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Tag Archives: James Sterrett

Teaching wargame design at CGSC


Today, James Sterrett made a presentation to the Military Operations Research Society’s wargame community of practice on teaching wargame design at the US Army Command and General Staff College. James is Chief of Simulations and Education in the Directorate of Simulation Education at CGSC, and a periodic PAXsims contributor.

This lecture will feature a discussion of game design within the context of professional military education.  DEPSECDEF Work talked to the need to incorporate wargaming into the formal military education system.  One approach to executing this issue is to offer a course in wargame design to students at multiple levels of professional development.  However, questions on how to implement this approach remain:  At what point(s) within an officer’s career should they be exposed to wargaming?  What aspect of wargaming should be emphasized?  What level of proficiency is desired?  What portions, if any, of the remaining curriculum should be dropped or modified to accommodate this requirement?

While the lecture wasn’t recorded, you’ll find his slides here. For previous discussion on this same topic, see his earlier (January 2017) blogpost.

Request for feedback: Teaching wargame design at the US Army Command & General Staff College

PAXsims is happy to post this request for feedback on behalf of Dr. James Sterrett, Directorate of Simulation Education (DSE) at the US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC). Comments may be left below or emailed to him directly.



Michael Dunn and I are creating a Fundamentals of Wargame Design elective at CGSC. This course will first run in the spring of 2017, in two iterations. We seek constructive feedback on our course concepts while we still have a little time to correct course.

The students in this course will be U.S. Army Functional Area 57 (FA57 Simulation Operations) officers, plus other interested students attending CGSC. FA57 students will take the complementary elective on Exercise Design at the same time.

Learning Objective:

Students taking this course will design and create a prototype manual wargame. By doing this, we intend them to learn not only the process of designing a wargame, so they can design other games later, but also to begin to come to grips with the art of wargame design. In addition, we believe that designing wargames will make them better users of wargames, more aware of the design decisions behind the curtain and better able to select the best tool for the task they may have at hand.

We are still debating if it is better to have students do the project alone, or in small groups.

Thus, our current overarching Learning Objective is:

  • Apply the wargame development process. Application will include:
    • Students will learn the process of developing a wargame by creating a workable draft prototype. Students will demonstrate the prototype in class along with a presentation explaining their logic for its design choices.


Defining “Wargame”

We define “wargame” very broadly, relying on both Peter Perla’s definition:

 “A warfare model or simulation in which the flow of events shapes, and is shaped by, decisions made by a human player or players during the course of those events.” (Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, p. 280, 2012 edition)

…and on the Army Modeling & Simulations Office’s definition:

 “War game: A simulation game in which participants seek to achieve a specified military objective given pre-established resources and constraints”

Thus, we are not limiting the course to Title X wargames, or research wargames, or testing wargames, or Military Decision-Making Process Step 4 Course of Action Analysis Wargaming, or any other subtype… from the perspective of this course, all of these fall inside the big tent of wargaming.



Inevitably, we are operating within constraints of space and time.

We will have at most 16 students per class, and must plan each class being full.

The course will consist of 12 session, each 2 hours long. There will be 2 or 3 sessions per week and the course will last for 4 to 6 weeks.

We recognize up front that we have limited time, and this necessarily limits the quality of the product the students can produce. We have no expectation of a polished, publication-ready project. Instead, the aim point is a workable first draft, with parts in place and comprehensible logic behind them, which would form the basis for ongoing testing and iterative design if more time were available.


Key concepts

Our high level view of the design process is shown below. We intend the students to complete at least one round of design and testing. More would be ideal, but a single round is the necessary minimum.


For our classes, we are treating all wargames as being a system of systems, in a “STARS” model, with those systems being:

  • Space structuring assets’ positional relation to each other
  • Time structuring both movement, combat, and decision opportunities
  • Assets that players control
  • Resolution of how assets interact
  • Systems that tie the other four systems together


Planned Lessons

An overview of our current plan for each of the sessions; this overview will be followed by a more detailed look at sessions 1 and 2.

