War Game Puts Players in Marines' Boots

A high-tech program being developed for the Marines (search) will soon be available to the public as a video game.

The Tactical Decision-Making Simulation is expected to be ready for military use by the end of the year, while the commercial version, "First to Fight" (search) — which is being designed for PCs and X-Box — will be released in the fall.

"It's designed to help train Marines to make better decisions under fire," said one of the game's developers, Peter Tamte.

The program was developed with the help of more than 40 Marines with different areas of specialization, along with thousands of pages of Marine doctrine and training manuals.

Asked if he was concerned whether it could be used to train terrorists, he said Marine brass told him not to worry.

"They said there's a lot more to being a Marine than can be taught in a video game," Tamte said, noting that recruits go through extreme training and must qualify annually firing an M-16 rifle at a target 500 yards away — with no rifle scope.

The Marines provided the game developers with photographs and diagrams, and Marine brass invited them to watch their troops train.

"The most valuable insight came from a couple of dozen [service] members that had just returned from combat in Afghanistan (search) and Iraq," Tamte said.

"All of them had been shot at" and all of them gave the programmers lessons on tactics and procedures, Tamte said.

The simulation is set in Lebanon three years from now, and is designed to give players a feel for the chaos and confusion of urban fighting.

The simulator is designed for one to four people to use at once, either as commander of a Ready-Team-Fire-Assist squad or one of its members.

While trying to seize various military objectives, players sometimes run across civilians and reporters, and have to be on the lookout for any danger lurking in neighboring buildings.

The simulation also encourages psychological warfare: The troops sometimes can get the enemy to flee if they can cut them off from their leader.

When a player is "wounded," the commander must secure the area and summon medics.

The simulation also provides methods for calling in armored or air back up — and teaches when they should be called in.

When the mission is over, Marines can review their performances and see what mistakes they made.