It’s a hot day in Los Angeles, and it’s even hotter in the massive bus that we’ve all been bundled into, as we make our way to go grab an exclusive peek at the upcoming Call of Duty Ghosts, as well as two other Activision games that we can’t mention just yet. It’s a new era for gaming, and with Call of Duty having influenced the current-gen for better or for worse, a new start for that franchise as well.
Before the main show begins, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg pops up on stage to deliver the usual PR schpiel, which I sit through, before a massive Eastern European guy near me mutters under his breath “Bring on ze damn Call of Duty alreadys”.
After Hirshberg has said what he wanted to say, the main event begins. Call of Duty Ghosts is a brand new entry in the franchise from Infinity Ward, taking place in a near future environment that has seen North America devastated by some unknown calamity. With her military scattered, major parts of the country devastated and morale at an all-time low, players step into the combat boots of a Ghost, the usual elite team member that is going to help save the day.
But seeing as how your character happens to be associated with stealthy spectres, you’d expect some sort of more guerrilla-based warfare to be on the cards, right? Well, sort of, as Activision senior producer Yale Miller explained to me.
“Ghosts is about the squad, not necessarily about the gameplay. It’s really about the squad”, Miller said.
There lot’s of variety and different stuff.
I think the big difference in previous stuff, with the new story, there has been this mass event that basically reshaped and devastated most of the US and has put the government, the military and the economy into dissarray and there is a new super power that has risen up that is coming towards the United States.
That superpower was glimpsed in the ship graveyard, an underwater level in which characters scuba-dived their past hostile enemies, engaged them at the right time and at other times had to hightail it out of there. And looking at this level, with the new Call of Duty engine in action, it looks like business as usual.
But it’s not. It’s hard to describe the engine exactly, as it looks so damn familiar to the usual visual experience, but with a ton of effort thrown into the smaller areas of the game, thanks to the Sub-D addition to the gameplay mechanics.
Sub-D, in effect, makes everything prettier. As we were shown in one instance, a set of round iron sights in Modern Warfare 3 usually looked more like an octagon than a circle, but add a touch of Sub-D and those aiming sights instantly get some attractive curves. Sub-D adds a ton more polygons, giving landscape actual form, instead of being a flat texture. Light filters in beautifully, environments look lush and character models, while more dead-eyed than Lindsey Lohan, look incredibly detailed overall.
But will gamers actually appreciate this ridiculous attention to the smaller details, I wondered? “A lot of that stuff is just immersion, so with weapons and aims, a lot of it looks better when you aim down the sights and you see it”, Miller explained to me.
So with weapons, and new model arms, I think everyone will appreciate it. Which is why we showed the MW3 comparison video, because it looks awesome. It takes a step back to see where we were, so that you can appreciate it. A lot of the finer details are there, but I hope that a lot of those details, people don’t notice.
I hope that it feels more real, more immersive, more natural, more organic than it ever has before. It’s all so that you don’t notice that it’s not real.
Miller has a point there. At one point in the demo, we shifted from a dank cave to the great outdoors, an effect that meant that our virtual irises needed time to adjust. It’s an effect that doesn’t really add anything to the game, but it’s damn pretty nonetheless.
As for the game itself, it looks like business as usual. Call of Duty is like comparing musical experiences when stacked up to its nearest rival, Battlefield. Battlefield is the London Symphony Orchestra, belting out some classical and good-looking upper class tunes. Call of Duty is the AC/DC concert, keeping things simple and addictive.
And don’t expect that to change, even though the game is getting a story from Syriana and Traffic director Stephen Gaghan. America may be the underdog this time, but it still has some bite left in it as Miller explained to me:
The goal is with the story, because it’s that underdog story, it offers different opportunities for different scenarios that we maybe haven’t done before. The goal is always to build tension, adrenaline rushing events. So I hope that you get a lot of those in the game.
What’s different is that in this game, we’re not the overwhelming force riding in with a hundred helicopters and you know that the cavalry is behind you. And I hope that this adds a level of tension that we haven’t had in the past.
