Norwich grad shows game designers
what combat aviation is all about © Jan. 21, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications

Army Capt. Jon Ryder stands next to an Apache helicopter on a base in Afghanistan.

photo courtesy of Jon RyderArmy Capt. Jon Ryder stands next to an Apache helicopter on a base in Afghanistan.

The latest entry in the Medal of Honor videogame franchise may be the best game Capt. Jon Ryder has ever played. That’s not surprising—he helped make it that way.

Ryder, an Apache pilot for the Army and a Class of 2006 Norwich alum, shared his insight and experience on flying a combat helicopter with the creators of the popular first-person shooter game. This happened in Ft. Carson, Co., during the winter of 2009 between overseas deployments. He and another captain were asked to help representatives from Entertainment Arts [EA], the game’s developer, collect information to make the game more authentic. This included terminology and slang used by crew members, explanations of the way aircraft and weapons systems work, and the opportunity to make audio recordings.

“We were able to sit down and watch gun tape and explain [what we were allowed] what they needed to know to make the game the most realistic possible,” said Ryder, who is presently stationed in Afghanistan. “It was very difficult to convey some of the things that we deal with on an everyday basis, but these guys had done quite a bit of homework before coming out.”

I was just a very small part of this project and am honored that they thought of me.

Capt. Jon Ryder,
Class of 2006

Paul Lackey, an audio director for the Medal of Honor franchise and other games, was one of the people who met with Ryder in Colorado, and said they were lucky that low cloud cover and rain delayed a live-fire gunnery exercise they had come to record. This gave Lackey and his colleagues a chance to spend real time with the officers.

“It was amazingly insightful to hear these Apache crews discuss TADS [target acquisition and designation systems] and to hear the lingo they used ... if you play the game you will certainly hear realistic cockpit chatter because of the kind patience of Capt. Ryder and the gunfighters who took so much pride in their work and wanted to make sure we understood.”

He added that EA employees in disciplines ranging from animation to story development always seek out the best sources to try to give their game an authentic tone. “Seeking out experts is the only way to uncover the details that make an experience immersive,” said Lackey.

The franchise was developed by Steven Spielberg, and involves a dozen games that send players on missions that range from intelligence gathering to combat, with appropriate locations and weapons. While Medal of Honor games generally take place in a World War II scenario, the latest edition has players play the role of an Apache pilot with an elite special operative group serving in Afghanistan.

Ryder, stationed in Tarin Kowt with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, said much of what he does is cover and support special operative units, so he was able to help developers come up with realistic scenarios.

The son of an Air Force officer, Ryder said he always wanted to serve in the military, and made the decision to join the Army thanks to an ROTC scholarship at Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college. Ryder, a criminal justice major, rose to company commander of the Drill Team, and learned about time management and how to work with people in ways other institutions may not have been able to teach him. He believes these skills were important to his success as a pilot.

“It taught me the importance of staying flexible and thinking ahead,” said Ryder. “It also teaches the importance of tradition and respect and just in general how the military works.”

EA sent Ryder copies of Medal of Honor to distribute to his fellow troops at Christmas. He enjoyed playing the game himself, and was surprised when another soldier pointed out his name listed among technical consultants in the game's credits.

“They continue to show complete support for us,” he said. “I was just a very small part of this project and am honored that they thought of me.”