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thedrifter
11-06-07, 08:09 AM
Updated: Monday, 05 November 2007

INTERVIEW: The Real Call of Duty

By Kris Graft

As Call of Duty 4 hits store shelves, Next-Gen speaks with the franchise's military advisor, who believes the proliferation of war games is a good thing for the US military.

Retired US Army Lieutenant Col. Hank Keirsey simply sounds like an Army vet. Gruff, throaty and to the point, speaking to Keirsey was like talking to the Military Channel, except more responsive.

His military astuteness derives from his experience and education, an apparent mix of brains and brawn. Outside of over two decades in the service and recent stints in Iraq as a contractor, Keirsey also holds a bachelor’s degree from West Point and a master’s in history from Duke.

He was brought in as an advisor for Activision’s Call of Duty franchise, along with Dr. John Hillen, a fellow vet who has since moved on as a big-time military analyst and commentator.

With Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Keirsey is jumping into a videogame time warp out of World War II and into the modern day. Here, he tells us how he went from being a “blue collar” soldier to an advisor on videogame warfare, how he guided the authenticity of COD4 and how gamers just might make better soldiers.

Next-Gen: How did you go from the US Army to advising for a videogame franchise?

Keirsey: I’m not a public figure so it was unlikely I’d get involved with this, but my buddy John Hillen, he was a talking head and was on TV frequently as an advisor, got the call from Activision who said, “Hey, we saw you’re an Army guy, would you come give us military advice for this game?” and he says, “Yeah, I’ll come, but I’ve got to bring somebody with me.”

"They said hey, we want to do Marines. And I said don’t do stinking Marines.
You see, John is a grand tactics strategy kind of guy and he knew that I was the blue collar guy with the guns, squad tactics and infantry tactics, so together we went out and started advising for the original game and have been with them through every iteration of the franchise. John since went on to be famous and rich and famous, and so he found other pursuits that didn’t allow him to play with Activision anymore and I was left alone and afraid. I think he took off somewhere around 2005.

Alright, so what exactly is your combat experience? Have you seen combat as similar as to what’s represented in the Call of Duty 4, or the Call of Duty games?

I was commissioned in ’76, infantry lieutenant, paratroop, prepared for many deployments with the 82nd [Airborne] that never actually went down in that era, went to Germany, was stationed in Russia. We had the battle plans to defeat the impending attack into Germany that never came. I went back to the 82nd and then Panama came first and then the first Gulf War, the first Gulf War and that’s my combat experience.

Now did it approach the level of intensity [in Call of Duty games]? My most intense days in combat do not approach the most intense days in this game. We put enough bullets down range that the enemy decided quickly to throw down their weapons and put their hands in the air, giving us what we used to call the Iraqi salute: two hands up.

Were there any times when a developer would show you something and you would just say, “No, that’s not what would really happen?”

Every time I go out there they’ll have something like this. For example, one time I went out and they had the artificial intelligence soldiers in some outfit running out and crisscrossing back and forth in front of a tank that had moved down an alleyway. And I looked at that and said “hey, fix that.” One, no infantryman in his right mind is going to run down the middle of the street and cross over because that’s a funnel of fire. He’d be hugging the corner of the walls. Two, he’s not going to go out in front of that tank. He’s going to let that tank be the bullet magnet and he’s going to be right behind the darn trail of it.

Overall they’re very good on their accuracy, but they don’t know the dialogue and the tempo of dialogue and so sometimes the initial recordings and dialogue that you’d hear would sound like, “Hey dude!” You know, no soldier would ever say that, or say it for long. So anyway, I kind of give them the tempo and how things would sound.

The other thing we did in this most recent game, and you know I’m an Army guy, they said hey, we want to do Marines. And I said don’t do stinking Marines. I love Marines but you know I’m an Army guy so let’s do Army Rangers. They’ve got a lot of Marine friends out there and no one gives equal time to Marines, so they did Marines. But they brought in Marines. Marines have different guttural noises they make, you know they have a different tempo to the way they talk, so they had to Marine-ize some of the dialogue. An Army guy will go “Hoo-ah!” which means just about anything you know, it’s just a guttural noise that you make. But a Marine goes “Oo-rah! Oo-rah!” So there you have it, a Marine guttural noise.



And all that kind of stuff is incorporated into this latest Call of Duty?

Absolutely, yeah. And while I actually had a tour recently as a contractor in Iraq and I was gone, I came back and looked at the game and they were done. They were spot on. A solider coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever will see this game and go, “Hey, hey that’s the M16 I carried right there. Do you see that there? That’s the infrared site right there on the front,” and they can use the game to tell their friends this is how they operated in the field. So it’s that close on the kit and equipment.

Do you think that games can be used effectively as a recruitment tool for the military? Do you think that’s a good idea?

Well, I’m a fan of people going into the military. I think it’s a great thing being in a country that hates war, and I’ve been very thankful to have been in the Army for a country that hates going to war. It means you’ll only go at the last moment, but you’re always going to have [an Army], and you need someone to be able to stand up and say “Okay, I will go defend. I will go where you send me and do what has to be done.” But We certainly didn’t intend for Call of Duty 4 to be a recruiting tool. The Army did make one as a team recruiting tool, as you know, with America’s Army.

Frankly, you know mothers today, they don’t want their kids going into the Army, but the nobility, the sacrifice, the comradeship can be kind of seen when you play this game, and they realized it’s not just all following orders and taking sand up the orifice and getting barked at. There’s something else there that’s kind of noble, and so there may be some influence indirectly when they play this game that gets them interested in the military and I’m for it.

Okay, what about war videogames? You know there’s a lot of them in general. Do you think that war games trivialize the plight of soldiers to an extent?

Well I get that question a lot, but I don’t think it trivializes things, by the fact that we replicate war so well. I say gamers are going to game, and they can be slaying dragons or mythical beasts or some kind of gnome-like creature under the ground, or they could have bees flying around trying to pollinate flowers. At least in this game I think they gain an appreciation for war and some of the stresses and sacrifices that soldiers that sign up today experience, and they might be more likely to say something to a guy coming back in uniform from a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq and say, “Hey thanks, I kind of know what you go through.”

I also think it draws some awareness to the issue, and in the World War II games I think it taught history. There are kids who would never have any interest in what their great-grandfathers did before they died, but they’re compelled to get on the phone and say, “Dad or granddad or great-granddad, I just played this game. I’ve talked to my mom and she said you were in that fight somewhere. What weapon did you carry? A Thompson?'” So we have indirectly—not in any way by intention when we produced the World War II games—honored that great generation that fought, that now is dying in the US at 1500 veterans a day. And I was actually reluctant to shift from that venue just because I like talking to those [old vets]. But when I went back and saw what we’ve done with this game, I think it transfers some of that respect to again the kids, the girls, guys—mostly guys—that are out there doing that today. So I feel good about it.

Do gamers make better soldiers?

You know I’ve had that question, and I would say there is some connection between being able to handle all sensory input simultaneously. You’ve got a heads up display, you’ve got a sensory input that is transferable skill. Now obviously you need to get out and do things for real. You need to do a little physical training and get out of the basement. You can’t just be straight gamer, but I think there is some transferable skill.

It’s not the intention of Activision or any other game developer certainly to [train soldiers], but when I play the darn thing, and I find myself getting very irritated at a multiplayer game, I’ve got to put the same mask of calm on that you do in a real fight and say “Hey, you cannot be irritated, you’ve got to do your drills correctly on this particular thing.” So I think personally there is some transferable skill.

But remember, it's gamers that wanted to make a game, but because they were ruthless in their passion for authenticity what they got was an amazing product.

Ellie