Q&A: Infinity Ward's Grant Collier on Call of Duty 4
Infinity Ward studio head Grant Collier on creating Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, why they ditched the World War II setting, Mecha-Hitler, and why Live 360 versus PC matches don't appeal.
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When publisher Activision and Infinity Ward unveiled the latest in the uber-successful Call of Duty franchise several months back, they had a huge surprise for long-term fans--the series was ditching World War II in favour of a contemporary setting. GameSpot AU spoke to Infinity Ward studio head Grant Collier on a recent trip down under to find out more about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, why the series was moved into the present day, and why Live functionality between the Xbox 360 and PC versions isn't being built into the game.
GameSpot AU: Infinity Ward's last game--Call of Duty 2 for the Xbox 360--was one of the key launch titles for Microsoft's new console. What sort of pressure did that put the team under?
Grant Collier: There was definitely pressure, but it was all pretty much self-imposed. As a developer, there are only a few things that elevate you out of the masses--being able to step up to the plate and deliver on a launch title is one of those things. That can make you a household name. I mean, how many of Bungie’s games can you remember before Halo? They did a bunch. What really put them on the map was they successfully made a launch title for the Xbox and did a great job. There are many stories of developers coming out of obscurity and into the mainstream by doing that. It was an exciting opportunity to have been given to us, and we said early on that we were not going to squander that opportunity.
GS AU: Is there even more pressure now for Call of Duty 4?
GC: I doubt that the amount of pressure externally can match the amount we put internally on each other. People coming in from the outside will probably be a little shell-shocked coming in and seeing our development process. Because when people come in and pitch some ideas, they’ll get slapped down. You have to have the fortitude to keep modifying your idea, bringing it back in, having it slapped down again, and just continuously modifying it. Once you’ve done that many, many times, then you can finally gain acceptance with your idea and push it through and make it happen in the game. I’ve had a hundred ideas knocked down—it’s your 101st idea that makes it in. We’re really hard on ourselves, and we set a high bar for ourselves, and I think it’s one of those bars that you can never actually reach. So external pressure has never really fazed us.
GS AU: You've shifted the setting of this game into the modern era. What did that allow you to do that you couldn't achieve if you stuck with World War II?
GC: We really wanted to have characters that were memorable, and we wanted to have those characters be able to be in different settings. In the past it was always, well, if you wanted winter, you have to be in Russia. If you wanted desert, then you’re with the British in North Africa. We wanted to keep the game fresh by moving to new settings, but we had to leave all the people behind when we did change. With a modern conflict, you have high-speed transportation, but we also wanted to keep it to units that would realistically be able to be redeployed very quickly. We wanted Call of Duty to always be a global conflict, and we want to be able to do that and not be hampered in creating compelling characters.
We also wanted to be able to create our own villain. You kind of have your baked-in villain in WWII--the Nazis. Anything else you create becomes absurd, such as when people try to create a previously unnamed Nazi, or "here’s the return of Mecha-Hitler", or something like that. Also, there's the modular nature of the weaponry in modern times which allows us to give weapons a lot of personality. In WWII, you can pretty much put scopes on rifles, and that was all the modular nature of weaponry in WWII.
GS AU: But why the emphasis on character now? Your first two Call of Duty games were campaign-based and still sold well.
GC: Because we have raised our internal bar. We’ve done those games--and we’ve been able to dominate in a lot of spheres, so we want to choose new battles and push ourselves in new directions.
GS AU: So how many characters will you get to play in CoD4?
GC: Because it’s a multinational effort, there are multiple characters that are in there. But we also wanted to be realistic--so if you are the pilot of a Cobra attack helicopter, that person is not the same person as the recon marine on the ground. We do change up characters--you will mainly be two characters, but there will be other characters thrown in there for flair, just like a star who does a cameo in a movie.
You go back in time--to 15 years in the past. Those are storytelling vehicles, but they also allow us to change-up locations. There is a history between Zakhaev (Call of Duty 4's villain) and Captain Price. Price was in CoD 1, we killed him off, brought him back for CoD 2, and then we thought may as well bring in him in the modern day--we love that handlebar moustache. There’s a mission where you are working in concert with Price trying to assassinate Zakhaev. The assassination mission fails, but it gives you an insight into why these two characters hate each other so much.
GS AU: Call of Duty 4 is coming out for the 360 and for PCs. Why did you decide not to include Live cross-platform functionality?
GC: We got a call from Microsoft who said they want us to do Live Anywhere for CoD 4. They just left a message--we didn’t actually get the phone call. We talked about it, and really feel that we worked really hard on the Xbox 360 version, and there’s a lot of things that we do that we didn’t do for the PC because of the control you have with a mouse and keyboard which allows you to have a higher level of precision. When you are on the 360, you have auto-aim, and you have a movement compensator so when you’re getting close to the edge of the screen it moves really quickly, but when you’re in the middle of the screen it slows down so you can target. We don’t do that on the PC.
When someone is playing on the Xbox against another player, he knows that they have the same hardware and the same controller--the only advantage is skill. On the PC side, you never know what the guy is playing with. He can have an archaic machine, or he could set his settings low, or he could be using the lowest form of DirectX. He can have all of the graphic bells and whistles turned off, or can have a dual core machine, or a quad core, multiple video cards--he can have a lot of advantages, and there’s not an equal playing field.
I think Live Anywhere is great for certain games, like Poker or Tetris or something. But, realistically, for first-person shooters or real-time strategy games, trying to pit those two people together is inherently imbalanced. Anytime someone playing an RTS can click and drag and choose a whole bunch of units and select one of your buildings to blow it up, and you’re sitting there with a controller, you’re not going to have the same reaction time. So why pit those two against each other?
I think Live is a great idea and it’s good for certain games, but Call of Duty isn’t one of those games.
GS AU: Grant Collier, thanks for your time.
Check out GameSpot's previous coverage of Call of Duty 4, including our hands-on preview, by clicking here.