Infinity Ward is this year’s most talked about developer.
The studio’s community manager Robert Bowling speaks to Develop about working on what is widely considered the year’s most anticipated title, and the pressures that come with high expectations.
Call of Duty 4 remains one of this generation’s defining video games. How confident are you that this one can top that?
I am extremely confident. We took everything that we and the fans love about Call of Duty 4 and kept them at staples.
We’ve stayed rooted to the design philosophies that we had with Call of Duty 4, and built on top of that. We’ve listened to community feedback, and added new things to the multiplayer that changes the way you play online – much in the same way perks did in Call of Duty 4.
I guess the ultra-high expectations must put pressure on you?
It does put pressure on you. But just as much pressure that you always have when you make a game. Very early on we decided to shelter ourselves from being distracted by the hype. We are focussing on making a game that we can be proud of and our fans will like. We approached it like we would any other game.
The release date was set back in March I believe. What have been the advantages and disadvantages to that?
With an early date you draw your line in the sand. You make it very clear: this is when it is coming out and we are very confident in the game. But the challenge is you’ve got to stick to that. You’ve got to stick to your plan and schedule it very carefully, and make sure you use your full development time and leave enough time for polish as well.
Was there ever a moment where you thought “Oh no, we’re not going to make it?”
[Laughs] No, we are very confident in the game right now. We’ve got everything we wanted to get into it and we are at a point where we are happy with it.
You appear to have invested quite heavily in audio, with Hans Zimmer on the score and some quality voice actors. Why have you decided to go down this high-profile route for audio?
Audio is extremely important, as is the story, the pacing and the gameplay. We want to keep that quality across the board. We never really go for the big actor everybody knows. We want to get characters that fit perfect. We will sit, night-after-night, and just watch demo reels and audition tapes. Sure, this guy is good and well known – but he’s not Soap. We really fine actors that fit the characters we wrote.
For Hans Zimmer, it is the first time scoring a video game. But we designed to be a cinematic experience and he is a master of creating that. We didn’t want to get anything that didn’t meet the quality you’d expect from a film.
I guess Hans Zimmer doesn’t come cheap and I imagine the development budget for a game of this magnitude is pretty high. How has the budget helped development?
We are pretty tight on our budgets. Early on – when we decided to make a sequel – Activision estimated out a ridiculous budget. And we were like: ‘No, we don’t need that.’
Much like we don’t let ourselves get distracted by hype, if you have excess you feel like you should use excess. So we said ‘let us design a game the way we’d always design a game. And let us focus on that.’ So we didn’t let the budget affect our mentality. We would only put stuff in the game that is right for the game, and not because we can.
Of course though, it does afford us certain luxuries. With Hans though, it wasn’t so much about the money. He has the same mentality as us, in that he does projects because he is passionate about them. It is something he has never done before and it was a challenge. You have to score a game in a totally different way to a film. So he took it on because he was intrigued by it and he liked the story. Not because we had a cheque book.
Has the studio size grown much since the last Modern Warfare?
Not very much no. We are still under 100 people. Maybe we have ten new people since Call of Duty 4, maybe slightly more. But the core team has always remained the same at Infinity Ward since we made the first one.
You share Call of Duty development with Treyarch of course, which affords you a two-year development cycle. How much of an advantage is this?
Two years is essential, if not more. We really good at that two-year cycle and we have been using it for a while. That is the amount of time we feel we need to make a game and give it the right amount of polish. Polish is extremely important to us. We will not commit to a development cycle that has that.
You share out your engine to other Activision studios, Treyarch included. Does that put extra pressure on you?
Not at all. We focus only on features that benefit our game. If we hit a glass ceiling, then we will develop a feature to get around that. That is why we introduce texture streaming. We do things with our current project in mind, and we never think about other people using our engine. Because that’s their problem.
You’ve been working on Call of Duty for ten years. Have you ever been tempted to move onto a new IP?
We take it game-by-game. We never worry about the future too much. Right now we wanted to make a sequel, so the entire team is hands on deck for making Modern Warfare 2. Then once this is done, maybe we’ll see about doing something new. If we do want to do something else, then we will do it. We don’t feel tied to making Call of Duty games.
We still make Call of Duty games because we’re having fun doing it. And when it stops being fun, we’ll move onto something else.
First Call of Duty was on PC, and then you moved onto consoles. What needs to happen before you consider Wii, or PSP, or DS?
If we felt like we could deliver the cinematic experience we were going for on other platforms, then we would gladly move to that platform. Right now, we don’t think the Wii can deliver the exact experience that we’re doing. We like to be very equal across all platforms, and if it’s not equal then we won’t do it.
Have you been taken much inspiration from other first person shooters for Modern Warfare 2?
We look at everything when we are making a game. Anytime anything new comes out we will play it. Be it Gears of War or Killzone. We’ll pile in tour theatre and watch people play it and discuss it. I think it is important to appreciate the work everybody is doing, no matter what the genre. Really, when making Call of Duty we look at all genres such as racing games and RPGs, and incorporate elements of all of them. And that shows in aspects of our games, such as the snowmobile section.
We take elements from every genre. We don’t just play first person shooters, we will play RPGs and go: ‘This xp, ranking and perk ability is really awesome’ and that inspires decisions in our games. And that is why we are moving away from being a first person shooter and being a first person action game.