In November of 2007, many of us “Went Deep and Went Hard”. To this day, so many of us haven’t stopped playing Call of Duty 4, which resoundingly and somewhat easily won Game of the Year from the Gearheads of War vote.
It’s really the first game that has regularly torn us away from the Gears of War gameplay that brought us all to this site. We’re playing it regularly every Friday night for our weekly Friday Night FragFest and despite the fact that I’m not terribly good at COD4, it was my favorite game of 2007 and will be my most played game…probably right up until I finally get my hands on Gears of War 2. I really don’t see any multiplayer game replacing it any time in the near future.
All that being said, it was my great honor to have a chance to interview Robert Bowling, the Community Manager at Infinity Ward. Below is the exclusive Gearheads interview with Bowling. Enjoy!
Gearheads of War: First of all, congrats on the success of Call of Duty 4. We’re all addicted to it over at Gearheads of War. It’s the
one game that finally tore us away from playing Gears every week. Did you ever imagine that it would be neck and neck with a juggernaut like Halo 3 for people’s precious MP time on XBL as well as sales wise?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: From day one we set our goal on making the best multiplayer game for Xbox Live (and any other platform we were releasing on). So we had our sights on that #1 spot on XBL, PSN, and on PC from the beginning for our multiplayer. On Xbox Live if that meant going head to head with Halo 3 then that was something we were prepared to do. The ambitious plans we had for Multiplayer and the loyal community we had established, we were confident that we’d be presenting a challenge for some of the current Xbox Live heavy weights. However, while I hope that’s what all developers shoot and hope for, the overwhelming popularity and success sales wise of the game has really been humbling and overwhelming to say the least. It helped to have a fantastic community standing behind the game early on, with the 600,000+ beta testers that helped us fine tune the game pre-launch to the millions of dedicated Call of Duty players that came after, we’re very fortunate to have such a hardcore and dedicated community to go along with game.
Gearheads: When developing the perk system for MP and leveling your character up, how hard was it to balance the game so that newcomers weren’t immediately turned off?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: That was a big concern for the designers here at Infinity Ward, how to quickly introduce new and old players to the in-depth new leveling and unlockable system introduced to the franchise in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. With perks, weapon attachments, and custom classes, we were hitting players with a lot. To help balance and reduce confusion or overwhelming the players we decided to space out how the unlockables in the way that New Users start out with just the five pre-set basic classes which have pre-defined perks as well. This allowed them to play around with a few different weapon classes and perk sets to get use to the concept, while also limiting the new players to Team Death match and Free for All Playlists. A few games in, we unlock Create a Class for them and a few more perks to let them start playing around with customizing. With this method, I think we were really able to make it not so overwhelming for new players and veteran Call of Duty players a like who aren’t use to the massive amount of new weapons, attachments, and of course perks we’ve added to the game.
Gearheads: Does the game take skill into account in the matchmaking because I’ve often seen someone at Level 13 going against someone who is a Level 55 prestige three times over?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: The Matchmaking system on Xbox Live is based on top of Microsoft’s TrueSkill ranking, not your in-game Rank. So if you’re a high-ranked shitty player, you’re going to be placed with other winning-handicapped players. So skill is the #1 matchmaking factor above all else. Rank is a good way to hopefully gauge a player’s dedication, but not always their skill as an individual player.
Gearheads: It seems to me like it was a smart decision to keep the achievements focused on the campaign to keep the annoying achievement whoring out of the MP experience. But a lot of people have complained about no achievements for MP. Do you have any regrets about that decision?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: No regrets. Whatsoever. We’re big fans of keeping the Multiplayer about the multiplayer experience. You play to have fun, you play to win, you play to better the team. Sometimes multiplayer achievements take away from that because they’re more focused on unlocking an achievement rather than winning the match. I think achievements are fantastic for Single Player, and some games they really work in Multiplayer, but some they don’t and I feel Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of those where they’re best in SP.
Gearheads: Was there ever any consideration given to also adding the ability to customize your character to further enhance the RPG elements of the MP game? It would be fun to be able to design your own character.
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: There has been a lot of consideration put into further character customizations, and still something we talk about a lot for future releases. It’s something we’d like to see taken even further but you have give and take in development, and that was something that was given up so we could put more focus on another feature before launch.
Gearheads: Lots of people have complained that the M-16 is overpowered. Do you guys have a counter that will beat the M-16 most of the time?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: The M16 is a popular weapon online, but I think there’s lots of counter weapon load outs that can easily compete with it. I personally use a G36c w/ Suppressor in Hardcore modes, or w/ Red Dot in non-hardcore and I can go head to head with any M16 clad player. So, I don’t feel it’s some kind of uber-weapon. In the end it comes down to speed and skill to determine who will come out on top.
Gearheads: My biggest problem with the game is that I thought that either the three nade perk should have been given much earlier or that it shouldn’t be in the game at all because I’ve been in games where people on the other team all have three nade perks and they just litter entire areas with them. It’s not much fun. Have you found that to be a problem?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We’ve received a lot of community feedback on this, particularly concerning Search and Destroy games. All in all though, frag grenades are something gamers in general tend to hate on. To me, it’s part of any shooter game. Soldiers have grenades; they typically carry more than 1 (around 2 / 3). If you’re in an area open for fragging, it’s a risk you have to take into the assessment. I think it’s noticed a lot more in S&D because players typically take the same route to a target, and the enemy knows they’re going to be on the target at some point so it seems a bit overwhelming. A good tactic I’d suggest to players is to stay aware, listen for grenade pings (bouncing off walls) for an extra warning before the grenade indicator (or in hardcore) and be prepared to “fake plant” the bomb, then run away to attract the spam-naders before actually planting the bomb. Also, try to stay about 10 meters apart when running a group and mix up your approach route to the target. Regardless, we take community feedback really serious and I won’t lie that this has sparked a lot of debate among the development team as to if and how we can maybe balance out nades if need be.