Moving back to that ship graveyard level, one aspect of the game that really shone though, were the environments. Specifically the bits of it that spontaneously bursted into even littler pieces when our team came under attack from an enemy navy that was blasting the water with high pressure sonar waves. With such technology on offer, you’d expect Call of Duty to really embrace destructible environments, but trying to get an answer out of Miller was harder than trying to pass your drivers license test the first time.
“Bullet penetration and that stuff, that will be later on when we talk more about MP”, Miller said to me. Okay, fair enough, let’s change topics. Lets talk immersion. It’s the golden goose of every game out there, and it’s also something that Miller and the rest of Activision say that they are pursuing very, very hard for this particular COD game. Something that the new graphics engine is meant to complement, not replace.
“I think that immersion is, is that you do something on the controller, something , fluidly and fast, and I think it helps that you are that guy, that you what you want your character to do and the game reacts” Miller said.
Graphical stuff is a layer on top of it, that makes it step up, and all the audio fidelity and different things that we’re doing there is adding to just more and more immersion. But the biggest part of immersion is that when you control the guy, your brain tells the guy to do what you want him to do.
So, with the animation systems that we’re doing, that the guys at IW have focused on, which is changing how you as a player move through the world, whether you come up to a corner and there’s guys on the other side loaded up with weapons, and instead of stepping out, you can lean out very seamlessly with good control.
It’s little stuff like that, like adding more weight to the weapon so that it feels weightier when you’re running, little things and things like iris effects that just adds to that level of immersion that your brain thinks ‘that the way it should be’, not ‘that doesn’t seem right’.
You don’t necessarily know why it doesn’t seem right, but we’re spending a lot of time making sure that the game does what you expect.
I’m still not convinced though, to be honest. At a quick glance, it looks like the exact same game that we’ve been playing for years now. But when you sit down and examine it, allow yourself to get drawn in, then it’s most definitely a big leap forward for the franchise. The thing is, is that this technology has already been seen, in console game such as Killzone and Crysis.
What Call of Duty does with that tech however, is keep the action at the trademark 60 frames per second, and that on its own is the impressive bit here. What we were seeing that night, was next-gen graphics. But not everyone is going to have the money to go ahead and buy an Xbox or Playstation successor console. Most of us are going to continue gaming on our current platforms, with the rest of the installed user base. So will we get to see any of that vaunted new technology, is the question that I posed to Miller. And according to him, we’ll see some of it at least;
Yes, so there’s some of the tech, we’re actually starting differently, and most of the stuff that we’re building that is at cinema quality for a higher end PC, and then we scale it back down and a lot of the tech that we have been working on still has a trickle down effect to the current-gen, and just things that we’re doing on the next-gen is opening up new things and we’re figuring out how we can use parts of the new tech that we’re doing, like sub-d displacement maps, but there will be things that won’t be on current-gen.
They just flat-out will not exist. But current-gen will look better.
So it looks like Infinity Ward is indeed trying to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at this first foray into next-gen gaming for Call of Duty. Something that Miller felt confident about:
Infinity Ward is the biggest that they’ve ever been. It’s ambitious, add into all of that, the next-generation consoles and there is a lot of work, with everyone trying to make sure that it’s realised to it’s full potential.
So yeah, it’s ambitious, but I think every year it’s ambitious.
Judging by the way that the game looked and handled, I’d guess that if you weren’t a Call of Duty fan before, this game won’t sway you over to the COD side just yet. And that’s the major hurdle that Call of Duty needs to overcome. Sure, it may have its detractors, but it has just as many die hard fans.
Go ahead and change too much of the successful formula, and you run the risk of losing both veterans and potential newcomers. It’s a tricky situation for parent publisher Activision. I’d be foolish to dismiss that a ton of hard work went into the game, but I’m just concerned that it went into aspects of the game that no one will actually appreciate.
Current Call of Duty fans have nothing to worry about. The real challenge here though, is convincing everyone else to try the game out.
Last Updated: May 21, 2013