We keep waiting for the enormous Call of Duty bubble to burst, but Activision and it’s cadre of developers continue to impress us, so right now it shows no signs of slowing down. “Call of Duty: Ghosts” looks no different, and the team has definitely ramped up the multiplayer experience and packed it with new features. We spoke to Senior Executive Producer Marcus Iremonger after the multiplayer for the game was revealed, and he spilled some of the secrets. Read on for our full interview of this highly anticipated shooter that arrives in November.
So, how long have you been with Activision?
I don’t even know. (laughter) I think 1999 is when I joined, and I’ve been working on Call of Duty since the end of 2005 into 2006.
You’re a producer with Activision, what does your role entail?
Quite simply, it’s to make sure the developers have everything they need in order to make the best possible game. So we bridge between development and publishing. We work for the publisher, we’re really there to help the developer negotiate a lot of those extra publisher sides of things and really just ensure, whatever they need, they don’t have to worry about it. So instead they can worry about concentrating on making a great game and we worry about all the stuff behind the scenes on the business side.
Activision has Call of Duty down to a science with a new game every year, but now we have new consoles. Was that a big change for the team?
We’ve had the current-gen consoles for like six or seven years. You get used to them, you get comfortable making these games, and not having to worry about the hardware and what it does, and you know those machines; you gradually to get know those machines really well. When next gen comes out, there are things that you still have to learn. There are things that you have to do with regards to being a game developer – you need you make sure your game still runs, your game runs at 60 frames per second, but you still then have to make sure you maximize that platform. And as these platforms are being developed, we’re developing games along side. So that’s one of those things, it’s slightly a moving target. It makes it more interesting. And it gives us opportunities to do some really cool stuff, and some of the new features that we’re doing. So, it’s a benefit and allows the team to think, ’How are we going to push this whole game, not just the tech side of things, but everything else in there.’ So it’s a good motivator.
A lot of times when there’s something new in a game, it’s like, ’Oh, here’s a new weapon.’ That’s tangible, I can understand it, I see it. But when they were talking about the new sound system that’s in this game, how many improvements like that have the team worked on that are almost transparent to the gamer, that they won’t really recognize immediately?
That’s the thing. If you look, and you just give it a quick glance. This is Call of Duty. The Call of Duty that you’ve always known and that you love. But there are some big obvious things, like a dog in multiplayer that’ll follow you around — so that’s like a big deal. But then there’s the much smaller touches that actually, when you talk to people and you basically tell them about initially, they’re like, ’Okay, that sounds alright.’ But things like the contextual lean, the knee slide … these are really subtle things, but they change the game, not drastically, but the whole thing you want to do is to create a more immersive connection to the world. So if you knee slide, that’s one of the coolest things. Again, is it the big, sort of massive thing that makes headline news? No. But it’s actually one of the things that’s going to have one of the biggest impacts that people play.
The fluid movement as well, just around the player to keep moving, and keep up the momentum. Where as before, you’d come up to a barrier and press the button and you stop, and there’s an animation and then you go over, but now it’s one fluid movement. So there are some really subtle things. The audio is subtle in some ways. The reactive emitters that we talked about, those are things that just make you feel like you’re in a game world. You throw a grenade and it explodes a car in front of you, but that blast will be detected and rattle chain link fences and anything behind you. So you suddenly feel more enveloped in the game. There is a mix of the obvious and the subtle. And the subtle is actually going to add a tremendous amount to the game.
This game has a new engine, so was there a laundry list that you guys had that read ’Next engine, we need to address this’?
There’s always a laundry list. There’s a laundry list regardless, from one game to the next, and that laundry list changes even through development. So with the next gen, it was really about, ’What can we push on things like special effects? And things like the sub-d, the Sub-Division, where we can now make dynamically, as the code is running, change the details.’ So if you’re staring at something that’s really curved up close, it’s going to fill up those gaps. There’s a lot of displacement mapping, which is the tessellation between turning effectively 2D texture into real 3D. These were all great opportunities for the team to say, ’Okay, I have to pick.’ And some things will go. The key thing is to always maintain that 60 frames a second.
So there are finally female soldiers in the game. Was that something that was allowed by the next gen engine? Why did it take so long?
It will be in the current gen as well, so that wasn’t holding us back. It was really something where we saw more and more gamers come into the game, being more vocal generally about the game, and being great community members. And basically, when we started talking about this whole idea of customization, it seemed like if you’re going to give people the choice, then to not have females in the game seemed like an odd choice. And I’m sure the community would have let us know if we hadn’t done that. So it’s something the people have asked for. The characters look amazing. There’s lots of options in there, so you can change the look as well. So, we’re just really pleased with the reaction as well.
