Call of Duty Q&A

We get all the details on this upcoming World War II action game from Infinity Ward's Vince Zampella.

The strong success of EA's 2001 shooter Medal of Honor: Allied Assault seemed to trigger a wave of PC action games set during historical military conflicts, particularly World War II. As a result of a series of departures from EA's Medal of Honor teams, there are several new studios that are working to build on that legacy. Infinity Ward--a new studio formed by the lead developers of Allied Assault--has been working on a new WWII-themed PC game with an even broader scope, one that will contain three separate single-player campaigns to show the war through American, British, and Russian eyes. Call of Duty, which will inaugurate a new Activision brand for war-themed games, is aiming for an authentic, cinematic portrayal of the war that puts players in the middle of large-scale battles surrounded by intelligent teammates.

Call of Duty will make its public debut at next month's E3, but to get the early details, we spoke with Vince Zampella, chief creative officer at Infinity Ward. He told us about the comprehensive scope of the single-player campaign, the variety of missions we can expect, and the significantly modified version of the Quake III engine used in the game.

GameSpot: What parts of World War II will be depicted in Call of Duty? How does the player's character fit into each of the three campaigns?

Call of Duty will include three epic campaigns covering the US assault on Normandy, British commando raids, and the Soviet defense on the eastern front.

Vince Zampella: The bulk of the US campaign will take place in Normandy, almost entirely on D-Day. The player's character is a "pathfinder" in the 101st Airborne Division, one of several paratroopers dropped early on D-Day to mark the main drop zones for the rest of the Airborne forces. St. Mère Eglise and Brecourt Manor are among the historical locations in this campaign.

The British campaign starts the player off as a glider infantryman on D-Day, capturing and defending the bridge over the Caen Canal that is now known as Pegasus Bridge. From there, the campaign chronicles the exploits of a group of soldiers in 2 SAS (Special Air Service) who are tasked with highly difficult sabotage operations behind enemy lines. The battleship Tirpitz and the Eder Dam are also real parts of World War II that set the stage for several missions in the British campaign.

The Russian campaign unfolds as the player--one of thousands of ill-equipped conscripts--is crossing the Volga into Stalingrad, just days after the German army begins its offensive on the city. Heavy urban combat in the ruins of Stalingrad is later followed by tank battles in Eastern Poland as the Red Army pushes onward to Berlin, where the taking of the Reichstag culminates in the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of the war in the eastern theater.

GS: What sort of scale can we expect in the game's combat? How much do you work with teammates in your squad?

VZ: Call of Duty is all about fighting as a group--it's not about one-man armies. Fighting alongside friendly soldiers--even friendly tanks en masse, in some missions--is the core theme for many missions. The scale is generally squad-level (small groups of four to eight tasked with a specific goal), but it does scale up to larger numbers depending on the mission at hand. There are a few missions where you will be without squadmates watching your back or helping you achieve objectives in a very real, tactical sense.

GS: Describe some of the key sequences and missions of the single-player campaign.

VZ: Our portrayal of the battle at Brecourt Manor pays homage to the actions of paratroopers on D-Day in Normandy. A consistent atmosphere of sheer danger and speed permeates this level--taking advantage of the confusion among German troops as you run crouched down in the boarded-up trenches, popping up to get your bearings and fire off a few rounds from your Garand at the artillery crews, and coming under deadly suppressing fire from MG42s across the hedgerow-lined fields are all situations the player will experience. Seeing your squad leader risking his life to carry a wounded comrade on his back out of the line of fire is a particularly gripping moment.

GS: What are some of the historical weapons, vehicles, and items players will be have at their disposal?

VZ: There are huge arsenals of weapons, artillery, and vehicles that we have to draw upon, and opening up the game to include three Allied sides allows us access to quite a lot of resources. Each side will have a full selection of weapons, including the Germans, whose weapons you can always pick up and use. We also have appropriate vehicles and artillery pieces throughout the game, adding to the gameplay and scenery. We have done extensive research to re-create everything as accurately as possible, including recording the sounds of the actual weapons firing, reloading, and so on. This also gave us a chance to take photographic and animation reference of all the weapons, which adds quite a lot to the authenticity of the game.

