‘America’s Army’ Project Manager Marsha Berry Discusses Newest Game, ‘Proving Grounds,’ and Tie-In Comics

The newest video game in the “America’s Army” series, “Proving Grounds,” is out now on Steam, for free. Project Manager Marsha Berry says the game is taking a “back-to-basics approach” this time around, focusing on team-based tactics.

The release comes just two weeks after the release of the eighth issue of the “America’s Army” digital comic from IDW, which has been going since the release of “America’s Army 3” back in 2009. We chatted with Berry for a while to find out what’s different about this game, what the comic is all about, and what’s to come.

MTV Geek: You guys are promoting this new game, “Proving Grounds,” as being a little different, as having a focus on team strategy. Tell me about what’s different this time.

Marsha Berry: America’s Army has been around since 2002. Like previous versions of the game, it’ll be free to play, free to download off of Steam. It’s going to be a teen-rated game.

What we’ve done is taken all our lessons learned and created a new version of the game. It still adheres to our core features, the army values and rules of engagement, things like that. But what we’ve done is we’ve really try to gear it toward team-oriented gameplay.

We try to capture the authentic nature of the Army in a video game. We have soldiers that help us. They play the game. We actually have soldiers on staff that help develop the game. They make sure that everything we put into the game is as accurate as we can get, so we have real gear, real weapons, things like that. The missions are things that the U.S. would be doing.

It’s set in the fictitious country of Czervenia, with the backstory fed to the players through a comic book series.

We’ve taken the gameplay and made it where you really have to work together to succeed. You earn more points if you work as a team. If you get shot in the game, and you’re close to a teammate, that teammate can medic you an bring you back into the game. If you go down and you don’t have a teammate that can help you, you can get captured by the other team and taken out of the game.

It’s all about the Army messaging, teaching the players a little bit more about what it might be like to be a soldier. That’s kind of the whole point.

Geek: What’s the purpose of the comic, specifically?

Berry: The comic explains why the U.S. is in this region and what the unit is doing there. We’re basically there to provide humanitarian aid to a country that’s being overwhelmed by a dictator. The U.S. comes in and, over time, gets pulled into the fight.

There are several reasons for the comic book. One is it lays the groundwork for the America’s Army game, but it also allows the Army to have another outreach tool. You can be a veteranarian in the army. You wouldn’t put that into a first-person shooter, but in the storyline, you can see there are Army veteranarians providing support to these regions around the world. It allows us to highlight things outside those main battlefield MOSes [Military Occupation Specialty].

Geek: You mentioned that this game and the comic take place in a fictional country. Why not a real place?

Berry: This is the official game of the United States Army, so we don’t want any negative messaging coming out of the game with regard to any politics going on around the world. We don’t want to say anything negative about any other country. We want the message to be about the U.S. Army, not necessarily anything that might be going on politically in the world.

Geek: Military games are huge right now, your “Call of Duty” and “Medal of Honor” games. I’m sure you had to at least consider those while making this game. Do you feel like those games are your competition?

Berry: Obviously, the market is pretty saturated with other, first-person-shooter-type games. A lot of the developers we have, obviously we’ve played these other games, because we’re gamers. So yeah, we are aware of what’s going on.

I don’t really consider it competition, even though in some fashion we may be competing with those games, but I have a different purpose and a different goal than they do, so I like to think of myself in a different way.

Number one, I’m not driven by profit in any way. I’m a free game. My whole purpose is to highlight the Army and give players an idea of our soldiers. You’re also not going to get a high death or kill ratio. We’re more focused on teamwork and supporting the mission.

We’re not really putting it towards anything by comparing it to something else.

Geek: The game is free. The comic is also free, but you have backing on that from IDW. How’d that happen?

Berry: IDW has been a great partner for us. We actually shopped around a little bit. We had one requirement: Deliver a free comic via an app that’s available through lots of different platforms. They met that requirement.

We actually develop all the comic in-house, then we pass it over to those guys and those guys put it in the app for us.

What we have learned is the comic audience is not necessarily the exact same as the first-person shooter audience, so it does help us reach more people.

Geek: Any plans to expand into other media?

Berry: We are always looking for ways to expand the brand, the Army brand itself. We work directly with the brand group for the Army, so whenever we have ideas about new platforms, we pitch it to them.

When or if those things get funded really depends on what’s available. But yeah, we’re always pitching new ideas.