Countdown to Xbox One: Call of Duty's Second Chance

Christopher Dring
Countdown to Xbox One: Call of Duty's Second Chance

Infinity Ward are the creators of the biggest video game franchise in the world and are responsible for Xbox One’s most pre-ordered title.

MCV speaks to executive producer Mark Rubin on building for a new generation

Infinity Ward is probably the most influential video game developer in the world.

The minds behind Call of Duty are responsible for billions of dollars in revenue and a host of critically acclaimed games. But back in 2010 it was almost destroyed.

A mass exodus of staff following a dispute with Activision left it in ruins and it was forced to team-up with sister studio Sledgehammer Games to create 2011’s Modern Warfare 3.

Yet Infinity Ward endured.

Now a team of 125, it took on the task of creating not just a new Call of Duty brand in Ghosts, but in taking the series onto the next-generation of consoles.

“We had to increase resource quite a bit for Ghosts,” says executive producer Mark Rubin.

“Activision asked ‘Do you want to do next-gen and we have someone else do current-gen?’ Our answer was ‘No, we want to do both.’

“Both generations are extremely important to us and we wanted to do both. It was a great decision, but it was a tough one. It quickly became a case of: ‘Oh my god, what did we sign up for?’

“The amount of work involved ramping up the studio significantly. We have 150 people, 125 are IW employees, while the other 25 are people who have been sent to help out – whether that is Nvidia engineers, Microsoft engineers or people from Activision’s central tech division. We also have Neversoft and Raven helping us out as well.”

It was a huge task, but one Infinity Ward was desperate to take on.

Adds Rubin: “It is like a perfect storm of opportunity here. It is Infinity Ward and we started the current-gen off when we did Xbox 360 with Call of Duty II. Now we get to be the studio that starts this generation, which is a huge thing for us. It is also a new sub-brand, a new story with a new world, which is a great way to kick off a new generation.”

GHOST STORIES

Infinity Ward was one of the first studios to receive development kits for Xbox One and PS4, and although it was a thrill to be working on them, the firm admits it was a challenge.

“We’re a studio filled with gamers, so being able to get the consoles early was exciting,” adds Rubin.

“When the boxes come in the studio, it is a rush to check out the box and the new controller. It’s a really exciting thing from a strictly nerd-developer stand-point.

“It’s also a new generation and it helps us as developers to feel we are making something new and creatively different. I am excited about it. It is a challenge. But challenges are fun and are things you overcome. When you finally see your game on a next-gen console, it is a really exciting thing for a dev.

“And the great thing about the new consoles is that they are much more PC-like than they ever have been in the past. So that actually makes development on them a lot easier. For a lot of these guys, it means we got spun up on them a lot faster than we would have done.”

NIGHT AND DAY

Historically, it takes developers a long time to get up to speed on new consoles. The difference between the first games on Xbox 360 and the latest titles are pronounced. But does the fact that Xbox One and PS4 are so close to PCs mean we will get the most out of these new consoles faster?

“I don’t know,” admits Rubin. “It may be the case, but I do feel we mastered the current-gen platforms pretty quickly. Our first game looked great. Our next game was a huge leap. The next one was a smaller leap, and then the leaps got smaller and smaller. If you look at Call of Duty II and compare it to Ghosts, the difference is night and day.

“I think we will see something similar. Even though it is PC architecture and it is easier to develop for, I still think there is going to be a length of ramp-up time.

“But it’s impossible to tell right now. If we knew some of the answers to that question, we would have got further ahead on the game we are making. I think we have a lot of room to work out what sort of features and tech works best for each system, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and just what fans want out of the games.

“We have a long lifecycle this gen. It is going to be fun. I can’t wait.”

Call of Duty: Ghosts is Infinity Ward’s comeback, and it was an ambitious comeback. But the developer proved there is life after its 2010 collapse. It hit its deadlines on releasing Ghosts, despite launching across two new platforms.

“The team has been doing this for so long,” continues Rubin. “We have a rhythm. And we are good at cutting. Honestly, we cut a lot. There’s probably eight to 10 multiplayer maps that didn’t make it. If we’re working on a map and it's not working out, we lose it.”

And Infinity Ward never stops. The moment it has shipped a blockbuster game, it switches onto the next project. There’s no time to relax or celebrate a job well done.

“We go into three things,” says Rubin. “There is a group of us who start working on the next game. We start brainstorming. There’s another group watching the numbers. Those guys are prioritising issues they find, coming up with fixes. And then there third group is working on the DLC because we need to get that out the door by January or so.

“We might be able to put our feet up at the start of next year, but even then it’s a temporary thing.

“We’re already thinking about what comes next.”

THE CALL TO TRANSIT

Call of Duty: Ghosts is a game that launches across generations, and Activision believes it can play a part in getting customers to upgrade from Xbox 360 to Xbox One and PS3 to PS4. We speak to Activision UK MD Roy Stackhouse to discuss the transition and its impact on the Call of Duty brand.

How many consumers are waiting to buy the PS4 and Xbox One version of Call of Duty: Ghosts?

It’s a difficult question to answer, because you have to ask the individuals concerned. But there probably is a slight bit of hesitation and nervousness in the marketplace with next-gen just around the corner. There’s no reason customers can’t go out and buy it on current gen and still enjoy it, because whatever platform you buy it on it will look fantastic. But then we also have the seamless upgrade scheme, which means you can move into PS4 or Xbox One and take all your stats with you, and once people understand that more, I think you’ll find it will be an easier progression for game fans.

How do you make sure there are not any customers lost between the generations?

We have to do it via seamless upgrading. The great thing is we have more than one way to move the fans from current-gen to next-gen. So there’s the stuff the first parties are doing in offering next-gen upgrades, there’s the stuff retail is doing through trade-in offers. I think the more and more the gaming community can do to make it easier for people to move to next-gen, I think we will see a positive transition.

How are you supporting next-gen?

We are supporting it through the innovation we have in the game. If anyone has been lucky enough to get hands on with Call of Duty and see what you’re able to do with the next generation, you’ll see they are just graphically stunning. The game itself will show the quality of what next-gen can do. So from that perspective, we are heavily supporting both first parties. It is kind of lucky because it gives us three launches of Call of Duty this year alone.

What makes Call of Duty an ideal next-gen launch title?

Call of Duty is such an iconic brand now, and people can trust it can deliver a good experience, plus the innovations of the brand and the fact it looks spectacular on the new consoles. The recipe is there for a great launch. When people play the game on next-gen consoles, they will see the difference in quality.

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Tags: Activision , infinity ward , roy stackhouse , Call of Duty Ghosts , Mark Rubin

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