Advanced Simulation Technologies

The 2015 Military Training Technology (MT2) Top Simulation and Training Company List is out and features Visual Purple as a featured top simulation and training company. The award honors only the top simulation and training companies around the world that have made a difference in training for military personnel.

Although this is not the first time that Visual Purple has been recognized on the list, it is a proud accomplishment for Visual Purple nonetheless to see that our training really does make a difference.

Military Training and Technology Top Simulation Company

The training submitted for the award supported limited gamification elements with a technology driven theme. The final training product delivered a high level of interactivity and replayability with the ability for the trainee to learn and apply knowledge through the simulation. Ultimately the training sought to have the player “think like the enemy.”

The training provided a story-centric approach to complex training material that was simple to play and encompassed a Hollywood plausible storyline. Action sequences provide rewards to the player and the training also served as a foundation for future episodes, which are currently under development. A big thank you to Military Training Technology Awards for recognizing our work!

We are proud of our 17 years in the simulation and training industry. We’ve enjoyed supporting Intelligence Community clients as well as many other client types. But as a company evolves so does the internet presence and other related marketing that goes along with it. After much work, we are pleased to introduce you to the new Visual Purple website design at www.visualpurple.com. We have reinvented ourselves with a new company logo, website and training/educational capabilities.

We’ll admit that we haven’t been that great at staying in touch, but that’s all about to change. Training must also adapt to the ever-changing technologically advanced world that we live in.

Welcome to the Next-Generation of Training and Education! Among the more notable updates in our simulation technology are:
• Gamification elements
• Ability to train or learn anytime, anywhere with the ability to engage on an iOS or Android tablet, Windows, Mac and additionally Visual Purple Smart Sims are optimized for iPhone and Android smartphones
• World class game engine graphics – Unreal 4
• More realistic 3D graphics

Our business focus has gravitated to:
• Strong presence in the nuclear simulation arena
• Migrating Smart Sims to different languages/cultures: Localization

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves let us explain why our training focus changed. The date was March 11th, 2011 and a 9.0 magnitude earthquake took place near the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. A tsunami occurred, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster ensued which resulted in a nuclear meltdown of three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors. This event hit close to home for us here at Visual Purple as we enjoy a beautiful location on the Central Coast of California, just miles from Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. Known as the largest nuclear incident since the Chernobyl Disaster of 1986, the Fukushima disaster could have easily been prevented. After investigation, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission found that the nuclear disaster was ‘manmade’, thus all of its direct causes were foreseeable. Since 2011, we have made it Visual Purple’s mission to bring new levels of safety and learning to the Nuclear Energy community. Our hope is that through our mission critical training we can provide defense in depth against the unimaginable.

By Ed Heinbockel, Visual Purple’s President/CEO

We’ve been producing compelling simulations for 15 years now. Initially interactive video, because our clients’ hardware for the most part was 2-5 years behind the technology curve, then for the last 9 years various flavors of virtual worlds: decision (scenario) based, real-time immersive 3D, and hybrid (a user efficient mash-up of the two).

We’ve trained everything from counter-terrorism to sales training. We’ve learned over the years that our first-person thinkers play best to preventing things from going boom. Yes, boom. In other words, wherever there exists the potential for bad things to happen, you better be employing training that is realistic and sticks. That the individual needs to know what to do and now. That can often make the difference between life and death. This all means that we at Visual Purple have become obsessed with playing to the highest and best use of our technology and collective expertise. This has become our mantra and strategy for success.

So, today, you find us fervently committed to applying our F.I.S.T. toolbox to difficult situations – situations demanding of accuracy and realism in a high consequence environment – all the while lashing it all together through the power of story.

Left is good…Left of Boom, that is!

A movie’s main draw is its story. The team here at Visual Purple have long been evangelists of the ‘Power of Story’ but realize that not all simulation companies are created equal when constructing a simulation and utilizing the power of story to draw the trainee in and engage them. There are parallel challenges (both in games and intelligent simulations) when crafting together game play and story. Ask any producer, cracking the code on making a blockbuster movie is tough. Usually, Hollywood blockbuster movies have a mix of a-list actors (and of late way too much CGI) and a great script with some character development. One Hollywood blockbuster after another shines with a terrific story, well written from the likes of well-known (and maybe overpaid) Hollywood writers and tons of captivating, if not over-the-top, special-effects.

