04 May 2011

GameTalk - The Raid on OBL

Now that SEAL Team 6 has dispensed some good old-fashioned American ass-whuppin' let's talk about how to play out the raid as a game...

How would you build a game that covers...

(a) the intel build-up to identify the right target?

(b) the logistics, sequencing, planning, and operational control of the raid?

(c) the actual firefight in the compound?

What games would/could you use? What considerations do you build in?
Talk board games, or (paging Guardian) tell us how you'd do it with digits.

By: Brant


Guardian said...

KumaWar, an episodic action game on the PC, is launching an Operation GERONIMO episode on May 7, 2011. See http://www.kumawar.com/.

The series has a great concept, but the execution is poor. See the screenshots from their rendition of Operation MATADOR (al-Qaim, Iraq, 2005, http://www.kumawar.com/operationmatador/overview.php) and Operation SPEAR (Karballah, Iraq, 2005, http://www.kumawar.com/operationspear/overview.php) and the World SWAT Challenge (http://www.kumawar.com/SWATChallenge/overview.php) for examples. I selected those missions because I have some familiarity with them or similar events. Quantity is no substitute for quality. KumaWar's graphics are very out-dated compared to modern games like the Call of Duty series or Medal of Honor and the game-play is also crude.

So, how would I do it "right" in a digital format? For the actual mission, I would love to see it portrayed in the upcoming Battlefield 3 (probably as a mod/add-on, to not disrupt the campaign story-line). The gameplay videos show that this game has the right balance of realism and fun to immerse the player in intense mounted, dismounted, and CQB firefights and graphics, audio, and gameplay are all world-class. Put a well-designed Operation GERONIMO mission on that engine and you could do *some* justice to the reality of what those SEAL operators did.

The other parts of your question are actually more interesting. I honestly don't know of any electronic (or table-top) games that really portray the kind of detailed intelligence gathering (which includes HUMINT and other disciplines, not just traditional "force-on-force" SIGINT, ESM, and EW) that went into this mission. The same goes for the SOF C2 functions you described.

One day, when I've finished accumulating riches from being a defense consultant (what? that's what everybody seems to think happens, even though Brant and Steve have seen my 6-year-old SUV), I'd love to tackle some of these issues in a game project. I actually think the intel, C2, and logistics parts of modern operations (and entire campaigns, like OEF or OIF) are more fertile ground for innovative in electronic gaming than the actual shooting.

When I was working in a brigade, division, or corps TOC, the troops I was supporting and I were all sitting in front of computers, just the player would be at a home. It's inherently a higher-fidelity and more immersive representation than trying to portray the action at the tactical level. Until we have neural-connected virtual reality, I'm not going to really experience what an operator does kicking down doors and clearing rooms while I'm sitting on my couch in my underwear with a bag of popcorn. The tactical action games are fun and they continue to evolve, but there's a point of saturation.

How about the rest of the readers? Do any of you know of any commercial games (table-top or electronic) that could portray the hard C2, logistics, and intel work that turned bin Laden into shark food?

ltmurnau said...

I'm sorry Guardian, I don't know of any such commercial games, for the reason that such a game would be unsaleable in any reasonable amount.

Intelligence work is difficult, fragmentary, contradictory, murky and when done well is a long drawn-out process. As we've seen, it takes years to do it right. I don't think there is a way to make it as exciting as kicking down doors and toasting terrorists with your penis-extension flamethrower in, well, just about any FPS game you could name or modify.

And yet, if these games are going to serve any other function than getting people to buy them and then keeping them on the couch playing them (hopefully still wearing their underwear), they need to be teaching the very lessons you propose.

Guardian said...

ltmurnau makes some excellent points.

Maybe my real-world experiences have colored my perspective. I've also always been a realism fanatic. As an example, I've consistently missed medium-range shots in some action games that portray the ACOG because I tried to actually use the BDC reticle for ranging and hold-over and it turns out that it was all just for show. I told you I was weird :).

