Home Features Here’s what makes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s new purpose built engine exciting

Here’s what makes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s new purpose built engine exciting

10 min read

The announcement of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare means that Infinity Ward won’t just have to deal with the pressure of living up to the benchmark of previous games, but they’ll also have to deliver on the demanding expectations of fans new and old. One way that they plan on doing this is via their brand new game engine, which is giving them the tools they need to reinvent the series. Today we’re diving into some of the elements which are helping to change Call of Duty as we know it.

The new purpose built engine

The Call of Duty franchise has a long history with the veteran IW Engine, which was first used for Call of Duty 2 back in 2005. It’s the same engine which was based on id Tech 3 technology at its core, and has since been used to create games in the series all the way up to 2018’s Black Ops 4.

After five years of development on the new engine, we got to see and hear the beast in action for the first time when Infinity Ward’s vision for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was shown off to us at a press event. The studio has stated that the game will be “delivering an immersive and photo-realistic experience”, which is largely thanks to the work put in over the course of those five years.

For the tech-savvy, the new purpose-built engine features revamped materials, spectral rendering and an all new sound build amongst some of its many new features. For the less savvy, it looks and sounds real good.

Photogrammetry, the key to unlocking realism


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will now feature 1:1 scaling for all the objects in the game. The reason why this wasn’t always possible in the past was due mostly to limitations of AI movement in combat. Why this is so important going forward is because of the role that material assets play in portraying the landscape surrounding war, that needs to feel and look authentic to keep the gamer as immersed in the experience as possible.

The team at Infinity Ward didn’t want to use old materials on their new engine, so one of the first objectives for the team was to set out and capture the world around them. In order to do so, the team used scientific tools for taking measurements from photographs, photogrammetry.

Thanks to advancements in the field of photogrammetry, Infinity Ward managed to seamlessly replicate tanks, vehicles, artillery guns and more which they captured and placed inside of Modern Warfare. Not only was the exterior of these objects captured but the interior and undersides as well, which translates to the 3D renderings in the game having an incredible amount of detail.

Fun Fact: After the Los Angeles wildfires last year, the Infinity Ward team went out and made the most of a bad situation by capturing burnt buildings, car doors and the surrounding aftermath. The chaos and destruction in the area allowed them to add visuals which are usually very tedious to render when being built from scratch.

Spectral Rendering – Rendering Reality


Humans (Mark Zuckerberg included) are great at a lot of things, but our vision isn’t one of our best features. That’s because humans are very limited as we only see in Red, Blue and Green (RGB) ranges. Some snakes, for example, see in infrared which allows them to detect thermal signatures. Owls, on the other hand, use ultraviolet vision which means they can maintain a clear vision in the darkest conditions.

Fortunately, we humans have made technological advances which have allowed us to make use of tools such as thermal and night vision which allows us to see in infrared and ultraviolet ranges respectively.

When it came to game design via the IW Engine, the Infinity Ward team only rendered in the RGB range. Meaning that when it came to night vision or thermal, that it was largely just a series of overlayed lenses rather than a true dynamic change. In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, thanks to the brand new engine, the team are able to use spectral rendering.

Spectral rendering creates visuals in all three ranges; RGB, Ultraviolet and infrared at the same time. The process allows for the game to now change between those ranges and view the world as it truly is, not on a filter that has been layered over the screen.

When players toggle night vision, you will now see the lasers pointers of the various weapons and the reflective patterned patches on allies clothing. Additionally, you will dynamically see how the world changes around you thanks to the inclusion of these visual spectrums.

One of the key showcases of this during the presentation at Infinity Ward had to do with how thermal vision changes the fight. At first, they showcased an ongoing battle outside the airfield from an aerial position, which reminded me of the multiplayer map named Countdown from 2007’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It was almost impossible to distinguish friend from foe between the smoke and fire. Once the thermal vision was on however, you could see the fight beneath you and understanding the conflict became much simpler.

Spectral rendering is opening up the door to showcase the avenues by which real soldiers manipulate the battlefield in their favour.  When talking about the importance of the inclusion of spectral rendering, Michal Drobot, the principal rendering engineer, stated:

We want you to be able to control the fight via real gfx changes.

Another element to note on rendering is that with the new engine Infinity Ward has increased the scale of what quality they can push out, considerably. When rendering images, they do so via tiny triangles that make up the structure of each element on a screen. Thanks to the engine, they have managed to increase the scale of operations by a factor of 30. As Drobot explained:

We used to render at 5 million triangles per frame for past titles, we are now rendering at up to 60 million triangles per frame.

That’s a massive increase and as much is visible during the live gameplay demos.

A little bit extra


During one of the demos it was stated that the team has been working extremely hard on what might seem like some of the smallest details. One feature that I thought was particularly impressive was that character features will change throughout a mission. Their faces will reflect stress lines, their cheeks will redden after running, and sweat will develop on their brow.

A new level of detail to sound

If you are interested in purchasing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, I need to ask you to invest in a decent headset or sound system. The game sound is phenomenal and extremely intricate. So much so, that I think you will be missing out on a critical feature should you play without an ear focused on the auditory experience.

Stephen Miller, the audio director for Infinity Ward, took to the floor and started the showcase in front of us. He took us through a live demo, where we found ourselves in the middle of Piccadilly Circus on what felt like a winter’s night (mostly because the aircon was so cold). The streets were empty and we were left with a gun in our hands.

Miller, with a controller in hand, explained that the main mantra for their audio component of weapon design was that player must feel like a badass as they wield them. Additionally, each weapon must feel like their own character, in their overall design.

In order to capture that they extensively fired weapons, in multiple areas, with over 90 different microphones to soak up all the information they needed. The main aim for the team was to ‘contextually capture’ the sound of gunfire. Meaning that the player experience must be based on the environment that they are in. 


The first thing Miller did was to raise his gun down the abandoned streets of Piccadilly Circus, take aim at standing height towards the darkness of the road, paralleled by buildings on each side, which ran off in the distance.

The bullet shot out.


There was a split second of silence before you heard the reverberation coming off of the buildings in the distance. I personally found this quite impressive as the reverb gave contrast to what I have experienced in previous Call of Duty games.

Miller then took us into a subway tunnel where he let fire. There was very little sound of the bullet traveling in the confined space, which had vastly different sounds altogether. It was only when he stopped firing did you hear the sounds leaving and bouncing down the tunnels, ending in dead silence.

He then explained that contextual sound doesn’t just have to do with the sound of the bullets. Next, he would be shooting in the same direction on two separate occasions and asked us if we could notice the difference. The first time he stood on a brick floor and shot. We heard the gunfire go off and the shells thump against the floor. On the second occasion, he moved slightly to his right where a piece of metal lay. Once again we heard the gun go off, exactly like the first time, but this time a different sound came after. The gun shells that hit the ground clanged against the metal, casting off a different sound altogether.

Miller then explained that not only will the gun sounds be different based on where you shoot them but additionally that gun shells will reflect the sound of the surface they land on. A level of detail that I found to be incredibly impressive.

In Closing

The brand new engine in Modern Warfare is a warm welcome to the series which has quite quickly caught the public’s attention since it launched. It seems that Infinity Ward is pushing for authenticity more than ever and doing so with the most powerful tools they have ever had access to. How they use those tools will play a big role in whether or not Call of Duty: Modern Warfare becomes the new benchmark for the franchise in the years to come.

Last Updated: June 4, 2019

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