From Naval dreadnought to floating gaming station

The USS Iowa is one of the last of a dying breed, a ship of the line, a dreadnought designed to power up alongside an enemy ship and take a beating while delivering broadsides of fire that push the 40,000 ton ship sideways and create shock waves in the nearby ocean. The famously war-tested ship opens its decks to tourists starting in July. In August, a bit of the Iowa's history comes to life when a video game installation on the third deck of the battleship opens for tourists.

The USS Iowa is one of the last of a dying breed; a ship of the line, a dreadnought designed to power up alongside an enemy ship and take a beating while delivering broadsides of fire that push the 40,000 ton ship sideways, creating shock waves in the surrounding ocean.

The famously war-tested ship opens its decks to tourists starting in July. A month later, a bit of the Iowa's history comes to life when a video game installation on the third deck of the battleship opens for tourists.

The recreation of a moment in the Iowa's World War II Okinawa Campaign and the chance to fly Grumman F6F Hellcats as they defend the battleship from attacking Zeroes, are both creations of game developer Wargaming.net.

"We have a really big commitment to military preservation and military history," said Chris Cook, spokesman for the studio. "It aligns pretty well with the focus of our games."

Wargaming.net is probably best known for their online-only war simulator World of Tanks, which pit up to 30 players against one another in historically accurate tank battles. But the developer is already testing their next game, World of Warplanes, and hopes to release their third game, World of Battlships, in 2013.

"From a historical legacy perspective, its something we were already interested in being involved in," Cook said.

In the past, the company worked with the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola, California and The National WWII Museum in New Orleans on similar initiatives. The company also works to raise money for military non-profits around the world. Most recently, Cook said, the company sent a representative to Australia and New Zealand to deliver donations to the veterans' Returned Services Association.

"It's a chance for gamers to experience Iowa as she was built to be used: As a war machine"

"The Iowa is the next big thing for us in that space," he said. "We're always looking for opportunities to be involved."

The idea for the Iowa's video game retrofitting came late last year, when a tank expert for Wargaming.net wrote a story about visiting the ship and about how it was getting restored.

The USS Iowa recently made its final voyage to the Port of Los Angeles, where it will become a museum in July with the help of the non-profit Pacific Battleship Center. Wargaming.net folks met with people from the non-profit in May when the ship was tugged into the Port of Los Angles, said Pacific Battleship Center spokesman Bob Rogers.

Over the proceeding months, the two groups worked out plans for how they could use Wargaming's expertise, and video games, to spruce up the battleship and provide visitors with a high tech glimpse into what warfare aboard the Iowa was like.

The Iowa, which is nearly 900 feet long and 175 feet high, official opens for visitors on July 7th, but it will be years before the ship is fully explorable, Rogers said.

"This is the biggest, the largest and most powerful battleship that the United States made," he said. "It will take five to seven years to open her up completely."

But Wargaming hopes to have its installations finished by August. Both will be installed on a third deck that use to serve as one of the ship's two mess halls.

The first installation is a scripted movie created with computer graphics to show the view from the bridge of the USS Iowa during her support of a series of air strikes off the shore of Okinawa during World War II. The short movie opens with visitors looking over the prow of the battleship at a distant Okinawa, according to the storyboards created by Vertex Productions for the production. Small craft ferry supplies and troops to the beach. Over the course of the short segment, U.S. carrier planes fly in to attack island fortifications and the ship begins bombarding the shoreline as it fends off attacking planes.

Iowa

The company worked with military historians and computer graphics company in Kiev, Ukraine to create what they will be an authentic and historically accurate experience, Cook said.

"It provides a virtual opportunity to see what it would be like sitting in the command deck in the Iowa as you're watching it go into battle," he said. "You see its guns turning and swiveling to fire on incoming ships, you see other ships fighting. It's meant to show the sheer, ridiculous power of the Iowa."

The other installation will be 15 game stations running a specially modified version of Wargaming.net's World of Warplanes. The version has visitors flying Hellcats or Corsairs as a team over the Pacific Ocean as they try to defend a digital recreation of the Iowa against attacking Japanese planes controlled by a computer. The game stations are still being designed, but Cook said they will likely feature each feature keyboard, mouse and flight stick controls.

While the game will play and feel like the retail version of World of Warplanes, it will be an experience unique to the battleship, he said.

The two exhibits are the result of a lot of discussions with the Iowa representatives, Cook added.

"Kinda figuring out what sort of experience would make the most sense," he said. "We knew we wanted to be a part of this experience and that we wanted to add our own Wargaming experience; so it was just a matter of looking at what the Iowa has to offer, an awesome ship with an almost unprecedented history, and seeing how those two fit together."

For their part, the Pacific Battleship Center is delighted to get interactive experiences for their floating museum.

"We are very committed to carrying out this partnership," Rogers said. "We're excited to do it. I think it's fabulous, it's terrific, it's educational as well to understand what these ships did. It's a chance for gamers to experience Iowa as she was built to be used: As a war machine."

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come.Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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