By John Gaudiosi
With active warfare on multiple fronts, technology plays a greater role today in military warfare around the globe than ever before. Video game publisher and developer Ubisoft  has worked closely with the companies that provide the United States military with the latest gadgets, weapons and innovations to help ensure the safety of Special Forces soldiers  in combat.
Mixing Real-world Tactics With Gameplay
“Technology plays a huge role for the modern soldier, first and foremost in regards to communication,” says Stuart White, senior producer on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier  , due to be released this year. “Ask any soldier what would happen if they found themselves in the field with no communication to base or their squadmates. Coordination of movement allows a small squad of soldiers to become a devastating unit on the modern battlefield. This coordination happens because of technology. Tech allows intel to be passed to and from the field instantaneously, allowing for split-second decisions that can be the difference between life and death.”
Of course, when it comes to video games, communication technology doesn’t play as large of a role as the fun factor of weapons and gadgets. To combine a true military feel with a great game, the Future Soldier development team in Paris had to blend real-world tactics with near-future technology, and then factor in fun and engaging gameplay to deliver the experience Ghost Recon fans expect.
“We strive to bring realism to the game at every turn,” says White. “It is a delicate balance for us to make sure that we provide entertainment grounded in reality. If we pushed realism too far, we would have a game where you did PT for two hours, rode in a C-130  for eight hours, and patrolled for 45 minutes before you saw any action.”
Replacing Human-controlled Machines
The balance between video games and life as a soldier extends even further. Games are so ingrained in military life, with large chunks of free time for soldiers between patrols, that the military is developing new weapons with this in mind. White saw an example of this when he visited a research and development lab of a major weapons manufacturer, where they were developing unmanned .50-caliber guns for Humvees.
“The gunner would sit inside the safety of the Humvee and operate the gun with a controller that looked very similar to an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controller,” explains White. “When I commented on this, they told me that the guys who need to man the .50-cal already had knowledge of what game controllers felt like, so why should they reinvent the tech?”
This example is just one of many that show the military’s evolution from human-controlled weapons and machines to automated technology. The first generation of unmanned drones has been active on battlefields for some time now.
“Automation should be the flavor of the day as we move forward,” says White. “New drones will bring a dramatic change to the landscape of battles. Think about how cool it will be to gather Intel with an unmanned drone and not risk human lives. Gathering intel on your enemy is where the battle is won or lost. If you have more information about your enemy, you will be able to get the drop on them every time.
Understanding Military Life
Through its military connections, the Ghost Recon dev team has logged hours shooting both modern and near-future weapons at shooting ranges during the development of Future Soldier. These exercises help the team get a feel for the technology, while bringing them a little closer to the soldiers that gamers take control of in the action.
“Our goals for this game are to allow the player to escape into the world of Special Forces,” says White. “We really want the players to feel like they are in an elite group of soldiers and that they can take on the world.”
The gameplay has been designed so players can take on this world both by themselves and with friends, explains White. “Co-op gaming is such a huge opportunity for us; experiencing something by yourself is great, but when you can experience something with your friends, it can be so much better,” he says. “We also want to remind gamers that the Ghosts have not gone anywhere. They are here -- and more badass than ever.”
The team behind Future Soldier promises that this latest game will bring something fresh to the shooter genre, including optical camouflage, personal combat drones and a new exoskeleton that enables more athletic combat maneuvers behind enemy lines. At the same time, they are following the formula that Tom Clancy  has made famous.
“We look at what is going on today in modern combat and then make some assumptions about what the near future could look like,” says White. “The trick is to put yourself just far enough into the future that your storyline is not controversial.”
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is set in 2025, giving gamers the chance to experience the future of warfare -- today.
All images courtesy of Ubisoft.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv and a game columnist for Reuters and RhMinions.com .