Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has sold more copies than Halo 3. It sits atop the most played list on Xbox LIVE like an invulnerable king perched on a throne. It was, for many of you, 2007's Game of the Year (not us though, but it was close). It raised the FPS bar, a bar many developers have failed to reach since. And now the time has come for the next game in the multi-million selling series. This time though we're going back to WW2, there's a four-player co-op campaign, vehicles in multiplayer and CoD3 developer Treyarch is in control. We sat down with senior producer Noah Heller and creative lead Rich Farrelly to get the first details on the game and find out why there will never be a numbered Call of Duty game ever again.
VideoGamer.com: There was a lot of speculation about going back to WW2. When do you think games will be done with a WW2 setting?
Noah Heller: It's going to be a long time before WW2 is done. It's about whether you can tell new stories and whether you can present something in a contemporary new fashion. The player doesn't want the same old thing. If you deliver that he shouldn't buy it any more than he shouldn't buy a repeat police drama or a Grand Theft Auto game set in the same place every time. People wouldn't play that. The challenge to us, because we knew we wanted to make a WW2 game, was to present something that was new.
Rich Farrelly: For instance, with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, arguably there were a lot of modern warfare games out there when they came out, but what they did was they came out to market and they redefined it. They said: 'OK, we know what the content is, we're going to restructure what is expected from this genre.' And that's what we want to do with the WW2 genre. We wanted to press the reset button. We want to say: 'OK, this is not the WW2 game you're used to seeing. This is something new. Yes you may have seen some of these locations before but this is nothing like you've ever played.'
NH: That's a great comment. We're not coming in to be second best. The only way we're going to make WW2 games and the way we're going to make any games under the Call of Duty name is if they're the best example of the genre. Any genre we enter we want to own it. We're getting rid of the number in Call of Duty for a very specific reason. It's because we want you to know that when you're playing Call of Duty: World at War you're playing the best shooter, the best WW2 game ever. Likewise when you're playing Modern Warfare, likewise when you play any game that will be called Call of Duty. The bar for us is not so much is it another game in this genre? It is, is it the best game in the genre? Players will always have time for the best games. They will always have time for highly rated games that show polish and love and passion from the team. I have no doubt about that. So as long as we can put that effort in and show the player that kind of polish I have no doubt that they are going to enjoy the game. I'm very confident about that.
VideoGamer.com: What do you think of the reception to Call of Duty 3?
NH: I'd say that one of the things that's hard for a player to understand, I'm sure you guys can understand it because you have a lot more insight into the industry, is that Call of Duty 3 was about eight months end to end for development. Is that about right?
RF: That's about right, yeah.
NH:And it's very hard to make a great game in that time. Call of Duty 3 is a very good game. It sold very well so a lot of people must have liked it.
RF: It rated really good.
NH: Yeah it had an 83, 84 average. But it's not the game this team could have made if it had the time to polish to the level they needed to. Even so with two years on this game for the first time ever, we're going to pull it from Rich's cold fingers when it's time to put this game in a box. The team is polishing and pouring love into the game. But that's the real difference between this game and Call of Duty 3. It's the time to actually iterate and get things right, to make things feel right.
RF: Our game even a couple of months ago was very close to overall what we would have had to work with with Call of Duty 3 when we were starting to wrap it up. So we had the game built up and laid out for quite some time, and now we've had time to iterate over things and see how they work. See if the level order is correct, see if the flow is good, take out any events that seem superfluous, any features that don't meet the very high standard bar set by us and by just looking at the competition and our predecessors, are either cut or improved. The team on this game is made up of some of the best talent in the industry and they're very experienced in this franchise and genre. They're all very motivated and focused on making the best game they can.
NH: We frequently hear the guys say: 'We're going to make the best game of our lives'. That's how we approached this game. It has everything to do with what's the scene going to be, what's this level going to be, how polished is this content going to be? But it's about a team that after years and years of single year development cycles, or less than a year, finally has a chance to open up and show what they've got. I feel like it's a little bit of an underdog story almost. Here's a team that's never had a chance to actually make a game with this much time. Modern Warfare comes along and raises the bar really high and now the team says, we've got to show what we've got, we've got to show up with a great game or else the players aren't going to want to play it. Expectations are so high.
RF: I think that's true of any game.
VideoGamer.com: Call of Duty 3 had that hand to hand element which was thoroughly scripted...
RF: You try things out and if they work out you pursue it, if they don't you don't. That was a feature that while it was probably a good idea at the time maybe we didn't have enough time to develop it.
VideoGamer.com: Was that something you had to scale back from your original concept because you had an eight month turnaround?
VideoGamer.com: Do you think Call of Duty 3 then was rushed and a filler title?
RF: I don't think it was a filler title. Because we were so focussed on making the best game we can, sometimes we, at least in that case, we tried maybe to put too much in the game for the amount of time we had to develop.
NH: Biting off more than you can chew is a big thing. Look at the great games of just this last six months or year. Look at Modern Warfare, look at BioShock, look at GTA 4. What these games have in common is enough time to polish and iterate on it, and I think as an industry we're learning how important that is.
RF: If you have three or four key features and those features are so highly polished that they're pretty much flawless, that's far more valuable than having a mixed bag and a bunch of stuff that kind of works.
NH: A player doesn't know when he buys a game that this game was a year cycle or a two year cycle. He just knows about the quality of the game. And thankfully there's usually a great correlation to the time spent on a game and its overall quality. As an industry we're learning that. This is a game where we really wanted to show what we can do when we have time.