Yet there have been games that do a good job of simulating a headquarters-level experience of modern warfare. I used to play the (computer) Harpoon series for hours upon hours and bought every new version, add-on package, etc. As I understand it, the community is still pretty active.

What we did in those TOCs in Afghanistan and Iraq was not as exciting (or dangerous) as what the troops we were exercising C2 over were doing. It was, however, still interesting, engaging, and often stressful. Real-time strategy games like the Starcraft series are successful. I'd like to think that one could blend some of the "sizzle" from that genre with the realism of more serious wargames to make something that strikes a good balance between fun and realism. I could see how C2 over the GERONIMO mission could be fun in an RTS-like format, especially with some variable level-of-detail effects like the Total War series does and some dynamic time compression and other techniques to shorten the temporal dimension into a reasonable play session (<=2 hours) for a single mission or the (old) standard 40-60 hours for a campaign.

My innate optimism about the potential of technology aside, though, Itmumau makes some excellent points about intel. The actual work of an intel analyst is just too complex to portray in a game. Maybe you take it out a level of detail. The player is in the role of a commander and the AI "staff" provides some stylized INTSUMs, etc. to you and then your decisions focus on resource allocation, ISR planning, and so forth: when and where do I allocate my ISR assets? where do I put my NAIs/TAIs? do I risk a SOF special reconnaissance mission in "out-of-bounds" territory? which leads do we follow-up on?

We (see, I'm already thinking about the GrogNews community as a design team when I really should get back to work) could also leverage some of the techniques used by the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP), like a Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) that would function as scripted events and decision points in the game.

I really think it's possible, but it would require a REALLY sharp design team that had both subject matter expertise and an understanding of what's possible in an electronic game and what's actually fun. We would never capture the hard-core action gamer who spends hour after hour bunny-hopping, circle-strafing, sprinting, and spraying-and-praying from the hip in CoD: Black Ops, but we might capture the audience of games like Starcraft 2 or Halo Wars (an innovative and under-appreciated console RTS, IMHO).

OK, now I'm getting back to work...

Brant said...

"I've also always been a realism fanatic."

I'll say! One of my all-time favorite Guardian quotes was a D&D game in which his elven archer was being targeted by a breath weapon from some dragon-something-or-other across the roome, through a crowd of magic-weapon-bedecked humanoids engaged in mystical combat, and Guardian exclaiming "how'd he pick me out of the crowd?! that's not realistic!"

Anonymous said...

IMHO, introducing even a basic intel component to a computer game would be a highly compelling feature. I think it could best be accomplished on a game that has strategic and tactical components - for example, the Close Combat games. On the strategic map, during the strategic plannnig phase, the player could receive a number of intel messages (some true, some partially true, some false) and they would also have a number of intel assets (could be period-specific, but for modern wars this would be satellite, recon flight, recon patrol, spy network, cell monitoring, etc). During the strat plan phase, player would have to decide where and how to use the intel resources, and would have to wait for (different wait times for different resources) for feedback. Player would also be able to move forces in strat phase (again - think Close combat strat maps) with or without the benefit of intel.

As mentioned, intel would have to be "summary" (ie: "your cell phone monitoring systems has picked up a conversation between X and Y persons in sector G4" on Feb 10").

IMHO, i think this would be a great feature for any era game...imagine what even some of the classic Steel Panthers games would be like with a strategic planning phase with intel opportunities.


Jack Nastyface

Guardian said...


Well said. I think you nailed it! If only I/we had the time and resources to design and build a game like this.

-- Guardian

ltmurnau said...

You could do the above with X number of people, each with a copy of the same boardgame: X-1 players playing back-to back, and 1 imaginative umpire (OK, maybe give the umpire some staff in a complex game).

It's nothing that hasn't been done for some time in boardgames, even earlier with miniatures campaign games, and since all time with many role-playing games.

It doesn't have to be technically accomplished or difficult. But it does take time, assembly of enough people, and imagination on everyone's part.