While some may think it a stretch to compare an intelligent simulation to a Hollywood movie, they do both contain much of the same elements (and in the case of Visual Purple simulations, Hollywood writers, too!). Some games and/or simulations offer a storyline but that’s as far as it gets. Sometimes the storyline is poorly written and irrelevant or perhaps it may be barely developed and still irrelevant. While it may be a thin line to get a happy medium of just enough of a story-line matched to game play, it is possible to do when crafted correctly. Some may consider making the simulation more directed and constrained in order to protect the element of story, but putting the player “on rails” may make them feel more like they are on a ride at Disneyland than mastering skills in a simulation environment. The key is immersing the player in a story construct/world that the player always perceives to be large with many interesting choices. In essence, player-directed game play allows for the story to have distinct and useful paths, all dependant upon player choices. The story will take different paths and have appropriate experiences based on player decisions balanced against training goals. By utilizing narrative devices, the story unfolds at a pace influenced by the player as specific events unfold. By intelligently guiding the trainee through the sim, many training goals are achieved, e.g., the sim is ‘aware’ and will in real-time challenge the player to their level of competence or skill so as to continually raise the training bar – seamlessly and automatically.

“When you think of the word “simulation,” what comes to mind? Some people instantly think of screen capture tutorials. Others might think of medical simulations, interacting with a patient or medical equipment. Others might think of military simulations. But what you probably don’t think of is story.”- Jack McGrath

When you play through a simulation one seeks to be challenged, to be drawn in and placed in the environment by feeling like they can relate to the events unfolding and the realness of the surroundings. Visual Purple simulations have the unique ability to draw the trainee in because of the use of a story allowing for the trainee to play the simulation through not only for the challenges that it presents but for the COMPELLING STORY that unfolds and captures attention. Learning objectives (ELO’s and TLO’s) are easily met when basing a simulation around a storyline. Some worry about game play detracting from the story, but in reality our experience of producing intelligent simulations for the past fifteen years allows for a proven approach to blending the two together: arguably, as much art, as it is science.

Some companies offer a troubled approach to storytelling, making the storyline hard to follow and character development just plain awkward. Tools often used to help deliver a message and/ or story are typically in the form of Non-Player Characters (NPCs for short) but the use of the surroundings help as well. Some simulations may seem primitive at best and it is these that give the simulation training market a bad name: Second Life’s many technical, social and story deficiencies have not done well-executed training simulations any favors.

There is, however, a better choice that represents a balanced marriage of game play and storyline – harnessing “The Power of Story” to achieve measurable training results.

So maybe you are, or maybe you are not a gamer. A 2011 study by the Entertainment Software Association showed that at least 72 percent of American households actually are gamers. That number has risen by almost 10 percent in the last two years. In addition, the study showed that 42 percent of gamers are women and that women ages 18 years and older represent more than one third of the gaming population.

Parents are even getting into it, the study showed that forty-five percent of parents play video and/or computer games with their children at least once a week. The report stated that parents actually believe in the education and mental stimulation that the game brings to their child.

So much for the ‘ol board game and quality family time.

National Defense Magazine featured an article this month on Avatars invading military training systems. Interestingly enough the Army is looking into training where an avatar is created for each soldier. These digital figures would stay with the service member throughout their training career. Training would then be customized to each individual trainee by a full fledged digital representation of oneself. My thoughts are that if it can be done cost effectively and the “realness” of the avatar makes the soldier more immersed in the game then I am all for it. But if the personalization options are limited then it may be money/ time wasted and the military may be better off just training with general avatars so that the trainee can escape reality for time and become someone else.

My how time flies… We are quickly approaching the end of 2011 which reminds me that it is once again time to reflect back on a prediction that I have mentioned in past blog entries. Way back in 2007 Gartner predicted that “By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a “second life”, but not necessarily in Second Life“, according to Gartner, Inc. Where do we stand now with this?

Multi-user 3D environments once held so much promise, the idea just may have been ahead of its time. Back in December of last year I wrote about the hype cycle provided by Gartner which shows a timeline of 5 to 10 years for mainstream adoption of public virtual worlds. Funny that three years after the fact of Gartner saying virtual worlds would have 80 percent of all active internet users that just last year they said another 5 to 10 years for mainstream adoption. According to a post on Hypergrid Business Virtual worlds gained 214 million new users in the second quarter of 2011“, according to virtual worlds research firm KZero Worldwide. It was the largest quarterly increase since the company began tracking these numbers in 2008.” Second Life has 27 million registered users, so they say. How many of them have actually logged in within the last 3 months is unknown to most.

