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John Wood, art director
Lauren Doerr, senior writer
Christopher Colton, creative director
Jeff Maki, group creative director
Maria D’Amato, executive creative director
Jay Esteves, strategist
eShots, technology director
Nick Grisham/Jacob Kern White/Cory Runyeon, editors
Lauren Sanders, senior managing editor
James Steckel, studio artist
Connor Miranda, associate producer
Jackie Purdy-Andrews, producer
Linda Jackson, senior producer
Amanda Talmadge, digital production director
Lisa Valencia, project manager
Lewis Caton/JJ Gaines/Karen Gatewood/Linda Nhan/Abbi Press/Gina Stevanovich/Lindsay Wakabayashi, quality assurance
We Are Royale, development partner
GSD&M, project design and development
United States Air Force, client

“Immersive [with] great functionality and information and sound design. Loved the gender representation in the case study. Also informative—[it] didn’t feel like just a video game.” —Pam Scheideler

“The level of detail and authenticity in this entry is pretty incredible for a mobile experience.” —Jen Vladimirsky

Overview: Recruiters for the United States Air Force (USAF) needed a way to engage potential members of the armed forces during the COVID-19 pandemic. Austin-based ad agency GSD&M created Command The Stack, the world’s first AR mobile flight simulator, to let players fly the USAF’s most advanced aircraft in their own living spaces. Based on a real strategy called “the stack” in which aircraft work together at different altitudes, the game immerses players in either single-player or multiplayer modes to show them the skills required of every servicemember in the Air Force and spark a lifelong passion for flight.

Command The Stack was built in Unity and used AR Core and Unity AR Foundation for Android and iPhones.

The app has been downloaded more than 8,000 times since its launch, and the accompanying website has had more than 78,000 sessions and 50,000 unique visitors.

Over the course of fifteen months, GSD&M worked on Command The Stack with its primary creative and development partner We Are Royale and digital data–capture partner Eshots for the game’s registration and login component.

Comments by Jay Esteves, Jackie Purdy-Andrews and John Wood: 
What do you think are the project’s core features? “The augmented-reality ‘Stack,’ the focal point of the gameplay area,” say Esteves, Purdy-Andrews and Wood. “When players first start the game, they use their phone’s rear camera to place the Stack column in their environment. The Stack can be placed on the floor or on a tabletop, and players can adjust the height and size; during game-play, they can move closer to the Stack to zoom in on the 3-D aircraft and terrain, and they can even walk around the Stack to see things from different angles.

“There are nine missions that players can individually complete,” they continue. “The Stack itself is divided into three levels of air support, and each aircraft has a specific use within its Stack level. After players complete the tutorial, they can either move to newly unlocked missions or play any of the nine missions in multiplayer mode, which was built using Microsoft Azure PlayFab.”

Did you meet with any extraordinary obstacles during development? “Design-wise, we had to create an immersive gameplay experience without overwhelming players with constant movement in the AR environment,” says Esteves. “We took inspiration from early video games during the transition from 2-D arcade games to 3-D environments on TVs. The key learning was that we could give the impression of movement by having the environment move toward players, like a treadmill.

“Development-wise, we had to have a lot of testing to ensure surface tracking worked smoothly,” Esteves continues. “In order to be successful, the environment had to be accurately stacked in one place so that players could move around it. This led to struggles ensuring consistency from the original iOS development to Android platforms, but we successfully built a cross-platform game where iOS and Android users could play multiplayer mode together.”


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