E3 2013: Call of Duty: Ghosts Interview – Daniel Suarez Talks Dogs, Next-Gen and Wiping the Slate Clean
Written Thursday, June 27, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Call of Duty seems to have outgrown the status of mere game. Say 'Call of Duty' to your average gamer and it'll either elicit a roll of the eyes or sheer, unbridled excitement. Call of Duty is divisive, contentious and always seems to get people talking.
Infinity Ward is ditching the Modern Warfare series it started in 2007 for this year's CoD, with Call of Duty: Ghosts, a title that the developer claims has a brand new narrative, new characters, deeper storytelling and a 'new' engine. Everyone expected Modern Warfare 4. Infinity Ward decided to defy those expectations.
The jury's still out on just how far expectations will be pushed for Call of Duty: Ghosts beyond adding a dog, but according to Activision's Vice President of Production Daniel Suarez, the game marks a new beginning, a clean slate for the series. Talking to Suarez, we found out more about CoD: Ghosts, the challenges of next-gen, your faithful four-legged friend and more.
When starting out on Call of Duty: Ghosts, was it seen as something of a risk to abandon making Modern Warfare 4 as everyone expected?
We didn't necessarily see starting off on Call of Duty: Ghosts as a risk, we actually saw it as a little bit liberating. I think after doing three years of Modern Warfare, with the console transition happening, coming out of Modern Warfare 3, we really saw it as a clean slate. New tech, new innovative technology; we're really starting a new sub-franchise with Ghosts. The team at Infinity Ward wanted to create a new story, create some new gameplay dynamics and new gameplay innovations, while building this [new] engine, so a lot of the focus on what we're doing as far as building this technology, was saying gameplay really drives the technology.
What we wanted to do was create these very immersive environments, really focus on the things that next-gen consoles can do - lighting, visual effects, animation, character models – all of that allows us to create a more visceral and lifelike experience like Call of Duty delivers, but that much more impressive. So for us it was more an opportunity than anything else. It didn't seem like a risk at all.
What new challenges has developing for next-generation consoles brought about?
As we look at next-gen, it's really all of these different opportunities and you have all of these different areas you could focus on. You could do the visuals, you could focus on the fidelity of the game, and really start understanding what the next paradigm is in gaming that we're going to see. For us, we've focused on a couple of key areas. The main one is the storytelling in this Call of Duty; it's going to be deeper than anything we've done before. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan who wrote Traffic and directed Syriana, he's an Academy Award winning writer [and he's writing Call of Duty: Ghosts], so for us we'll be telling a deeper story than we ever have before.
In this Call of Duty, you play with a squad throughout the entire campaign and one of your squad members is your brother. And in this campaign we've also added this new dog character, and that's got a lot of popularity online, so that's really interesting for us. He's actually a new gameplay dynamic as well. He's part of your squad and can be utilised in different engagements throughout the game, so as you saw in some of the demos earlier, he can find enemies, he can identify where there's risk, and he can actually sniff out enemies hiding in certain areas. He can then be engaged via a tablet [in-game] to then interact with and engage enemies.
Next-gen is also bringing a lot of different ways we can deal with the storytelling through the different characters and the look that they have. We're able to do double the bones they have in their face when we actually build those models, so the articulation of the dialogue and interacting with the characters is a lot deeper. Those things alone will make for the most immersive Call of Duty experience we've ever had.
The demo we saw in which your using Riley the dog, you're viewing his perspective via the camera mounted to his back. Are you directly controlling the dog yourself through the camera view?
We actually brought in a team of Navy Seal dog trainers and they told us about the technology that's been invested in by the government to actually train these dogs and the equipment that they wear. You can look online; it's all very well documented. Tens of thousands of dollars are spent on this equipment. It's basically these kevlar bulletproof vests, a camera that's mounted on the back, and [the Navy Seals] can talk to these dogs via earpieces they put into the dog's ear. We felt that's a really cool idea and really inspiring, so you can actually manipulate the dog via commands on this tablet and he will react to you. So the amount of training these guys have done really inspired us to say, 'wow, this is a really cool new gameplay dynamic.'
How does the team feel about the dog and what a big deal it's become since being revealed?
Well, when we first saw the dog coming out as a gameplay mechanic, we all thought it was really cool and that people are going to like it. Then it sort of outgrew our expectations and became this big thing on Twitter and it's become this big thing among the community, and for us, we just like to keep our fans engaged, surprised and delighted by what we're doing from a gameplay perspective.
