ADF to develop communications warfare

Avatars to bring real-life emotions

Charles Sturt University is working with the Australian Department of Defence to create gaming software for use by military personnel to train enlisted members on effective crisis management techniques and scenarios for battle and natural disasters.

When developed (funding has been announced by the Australian Research Council until 2009), the game will mimic real-life battle scenarios and involve animatic avatars modelled on human speech and movement.

Staff from Charles Sturt University (CSU) will work with members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) on the three-year project beginning next year.

Zoe Hibbert, part-time CSU communications lecturer and researcher on the project, explained the majority of the development work will go into ensuring gameplay is as emotional as a real-life deployment and mirror realistic information dissemination across the ADF in the event of a crisis.

"The game will be media communications driven and that is the focus, and the use of avatars is very important as players have to assume a role and relate to it emotionally rather than just playing a role," Hibbert said.

"Essentially the project has received the highest level research grant you can get and that recognizes the work we are doing is of national importance and highly competitive. The idea is we would like to create a serious computer game simulating crisis management from a communications perspective and while defence has first-person shooters we are trying to simulate exactly what happens from a communications perspective. It is a game but it will simulate crisis communication and look at management decisions on the way through.

"Information within Defence tends to be silo-driven and there is often not a lot of communication so we might have, say, a Brigadier playing a journalist. There will be a dramatic role play component that also requires technical innovations such as text to speech, using advanced avatars, and we are attempting to create a toolbox to create new scenarios quickly."

The software will be developed in partnership between the Australian Defence Force and Charles Sturt University. The ARC has funded $110,000 for the first year, $109,000 for the second and $86,000 for the third and final year when the game is expected to be fully tested and finalized.

Terry Bossomaier, CSU Professor of Computing Science, said the university currently has one honour student developing the game engine to run on multiprocessor machines as well as a new game engine developed in Java.

"We are basically looking at being able to provide an avatar on a screen which will enable a player to communicate in a game as realistically as possible so we need to capture gestures and the emotional content such as speech," Bossomaier said.

"We will eventually provide avatars with audible speech that provides the interface side of the game and use a lot of dynamics within the game of crisis events such as the progress of a flood as just one scenario."

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