Call of Duty: World at War
23rd Jun 2008 | 16:10
It's going to be interesting - Call of Duty 4 lands in our laps and, almost out of the blue, turns out to be one of the best FPS games ever and the game that would topple Master Chief's domination of Xbox Live.
Now we've got CoD: World of War on the way. It's not by Infinite Ward - it's in Treyarch's hands. And it's not in a modern era, it drags the series back to the all-too-familiar WWII series.
That was a controversial decision. But Treyarch says that despite that, the new game can still show players plenty of new tricks, and hopes to set a new standard for WWII games.
Senior producer Noah Heller and creative lead Rich Farrelly tells us how they intend to blow your expectations clean out of the water when WaW arrives later this year, and just how good the Wii version is looking, too. Read on...
You had everyone speculating over whether or not the series would return to WWII after such a successful run in a modern era with CoD 4. When do you think games will be finished with WWII?
Noah Heller: I think it will be a long time before WWII is done. The real line here is whether you can tell new stories and whether you can present something in a contemporary and new fashion.
The consumer doesn't want the same old thing, and if you deliver that, he shouldn't buy it any more than he should buy a repeat police drama or a Grand Theft Auto game set in the same genre. The challenge to us was to present something new.
Rich Farrelly: For instance, with CoD: Modern Warfare, arguably there are a lot of modern-era war games out there. But what they did is come into the market and redefined it.
That's what we want to do with the WWII genre - we want to press the Reset button, we want so say: "This is not the WWII you're used to seeing. This is something new. Yes you're firing similar weapons and yes, you've seen these locations before, but this is nothing like you've ever played."
Heller: We're not coming in to be second best. The only way we're going to make a WWII game - the only way we're going to make any game under the Call of Duty name - is if it's the best in the genre, and any genre that we enter we want to own it.
We're getting rid of the number in Call of Duty for a very specific reason. We want you to know that when you're playing CoD: WaW, you're playing the best WWII game ever. Likewise when you're playing Modern Warfare, and when you're playing any game called Call of Duty. So the bar for us isn't that this is another game in the genre, it got to be the best game of the genre. Players only have time for the best games. They only have time for the best games that show polish and passion and love from the team.
What did you think of the reception to you last game, CoD 3?
Heller: I'd say that one of the things that it's hard for a player to understand is that CoD 3 was in development for about eight months. It's very hard to make a great new game [in that time]. CoD 3 is a very good game, and it sold well. But it's not the game that this team could have made if they had the time to polish it. Even so, with two years on this game for the first time ever, we're going to pull it from Rich's cold fingers when it's time to put this game into the box.
That's the real difference between this game and CoD: 3 - we have the time to iterate and to make things feel right.
Farrelly: Our game is actually is very close now to where we were at with CoD 3 when we were trying to wrap it up. So we have the game laid out, and now we're got time to iterate things, and see how they work. See if the level orders are correct, if the flow is good, take out events that seem superfluous, and that don't meet the very high standard set by us and our predecessors.
Heller: A team that, after years and years of single-year development cycles, finally have the chance to open up and show what they've got. I feel like it's a little bit of an underdog story almost. Here's a team who's never actually had a chance to make a game with much time. Modern Warfare has come along a raised the bar really high and now the team says we've got to show what we've got, or else the players aren't going to want to play it - expectations are so high.
What happened to the hand-to-hand element in CoD 3?
Farrelly: It one of things - you try things out and if they work out you pursue it and if they don't you don't. That was a feature that, while it was a good idea at the time, maybe we didn't have enough time to develop it.
Do you think that CoD should have been delayed? Did it turn out to be a filler title?
Farrelly: I don't think it was a filler title. But because we're so focused on making the best game we can sometimes we try to put to much in the game for the time we have to develop it.
Farrelly: Biting off more than you can chew is a bit part of it. Look at the great games in the past year - Modern Warfare, Bioshock, GTA IV - what these games have in common is enough time to polish and iterate them. I think, as an industry, we're learning how important that is.
Farrelly: I think that if you have just three of four key feature, and those features are so highly polished that they're flawless, that's better than having a mixed bag of stuff that doesn't always work.
Coming back to World at War, how have you balanced the American and Russian missions?
Farrelly: I'd say it's a pretty even split. I can't got into exact percentages, but it's well balanced.
Farrelly: I think the interesting part will be that as you play one campaign versus another you're going to be playing a very different sort of game.
Medal of Honor Rising Sun springs to mind - being a WWII shooter based on the Japanese theatre of the war. The general consensus was that it was pretty poor. Did you guys learn anything from that?
