An Interview With Lee Ross On Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s Zombies in Spaceland
Things are getting retro spooky with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s ‘80s-inspired Zombie Mode, Zombies in Spaceland. With the latest reveals showing off the theme park environment that players will be battling their way through alongside a myriad of retro references and iconography, it’s easy to get lost in just how much Zombies in Spaceland has to offer. To get up to speed, we caught up to Infinity Ward Senior Producer Lee Ross for an interview.
Arcade Sushi: So this iteration of Zombie mode lives and breathes ‘80s aesthetic. When development began, did you start with a story or did the decision to play with the ‘80s come first?
Lee Ross: We started with a theme park. The original mandate for the team was we wanted to do something fun and different. We also wanted to open up this experience to players that are new to Zombies. A lot people still haven’t played the mode, so accessibility was a big concern. For instance, we found in focus testing that when we put players in really narrow corridors, they felt very uncomfortable and didn’t want to move forward, so the routes in Zombies in Spaceland are much wider and that was designed to make players feel a little bit more at ease with exploring. So it really started with the idea of having fun and opening Zombie mode up for a really wide audience. The ‘80s aesthetic came on once we figured out that we wanted this to be a theme park. We weren’t sure if we were going to do a carnival-style park or a rundown dead park, but once the ‘80s feel came in, we decided we wanted this to be a living, functional park that you could interact with.
AS: With that aesthetic, you’ve got a lot of references in the game pushing that vibe. We know now that Paul Reubens is a big part of the scenario, so I have to ask. Is there a little bit of Pee Wee’s Playhouse in there?
LR: There’s certainly homage to a lot of things from the ‘80s. Unfortunately, as cool as that would be, the Playhouse is not in Spaceland, but we picked and chose our battles and with all of the pop culture references there are, there’s little bits and pieces sprinkled throughout. When you pick up power drops for instance, you’ll hear Paul --- he’s got this ethereal presence, like the voice of God in the park --- but he also doesn’t like when you’re making progress. So when you hear Paul getting aggravated, it’s a good sign that things are going in your favor.
AS: So what references can we expect to see?
LR: We went at the ‘80s as a whole. Whether it’s movies, music, clothing, hairstyles or verbiage from the time period, it was a culmination of all those things. Just thinking about movies, there’s John Hughes stuff like Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. There’s E.T. and The Goonies and all of this stuff is sprinkled about. For instance, the in-game map was hugely inspired by Goonies. We wanted to put this thing in the park that would give you bits of information, so that map updates as you play. It’s our way of telling you that there’s this central place actively lets you know what’s happening in Spaceland.
AS: So when you talk about accessibility, obviously there are things in the game to help players deal with threats as they come up. How did you go about striking the balance between challenge for hardcore players and accessibility for new players?
LR: The balance comes into players juggling all the various systems. There’s a lot to manage whether it’s your ammo, weapons, power-ups, what Fate and Fortune cards are available to you and how much cash you have to be able to activate park attractions. All of that resource management is where the divide really happens. We ease players into the experience, but those who’ve played before know that the rounds will get harder and you have to be planning ahead. We found that a lot of new players in the past just stayed on the surface of the mode with a focus on killing zombies, but it’s kind of like an onion. The more you peel, the more there is to it. We built a tutorial mode for Spaceland and a lot of veterans will probably want to skip it, but we’d advise not to because there’s things in there that even they might not know about this particular scenario. In the end, we tried to make the tutorial an experience that will have something for everyone in order to peel that onion and open them up to the deeper game.
AS: How far does the story go here? There’s a lot of good people on board and there’s this backstory of a crazy movie director trapping these actors in the park. Is the backstory just backstory or does it go further than that?
LR: The structure is still traditional zombies and you will fight wave after wave of zombies, but as far as the story goes, it’s there. The backstory sets the table for the adventure, but there’s also a lot of bits and pieces in the intro that link into key places in the park. We want that story to unfold to players as they get deeper and deeper. More than that, we want it to be a thing where the community finds bits and pieces of the puzzle, comes back again and again, shares what they learned and uses it to get a little deeper in each time. We have a deep story here and we want everyone to discover it bit by bit.
AS: We’ve seen that before where a singular Zombie mode evolved into more of an epic adventure. Is that the plan with Zombies in Spaceland or is this a self-contained experience?
LR: If you’re asking if the story in Spaceland will be epic, yes. Absolutely. We’ve written quite a tale and we want to take players on quite an adventure, but more than that, Zombies in Spaceland is really the kicking off point to a much bigger story. Ultimately a lot will be up to fan reception and how much people dive into this. If it’s not what people want, we’ll pay attention to the feedback.
AS: So ideally, Zombies in Spaceland may be the beginning of something bigger. We may very well see some continuation.
LR: [smiles] You’ll have to find out…
This interview was completed at Call of Duty XP 2016. Travel and accommodations for Call of Duty XP were provided by the publisher.