It goes without saying that there are a whole lot of World War II-based first-person shooters to choose from. However, Activision and Infinity Ward's smash hit, Call of Duty, manages to distinguish itself from the pack. With Call of Duty, Infinity Ward took the cinematic nature of the war, from the epic battles to the sheer chaos of combat, and translated it into a thrilling and exciting game. Now the company is working on Call of Duty 2, which promises to up the intensity and realism, as well as the gameplay, across the board. The sequel was just announced last month, so, naturally, questions abound as to what to expect. We'll definitely hear more about Call of Duty 2 at E3 in a couple of weeks, but for now, we managed to catch up with Vince Zampella, chief creative officer of Infinity Ward, and Zied Rieke, the game's lead designer, so we could grill them about the game.
GameSpot: Could you discuss the different soldiers that you'll get to play as in Call of Duty 2? In previous games, you played as American, British, and Soviet soldiers. Will any familiar faces from the first game, or United Offensive, return? Or do we have a whole new group?
Zied Rieke: Call of Duty 2 features new battles and new military units, so your comrades will be mostly new faces as well. However, our favorite character, Captain Price, the British officer with the big red mustache, will make a heroic return. The shoes that you'll have to step into in Call of Duty 2 belong to Private Vassili Ivanovich Koslov, a regular in the Soviet Red Army. The game begins with the story of the private fighting just 20 miles from Moscow against the German blitzkrieg. There are two characters on the British side: Sergeant Davis of General Montgomery's 8th Army and Tank Commander Welsh of the British 7th Armored Division (the famed "Desert Rats"). For the American side, you'll take the role of Corporal Bill Taylor, a member of the US Army's legendary 2nd Ranger Battalion.
GS: We've already seen famous battles such as Stalingrad, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Fall of Berlin in the first Call of Duty game and expansion. What battles can we look forward to in Call of Duty 2, other than Toujane (which we've already seen), and is there a danger of covering ground that's been covered before?
ZR: Last thing first... The only Call of Duty battle we are returning to in Call of Duty 2 is Stalingrad, and that's just because it was so epic, so mind-bogglingly huge, and so important to the entire war that you could easily make five to six games about it and just get started on fully depicting it all by itself. Other than Stalingrad, we are also featuring the winter war where, in 1941, the German army rolled to within 20 miles of the gates of Moscow before the terrific cold and the tenacity of the Russians brought it to a halt. A new setting for us is North Africa, where we are featuring battles in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt between Montgomery's 8th Army and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his famous Afrika Korps. The best known of these battles is the huge and critical battle of El Alamein, where the British went so far as to make fake tank units, using wood and paint, in order to trick the Germans into defending in the wrong place. As you can see, there is so much of the war left to cover. There are also a couple more very exciting battles that we'll be showing and talking about at E3 this year.
GS: The vignette system is supposed to let players jump between the three different characters (American, British, and Russian) when they want. Could you explain in detail how this works? At the end of each mission, do you simply choose to switch to another storyline? What's the purpose of this?
Vince Zampella: We've given you the freedom in Call of Duty 2 to play how you want, and because of that, you can choose to become more involved in each character's story by staying within one vignette at a time, or you can play through the war chronologically, year by year. The game is divided up into many different missions or "vignettes." Through these vignettes, you experience the story of four different common solders, representing the Russian, British, and American campaigns. The action begins in 1941, during the Russian campaign. After you complete the first mission, the following year, 1942, is unlocked. Then you can proceed to continue the Russian storyline that you've begun, or, alternatively, you can open up a British mission and begin that vignette. And the experience unfolds from there, with the American campaign coming in to play later in the timeline. So, as you go deeper into the game, more of the game is opened up. You can jump back to return to any existing vignette whenever you want. This gives you so much more freedom to play Call of Duty 2 the way that you want to and still get that Call of Duty experience.
GS: In the first Call of Duty, players could control tanks and even sit in the gunner's position on a B-17 bomber in the expansion. We understand that the sequel will have much-enhanced vehicle interaction. Tell us about which vehicles players will drive and/or fly in the sequel. Are there any other new sequences in which players will take a secondary gunner or passenger seat?
VZ: It's a bit too early for us to nail down a set number of the various vehicle-based missions, but rest assured that in Call of Duty 2, we'll have not only driving, but also riding--plus providing escort--missions. As an example, one of the driving missions places players in a British Crusader Mark II tank in the middle of an epic desert tank battle. Immediately, players will notice the much larger scale of battle; we're talking an order of magnitude bigger than the original. In this particular mission, your orders are to take on the larger and well-armed German tank division of General Rommel. Players will be in a lighter, faster squadron of tanks battling these enormous Axis machines, and the action unfolds from there. Call of Duty 2 focuses on the infantry throughout epic ground-based assaults. In the sequel, there aren't any flying missions. It would take players out of the experience that we're immersing them into.
Answering the CallGS: We've been told that the levels in Call of Duty 2 are 50 percent to 200 percent bigger than those of the first game. But how much longer, overall, will the single-player game be? Any plans to include hidden features, levels, difficulty settings, or other unlockable content that will make players want to play through more than once?