Farrelly: Yeah, we learned not to make a poor FPS game. You start off with a great shooter, and then you build enemies and genres on top of that.
We dropped Modern Warfare AI into the Japanese soldiers and it just didn't feel right. You don't expect that enemy to act that way, right? We didn't know that until we did it. We thought that we would be able to get away with that, but we realised that you have to build a game specifically around that enemy, you have to have scripted elements and AI-powered elements that make you feel like you're fighting that enemy. Or otherwise you'll just be fighting the same Europeans you have in past CoD games, they just happen to have Japanese models.
CoD has always pushed the bar of what's expected from shooters, from sprinting to aiming down your sights, to the way you take damage - everyone does damage like we do damage now. As for Modern Warfare, I'm sure every game will be doing bulle penetration and a perk system. We want to show people how co-op is done the CoD way.
Talking of multiplayer, you said before that you wouldn't be taking anything away from the CoD 4 formula, only adding to it. Can you elaborate on that?
Farrelly: We recognise that CoD 4 is a great multiplayer game. We would not want to take that engine and then remove things from it. We're not going to keep in game types, for instance, that don't fit in with our game setting. But the philosophy of map building, the way the perk system works - that's a great foundation. And then on top of that we'll build new perks, specialty perks, and vehicles.
We can't get away with delivering tight infantry gameplay and sloppy vehicle support. That's what we mean when we say we want to add to it.
Farrelly: So people that are used to playing Modern Warfare will be able to easily slip into our multiplayer game and then say: "oh, they also have this."
CoD is known for being a great for it's infantry gameplay. Aren't you afraid that introducing vehicles might endanger that reputation?
Farrelly: Absolutely, and that's why we're spending a lot of time on vehicle balancing.
Farrelly: And also creating maps that are geared towards specific gameplay. And even on the vehicle maps, there are sections where we've got no vehicle allowed, and that's going to ensure support for infantry combat in those regions.
Also, we provide many maps that are infantry only, so if people don't want to play with vehicles, they don't have to.
And will the vehicles be team-operated - so you have one guy driving while another mans a gun?
Farrelly: Yes, we think that team gameplay is a great thing to support. There'll be LVT vehicles that go through the water. Water and fire on maps will be a new feature in multiplayer, and we'll have to see how that plays out.
You obviously use CoD 4 as a point of reference, but how much does Infinity Ward contribute with feedback on what you're doing with WaW?
Farrelly: Absolutely. We share builds back and forth with their team. We're our own team and we have to build our own game, but long before CoD 4 was shipping, we were looking at builds of that game because we were working with that engine. There's good communication between the two teams.
How will the new gameplay elements introduced for the Japanese gameplay - hiding in holes, ambushes and things like that - be crossed over into the multiplayer?
Farrelly: We're not ready to talk about that just yet.
It must be quite tough to translate these new mechanics into the human-vs-human multiplayer...
Farrelly: Yeah it is. We'll be ready to talk about that soon, I promise.
There were rumours on the net of Infinity Ward wanting exclusive rights to the Call of Duty franchise. Was there any reality in that?
Farrelly: No. I think that the colonel truth in things like that is that everyone at Activision that touches the CoD brand wants the highest standards for it, and if it's not a strong game no-one's going to be happy to let it out the door. The official line is that "we don't comment on that", but no one at Activision would be happy with a CoD game that wasn't up to our standards.
How's the Wii version coming along?
Farrelly: It is the Modern Warfare engine ported to Wii. Not some special thing - we'll be showing it soon. I think it looks better than any Wii game on the market so far. It's a special team at Treyarch focused specifically on the Wii - it's not some outsourced team, not some group living in another country. These guys live, eat and breathe Wii.
They're doing a lot of control work and developing a lot of special technology to make sure that you're able to find the enemy as quickly as possible. We'll be supporting the Zapper, which is very challenging in CoD because you've got three buttons when you're using the Zapper.
We've got a unique co-op mode and we'll support multiplayer. This is going to be easily the best shooter on Wii.
So it's fully online enabled like the other versions?
Farrelly: Absolutely. You can't have CoD without it. It can't be a robust as next-gen consoles, but we're trying our best not to make a compromise there.
We've got a great engine that can go onto multiple platforms. You have to do a bit more to get it onto the Wii, but for all intents and purposes it's the same game.
So it will be the same in terms of content to the other versions?
Farrelly: Yes. There may be instances where we, say, can't have 48 Russians attacking you at the same time because of the power restriction. But in those instances we'll go into it and say "how do we make this experience good for the Wii player?"