  1. Introduction to the course and its objectives; explain the project they must complete; introduction to game design process, which is their roadmap to completing the project; and to the STARS model.
  2.  Modelling Space: Discussion of terrain modelling; includes direct examples: hexes, squares, areas, terrain boards, point-to-point, tracks, non-spatial maps. Examples of multiple types in use at once.   Issue of scale – need to set to key decision loop and how scale then drives other considerations
  3.  Modelling Time: Discussion of turn structures; includes direct examples.   How turn structure dictates decision structures and C2 during play; how it relates back to the spatial model.
  4.  Modelling Assets: Various ways of modelling commanded assets from the very detailed to the very abstract: tracks & points to subsystem modelling. Numerous direct examples.
  5.  Modelling Effects: Various ways of resolving the outcome of actions: CRT, dice pools, opposed die rolls, card draws, card play; modifiers for modeled factors.
  6.  Quick Intro To Basic Probability – computations for dice, multiple dice, competing dice, cards with and without replacement; CRTs vs dice pools vs cards.
  7.  Putting It All Together: Overarching design paradigms: imposing limits (or not!) on player control of own forces through systems.
  8.  Testing & Iteration: Introduction to testing, blind testing, and sorting through feedback.
  9.  Consultation & Testing Time – in the classroom.
  10.  Consultation & Testing Time – in the classroom.
  11.  Final project presentations
  12.  Final project presentations

In addition to their other requirements, students in this elective will be required to participate in 75% of the Brown Bag Gaming sessions that are held during the elective, in order to increase their exposure to a variety of wargames and design approaches.

We are considering requiring additional student reading, with titles under consideration being Perla’s Art of Wargaming, Sabin’s Simulating War, and Koster’s Theory of Fun. The potential problem is the lack of time; one potential way around this is to assign a chunk of each to one or more students, and make them responsible for a summary to the class on their piece.


Session 1 in more detail

The room is set up with the games before students arrive and students are expected to have read the rules before the class begins.

  •  10 Minutes: Introduction to the class and similar initial admin
  •  45 Minutes: Play a wargame. We are currently leaning towards Frank Chadwick’s Battle for Moscow, with the expectation that students will complete 3 or 4 turns. Battle for Moscow includes a large number of features we can draw on in subsequent discussion, and is in print through Victory Point Games.
  •  10 Minutes: Break. Students are asked to come up with one change they would make to Battle for Moscow in order to improve it, and to return from the break ready to explain, briefly,
    • What the change is
    • Why the change improves Battle for Moscow
    • Why the improvement makes Battle for Moscow better for a specific purpose
  • 15 minutes: Selected students present their changes. We point out that by going through this thought process, all of them have made the step from players/consumers to designers/creators. Now let’s look at the process.

pic706628_md.jpgWe intend to select students to comment in class discussions (at least initially – balancing this against getting a wide discussion is important), instead of using volunteers, and to use a different selection mechanism each session. Thus Day 1 would be rolling 1 die, Day 2 rolling multiple dice, Day 3 pulling names from a hat without replacement, Day 4 calling on them by date of rank, and so on; possibly even handing them the cards to bid on who speaks next in the manner of Friedrich. The intent is to ensure the students experience some of the resolution mechanisms we will discuss in sessions 5 and 6, even though some of the demonstrations may take place after session 6.

  • 30 minutes: Present and explain the development model, the STARS model, and the project they will each undertake.

Assignment for session 2:

  1. Come up with your initial concept and email it to the instructor. Answer these questions:
    • What do you want this wargame to do?
    • What role will the players have?
    • What are the key decisions/dilemmas/problems they must wrestle with?
    • What significant assets will they control?
    • What kinds of interactions are important?
    • What kinds of terrain influence those interactions?
    • How frequently do the players make major decisions?
  2. Start your research: Find and read something relevant to your project.


