bVisual have created a divisional level war game for the Ministry of Defence, called Minerva. Operational
Level war gaming is an important part of military doctrine creation, and extremely complex and sophisticated
games already exist to meet this requirement. Minerva compliments, rather than competes with these existing
games, because it is designed to be easy, cheap and quick to play.
Minerva was initially conceived as a way of creating a computer version of a large wall map, upon which
division level scenarios are drawn using dry-wipe markers.
It was thought that, if the map could be held electronically and annotated in a similar way to a wall
chart, then reporting results would be faster and more informative. Visio was the application of choice
due to its ease of use and integration into Office products, at this stage little was known of Visio’s
automation capabilities. bVisual (formerly Visimation (UK) Ltd) was brought on to the scene, initially
to provide training in Visio and to demonstrate Visio automation. Following a 5 day programming course,
in which the capabilities of Visio as a drawing engine were fully explored, bVisual took on a contract
to start phase 1 of what was to become Minerva. That was 18 months ago and Minerva and bVisual are now
entering phase 3.
The front-end is based around Microsoft Visio with supporting functionality in VB forms. Players are
presented with a map showing their forces and enemy detection zones, as custom Visio shapes within an
extremely large scale Visio page. Features such as terrain, weather and NBC (nuclear biological chemical)
affected areas are also displayed.
Game play essentially cycles between phases when the game clock is stopped, so that the players can
input new orders; and phases were the game clock is running, enabling the players to watch the progress
of the battle on their VISIO maps. When all players have issued instructions, control of the game is
passed to the Conflict Resolution Engine (CRE). The CRE then applies the player instructions through
a series of algorithms that resolve battles between different forces in the theatre of war, taking into
account a myriad of environmental and situation specific variables. At the end of this process the new
situation is sent to the players and rendered on their Visio maps.
Microsoft develops all the technology underpinning Minerva. The architecture is based on a 3-tier model:
Microsoft Access stores persistent data; a data layer is created using COM objects created in Visual
Basic running under MTS; business logic contained in a DLL uses DCOM to connects to the data layer;
Visio provides the display of data and the input of instructions.
It is hoped that in the near future the database will be ported to SQL Server and a web based reporting
feature added allowing greater accessibility to observers and other interested parties in a wider audience.