What sort of challenges did that present, bringing women in? You don’t typically see female soldiers kitted out like these guys, so you had to create them from scratch?
Yes. And our game leans towards some levels of authenticity and then again, it’s a fiction.
Ha! Yeah, exactly. Some of those things might not actually be out there right now. But it’s that whole thing about what does – a sort of believable reality. What feels right, what looks right to the average person who’s going to be playing the game. So that’s what it really is. It’s not pretentious in any way. These characters all look like soldiers, so that’s one of the key things.
What changes do you think the hardcore multiplayers will notice right away?
Right away, it’s not even going to be in the game. It’s going to be when you’re setting your character up. And in the past, we’ve had a pretty good system – a great class system that we thought was pretty cool But we’re now taking that and we’re making a character-based one. So, defining your character straight away, naming your character. That character has six classes, six low-downs. So, you can go in and name each of those. And inside that, we’ve changed the way that the unlocks work. The unlocks now will be based on accumulated scored points – so as you play with each of your characters, your individual character will earn XP. Each time they earn a certain amount of XP, they’ll be gifted a score point and those score points you can then take in into your normal menu selections and you can choose.
So, if you build those up enough, rather than grabbing the first thing that comes along, you build up those points, you can pick something that’s probably a bit sweeter. It’s really about giving the player control. So, as well as giving them control over their unlocks, but also really changing the way they select perks, so they really liked the Pick 10 system with “Black Ops 2″ and Infinity Ward, being the main visual studios, they wanted to take their own design ideas to that. So what they’ve created is this system where we now have 35 perks. Those perks are going to be unlocked over time and then purchased with your points. So you can select, not just three as we’ve done in the past, we’ve had one of each classification – we have about six or seven classes of perks. And you can pick, as long as you can fit them into your allocated space, which is effectively eight slots, then you can pick whatever you want. So as long as you’ve unlocked them, you can pick them. So you can potentially pick one, what we call Deadeye, and that takes up five of your eight. So this is to sort of help to auto balance the game in some way.
What does that Deadeye perk do?
So that one actually gives you extra stopping power. If you make a kill, it gives you a chance of increased stopping power. And that chance gets better. So we changed that as well, to give the players the ability to pick these. So it’s eight slots, each perk has a different value. Some are one, some are two, some are three and some are five. So you really have to balance. It’s a good way of making a player look around and then have to juggle these things. It’s much more of a juggling act. But what you can also do is you can say, ’Okay, well I’m going to get rid of my equipment. I’m going to go with no lethal equipment, and suddenly I have two more slots.’ So now I’ve got 10 perks I can put in. And on top of that, you could get rid of your secondary whatever. And then you could have 11 slots. So it would be 11 perks.
Or 11 slots to fill, but yeah.
So again, it’s just about giving the player more control. Killstreaks, attachments, those don’t factor into that point system. So you can put whatever you wanted to on your weapon, within reason. Again, things will be changed – like really small things, like weapons. When you add an under-barrel, we used to make you switch to that. Now, you actually hit the right bumper.If you added a shotgun or a grenade launcher to under your weapon, what it’s going to do is get rid of your lethal. So you have to, again, balance the options. It’s quick. You press the button. It’s not going to be switched and switched back. So again, it sort of adds to that idea of making things all fluid.
Tell us about some of the maps and killstreak nuances.
So the Strike Zone map is pretty amazing. So we have these things now called field orders, these are the blue briefcases that you probably saw in the game. So the first person to get killed, that guy drops this briefcase. You then run over, you grab that, it effectively gives you a dynamic challenge, which could be do things like, take out three drones, takes out guys while crouching, humiliate an opponent, and so on. There are multiple ways that you can then achieve it. And if you achieve it, then you get a Care Package.
That Care Package has potential to be all sorts of things. One of the ones it can be is what’s called an Odin Strike. That’s the concept you saw in the video, and it’s a missile that comes in and it destroys that entire map. You have one map that you can sort of work your way around and then that Odin Strike comes in and then the whole world changes. And it’s not just a color change, it’s a full geometry change. So it’s pretty stunning. I was once playing on top of this van and camping, and the Odin Strike comes in, and I’m on top of that van, which is just parked there and when I get thrown off, I look back at this van, and this van is just buried. And it’s still the same van there, but I can now hop onto it easier, and it’s half-encased in the world. And there is a lot of cool stuff, through the whole game.
Will there be a noticeable, appreciable difference between the Xbox One version and the Xbox 360 version?