Session 2 in more detail

We expect each of sessions 2 through 8 to be split roughly in half. In the first half of each session, we will show and discuss various relevant examples. In the second half, students will brainstorm and discuss ideas applying the day’s focus to their project.

Session 2 covers Space.

Opening question: How would you map Wall Street?

A strictly spatial map of Wall Street is great if you want to move troops through it. However, you might also need to map conflict on Wall Street by financial connections, personal connections, Internet links, political influences, and so on. Which of these are more important to model depends on what you want to model.

For the rest of the initial hour of the class, we expect to present, with examples:

  • Miniatures terrain as direct representation, with a discussion that typical Digital Terrain Elevation Data is essentially the same approach
  • Hexes and squares, including grain effects
  • Zones of Control
  • Areas (including Guns of Gettysburg for incorporating Line of Sight into the area model)
  • Things inside hexes, squares, and areas
  • Things on the edges of hexes, squares, and areas
  • Point to Point
  • Maps that are not “real space” – VPG’s High Treason courtroom; Sierra Madre’s High Frontier ΔV map (we are looking for more good examples here!)

Why space and time inter-relate:

  • Scale sets the timing of decisions in conjunction with the Time model
  • Units per space on the map defines force density model and can be used to create traffic issues

During their break, students are asked to think about how they will model space in their project.

For the second half of class, we discuss student’s initial model concepts.

Assignment for Session 3:

  1. Refine your intended model of space. Start working on your map. (We will provide files and printouts for hex paper, and access to Paint, Powerpoint, and Photoshop.)
  2. Continue your research: Find and read something relevant to your project.

James Sterrett

US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom— panel discussion and demo games


In an effort to explore the benefits of bringing wargaming into the classroom, the US Army War College’s Strategic Simulations Department is conducting a discussion panel and game play event on 27 August, 2016, at the US Army Heritage and Education Center, in Carlisle, PA.  The panel will open with discussion from academia and military institutions. Game play will follow the panel and drive home the theories covered by the panelists.  The event is open to anyone, educator, gamer, and hobbyist.  The event will run from 10:00 A.M until 4:00 P.M.

Speakers (10:30-11:00) will include: Peter Perla (CNA), Rex Brynen (McGill University/PAXsims), James Lacey (Marine Corps War College) and James Sterrett (US Army Command & General Staff College).

Demonstration games (11:00-16:00) will include: FriedrichHanabi1944 Race to the Rhine, AFTERSHOCK, ISIS Crisis, Triumph and Tragedy, Axis & Allies (modified/blind play), Guerilla Checkers, Kaliningrad 2017, and Artemis.



Further information on visiting the USAHEC can be found here.

Review: This War of Mine

PAXsims asked Dr. James Sterrett, Deputy Chief of the Digital Leader Development Center’s Simulations Division at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, to review the recent digital game This War of Mine. The review reflects his personal views only, not those of CGSC, the Army, or the United States government.

* * *


Hungry, tired, and depressed, Pavle reloads the rat traps in the hopes of catching a meal.

Perhaps we should have expected this game from 11 Bit Studios, a Polish game company previously best known for inverting the conventions of the tower defense genre in Anomaly: Warzone Earth. In This War of Mine, 11 Bit again turns convention on its head. Instead of controlling combatants, This War of Mine puts you in control of a small group of civilians trying to survive in the besieged city of Pogoren. In place of pretty explosions and adrenaline, This War of Mine delivers a bleak, somber that game may not be fun in the traditional sense, nor is it perfect; but it is an outstanding effort at using a game to make players experience and reflect on a (hopefully) unfamiliar situation.

