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No training required: Be a special ops airman in Air Force PlayStation game

July 16, 2017 (Photo Credit: Air Force)
The Air Force is offering people the chance to free fall as a special operations airman without any prior training — virtual reality style.

PlayStation and the Air Force came together to launch the service's first virtual reality free fall gaming experience, "Air Force Special Ops Nightfall." 

Once they put on the virtual reality headset, gamers can get a tangible feel for being a special ops airman. The game allows users to simulate movements that these airmen experience after jumping from a C-130. 

The game includes High Altitude Low Opening free fall, parachute control and night landing. Users can choose from four career fields: combat control, pararescue, special operations weather and tactical air control party. After choosing a career field for the mission, the user is taken to "jump school" and learns how to use the controls. The game's scenarios become more difficult as the player gets more comfortable with how the game works.

Air Force VR game
PlayStation gamers can experience free falling as a special ops airman in the Air Force's first virtual reality video game.
Photo Credit: Air Force

Air Force Times spoke with the combat controller who advised PlayStation in the creation of the game. Master Sgt. Ben Hannigan, from the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field in Florida, is the special ops liaison at Air Force Recruiting Service. 

Q. What was your role with "Air Force Special Ops Nightfall"?
A. I was mostly involved to answer questions and take a look at what they were working on to give them an idea of how realistic it looked. I did jumping throughout my [19 years in the Air Force]. I helped with the play controls — how do you move to do this, how do you move to do that. What would make a body free fall this way or that way. Just kind of being the subject matter expert for them to bounce questions off of.

Q. What kind of suggestions did you have for the game?
A. Initially they were asking a lot of how to move, what the play controls should be like. You have two wands as the controllers, and you have to move your body to get the avatar. There were some minor things, like when I do this I expect the avatar is going to move this way, but it actually does something different. [PlayStation] was pretty receptive and pretty quick to fix that and make it more realistic.

It was also interesting that later in the development I noticed that if I moved my hand like this I should begin to spin, and I wouldn't stop spinning until I countered the movement. But in the game I just moved until I stopped doing that movement. The game developers said they understood it would be more realistic [to not stop spinning], but it might make people sick. Some aspects [of the game] are less realistic for player comfort for people who aren't used to jumping out of an airplane.

Q. Were there concerns about making the game too realistic, since it does focus on special operations?
A. Most of the things that are not realistic about the game are either for that aspect or player comfort. We weren’t too worried about small inaccuracies because some things are inherently military that don’t necessarily need to be in the game. For example, they took pictures for the airplane [that appears in the game], but we asked that they wouldn’t put actual military markings on whatever they created in CGI.

Q. What's the goal of creating a game like this?
A. Recruitment is the reason for creating the game, and there are links in the game to go to the Air Force website and provide a pathway if someone is interested.

But I think the most important idea is awareness that the Air Force has jobs like this. Navy SEALs have movies and Green Berets have a song, but the Air Force doesn't really put themselves out there and really make it known that [special operations] exists. Now there's something out there that people can hear about or actually see or actually experience that kind of lets them know, "hey the Air Force does this kind of thing, and we are looking for people to do it."

"Air Force Special Ops Nightfall" is free for all PlayStation users and can be downloaded on PlayStation.com

Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.  
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