E3 2016: Being the Tip of the Spear in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Infinity Ward is pitching Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare as a clear cut story about good versus evil. As the first Call of Duty game from Infinity Ward to be developed on Activision's three-year cycle for the franchise, the developer has spent a lot of time thinking about how it can progress the narrative beyond the traditional perspectives we typically see from the franchise. In the upcoming Infinite Warfare, players will no longer be a mere tool of war, they'll be the tip of the spear.
"Since Call of Duty players are all used to playing as the new guy, wouldn't it be interesting if we told a story about the journey from grunt to leader?" design director Jacob Minkof posited. "How someone goes from believing something so simple as the creed of 'No soldier left behind,' to the more complex duty of putting the mission first. It's about shouldering the burden of responsibility knowing sometimes the mission comes before all else."
It's a concept Infinity Ward's Minkoff and Taylor Kurosaki (Infinite Warfare's narrative director) attempt to hammer home during a presentation on the single-player campaign during E3 last week. In listening to them talk about the game, it's clear that taking an extra year to develop this next and new entry in the long-running franchise has given Infinity Ward time to ponder how best to evolve the series. Rather than focus on a nifty new feature (though there are a few in the game), Infinity Ward has taken the time to hone its story and characters in the hopes Infinite Warfare will be more than just another Call of Duty.
"What I think is interesting is that Infinite Warfare has a unique perspective on war," Minkoff continued. "In previous Call of Duty games, players have generally played as the new guy; a grunt. In this game, instead of being lead by a character like Captain Price [from Modern Warfare], we are the leader like Price. As captain, we have control of our own ship, and we get to tell our own crew where to go and what to do."
You'll play as Lt. Reyes, the commander of a spec ops team trained for space combat dubbed SCAR team one. When Reyes' commanding officer falls in battle, Reyes gets field promoted to commander of the Retribution. Infinity Ward is striving for as much accuracy as possible within its fictional future, but at its core, this new Call of Duty is based primarily on the modern US Navy. You know, except in space.
'You have bridge crew members that are all modeled after real world US Naval aircraft carrier personnel," Kurosaki explained. "We have done overnight embarks on carriers, and we have US Navy advisors that we work with. Everyone from Navy SEALs, who have instructed us how they handle themselves in combat scenarios; we've had admirals that have talked to us about surface war techniques and we're trying to transpose those into our hub and our strategy. We're excited to see how members of the Navy respond to seeing what we believe is the most realistic portrayal of aircraft carrier, even though it's an aerospace craft."
Just because you'll have all these roles on the Retribution doesn't mean Infinite Warfare will suddenly become Mass Effect. There are no dialogue trees to explore, but Infinity Ward wanted to make sure the Retribution felt as authentic as possible. The staff and soldiers will respond to your presence, stiffening or saluting as you walk past, but engaging them in conversation is a limited function. If you want you can linger around to have the AI characters speak with Reyes, but these talks are all predetermined based on how the campaign and side missions are going. If you were hoping there's be a series of multiple endings to see based on what you did as Reyes, you'll be disappointed. Infinite War is still very much a linear game in that regard.
"We're storytellers, and we want to tell the most immersive deepest narrative we can tell," Kurosaki said. "That means it's an authored narrative. What our conceit is, just like anyone in the military, you have people under and over you. For Reyes, he has everyone on this ship, and he can choose at his discretion to take part in these side missions to scrounge for resources in Ship Assaults. You also have command you're taking orders from, and those missions typically fall in line with the more linear experience."
In talking with the Navy officers and advisors about creating a plausible future where this kind of conflict could happen, Infinity Ward also developed some of the tactics and technology we'll see in the game. You might recall that space is a vacuum, and as such there is no sound in space. Yet judging by the trailer, there's all kinds of explosions and chatter happening in Infinite War's world. That's largely due to creating the LMA, or the laser microphone array, as a means of giving soldiers the feedback they need to be competent warriors in the vastness of space.
"We've taken queues from information that we've been given from our advisors, and we said, 'Let's extrapolate that into a plausible future,'" explained Kurosaki. "Space is a vacuum, but the auditory queues that a soldier would use and react to, those are essential to fighting boots on the ground combat --- on Earth or elsewhere. We've developed this fiction called an LMA, and what it does is scan out into space for visual queues/vibrations to measure and then translate into a sound field that approximates what you'd hear if there was atmosphere and sound.
"That's based on real technology that people are using right now. If someone was across the street from us, could see in our open window with optics, and I was talking, they could look at a glass of water in the room and measure the vibrations and record that. They could then reproduce what I said based on those patterns, and that was sort of jumping off point for the LMA."
That potential technology isn't just something thrown in for Infinity Ward to explain how it's possible to hear everything happening in the game, it's also to make scientific sense of how soldiers can be good soldiers in such an alien environment. When stripped of basically every sense but sight, any military would be lost as babes in the woods. The LMA is just a bit of strategic tech that gives the space naval forces a leg up on their enemies.
"You need to give as many inputs as possible to people," Minkoff added. "The ability to use sound is a huge tactical advantage and one that we focused on. I recently read that the Large Hadron Collider has speakers in it so that people can hear if something is going wrong because they're more likely to pick up on something making a little 'tink' sound than a computer before something goes wrong. Having technology that use your senses is a big part of future warfare."
At first glance, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare may look like yet another bleak futuristic warfare experience. If Infinity Ward is actually able to bring a deep, personal narrative to players, it could go a long way into making Infinite Warfare stand out from its peers and predecessors. The commitment to the advisement of the Navy certainly gives Infinite Warfare a spin we haven't quite seen before, but whether it all comes together lies in the execution of everything Minkoff and Kurosaki explained. This is a story of good versus evil. Whether or not it's a good one is up to Infinity Ward.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will be available Nov. 4 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.