With the full unveiling of the online portion of Call of Duty: Ghosts a few weeks ago the world was shown the kinds of explosive entertainment that Infinity Ward has cooking at the studio with epic dynamic map events, the inclusion of female soldiers, new game mode reveals and a lot more.
Along with NeverSoft, Raven Software is once again providing the studio’s excellent support for this latest Call of Duty and we spoke with creative director at the developer, Eric Biessman, about his favourite features in Ghosts, balancing female and male soldiers, the end of Elite, and what’s important to retain Call of Duty’s leadership position in the online shooter space.
- Eric Biessman at gamescom 2013
El33tonline: Let’s start with something of a silly question: Why the secrecy over Call of Duty multiplayer every year? Every year we go through the same staggered reveal cycle.
Biessman: I’m not a PR or marketing person, but I know that if everything came out at the very beginning of the year, as we get closer to launch there’s nothing new, there’s nothing to get people excited about. The information that comes out keeps people interested and it keeps people coming back.
Activision PR: I also think that there’s so much that they’ve done with the multiplayer this time with the new maps and modes and everything, that it’s content overload. It’s much easier for people to absorb the information [this way].
Biessman: There’s a lot! [laughs]
El33tonline: There really is, for one thing: Female soldiers. Female soldiers are the big thing this year. Why now, why this year and why not in the past?
Biessman: I think right from the beginning when the Infinity Ward team was thinking about what they wanted players to be able to do in the game, a big thing was a connection to your character, a connection to your avatar. And we know that there’s this huge female fanbase and we know that there are so many people who love the game, so this was just the perfect opportunity to be able to do it.
We want to go deep on customisation, we want to allow you to choose heads, bodies, legs – all the gear and things like that – and it just wouldn’t have been fair knowing what our audience base is. So I just think that things aligned and it was the perfect chance to do it.
El33tonline: Can you talk about the work that goes into creating the soldiers, obviously now it’s a whole new set of animations and models for the female soldiers versus the male, and in terms of the battlefield silhouette you can tell, ‘That’s a male soldier, that’s a female soldier.’
Biessman: From a creation standpoint, all that time – you know, high poly models and all that energy spent just modelling – but as far as the game side, how it goes in the game, we obviously want to make sure that it’s fair for both male and female, that they have the same [hit] detection, essentially, so you’re not going to get a benefit from playing one or the other. They’re equal and they have the same speeds, everything.
That’s the key, in making sure that the characters fit within a defined size, a defined speed, movement is the same, everything’s the same. The look is purely cosmetic – players want to have the same gameplay.
El33tonline: Following on from that, it’s conceivable that female soldiers are going to be griefed more while playing online – as it is, some male players just hear a female voice and decide to target that person. Now with people playing as a female avatar, how have you thought about that?
Biessman: You know, I think that’s a questionable thing. I’d like to think our fanbase [is better than that]. But there are plenty of ways to report players, through Xbox LIVE for example, with GamerTags and things like that.
Activision PR: And also, honestly, if you look at other games, there are lots of females who play World of Warcraft and get trolled online, and on the other side of the coin if they think you’re a girl they give you more gold. So there’s two sides to it and I know lots of people like to focus on the negative part of it.
El33tonline: Can you talk about your plans for Call of Duty: Elite this year?
Biessman: So Elite is ending, I guess you could say. The Call of Duty app will be taking off from there. You can still go on Elite and check your stats for Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops from there, but with Call of Duty: Ghosts all of the stats can be checked in the app. That’s really where things are going, with the second screen companion stuff. There’s a tie-in to the gameplay but it’s not something that is intrusive in the game, it’s built to be something that adds to it. We don’t want you to be playing and then stop and have to futz around with something and come back.
El33tonline: We’re based in South Africa and the full Elite experience hasn’t been available at all, so that will just be phased out?
Activision PR: Elite will still support Modern Warfare 3, basically the current generation of titles, but the app has been built from the ground up for Call of Duty: Ghosts, so that will support Ghosts.
El33tonline: What are the plans for co-operative modes in Call of Duty: Ghosts?
Biessman: So there’s a portion of the game called ‘Squads,’ which is essentially where you make your Create-A-Soldier, and the soldiers that you create become a part of your squad. You can have six of your ten created soldiers in a squad. Based on what guns you give them, that’s their personality, so if you give them an SMG they’re more likely to run and gun. Give them a sniper rifle, they’ll try to find an Overwatch – you know, playing like an actual person.
Then within the Squads mode, there’s several things. You can do solo play with just you versus bots, it could be you and your squad versus bots. There’s competitive play where you could take your squad and I take my squad, and we can go head-to-head. Or we could team up together and play against our squads or someone else’s squads. Then there’s the co-operative mode called ‘Safe Guard,’ which is a four-player co-operative wave-based survival style game.