VZ: In developing our titles, we concentrate on making a compelling gameplay experience rather than a set number of hours. It's too early to estimate the exact play time yet, as it hasn't been balanced. That said, Call of Duty 2 has more levels, all of which are larger than the levels from the original Call of Duty. This alone will deliver a much longer gameplay experience. Couple this with the nonlinear gameplay and vignette system, and players are in store for a great time.
GS: Can we expect a mix again of small-scale commando-like actions and huge set-piece battles, or will the sequel skew toward one more than the other? Some of the great moments in the United Offensive expansion came during the stunning battle sequences, so how are you hoping to top those scenes in Call of Duty 2?
ZR: Call of Duty 2 is a natural progression for our team and a leap forward in intensity, authenticity, and action. We're taking the cornerstones of the original Call of Duty and expanding them to create the most intense, amazing battlefield experience ever. There is a big mix of mission types, though I would say with a bigger emphasis on squad missions. The new artificial intelligence in Call of Duty 2 is designed for this. As for which missions are the set pieces... Well, we like to leave that up to the fans, as everyone seems to have a different choice for what he or she considers to be his or her set piece.
We've gone to great lengths to increase the realism of the player's experience, from the research we did in the early development days to our ongoing collaborations with our military advisers, John Hillen and Hank Kiersey. We're taking the intensity to the next level. And on the design side, the new Call of Duty 2 technology allows us to create immense open environments for epic battles. The AI advancements that we've employed make the action even more heated. Plus, the new technology provides a level of detail, graphically, to the characters, vehicles, artillery, and even the world. From the smoke effects to the weather changes, Call of Duty 2 is ready to deliver the most cinematic first-person action game imaginable.
GS: Will you have more interaction with your teammates? Will they have more personality? Will we still see them endlessly respawn like we did in the original games? After all, you kept seeing the same guys getting killed only to show up next to you later on in the mission, it seemed.
VZ: Your squadmates in Call of Duty 2 are much more useful than in the original. Along with better-looking characters and much-more-advanced squad AI, we have an all-new battle chatter system. This allows your squadmates to inform you of information happening in the game. The chatter is context-sensitive and specific to points within each level. If the enemy happens to be behind a wrecked car, your squad will call out "Germans behind that wrecked car." To make sure it was fully utilized, we recorded over 20,000 lines for use with the system.
GS: Will there be any new weapons that we haven't seen before, or can we look forward to updated versions of the guns that we played with before, such as the M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine? Are there any new details regarding the weapons and how they, and their firing arcs, will be modeled? For instance, will there be ballistic penetration of soft materials, such as wood?
ZR: First off, you won't see any of the same Call of Duty assets in the sequel. We've redone every single weapon to add more detail and take advantage of our new graphics technology, which allows us to make the wood look real and metal to shine--like real metal--as well as include the tiniest details...all the way down to the serial number. In addition to that, we've also added a lot of new weapons, such as the German and Russian semiautomatic rifles, the famous G43 and SVT40, the reloadable Panzerschreck German antitank weapon, and many others. One of the things I'm most excited about is the way that using sniper rifles work in Call of Duty 2. Now snipers will be able to hold their breath in order to perfectly steady their rifles for a limited time. While holding your breath, you will literally enter a state of complete concentration, and the sounds of battle will fade slightly, and you will be able to hear your own heartbeat. It's a really fun feature.
GS: How much smarter will the Germans be? And how much smarter will your squadmates be? We've been told that they'll deal with concealment, explosives, and fire-and-move tactics better. But could you give us some more-specific details? What other interesting tactics, besides these, will AI characters adopt in the sequel?
ZR: Germans in Call of Duty 2 move around much more this time. In addition to them running from cover to cover, in order to close in on you, groups of them will even break off from a firefight to flank around behind you. Both sides are also much smarter about grenades. When an enemy (including you) ducks behind some cover, both sides will often respond by tossing a couple of frag grenades at him. You will also see both sides using smoke grenades as portable concealment in order to cross dangerous areas. Another major advancement is that suppression works much better. When you fire close to an enemy, you will literally see him immediately duck down and stay down. But be careful, because you're not the only one laying down suppressing fire now; both sides will actively try to suppress each other.
GS: How will players be able to affect the story, if at all? For instance, we understand that your actions can cause a battle to turn out a bit differently than before? How does this work?
VZ: A lot of the missions are nonlinear in Call of Duty 2, allowing you to direct the gameplay to your desired style. The open environments enable you to take multiple paths to complete the mission objectives. And remember that the objectives can be met out of order. So you have the chance to use actual military tactics, like outflanking and firing and maneuvering, as the action dictates. Playing the mission a second time using different tactics would result in a different play experience. There are still objectives that your squad will need to complete in order to finish the mission. So the replayability is high and will vary depending on how you undertake the missions.
GS: When did work on Call of Duty 2 begin? What are the goals for the game? Where are you now, and when do you plan to wrap up?
VZ: We started working on Call of Duty 2 shortly after finishing the original, and after taking a little time to recuperate. With the sequel, we've set out to make a game that retains all the best elements of the original Call of Duty but advances things where both the team and our fans saw needs. We always want to maintain the intensity and squad combat that made the first game successful. With our own new proprietary engine and the advanced AI in Call of Duty 2, we're well on our way. We are currently still pretty early in development and are working on things like tuning and balancing. We are on schedule to deliver this fall.
GS: Thanks very much, guys.