Your task is to survive the siege, assigning each person in your group various tasks – generally maintenance and preparation by day, and sleeping, guarding your shelter, or scavenging by night. Survival demands maintaining a teetering balance between the need to eat, the need to stay warm, the need to stay safe, the need to stay sane – and the need to gather more materials to enable the other tasks. Whomever is scavenging or guarding at night will be tired the next day, but if you don’t scavenge you won’t be able to get food. Hungry, tired, cold people get sick more easily. Sick, tired, hungry, cold, and/or depressed people are less effective at their tasks – and if left too long, the sickness, hunger, cold, or depression will lead to death. Food, medicine, fuel, and comfort items such as books or cigarettes, are difficult to come by. In This War of Mine, gaining the ability to trap rats for food can mean the difference between survival and death, and you may come to deeply resent your caffeine and nicotine addicts as they consume valuable trade items to slake their chemical dependencies.

No one is feeling very well, but someone has to go out and scavenge more supplies tonight...

No one is feeling very well, but someone has to go out and scavenge for more supplies tonight…

The daylight hours spent in the shelter are generally slow and contemplative, interspersed by occasional events as people come to your door. Some seek to trade, some want to join your group, some want help with their problems – asking for you to give some of your tiny store of food or medicine to help them survive. At night, you control the one scavenger, in the place you chose to go. Depending on the location and its inhabitants, you may be able to scavenge freely, trade, or you may wind up in a fight. Combat is simple, fast-paced, and unforgiving, yet understated enough that even victories feel like survival, not empowerment. You may choose to initiate combat, trying to beat or murder your way through the other civilians or even the soldiers, bandits, and militiamen. However, not only is death sudden and final, it also costs you whatever stuff that person was carrying, including their extraordinarily scarce weaponry. In addition, while successful violence will get you access to more stuff and thus enable your survival, most characters become depressed by murder, especially of other civilians. Depressed, they are less effective, and may eventually commit suicide. Moreover, the game appears to react to your actions. Your violence seems to make the nighttime raids on your shelter (played offscreen) more violent, and can render vital peaceful people, such as the traders in the Central Square, hostile. Likewise, those dilemmas during the daytime can come back to you as well; people whom you helped with food or medicine are likely to return the favor, randomly, when they have a surplus. In This War of Mine, violence is an answer, but it has its costs.


The house has been raided by looters!

I am not an expert on societies in cities under siege (including the game’s clear inspirations, Sarajevo and Warsaw), but This War of Mine seems initially to imply a complete societal breakdown, with bandits everywhere and the player potentially joining their ranks as people comb the city for resources. However, in a long game, scavenging meets its limits, when all the sites have either been picked over or are too heavily defended to attack. At that point, continued survival depends on a social network, fragile though it may be. Neighbors you helped may still help you. People whom you have established trading relations with will still be there, and the time I succeeded in surviving the game, it was trading that got me through. In this subtle way, This War of Mine reinforces the importance of cooperation with groups outside your own, and mingles a slight note of hope into its overall tone of desperation.

Some are kids at the door, asking for help. Can you spare some precious medical supplies for them?

Kids at the door, asking for help. Would you spare some precious medical supplies for them?

Even its apparent flaws seem deliberate and work to its advantage. The daytime ticks by too slowly, yet that reinforces the boredom of being cooped up, hiding from snipers. The game has no tutorial, yet the player’s initial confusion reflects the confusion most of us would feel if we were suddenly plunged into such a situation.

Overall, This War of Mine is remarkably successful at being an engrossing game that involves violence yet avoids making the situation seem remotely appealing.

This War of Mine is my current pick for the best game of 2014.

I doubt I will be able to forget the games I’ve played in it.

I don’t know if I will ever want to play it again after finishing this review.

That paradoxical combination is 11 Bit Studios’ triumph.

Trading moonshine and jewelry for much-needed supplies.

Trading moonshine and jewelry for much-needed supplies.

Classroom Use

Turning away from playing the game as a game, could it be useful in a classroom? Leaving specific questions of its fidelity to real sieges to others more versed in the topic….