El33tonline: Call of Duty retains a leadership position in the world of online shooters with tens of millions of players around the world – what would it take for another game to take that leadership and what is the Call of Duty team doing to retain that leadership?
Biessman: That’s a wonderful question that I wish I knew the answer to, because if there was something that could do that then that would be a huge thing.
I think the important thing is that we recognise that there’s this huge fanbase that just loves Call of Duty, and I think the core gameplay is what’s important. The really tight controls, the fast movement and the fast interaction, and the closeness of the combat. Knowing who your team-mates and your opponents are. I think at its core that’s what people really like about Call of Duty and expect from Call of Duty.
And then when a new game like Ghosts comes out, we like to build on that and find things from previous games that people liked, but additional stuff. We want to offer new things every time a game comes out that expands that idea and expands that gameplay.
El33tonline: Just as a general statement, it’s always very impressive that Activision continues to push the Call of Duty games through enormous marketing campaigns year after year instead of resting on their laurels and putting it out, just expecting people to buy it.
Biessman: Speaking from a developer standpoint, there’s never that mindset of ‘We can just put it out and people will just buy it.’ It’s always about the love of the game, and what can we do to make it better and what can we do to keep people interested. Because there is a huge fanbase and we don’t want to do the same thing every year, so it’s a passionate fanbase and I would say an equally passionate [group of] developers.
El33tonline: Do you play Call of Duty very regularly?
Biessman: Yeah, until we get into crunch mode, and honestly the way we work on the project, it’s daily playtests with daily iteration. My kids used to think that all I do is play games, and sometimes that’s true, all I do do is play games! It’s testing, ‘This line of sight is broken, this map is just not fun, throw it out!’ There are a lot of ideas at the beginning of a project – far too many ideas to ever put into a single game – so we try to work as many as we can and if they don’t work we throw them out right away so we don’t waste time.
El33tonline: What keeps you coming back to play Call of Duty time after time?
Biessman: You know what, I do like the faster gameplay, I do like the speed of it. I’m a huge ‘Domination’ fan, and there’s just something about the size of the maps and the gameplay for a Domination match. I’m less about my K/D (Kill/Death ratio), to be honest, it’s not wonderful, but I just love the pacing of the game. At its core, that’s my favourite part about it.
El33tonline: It’s often strange that Infinity Ward always compares its current game to its previous game, rather than the last Call of Duty game from Treyarch. They’re not comparing Ghosts’ features to Black Ops 2, they’re comparing them to Modern Warfare 3, for example. Does that just make sense from a studio perspective as opposed to any animosity between the two studios?
Biessman: I guess from the base level, it’s the design because the designers know what they’ve done before. But on the other hand, in Black Ops 2 the ‘Pick Ten’ system was hugely popular with the ability to really build your character and load it out, so that’s something that the Infinity Ward guys saw and recognised that, so the new ‘Create-A-Soldier’ idea is that it’s really built like the Pick Ten system. They saw the depth of customisation and wanted to expand on it, where you have your perks, and the amount of customisation that you can do with that is really cool.
So I do think that it’s easier to talk design about a game that you’ve made yourself, than about a game someone else has made, but there are definitely lessons learned and we look at what people have appreciated about all of the previous games and build off of that.
El33tonline: What is the most important new feature, to you, in Call of Duty: Ghosts?
Biessman: From a multiplayer side… ‘Important,’ that’s a big term. I think there are a lot of things, I think the customisation and the ability to work on your soldier – I think that’s a huge thing – and that’s really awesome for gameplay from a player’s side. And then from a ‘world’ side, I think that the new mantle, the knee slide and the contextual lean, the dynamic events in a map, all really open the doors even more for players and how they move through the world. From a game side, those are two huge things.
But my favourite thing in the game – it sounds like a very small thing, they call it ‘locational battle chatter’ – but when you’re playing a game sometimes online, not everybody has a microphone, not everyone wants to talk, so sharing information between people doesn’t always happen. And sometimes you lose games, you get frustrated, like ‘Why is no-one here?’
So I really like in the game where you can be running down the hallway and [the game announces] “There’s two in the tower!” And you’re like ‘Whoa, cool!’ It’s not your actual team-mate, but it gives you that hint. It sounds so minor, but when you’re in the game and you hear people yelling it out, that’s really cool, I really like that.
To end off, and when given the chance to close out the interview, Eric Biessman left us with this heartfelt message for the Call of Duty fans:
“The big thing for me is that people know that it’s their Call of Duty, it’s their connection and their character, however they want to play it and I think that’s important.”
Call of Duty: Ghosts is out on November 5th across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Wii U, with launches on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 planned, too.
Follow El33tonline’s extensive previous coverage of the game for news on the collector’s edition, a preview and more screenshots and videos.