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Monday, December 31, 2001

Computer game injects realism in US troops training
Paul Harris

AMERICA'S military elite has swapped their rifles for joysticks by turning to a British computer game to fine-tune their combat training. Operation Flashpoint, a game set during the Cold War, has so impressed military planners that the US Marine Corps has struck a deal to be supplied with a specially modified version.

Produced by UK manufacturers, Codemasters, the game was released on to the market over the summer and has become an instant best seller because of its hyper-realistic imagery and complex rules. It came to the attention of the Marines when an officer in San Francisco downloaded a version from the Internet. He was so impressed he contacted the firm to arrange a demonstration. 'We went over there and showed them how the game worked and they wanted their own version,' said David Solari, US marketing manager for the firm.

The deal with the Marines is the latest step in an extraordinary tale of success for Codemasters. The software company was founded by entrepreneur David Darling and his brother, Richard, in the mid-1980s while they were still at school. The firm was originally run out of their grandparents' shed, but now employs more than 300 people and makes millions of pounds in profits.


US Marines will play the game as a way of running through combat scenarios with the most serious risk being only blisters on their fingers. Missions in the game range from individual firefights to commanding a squad in a tank battle.

Designers even envisage networked systems being set up on aircraft carriers so Marines can hone their skills before they go into battle. "Marines spend a lot of time at sea and this could help alleviate boredom as well as keep them trained and ready for a mission," Solari told Observer News Service.

The game supplied to the Marines has been adapted to include modern equipment used by the regiment. The computer-generated soldiers have even been given Marine-style haircuts. It has also had modifications that make it more powerful than the commercial version. The game is so realistic that - just as in the real world - its virtual bullets travel at the speed of sound and players will not even hear the shots that kill them.

The US Army has long used computers to run war games. But the explosive growth of the computer games industry has seen rapid advances in the private sector, where investment and technology has outstripped that available to defence planners.

David Darling said Operation Flashpoint could even be used to simulate scenarios from Afghanistan or other countries in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.