Yes: This War of Mine could certainly serve as a spark for political science or history discussions on the experience of civilians in wartime; it has done so with both my wife and my son. Having students compare their decisions could also help drive discussions in ethics, leadership, and the laws of war. Students are unlikely to forget the game or the subsequent discussion.

Maybe: While it would be a powerful concrete experience, This War of Mine is not a fast game to play. Surviving a 42-day siege took me around 6 hours. Some of the subtleties in the interactions between player’s choices and the game won’t necessarily come out in a single playthrough, not least because I suspect most people’s first playthrough ends in disaster before those interactions can fully come to light. As a result, This War of Mine is not a game that could be used during class time. Whether the time spent in homework creates sufficient overall benefit, through driving discussion, will depend on the specific learning objectives of the program of instruction.

James Sterrett

simulations miscellany, 28 November 2012

As is our periodic habit, PAXsims brings you some recent simulations-related news that might be of interest to readers.

* * *

At the Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East blog, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova recounts the results of a simulated 2012 Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-Free Zone in the Middle East:

…a group of 25 United Nations Disarmament Fellows – young diplomats from all over the world – played out the last hours of the planned Middle East conference during a half-day simulation in New York on October 23, 2012. The simulation’s outcome may be too ambitious compared to what the “real” 2012 MEWMDFZ Conference is expected to achieve, considering that many observers still doubt if it would even convene this year (or ever). Certainly, to run a simulation one has to suspend the disbelief, and in this case, we assumed away one of the biggest perceived obstacles: getting all relevant states to attend. The simulation’s scenario thus was that all the Middle Eastern states, including Iran and Israel, showed up and did so in good faith, working toward a meaningful outcome. Unrealistic as they may appear, such exercises help explore what can be achieved if more political will is in place and, at the same time, highlight some of the more problematic aspects of reality.

Negotiating simulations can provide space for greater flexibility, imagination, and compromise. Specifically, by skipping over roadblocks such as lack of political will and direct communication between the major actors, simulations can help look for practical solutions that otherwise seem completely beyond reach. At the same time, simulations can raise new questions and draw attention to challenges that are overlooked or overshadowed by immediate concerns. In the case of the 2012 Middle East Conference simulation, assuming all parties’ participation and goodwill – the most immediate concern about the conference today – brought to the fore a number of other difficult issues. In this sense, the Middle East simulation held up a mirror to a rather harsh reality but did not leave the participants without hope.

For a more detailed report, check out the link above.

* * *

At Foreign Policy, Michael Peck offers readers an opportunity to “launch your own Gaza war” by playtesting a relatively simple boardgame that examines Israel’s response to the threat of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Readers are then invited to provide feedback via the Foreign Policy website, for possible incorporation into a revised version of the game. The experiment was spurred by an earlier column by Michael, drawing parallels between the 2012 Gaza war and the 1944 V-1 blitz on London via the wargame War with a Vengeance.

I suspect some FP readers may be a little queasy about “gaming” a war so soon after the fact—even as a rather hardened wargamer who doesn’t blanche at  ongoing conflicts, I must admit to a little disquiet at trying to model a conflict in an area I know well, and with the death and destruction still very recent. Still, we’ll try to give the game a try on the weekend and post some thoughts as a way of exploring how design choices might try to capture essential real-life military and political-tradeoffs.

* * *

The PC gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an interview earlier this month with (past PAXsims contributor) James Sterrett (Digital Leader Development Center, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth) on professional wargaming. In it he offers some thoughtful reflections on—among other things—the requirements of military simulation and gaming, and the differences between this and most civilian/hobby wargames.

* * *

On the subject of military games/simulations, Defense News (Michael Peck again!) reported on November 26 that TRADOC (Training & Doctrine Command of the US Army) has issued a directive “warn[ing] Army training centers against using unauthorized games, simulators and other training aids.”

