Early Synthetic Prototyping

Project Abstract

Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP) is a new concept the Army is exploring that will use game environments to assess novel designs and concepts early in the acquisition cycle. ESP is a process and tools that enable Soldiers to assess emerging technologies within game scenarios to provide feedback to decision makers.

Acquisition, science and technology, and industry partners will develop scenarios and models and place them on the network for Soldiers to play and assess. This allows an unbounded increase in ideas to be explored at minimal cost. The goal is to engage the whole Army in defining the future of the Army and to ensure that the Soldier remains the centerpiece of future development.


Principal Investigator(s)
Rudy Darken

Point of Contact
Rudy Darken


Current Scenarios

The following scenarios currently exist to test the robots’ capabilities:

Players learn the basics of VBS2 character movement, weapon use, and remote robot operation.  This is the only scenario that doesn’t involve multiple players.


  • Players learn how to operate VBS2 functions


AssaultESP Assault

Two BLUFOR players with their own robots must attack a well defended prisoner camp.  The OPFOR forces will fire on both the BLUFOR forces and prisoners, so the players must plan their assault carefully.  Two players take on a couple of the defending OPFOR forces.


  • Determine how well the robot functions as an assault vehicle


DefenseESP Defense

Two BLUFOR players must kill as many OPFOR forces as possible in 5 minutes.  Both the OPFOR and BLUFOR forces and the robots will all respawn when killed.  Two players take on a couple of the attacking OPFOR forces.


  • Determine how well the robot can be used to eliminate attacking forces while defending its operators


ConvoyESP Convoy

Four BLUFOR players each control a robot in order to follow a convoy meeting an OPFOR target.  Players must not be seen until the meeting occurs and then must kill all OPFOR forces.


  • Determine how well the robot functions as a reconnaissance vehicle


EscapeESP Escape

One BLUFOR player must reach a helicopter at the end of a well defended road, another BLUFOR player controls a robot to defend the escaping player.  Two OPFOR players join the other OPFOR forces to stop the BLUFOR forces.


  • Determine how well a robot can be used to rescue a human from a combat situation


Crowd ControlESP Crowd Control

Two BLUFOR players must use robots to clear a bridge of civilians so that they can freely attack the OPFOR forces on the other side.  Two OPFOR players join the other OPFOR forces to try to eliminate the BLUFOR forces without killing any civilians.


  • Determine the robot’s capabilities to disperse angry crowds without casualties


Battle BotsESP Battle Bots

Two BLUFOR players and two OPFOR players all control sets of robots to fight against each other.  The first team to eliminate the other team’s robots wins.


  • Determine ideal balance between speed and armor strength between robots


Hide and SeekESP Hide and Seek

Two BLUFOR forces must survive for a set time limit with one robot under their control.  Two OPFOR forces must hunt down and kill the BLUFOR players.  OPFOR players will respawn after a set amount of time upon death.


  • Determine how well the robot can defend someone waiting for backup


Next Steps

  • Have teams of four students run through the scenarios to see how well the robots function and if the students come up with other uses for them and adjust robot parameters and scenarios based on feedback
  • Repeat process for other emerging technologies



  • 3/2014 MOVES just completed the initial study using VBS2 to assess a concept robotic vehicle called Wingman. Groups of students played red versus blue in a variety of scenarios and then assessed how the game environment helped them explore the design, utility, and deployment of Wingman. There were many creative ideas that emerged from the experiment involving topics such as how many operators it needs, whether it is better for attack, defense, or surveillance, and what configurations best suit which mission.ESP testing

Lessons Learned

  • VBS2 AI is difficult to work with, especially if you have specific tasks you want them to do
  • Making/changing customizable remote robots is fairly trivial using VBS2
  • After action review in VBS2 is incredibly easy to add to any scenario