Yeah, because of the graphical power of those machines, it’s the big thing. So you will see that some of those graphical features will be more noticeable, and everything else. But the game play itself will be the same thing. You’re not going to suddenly find that you’ve got less players in the game, the world is different — all those features, they’re going to transfer across. And the coolest thing is those features filter down, so not just the gameplay features, but some of those tech features: you’re going to see high resolution textures … this is really going to be the best looking one that we’ve done, on the Xbox 360 as well.
What about the new mobile version of “Call of Duty?”
That’s the Beachhead studios. Beachhead has been working very closely with Infinity Ward and all their online multiplayer guys. One of the things Infinity Ward really saw that was very successful was clans. So, as well as putting more clan management in so you can play the game itself, you can create a clan, you can modify it and invite people, and you can message people in your clan from that app. You’re going to be able to do things like edit the clan emblem, and you can now select and use the emblem editor from the “Black Ops” game and it is going to be all touch-screen based.
So you’ll get to be able to create your clans the way you want, write to your clans, chat to your clans, and then Clan Wars, which is sort of the meta game. It’s the game that sort of takes place whilst you’re playing. So, you’re in a clan, every game you play is going to add towards your clans points in this thing. So the key thing with Clan Wars is that it’s a number of locations. And each number on the map will have a certain game type associated with it. So, you’ll be able to say, ’Okay, in order to succeed on this, I need to play a Team Deathmatch, or Domination, or Search and Rescue.’ And you’ll choose those and those will then contribute more points. So if you see that you’re getting close to getting your Cranked location, you’re going to want to go in and play Cranked. So, it’s really about a way of giving them something, a very clear goal, an ongoing thing, so there’s a leaderboard in there which will show you versus your clans that are fighting against you in that specific area.
It’s really just a way to better integrate in between the game and give them this really cool way of judging their performance day in and day out. And every win that you have as an individual within a clan works towards those points. So you don’t have to be playing with your clan at that specific time, you can be playing on your own as a member of a clan and that will add in as well.
And those offline victories add XP to your clan?
Yeah, it’s counted as XP. I’m not sure we’re talking about any further stuff than that, but there are also in-game rewards as well. There will be things that you will actually have when you’re in game that will come from that. One of the coolest things, you were talking about if it was an offline game, which it sort of is, the coolest thing that we have here is the squads and that mode of play, which allows us to do things which we really haven’t done before. The coolest one, there’s a couple of really cool ones in there, Squad v. Squad, which is you and your squad versus matchmaking of another guy and his squad. It’s you and your AI versus him and his AI. So obviously, there’s going to be clever matchmaking in that. But you’re going to want to keep your AI out, especially to play with your playstyle to make sure you can take his team out.
And similarly, one of the most intriguing, I think is Squad Assault. So Squad Assault is you with your squad playing a guy who’s possibly not online. He’s maybe in bed asleep. He’s nowhere to be seen, he’s not at his machine at all. So this idea because of the way that they work, the data is stored with your squad system, so that we can actually matchmake with offline clans. Now that offline player gets a chance to say, my squad for offline play is this, these characters that I built up, and we’re going to play on this map, and we’re going to play this game mode. So again, that’s a really cool thing. And again, your offline squad will actually earn you a level of XP as well. So even when you’re asleep, your guys will potentially be ranking up.
If the game uses your data, will the bots play in your style?
They actually play in the style that you’ve sort of built them. So it’s all about equipment. So, dependent on their XP levels and their equipment — say you give a guy a sniper rifle, he’s not going to run around, he’s going to find locations to shoot from. So it’s really about those classes that you picked and that could have been picked. And the AI is phenomenal. Those Squad Wars have a war game, which is basically you take your squad in to any of the modes of multiplayer, and play just against the AI, and you have difficulty levels. So, I’ve been playing the AI on Novice a lot, just because I wanted to get killstreaks, which was pretty cool. And then I decided I’m going to ramp it up and I jumped up to Regular, and they started to punish me a bit more. And then I went to Veteran. And when I went to Veteran and it was, ’Oh my god, these guys are amazing.” I mean, they’ll come around a corner and drop to the floor.
The other thing I noticed was nice, so all of a sudden I was getting knives thrown at me, which I wasn’t seeing in the early games. So they really are leveling them up. So you’ll see guys, maybe not ADS’ing as much as they would do. They would also do things, like the AI who are more experienced will quickly respawn in, while the AI who are less experienced will spawn in having watched the Killcam. So just the whole way of really making you feel what these guys are feeling.
So the dog, Riley is a kill streak. Does he get killed by the opposing team if they see him?
He is vulnerable like any other person being in the game. But he will survive if you die. So if you get taken out, he’s going to carry on. He fights on and he’ll keep going until he gets taken out. And of course you can always bring him back, so he’s never dead.
He’s always with us, in spirit.