TRADOC Policy Letter 21, signed in August by TRADOC commander Gen. Robert Cone, decrees that before any TRADOC organization may acquire or develop any games or training aids, devices, simulators and simulations (TADSS), it must contact the appropriate TRADOC capability manager (TCM) at the Combined Arms Center-Training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“The Army cannot afford TADSS that provide singular solutions or cannot be integrated with other TADSS in the integrated training environment,” Cone wrote. “We also cannot afford to have money diverted from other programs to support procurement of non-program of record, school-unique TADSS and high-licensing fees.”

The move has caused some concern:

A captain at an East Coast training installation fears that depriving local commanders of the freedom to procure training aids will stifle creative solutions.

“In the end, the memo will kill innovation and creativity as organizations seek to maintain the status quo within their shrinking budgets. All the letter reinforces is how the higher level managers are out of touch with where education actually takes place,” said the officer.

* * *

BenthamFish’s Game Blog has a report by Alan Paull on a recent two-day workshop on games and systems thinking at the School of Transformative Leadership, Palacky University, in the Czech Republic:

Our focus for the workshop was on the learners learning about systems thinking. We intended to introduce how to play and think about the games through systems thinking techniques and vice versa

We alternated between playing the games and covering the theory illustrated by the games. We started by having plenary sessions for the theory, but found that getting responses from the whole group was difficult, as individuals were reluctant to speak. Therefore we switched to individual and group tasks, followed by discussions in which we could ask individuals to respond for the group. This worked very well.

Essential systems thinking concepts that we covered were:

  • Holism
  • Interconnectedness and relationships
  • Perspective
  • Purpose
  • Boundary
  • Emergent properties
  • Closed mechanical systems vs open living systems

And we introduced the following techniques:

  • Systems maps
  • Sign-graph diagrams
  • Control model diagrams
  • Very basic process model diagram
  • Systems model diagrams
  • Rich pictures

You’ll find more at the blog.

* * *

At McGill University, we take preparedness for the forthcoming zombie apocalypse very seriously—we really do. However, a recent simulation revealed that only 50% of graduate students were likely to survive even basic academic activities like visiting the library should the campus be overrun by cannibalistic hordes of undead abominations. Clearly more practice is needed.

Defense GameTech 2012 and Army Games for Training AAR

(video via GameTech)

James Sterrett kindly has provided an after action review for PAXsims on the recent Army Games for Training and Defense GameTech conferences in Orlando. With many thanks to James, we present it below.

* * *

An Idiosyncratic Report on the Army Games for Training and GameTech Conferences

James Sterrett

Disclaimer: This article reflects the personal views of the author, not the official views of the US Army or its components.

My apologies to anybody wanting a complete report on everything that took place.  These are not huge conventions like E3 or GDC, but they were plenty large enough to ensure I didn’t see more than a slice of the convention.

For the past few years, GameTech and the Army Games for Training Conference (AGFT) have been under the same management.  For various reasons, not all known to me but partly a new DoD ban on serving food at conferences, they are now administratively separate.  This year they were held in the same location on the same week, with AGFT on Monday and Tuesday and GameTech on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. There’s apparently some discussion of holding them separately in the future, a move which would serve neither conference in my opinion.

Both conferences ran panels by leading lights of industry and/or the DoD in the morning, and papers in the afternoon.  I generally did not attend the panels, talking to people instead – for me, this proved to be a very good conference for meeting people.  My boss, LTC Chuck Allen, dutifully attended the panels and assured me I had missed nothing.