I believe that since the growth of mobile computing and the sea of apps that 3D virtual worlds might just once again have a chance. So let’s not completely write them off- perhaps Gartner should extend their prediction and also expand it to include some other popular virtual worlds of today rather than yesterday’s world of Second Life. I believe that 3D virtual worlds (with purpose) still have a lot of unreached potential to capitalize on in the future.

In an article featured in the August 2011 issue of Military Training Technology the magazine asked, “What role(s) will your company best fill as the United States military turns more to the use of serious gaming in an effort to reduce the military’s training costs while maintaining the combat readiness of the warfighter?”

Here is what Ed Heinbockel, President of Visual Purple contributed to the article:

“Today’s warfighters have been raised on video games. They learn differently than past generations. By recognizing and leveraging the learning styles appropriate to current trainees, 3-D animated decision-based virtual world training offers instruction that is relevant and effective—with improvement in both motivation to train and knowledge retention—this type of training is proven to be very, very sticky.

Through the use of 3-D animated decision-based serious game training, a platform is presented to today’s warfighter that is immediately recognizable and significantly more palatable than traditional PowerPoint-type ‘page flip’ training. By offering simulation training aimed at individuals rather than large groups, training can take place anytime and anywhere the trainee has access to a computer, while non-virtual training can accommodate only a limited number of instructors and students at any given time. Refinement of training content is a continuing requirement necessary to ensure that warfighters have the latest and most relevant training possible.

One of the many benefits of Visual Purple’s training products is our proven technologies that allow for rapid updates and changes. Unlike some training programs that are difficult to make changes and/or updates to, Visual Purple simulations can easily be ‘remodeled’ later should the need arise. The number of true subject matter experts (SMEs) is limited. By incorporating SMEs’ expertise into learning content, the impact they provide is expanded to cover the entire training audience. Improvements in hardware capability have allowed for significant improvements in graphics and training technologies. More ‘horsepower’ in smaller packages (smartphones, touchpads, tablets, etc.) allows warfighters to train anytime and anywhere. These mission rehearsal modeling tools are aiding in overall military readiness by streamlining training capabilities. One thing is for sure: it beats the so-called BOGSAT (or Bunch of Guys Sitting Around a Table). Emerging technologies are changing the way today’s military trains-up.”

The Department of Defense has been in the news on a number of occurrences in past months highlighting the use of virtual worlds by the organization. They are utilizing virtual worlds for a host of different applications, one of which deals with post-traumatic stress in our soldiers, see this story for more details. This project is called The T2 Virtual PTSD Experience and is based in Second Life. By being based in Second Life it does allow an extra layer of interactivity as the player/ trainee is able to interact with anyone else that is experiencing the simulation. It just goes to show that the immersive nature of virtual worlds make them a prime candidate for this type of training and much more!

Another article on the defense.gov website published back in May featured Frank DiGiovianni, the director of training readiness and strategy in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness. As quoted by the article, “Five years from now, if Frank C. DiGiovanni has his way, warfighters from every service will learn aspects of their trade on a world in cyberspace.” Furthermore, “For the DOD virtual world experts are working on “a governance model that makes sense” in which everyone in the world can participate, DiGiovanni said, much like the Constitution allows American citizens to participate in their government.

“A governance model allows you to take all the efforts that are going on and synchronize them, integrate them, so you have a comprehensive whole, and not four separate efforts,” he added.
“I don’t want four separate worlds, I want one world … to be able to leverage all that content building that’s being done by everyone out there,” the director said.

The Strategic Plan for the Next Generation of Training for the Department of Defense, which was published in 2010, features leveraging emerging technologies to enhance the overall DoD training capabilities.

So you have probably seen us post various tidbits on audio such as Emulating Human Voice-overs with TTS Voices on the blog. While solely utilizing text and graphics in simulations can work, the real question is: Does it really work? Voice talent is a large piece of the puzzle in any narrated simulation. Visual Purple simulations do allow for text (otherwise known as closed captioning) to appear in all of the simulation (not just at the decision points). Thus supporting those that learn better by reading as opposed to listening. Fully narrated scenes definitely enhance the learners’ cognitive processing, thus audio can be very effective for a variety of learning styles.