Wednesday, September 9, 2009

MW2 Exclusive Developer Interview

Check out this all new developer interview with Robert Bowling, Community Manager for Infinity Ward, developer of Modern Warfare 2.

Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling delves deep into the subject of Activision’s classic in the making…

Name/ Robert Bowling
Company/ Infinity Ward
Job title/ Community manager
Working On/ Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Did you know? The first Modern Warfare game sold 13 million copies. That number is beyond impressive and explains the sequel and then some!

The series had always been a high-seller, obviously, but why do you think Modern Warfare garnered such success compared to Call Of Duty 2, even though the games were arguably on par in terms of quality?
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the first leap into the modern era and the first time our team was able to start with a clean creative slate, allowing them to really flex their storytelling through crafting a unique conflict, enemy and characters that you connected to. In addition, Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare put multiplayer as a main focus of its development, having both single-player and multiplayer start development from day one. We built a great following on Xbox Live as a launch title with Call Of Duty 2, and Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was all about following that up and completely blowing away expectations of where we could go with the series.

Creatively, did the success change anything within the team? Perceptions, perhaps, that you’re catering for a wider audience?
No. Our design philosophy never changes based on such things. Our team is always focused on making games we love and that we know our community will love. Whether we are making games 13 people played or what ended up being 13 million people playing, the focus is always to make it accessible and fun for any type of gamer, whether you’ve been playing FPSs your entire life or Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was your first one. Having a blockbuster hit just reaffirms that you’re doing something right and gives you the added benefit of a massive community that you can turn to, to give yourself a gut check. Regardless of how successful your game becomes, it’s important that the team sticks to their design values and leans on their community to support them in staying true to the reason people love the game in the first place, while innovating on the formula in the right ways.

“We’d rather hold out and improve the overall quality of the game rather than just get the job done”

Do you miss working with a historical context, or does the creativity allowed by doing fictional scenarios – a nuke shockingly going off – make working on the game more exciting?
The writers and designers on the team love having the freedom in storytelling to completely destroy a player’s expectations. Making historically accurate games is exciting because there are so many true stories of heroism and bravery, but with Modern Warfare the real fun for the team is taking players to locations and through events that they never see coming. Breaking perceptions of what it means to be the ‘hero’ character, and those preconceptions that ‘heroes’ don’t die, intelligence is always reliable and victory is always ensured. Completely breaking those rules – now that’s exciting.

How has the Infinity Ward team grown since Modern Warfare?
We’ve been steadily growing since Call Of Duty 2, and more still since Modern Warfare 1. We’re a really close-knit team that is brutally honest with one another, so it’s an intimidating but extremely rewarding team to be a part of. So while I feel like we’re getting new faces all the time, we’re actually still a pretty small team hovering at just about 100 employees, including our internal test team. We have a great philosophy to never hire someone just to fill a seat or because we need another animator or artist. We’d rather hold out for someone who will add value to the team and improve the overall quality of the game rather than just get the job done.

You’ve always had vehicle sections in your games, used somewhat sparingly, so it’s interesting that you decided to unveil the game using the snowmobile sequence at E3. Would you say there’s more vehicle play in Modern Warfare 2 than any of your other games?
I wouldn’t say there is more, or there’s less. We use vehicles where it works and it’s fun. The snowmobile section is undeniably awesome and was a perfect ending to the mission. We never make a mandate that we’re going to have x amount of vehicle missions because vehicles are fun or it’s the new ‘fad feature’ to include in your game. It’s really up to the individual designer of a level to decide how to craft his level to be the most fun it can be. The key is to have the player constantly experiencing new things, so even if snowmobiles are super-awesome it doesn’t mean they should be in every level. It counts as a win in my book if you leave them walking away wanting more.

Multiplayer became the flagship feature of the Call Of Duty series with the first Modern Warfare. Did you feel that maybe the single-player didn’t get the attention it deserved? It seems like co-op in Modern Warfare 2 is a way of intrinsically linking the two modes.
We have a huge audience in both single-player and multiplayer, although it definitely seems like multiplayer gets all the fanfare due to the endless hours our community can play it. Although Modern Warfare made very clear the importance of catering to every audience. As I said, MP and SP had dedicated teams working on them since day one of development. With Modern Warfare 2, we’re taking it a step further and breaking the game down into not just two extensive parts, but three: campaign, co-op and multiplayer; the co-op portion we call Special Ops. At this point in games, I think all three audiences are extremely important to your community.

The multiplayer always has mass appeal and the most vocal community. While single-player is as, if not more, popular in terms of unique users and casual gamers, they’re just much harder to track since they never get online and thus probably don’t participate in online communities. The co-op audience is a great hybrid of both audiences: it’s the friends playing split-screen who don’t have Xbox Live, and it’s the multiplayer crowd who want to mix up their experience. It’s a great addition that I think is and should become just as important as [the other] two elements.

How did including a co-op mode affect Modern Warfare 2’s level design?
This is exactly why we made the decision to separate Special Ops into a dedicated mode, separate from both multiplayer and single-player. A lot of times, you’ll attempt to cram co-op into your story and it forces your levels to be crafted specifically around having multiple players, many times compromising or ruining the experience for a single player. Story, pacing and the experience of the single-player campaign is extremely important to us in Modern Warfare 2, and there is no reason it needs to suffer due to co-op. Therefore, we took all the moments that work well with co-op and put them into Special Ops, where we could tailor the level and design to that mode. In addition, we crafted unique levels specifically for the Special Ops mode that you’ll never see in the single-player campaign. Every mode has its unique levels, features and experiences.

Can you talk about the story of Modern Warfare 2, perhaps how you went about creating an antagonist that differed from Zakhaev in Vladimir Makarov?

Modern Warfare 2 picks up where Modern Warfare 1 left off. With Zakhaev dead, it’s leading to much darker days ahead due to a mad dog in his organisation named Vladimir Makarov that takes power under the battle cry of Zakhaev being a martyr. Makarov is far more dangerous than Zakhaev – he doesn’t value the old-school ways and politics of warfare. He wants chaos.

This is where Task Force 141 comes in, a multinational force tasked with tracking down Makarov and whatever his ultimate goal is. Just as Makarov will resort to anything to achieve his objective, Task Force 141 is as equally focused on doing whatever it takes to stop him, which requires more than just getting boots on the ground. It’s about understanding the greater good and the sacrifices needed to achieve it. You can’t win a war with a bullet.

The original Modern Warfare is now seen as the pinnacle of FPS multiplayer gaming. Are there any other FPS titles out there that you feel are playing a key role in changing the way we see online multiplayer?

I’m most excited by games taking the genre and breaking preconceptions of what FPSs are and prominently redefining the experience around their style. We’re all about fast-paced team-based infantry gameplay, whereas Valve is doing an amazing job with Left 4 Dead of forging their own style of FPS that is all about co-operative and dynamic gameplay that you can play endlessly. Just as much as I think a lot of people are innovating multiplayer, I think a lot of developers like Bethesda are really redefining the single-player first-person experience. Fallout 3 was a renaissance for single-player mentality and proved that multiplayer isn’t the end of great single-player experiences.


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