Gearheads: A lot of gamers are also having issues keeping their friends as they go into a game online. They’ll be in the lobby with you, but when it’s setting up the game, the player is gone. It’s one of the only negatives of an otherwise stellar experience. Is there a reason that is happening to some players more than others and is there a downloadable fix coming for that?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We’ve done a lot of investigation into this issue and have been talking with Microsoft about it quite a bit. In the end the biggest factor in the parties staying together and joining properly to games is corresponding NAT settings. If there are conflicting NAT settings (i.e. OPEN nats joining up with STRICT NAT hosts) then players with strict nats are going to drop out, or be left behind from the rest of the party. Just because you’re NAT is open, doesn’t mean you’re 100% good to go, if the host your attempting to connect to has a STRICT NAT then you may be dropped or not connect. The best thing all players can do is ensure they have an OPEN NAT, the more open NAT settings the smoother it will go.
Gearheads: What is IW’s favorite (or most played) map? What is IW least favorite map? What is your favorite gametype?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: I think everyone has their personal favorites, so it’s hard to speak for the entire team as to what maps our collective favorite. My personal favorite is probably Crash or Overgrown depending on the game type. By far my favorite game type is Hardcore Search and Destroy or Search and Destroy in general.
Gearheads: Care to comment on when we might be seeing some downloadable content like new maps?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: I’m excited to say that we’re working on some really cool downloadable content right now for Xbox 360 and PS3. We’re working on some new maps which will bring a lot of variety to the existing maps and have been listening to a lot of community feedback online, in the forums, and via the blog over at www.fourzerotwo.com. We’ll be talking about the maps quite a bit as we progress and letting out some sneak peek details here and there as they develop. That’s about all I can say for now though.
Gearheads: Let’s shift gears to the campaign now. The campaign has some shocking moments in it. The first-person view of the president getting shot. The crawling out of the crashed helicopter to an unceremonious ending. These are things that I haven’t really seen in a first person game before. How did you come to the conclusion that COD4 would be one of the first games where you’d experience dying (and no respawning for those characters) from the first person perspective?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: It wasn’t so much a decision that we wanted to kill off the characters, but that we wanted to fully immerse the player in the experience, the emotion, and the intensity of every situation. Once you’re in Call of Duty 4, we never wanted to take you out of that. So we never wanted to take control away from the player and force them to passively watch a cut scene, they should be actively involved in the entire plot and story. If that means experiencing your own demise, then that’s a powerful emotion that we didn’t want to take away from the player and wanted to put you right there.
Gearheads: How did you guys come up with the idea of the pilot talking in a monotone and detached voice while you blow up your enemies on the ground because it was pretty funny and disturbing all at once?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We did a lot of research and reference for the game throughout development, which included lots of videos, photos, and speaking with soldiers directly and meeting with them, going to their bases, etc. For AC-130 we watched a lot of actual AC-130 footage. So all of that is taken straight from real-life scenarios and inspiration, they’re calm, collected, and precise. We really tried to capture that emotion and mentality when designed the AC-130 level.
Gearheads: The game is a fictionalized experience based on hypothetical situations but it didn’t include a real country from the middle east. Why not and do you think that a game will tackle a topic like that or do games have to avoid it because it would be too close to reality?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We didn’t want to take away from what Call of Duty has always been about, soldiers answering the call for action against an undeniable evil despite overwhelming odds, and putting the player in that role of a grunt soldier doing what has to be done. So we made it clear; here are some bad dudes, they’re doing some bad things (like shooting you in the face). It’s not about what you may or may not think about any particular conflict, or political stance, or enemy. It’s good vs. evil, and you’re good. Go you.
Gearheads: How did you get the running animation so perfected? I honestly think it’s better than any game I’ve ever seen.
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We have the absolutely best character animators in the industry here at Infinity Ward. It’s that simple. We also have a great new feature in our CoD4Engine (CODE) which allows for seamless transitions between mo-cap animations and standard animations, allowing for the smoothest and natural movements in games.
Gearheads: Two more quick questions. First of all, do you think Call of Duty 4 deserves the Game of the Year for 2007? And second, is the franchise (at least the IW-produced games) now permanently entrenched in modern times?
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: I feel we’ve delivered what we set out to do and that was to make the best game of the year. So, Yes, to me Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the 2007 Game of The Year. As for where Infinity Ward’s versions of Call of Duty titles go from here, I never presume to know what will be happening tomorrow, let alone an entire development cycle from now. So I honestly can’t say where we’ll be next game, we’re going to set our sights on setting the bar even higher next game so whatever that means in terms of what the game will be, is anyone’s guess. No reason to limit our selves to a deadest option. Anything’s possible.
Gearheads: Thank you so very much for your time. Perhaps some Friday Night FragFest, we can get the IW guys to face off against the Gearheads. Oh and the Go Deep and Go Hard song at the end is brilliant. Please release it on iTunes.
Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We are always down for a challenge so bring on the Friday Fragfest.