designer of CNA’s Wargames since 2017, running about a dozen wargames each year. He holds a PhD in Physics and Astronomy from Northwestern University, taught University level physics for 5 years, and spent 18 months in Yuma, AZ working with the Marine Corps on Operational Test and Evaluation.

Taylor Teaford: Taylor Teaford is a wargame designer and program manager at Systems Planning and Analysis (SPA). He develops future technology focused wargames in support of the Strategic Intelligence and Analysis Cell (SIAC) within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD R&E). He previously designed wargames at the Marine Corps Wargaming Division and is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program (SSP).

Phillip Pournelle: Commander Phillip Pournelle retired from the US Navy after 26 year of service as a Surface Warfare Officer. He served on Cruisers, Destroyers, Amphibious ships and an experimental High Speed Vessel. He served on the Navy Staff doing Campaign Analysis, at the Office of Secretary of Defense Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, and at the Office of Net Assessment. He is a senior operations research analyst, net assessor, and wargame designer.

Update:

If you missed the panel discussion, here it is on YouTube.

Post-pandemic scenarios

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What might the world look like once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control? A number of public agencies, research groups, and private companies have started to offer possible scenarios. All of these can be use in post-pandemic policy gaming, so I have started a list below. I will add to it as I come across new material (and please feel free to pass on suggestions). The abstract or summary is presented below for longer and more substantial analyses.

Be sure to also check out our other PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources.


 

Sharon Begley, “Three potential futures for Covid-19: recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave, or a persistent crisis,” STAT, 1 May 2020.

Centre for Economic Policy Research, Economics in the Time of COVID-19 resource page (2020)

Tyler Cohen, “A Vision of Post-Pandemic New York,” Bloomberg, 31 March 2020.

Deloitte, The world remade by COVID-19: Planning scenarios for resilient leaders (6 April 2020).

The World Remade by COVID-19 offers a view of how businesses and society may develop over the next three to five years as the world navigates the potential long-term implications of the global pandemic.

Our view is based on scenarios—stories about the future designed to spark insight and spot opportunity—created by some of the world’s best-known scenario thinkers. The collaborative dialogue hosted by Deloitte and Salesforce continues the companies’ tradition of providing foresight and insight that inform resilient leaders:

  • Explore how trends we see during the pandemic could shape what the world may look like in the long-term
  • Have productive conversations around the lasting implications and impacts of the crisis
  • Identify decisions and actions that will improve resilience to the rapidly changing landscape
  • Move beyond “recovering” from the crisis, and towards “thriving” in the long run

We are in uncharted waters, yet leaders must take decisive action to ensure their organizations are resilient. We’ve outlined four COVID-19 scenarios for society and business that illustrate different ways we could emerge from the crisis—and what’s required to thrive in a world remade.

Uri Friedman, “I Have Seen the Future—And It’s Not the Life We Knew,” The Atlantic, 1 May 2020.

As the United States engages in its own agonizing debate about how far to go in easing lockdown measures, I’ve spoken with people in China, South Korea, Austria, and Denmark to get a sense of what they’re witnessing as their countries’ respective coronavirus curves flatten, their social-distancing restrictions abate, and they venture out into life again. And although that life doesn’t look like the present nightmare those still locked in coronavirus limbo are experiencing, it doesn’t look like the pre-COVID-19 past either.

Here are some of the common themes

Peter Gluckman and Anne Bardsley , The Future is Now: Implications of COVID-19 for New Zealand (Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland, April 2020).

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought such issues even more rapidly to the fore. The intent of this paper is to help catalyse important conversations that are needed in the wake of New Zealand’s response to the crisis. It is clear that we will not go back to a pre-COVID-19 normality, but instead will inhabit a new normal. Issues that might have taken years to consider, may now have to be considered over a much shorter time frame. New Zealand must take the opportunity from this pervasive and hugely disruptive crisis to shape its future in an informed and inclusive way.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Recovery of the Austrian economy following the COVID-19 crisis can take up to three years, Policy Brief #26 (April 2020).

Collaboration between researchers from IIASA, WU, WIFO, and the IHS provides scenarios of the medium-run economic effects of the lockdown in Austria using the IIASA macroeconomic simulation model. The analysis suggests that the return to the business-as-usual trend may take up to three years after a steep initial economic downturn due to the lockdown, and a gradual recovery thereafter.

International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook (April 2020).

The COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting high and rising human costs worldwide, and the necessary protection measures are severely impacting economic activity. As a result of the pandemic, the global economy is projected to contract sharply by –3 percent in 2020, much worse than during the 2008–09 financial crisis. In a baseline scenario–which assumes that the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and containment efforts can be gradually unwound—the global economy is projected to grow by 5.8 percent in 2021 as economic activity normalizes, helped by policy support. The risks for even more severe outcomes, however, are substantial. Effective policies are essential to forestall the possibility of worse outcomes, and the necessary measures to reduce contagion and protect lives are an important investment in long-term human and economic health. Because the economic fallout is acute in specific sectors, policymakers will need to implement substantial targeted fiscal, monetary, and financial market measures to support affected households and businesses domestically. And internationally, strong multilateral cooperation is essential to overcome the effects of the pandemic, including to help financially constrained countries facing twin health and funding shocks, and for channeling aid to countries with weak health care systems.

Warwick J. McKibbin and Roshen Fernando, The global macroeconomic impacts of COVID-19: Seven scenarios (Brookings Institution, 2 March 2020)

Tim Price, “Flattening the curve matrix game report,” PAXsims, 3 April 2020.

Stephen Kessler et al, “Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period,” Science, 14 April 2020.

It is urgent to understand the future of severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission. We used estimates of seasonality, immunity, and cross-immunity for betacoronaviruses OC43 and HKU1 from time series data from the USA to inform a model of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. We projected that recurrent wintertime outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 will probably occur after the initial, most severe pandemic wave. Absent other interventions, a key metric for the success of social distancing is whether critical care capacities are exceeded. To avoid this, prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022. Additional interventions, including expanded critical care capacity and an effective therapeutic, would improve the success of intermittent distancing and hasten the acquisition of herd immunity. Longitudinal serological studies are urgently needed to determine the extent and duration of immunity to SARS-CoV-2. Even in the event of apparent elimination, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024.

Dennis Snower, “Awakening in the post-pandemic world,” (Brookings Institution, 27 March 2020)

William Wan and Carolyn Y. Johnson , “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” Washington Post, 27 May 2020.

There’s a good chance the coronavirus will never go away.

Even after a vaccine is discovered and deployed, the coronavirus will likely remain for decades to come, circulating among the world’s population.

Experts call such diseases endemic — stubbornly resisting efforts to stamp them out. Think measles, HIV, chickenpox.

It is a daunting proposition — a coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end. But experts in epidemiology, disaster planning and vaccine development say embracing that reality is crucial to the next phase of America’s pandemic response. The long-term nature of covid-19, they say, should serve as a call to arms for the public, a road map for the trillions of dollars Congress is spending and a fixed navigational point for the nation’s current, chaotic state-by-state patchwork strategy.

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