Making Modern Warfare: COD4 Interview
As Call of Duty 4 hits stores, we bring you this behind the scenes launch feature with Infinity Ward president Grant Collier, producer Mark Rubin, and military advisor Hank Keirsey, for some interesting views on the politics and production of Modern Warfare - real-world, and in-game.
By Adam Doree
Taking the phenomenal Call of Duty series out of old-school World War II and bang into modern-era warfare for the first time, the new Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, released this week, has been a labour of love at its developer Infinity Ward for a long time. They wanted Call of Duty 1 to be Modern Warfare. And before they even completed COD2, development for the game that's in stores this week for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC was well underway.
We recently met with three people key to the development of this fourth in the series. Grant Collier is the studio head and president of Infinity Ward, and Mark Rubin, the game's producer, to talk about working on the game. Then we move on to Hank Keirsey for an altogether different conversation about the politics of warfare in the real world, and what it means to younger generation of gamers (within the ratings limits, of course) whose source of information on war is often through entertainment like videogames.
Part 1: Grant Collier, Studio Director, & Mark Rubin, Producer
Kikizo: What was Activision's view on your decision to finally go modern this time?
Collier: We actually wanted COD1 to be Modern Warfare! And then Activision said, "well, you just did a really good job for EA with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, so why don't you make a World War II shooter?" So we were like "OK, we'll do that, you guys helped us out!". So we made COD1. Then we said that next we want to make this Modern Warfare shooter this time. They were like, "Well...! You know, COD1 got eighty game of the year awards, it's successful, we'd like a sequel". And we were like, "but you SAID we could do Modern Warfare!" And they're like, "OK, how about we give you COD2 for next generation? Microsoft doesn't have a Halo for launch, and they want a really strong first person shooter, and they want it to be COD2". So we said alright, and there were a lot of ideas we didn't do in COD1 anyway. So sure, "but after that, we're going to do Modern Warfare". COD2 went on to achieve great attach rate and was the top played game on Xbox Live for 14 months. Now we really want to make Modern Warfare. And still, they wanted another WWII sequel! We said we would not do another one; this Modern Warfare is what we want to do, and what we've always wanted to do. So they agreed, and they had Treyarch do Call of Duty 3. But I don't think we shorthanded COD1 or COD2.
Kikizo: There have been subtle hints that you didn't really 'approve' of Call of Duty 3.
Rubin: We would never say that! The community knows they're two different companies that make different styles of games and just have different cake shapes! We make our cake this shape, they make their cake theirs.
Collier: We just started development on COD4 before we finished COD2, and so COD3 is what we had named the executable, which was a very difficult thing to change. There had been Finest Hour, Big Red One, so we were not aware that Activision wanted to call their game COD3.
Kikizo: I am personally glad about the new theme, I think everyone's had quite enough of World War II games...
Rubin: As we like to say, we've worked on World War II games longer than World War II!
Kikizo: Haha. It's actually true. But with the modern weapons, how does that affect the battlefield and the strategy that players are going to be using?
Rubin: It's a lot more intense, and much faster. I've gone back and played COD2, and felt like, wow it's so slow! And at the time it was white-knuckle intensity at the time I originally played it! This is much faster - everything is an automatic weapon. We balance so that movement through areas is really actually about the same speed, but there's so much more noise, and you're inundated in this modern battlefield. Plus we actually have a lot of just cool technology things, like the AC130 - obviously you can't get killed in that mission, but the mission fails if you don't protect your friendlies.
Kikizo: How close is actual modern warfare, with the kind of warfare in 'a' future like the one on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter? Is this an age where it's all about "upload the schematics to my PDA"?!
Rubin: We don't do that! We are grit! We spent a lot of time with marines, and they don't get the fantasy toys that the army gets, or anything that's coming in advanced any time soon. They always get the hand me downs. Even their tanks are hand me downs from army training centers - everything they get is basically second-class. But they still take pride and they're tougher for it. We're not like GRAW; GRAW has the HUD and diamond icons pop up over everyone and good guys are green, so COD4 is not the colourful-diamond-shooting game! It's just in-your-face intensity; the HUD could move away and it would be as effective - it's raw!
Kikizo: What has it been like to have a blank canvas in terms of story and characters?
Collier: It's been pretty invigorating. Before we were always playing in a box; there are only certain things you can do within WWII, it's written in stone. You can't have certain people win battles. The level of suspense that you try to build up is not necessarily the same. So it's just been really exciting making a story-driven COD game. Really pushing things forward, having twists and turns in the plot, and being able to focus on story development with the various characters - it's been really nice.
Kikizo: It is surely difficult to take a stance politically in terms of the story with games like this. Games like Metal Gear Solid and films like the recent 'Shooter' convey everything as lies and conspiracy rather than gung-ho America versus terrorists. Some gamers' only idea about real world war is going to be via products like COD4. Where would you say the stance of COD is in this modern warfare setting?
Collier: I am a creator of entertainment products. And if I wanted to teach 18 year-old kids about things going on in the world, I think I should be a teacher, not my current profession.
Rubin: Basically Call of Duty 1-3 is all Nazis - super-easy, you know exactly who's the good guy and who's the bad guy you're going to portray. Modern Warfare, whole new problem. Regardless of the situation in Iraq right now, it's still a whole new problem...