AGFT runs a mix of tutorials and papers, and has often proven to be the VBS2 Conference in the past.  VBS2 still had a very strong showing, but other official simulations got a look in as well.  The National Simulation Center provided several demonstrations of the Army Low Overhead Training Toolkit (ALOTT).  Unfortunately, the person sent to run the demo sessions needed more backup; the hands-on potion of the demonstration was a good idea but, absent material on how to operate the simulations, it fell a bit flat.  PEO-STRI’s Tim Wansbury also taught sessions on editing UrbanSim.  UrbanSim does very well at delivering a single-player stability operations exercise, and is easily learned – however, getting far enough under its hood to really alter things such as the population model or the player’s echelon requires recoding parts of the simulation.  (We’ve used UrbanSim’s generic-Iraq and generic-Afghanistan scenarios at some of the Command & General Staff College’s courses for years, but there’s mounting pressure for another scenario, which is proving difficult to deliver.)

TCM (TRADOC Capabilities Management) Gaming ran an avatar design competition to get people to try their new VBS2 avatar design tools. The tools proved relatively easy to use, and getting photos of my face mapped onto the avatar ran quickly.  Unfortunately, designing an avatar that looks good is harder than using the tools.  I felt quietly proud of my attempt at winter camo, using a white background with a sprinkling of brown leaves… until somebody standing next to me at the hallway monitor displaying them labelled it the Dalmatian outfit – and quite correctly so!  I confessed to perpetrating it.

GameTech serves a wider audience, so the range of topics suddenly broadened a great deal.  I missed a number of talks I wanted to go to. Gametech served breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and arranged for speakers during both meals.  The speakers proved a mixed blessing.

Best talks:

AGFT’s keynote speaker for Tuesday was Curtis Murphy, repeating his IITSEC talk on the Science of Learning.  It’s a great presentation with an excellent combination of wit and insight.  Readers of this blog may be familiar with the content – it’s a basic primer on why games work in educaion, and the primary point is that learning and games work for the same reasons – but it’s packaged so well that my non-gamer boss saw the light.

Michael Jones, Google’s Chief Technology Advocate, delivered a scintillating speech during breakfast on Thursday, arguing for the value and necessity of embedding understanding (as opposed to simply facts), into programs.  Apparently, the zoom out – fly over – zoom in feature of Google Earth was put in at his insistence in order to teach a bit of basic geography, because during the fly over part he hoped people would notice where various things were.

Ross Smith of Microsoft spoke about the value of using games to get projects done at work – a great talk despite a dodgy Skype connection. Apparently, in addition to Ribbon Hero, Microsoft has deployed some forms of testing into game frameworks, having people do very small tests to provide checks and feedback on software.  This was credited with performing hundreds of thousands of tests and ensuring a successful Windows 7 launch.

Captain Ed Stoltenberg (Maneuver Captain’s Career Course Instructor) – We support Ed, so this is perhaps biased, but his talk woke up a sleepy audience on Tuesday afternoon.  Ed has been a major force for integrating simulations into the MCCC classroom, working hard to include them and gather data to prove that they are working to improve student’s understanding.

John Roberts from the Naval War College (NWC) on using iPads instead of printed books.  LTC Allen and I spoke on Wednesday about the use of simulations in the classroom at CGSC.  We were paired up with John Roberts.  Apparently, NWC issues around 6,000 pages of reading through iPads, complete with a special NWC-only section of the iTunes store, and the student response has been overwhelmingly favorable, with 90%+ approval of the project on measures ranging from ease of use and superiority over paper products.  To get there, NWC had to overcome a number of administrative and Information Assurance hurdles – John Roberts didn’t really speak to these, but I’m aware of them because they appear to be insurmountable at CGSC.  Some CGSC studies suggest it would be tens of thousands of dollars cheaper to issue each student an iPad loaded with all the course reading, than it is to print, distribute, collect – and often destroy – a year’s worth of reading. John Roberts’ paper suggests it is worthwhile to continue to struggle to make the change.

Worst talks:

General Edward Rice, USAF, assisted Wednesday’s breakfast with endless repetition of “budgets will shrink, do more with less”, without any vision of how to get there. The “Blackberry/Android/iOS prayer” swept through the room.  To cap it all, he proudly did not use PowerPoint – but then spent time verbally describing charts and graphs to us.

