Published Aug 09, 2022
Simulation & Visualization Grad Building Training Tools That Keep Soldiers Safe
Military veteran Daniel Vanallen turned his Game Design and Simulation & Visualization education into a job as an XR Developer with Potawatomi Training.
Filling up your car's gas tank is simple and quick, but fueling a million-dollar military vehicle is a different story. Soldiers have to follow strict protocols to prevent injuries, fuel spills, or equipment damage. Luckily there are people like Game Design and Simulation & Visualization grad Daniel Vanallen working behind the scenes to create training simulations that keep soldiers safe in potentially dangerous conditions.
Daniel started his career in the military, where he worked as an aviation mechanic for 11 years. He became a standard mechanic after he left, but the physical work was tough on his body, especially with the traumatic brain injury (TBI) he'd sustained during his time in the military. Daniel started exploring other professional avenues and decided to combine his love of video games with a new career path by signing up for Full Sail's Game Design bachelor's program.
Daniel enjoyed learning about game design, but he decided to broaden his career prospects with an additional degree in Simulation & Visualization. The curriculum worked well for him, especially when he had instructors like Artificial Intelligence course director Miguel De La Cruz.
"He was one of those teachers that didn't keep himself at arm's length from the students. Whenever it was lunch time, he would tell us where he was going to lunch so if the class as a whole wanted to go and sit down and eat lunch with him and just talk shop, we could," Daniel remembers. "He always taught things in a very easy to understand way. A lot of visuals, a lot of writing. It was really helpful for me with my TBI."
Additional Simulation & Visualization course directors who made a difference to Daniel included Pat Starace and John Czaban. Pat zeroed in on Daniel's passion for hardware creation and helped Daniel hone his 3D printing skills. John helped Daniel develop ideas for a group project where Daniel created a wheelchair simulation trainer with a classmate.
The skills Daniel learned during his time at Full Sail, including using programming languages like C# and C++, designing worlds in Unity, and building microcontrollers using Arduino I/O, prepared him for his first post-graduation job with StraCon. Daniel was part of the Army Virtual Learning Environment project, which built training simulations for Army water treatment specialists and petroleum laboratory specialists.
After his contract with StraCon ended, Daniel quickly found another position as an XR Developer with Potawatomi Training. He's currently helping develop training simulations for petroleum supply specialists to teach them how to safely fuel expensive military vehicles.
"We create a 3D world through Unity where [soldiers] can practice fueling. All of the assets, all the art that's inside these 3D worlds, are 100% lifelike. You can zoom in and literally read the warning labels," he explains. "And the soldier manipulates that equipment and goes through a task list like turn the truck on, then go and open up this valve, turn this switch on, open this valve, pull out the hose, do this, do that. And they learn how to use that equipment before they actually touch the physical equipment."
Daniel still loves video games, but he wouldn't be enjoying his current role if he'd limited himself to working in the games industry. He thinks other college students can benefit from keeping their options open, too.
"A lot of [game design and game development people] have blinders on of, ‘I want to get into a gaming company.' My advice to them would be to pull those blinders away and open up to some of these other locations. Not a lot of people in the gaming industry know about Potawatomi Training. But we do everything you would do in game design or simulation visuals or even game development at Potawatomi Training… We are building video games. We're just building video games that educate people."