Role: Senior Game Designer • Where: Newcastle, Australia / Orlando, USA • When: 2006-2010
Revolutionary training software that saves lives
I have spoken to commanding officers who have told me that the repeated drilling of troops in the correct procedures using VBS2 means that, when faced with real situations in-theatre, they are far more effective; and this has saved lives. (Source: UK Ministry of Defence)
Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2) is the product that revolutionized the military simulations industry.
By leveraging the game engine behind Bohemia Interactive’s commercial video game Arma2, it quickly became the worldwide standard for desktop-based military simulation.
Thousands of soldiers have trained with VBS2 before going to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of this, its features were designed to directly prepare soldiers for the realities of modern counter-insurgency warfare.
- Trainee gameplay elements including infantry, land/sea/air vehicles, civilian roleplayers, and more
- Administrator tools such as a 3D mission editor usable during multiplayer sessions
- Massive content library with thousands of functioning weapons, vehicles, avatars, props, and more
- Comprehensive After Action Review (AAR) tool
- Interoperability with other simulations via DIS or HLA protocols
- Developer tools suite
A model of continuous improvement
VBS2 used a different business model compared to Bohemia’s commercial titles. In the game industry, it is common to release a new title every year or so (eg Arma1, Arma2, Arma3). In the simulations industry, it is common to follow an enterprise software model. Because of this, BISim updated VBS2 for many years.
Various militaries around the world paid for these updates. For this reason, almost all the features were built for a specific training need of some soldier, somewhere.
My role as a designer
Many Bohemia Interactive employees have been sourced from the online Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault communities. This has resulted in a unique development environment where the software developers not only truly believe in the potential of the simulation engine and the product, but have the vision, enthusiasm and dedication to make it succeed. (Source: VBS2 Whitepaper)
I started from the beginning of VBS2 development. At the time the team was only a handful of devs working out of a shed in rural Australia. At first, we didn’t even have running water! On the bright side, the beach was only a few hundred meters away if you wanted to go surfing at lunch. Though we had never seen each other’s faces before, we knew each other from the OFP/Arma gaming community.
Technical game design
At BISim, game designers are very technical. Usually, they directly write gameplay features using a scripting language and configuration files. This development style allows for very rapid prototyping, iterating and implementation. Because of this, I designed and coded many of the core gameplay systems in VBS2, including:
- Weapons, munitions, and ballistics
- Injury and knockout effects
- Player inventory
- Vehicle interaction
- Scripted functions library
- …and many more
Like any startup, we all had to “wear many hats”. Other roles I performed included:
- Testing (for the first year or two we had no dedicated QA team)
- Installer development
- Built pipeline updates
- Project management
- Product support
- Customer training courses
Growth and transitions
As the company grew, it moved its HQ to Prague and started a US office in Orlando. I followed to Orlando and became the first developer in the new office. That didn’t last long though. I was soon called to Marine Corps active duty for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Links for Further Info
- Whitepaper: VBS2 – Bohemia Interactive Australia (an office of BISim) – 6 Jan 2012
- Benefits of virtual testing felt on front line – UK Ministry of Defence – 28 Oct 2011
- A War Training Platform From an Unlikely Source – The New York Times – 1 May 2011
- Real Lessons from Virtual Battle – BBC News – 29 Aug 2008
- At Fort Riley, video games simulate combat, save lives – The Topeka Capital-Journal – 25 Apr 2008