Mike Zyga: He’s been involved in many wonderful projects, and he made sure we knew it, because that proved to be the only content of his talk.  Information on how or why some of these turned out so well would have been useful; instead, it was an “I love me” talk.  Maybe he’s a wonderful individual in person; as it was, this was the talk I had to sit through in order to hear Ross Smith.

Other Notes:

Captain Ed Stoltenberg realized that the vendor exhibit hall had empty space, and did a quick deal with GameTech to take some of it and run a Maneuver Captain’s Career Course booth.  Since we support him, I supported the booth for most of Thursday, showing off VBS2, Steel Beasts, Crucible of Command, and Decisive Action Brigade Level.  We’re hoping paid off for Ed, because the Armor School Commandant, BG James, came by and spoke to him for 5-10 minutes or so.

It proved to be a good conference for meeting people.  I’d never before spoken to Dr. Ezra Sidran, an AI researcher whose projects can reliably identify features such as open flanks and then build a plan from them.  These haven’t been put into a fully fledged ismulation, but as Ezra is the person behind the Universal Military Simulator some of you may remeber from decades past, he very likely could accomplish that.  We renewed our connections to Rob Carpenter, Deputy Director of Simulation Development for the Australian Army, with whom we’ve had some very useful collaboration over the years.  By sheer chance, we met Chris Taff, who has recently become the person in charge of simulation support for, among other things, the Canadian Army Command and Staff College — effectively our opposite number in Canada.

Dismounted Soldier is a project to enable individual soldiers to exist in a virtual environment, and move around, without a hamster ball, but without the ability to move through the real building.  I tried it out.  You wear a helmet, vest, and leg pouch, all with motion sensors, and have an M-4 with motion sensors.  The helmet carries goggles that go over your eyes (and worked well with my glasses!)  After zeroing the system, you can turn your head to change the view, turn your body to change your facing, and use a thumb-joystick on the back of the M-4’s forward pistol grip to move forward, backward, and sidestep left and right.  During my 5-10 minutes with it, this was all remarkably unintuitive.  Looking around worked fine until I got out of synch – which happened frequently – and then had to re-zero again.  Get the re-zeroing wrong and you have to look off level to see level in the virtual world – time to re-zero again.  However, the thing that I found hardest to get ued to was that you cannot put your eye to the sights of the M-4, because the goggles get in the way.  I’m told that people get used to all this after about 30 minutes with the system, but I have to wonder if the net result is that you spend a lot of money on a system that teaches bad muscle memory.

Finally a funny story:  Captain Ed Stoltenberg and I decided to hook up Steel Beasts for some co-op multiplayer on Thursday evening.  The only place we could find that had tables and outlets was an unused section of restaruant in the (very large) hotel lobby. We set up a third computer and networked it in so that LTC Allen could give it a try as well.  After he had left, that computer was left running, off to one side, while Ed and I got our asses kicked by various scenarios.  Apparently, this setup looked like the internet access point you sometimes find in a hotel lobby.  At around 930pm, a family walked over.  The kids and Dad looked at our screens, while Mom sat down at Ed’s laptop.  Apparently oblivious to the screenshot of a tank interior or the various other icons, she homed in on Internet Explorer, opened it, and was disappointed not to make a connection. We finally began to understand what was going on, and Ed explained, very politely, that it was a personal laptop and had no internet connection.  She was quite embarrased, despite our “no harm done” assurances, and  the family moved away.  Just before they moved out of earshot we heard her say, “That’s OK, we’ll come back here tomorrow morning.”   We’ve wondered if she complained to the staff, the next morning, that the internet cafe had disappeared!

James Sterrett is the Deputy Chief of the Simulations Division of the US Army Command & General Staff College’s Digital Leader Development Center, where he has worked since 2004 teaching CGSC’s courses on using games and simulations in training and education.  His academic background includes a Ph.D in Soviet military history and several published articles on the educational use of simulations.

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