GS: What engine does the game use? Did you make any particular modifications to enhance the style of gameplay you're going for?

VZ: The Call of Duty engine uses the framework and level-editing tools of the Return to Castle Wolfenstein engine, which in turn is an enhanced version of the Quake III engine. Several all-new systems were required to make our vision of Call of Duty possible. We have an all-new hardware T&L renderer, capable of 200,000-polygon scenes. It also supports vertex programs and pixel shaders. This allows us to create detailed scenes filled with a huge number of soldiers. We also have a new light compiler, named "Flare," which allows us to create detailed antialiased shadows with variable lightmap density across each of our levels.

In large-scale missions such as this assault on a town in Normandy, you'll be happy to have a whole squad to back you up.

"Ares" is our new hierarchical blended skeletal animation system, with body-part hit detection. This system was designed specifically to make it possible to create our complex animated sequences--our characters don't just jump over fences and through windows, they actually grab the window frames as they jump through them. They can interact naturally with each other, which you can see when they grab wounded guys and carry them to safety or operate artillery as a team.

We have also spent a great deal of time on our advanced squad-based AI and pathfinding system, called "Conduit." AI can jump fences, climb through windows, cover one another, and suppress the enemy autonomously. This allows you to lay down suppression fire before you expose yourself to the enemy, which will provide you with a moment of safety. Our AI understands cover and can fire from behind any kind of obstacle. Our squad-based AI flanks intelligently and moves from cover point to cover point. Our characters can bank grenades through windows and doors and will pick up and throw your grenades back at you. The model system is also designed to allow our modelers to mix and match pieces of characters together to create a huge variety of characters.

Our all-new advanced scripting language allows for cinematic scripted sequences, and it allows the enemy to employ complex global strategies. It will also provide a lot of power for users interested in modifying the game. There are also many more changes and additions, which you will see in the game.

GS: Tell us a little about Infinity Ward's history with first-person action games.

VZ: Infinity Ward has been around since January of 2002. The company includes 21 members of the team--including all the project leads--that developed Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. We have since added some new employees to help round out the team.

GS: Give us the project's vital stats: How long has it been in development? How many people are on the team?

VZ: We have been working on Call of Duty since April of last year. We are currently up to 27 employees. The entire studio is concentrating on making this game an experience that will enthrall players.

GS: What can you say about current multiplayer plans for the game?

VZ: Call of Duty's multiplayer is really three games in one. Depending on the map, the Allies are American, British, or Russian. Each matchup is completely different, with each side having strengths and weaknesses based on actual historical differences. For example, the Russian short weapons are superior to the German ones, but the German long-range and support weapons are superior to the Russian ones.

GS: We hear that Call of Duty will have a big presence at E3. What can we expect to see in the E3 demo sequences?

VZ: The playable level at E3 takes place shortly after the player's character has met up with various Airborne troops scattered in the chaotic misdrops over Normandy, in the predawn hours of D-Day. The mission involves liberating the burning town of St. Mère Eglise and putting several active Flakpanzer antiaircraft guns (and their crews) out of commission. Beginning with a mad dash across an orchard, under heavy enemy fire, you and your squadmates break past the town perimeter and fight door-to-door to root out the defending Fallschirmjager units (German paratroopers). Adding to the chaos of the battle, the town burns intensely all around as a result of pre-invasion Allied bombardments, while vast armadas of C-47s continue to drop their troops under heavy antiaircraft fire from the Normandy countryside.

The opening level of the Russian campaign depicts the crossing of the Volga under heavy fire from German dive-bombers and the struggle to repel a German breakthrough at the riverside docks in the early days of the Battle of Stalingrad. That's all we're saying for now. You'll have to see this at E3 to get the full experience.

GS: When is the game scheduled for release?

VZ: Fall of this year.

GS: Thanks, Vince.

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