So the fact that they really like the idea is great, and we have a lot more things that we can demonstrate as time goes on with new gameplay things we're showing off, like the level we're showing to the press called 'Federation Day'. That's had a lot of good press due to what we're showing in terms of new gameplay dynamics, with you rappelling into this building and then vertically ascending and all that kind of stuff. There's a lot of good stuff there.
Do you think that the phenomenal success of Call of Duty has added increased pressure to push the envelope and change things up for Ghosts?
Every year we have added pressure on Call of Duty. It's a huge franchise, and millions and millions of players play Call of Duty year in and year out, and for us, the fact that we have this huge audience of players absolutely puts pressure on our development teams. All they want to do is make the greatest game possible. Everyone that comes into this industry, everyone who's worked at Infinity Ward and all the other teams that have supported these games, for them gameplay is number one.
We all enjoy the industry and making these games, and all we want to do is make the best game possible, so when they're putting in those extra hours working late at night, it's to make that experience for the consumer that much more exciting. So yeah, absolutely we feel the pressure every year, but I think for us, we want to drive the gameplay dynamics, create innovation and build visuals that make people go, 'oh my God that's awesome, look how amazing that looks!' That's what drives us every year; keeping players engaged and thinking this is the best game franchise ever.
What do you make of what DICE is doing with Battlefield 4?
Well, some impressive stuff came out in the last couple of days [during E3] and it's great to have competition because it drives us that much further in what we need to do. We're all heads down on what we need to do this year for Ghosts.
What's the reaction been to the next-gen consoles so far among the dev team?
Well, personally for me as a gamer playing a lot of games, I'm thrilled. I'm so excited by the volume of games we're seeing coming out. Everything from hardcore adventure-type titles to indie stuff that's coming out and stuff created by the first-parties. That stuff just shows the power of our industry, the complexity we have in terms of what people are offering; it's great for our industry to be able to show that off.
With the console transition happening there's a lot more focus and attention from not just from the core press, but also from a lot of the mass media press reporting on the new console generation, which gives us a lot of exposure and that's great not just for Call of Duty, but for every game. For us as an industry we need that, we need to people to understand that there's all these different types of titles that you can enjoy and play on these consoles, and I think if those publishers do a great job showing off everything you can do on these things [next-gen consoles] then it's a great time to be in the industry.
Going back to Call of Duty, is forging a new path with Ghosts rather than Modern Warfare 4 a statement of intent that this is something different, the start of a whole new franchise offshoot?
I think for us it's sort of fortuitous and serendipitous that we're at the start of this new console cycle. When we finished Modern Warfare 3 we were thinking about what we want to do next, and the obvious answer was to make Modern Warfare 4. Eric Hirshberg [Activision CEO] presented a pre-E3 event and said that's what people expected us to do, and if you type Modern Warfare 4 into Google, you're going to see a million hits saying that's what we're going to do. We wanted to do something new and a little different, and coming into this new console cycle we want to start with a clean slate.
A new set of characters, a new story, new gameplay innovations: we're really valuing that new technology, so this is not based on the Black Ops lore, it's not Modern Warfare 4, it's a whole new universe with a new set of characters. And I think with the script by Stephen Gaghan it tells that sort of underdog story, so typically in our titles you've been that big machismo sort of group, but now you're the underdog.
The United States is devastated by this climactic event that takes place and a new threat emerges called the 'Rods From God' that destroy half the country, and you and your brother lived in that area. You're now ten years later trying to put the pieces back together and join this stealth squad called the 'Ghosts'. That's where the story takes off and you're pushing back the group who infiltrated in, so there's a lot of sabotage, stealth and you're really gonna see that Call of Duty and Modern Warfare gameplay that will really resonate with people.
Right, final question. You only have a choice of one next-gen console. Which one do you get?
Ah, I don't know, man! It's tough. It's tough right now because I literally have been a gamer for well over 30+ years, and I can't possibly say which one. I watched each E3 press conference and all the press conferences of all the publishers, and I'm impressed with the variety of games that are coming out, the visual fidelity of the games that are coming out, so as a gamer I'm thrilled. At the end of the year there's going to be so much new stuff to play with, so I can't pick one.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is out in November.