But while I was a Modern Warfare multiplayer junky for a couple weeks, I've been expounding on the single player campaign's brilliant levels for even longer, particularly the chilling AC-130 gunship stage. As such, I had to sneak a few campaign-oriented questions into the mix, talking up the possibility of more thought-provoking perspective shifts.
In our brief interview, Bowling and I touched on all of these details, from PC-specific multiplayer support to new grenade physics. Also discussed: how Infinity Ward feels about being the big bad bully of this holiday season. (Hint: pretty good).
Shack: So how does it feel to be repping the game that every publisher in the world is running scared from?
Robert Bowling: It feels pretty good. [laughs] I mean, early on we were like, do we really want to say our release date this early? And we were like, "Well, it would be really cool if we did it." You know how movies do that sometimes, where, oh, this movie moved out of the way because Harry Potter's coming out. "We could be that game." And the fact that it appears it actually happened is, you know--we do it just for fun, but it's humbling.
Shack: I got some time in already. It feels pretty solid.
Robert Bowling: Oh, you already got some time in?
Shack: Yeah, I got two rounds in. What are some things that you've changed or added that I might have missed?
Robert Bowling: We have host migration now, which is awesome, because the host leaves, the game resumes, and you don't miss anything. We focus a lot on the visual and audio cues that really make the game feel fast-paced, because we're a fast-paced game. We're 60 frames per second, we don't do vehicles because we always want you to be in a fight. The design or gameplay is always focused on that. And now we've gone a step further and added little details and audio cues. I don't know if you noticed, but if a grenade goes by near you, dirt is going to fly up into your screen. There are all these visual effects that add to that "oh, shit's happening" feeling.
And then we also have physics on the grenades and weapons now. Which is a very little thing, but when you're actually playing it makes a big difference. You throw a grenade, it hits a hill, it rolls down. It's wobbling because it's not a perfect circle. Before it was all about ricochet, but now it's ricochet plus physics. And you kill a guy and he throws a weapon, and where it lands is based on physics.
Shack: On that note, have you guys ever considered adding a video replay system?
Robert Bowling: Ah, no, not really. It's one of those features that a very small percentage of your community ends up using in the long run. So we like to focus on features that the whole community will enjoy, not these niche things that take up a lot of development time that you don't get a lot out of.
Shack: How much of the multiplayer component haven't you revealed yet?
Robert Bowling: There is a bunch of stuff we haven't revealed yet. What you're playing in there is our internal beta build, so it's capped at level 26. So we only have 6 kill streak rewards in there, when in reality you have 15 that you can choose from. There's a bunch of perks you guys aren't seeing. But the major tentpole features, besides the stuff in prestige mode, is here for you to see. So you have your death streak, which is pretty new to the franchise.
Shack: It's a good idea for people who get frustrated. I'm one of those people occasionally.
Robert Bowling: Yeah. It's all about accessibility. We started doing that in Modern Warfare 1, but we did it with perks. [The Call of Duty 4 perk] Martyrdom was for the guy that needed help getting kills, but then it started getting abused by players that don't need the help getting kills. So now the death streaks are a way we can give a little handicap to the players that do need it, without it getting abused by those that don't.
Shack: How detail-oriented is the team's approach to multiplayer level design?
Robert Bowling: We go into extreme detail. Not only do our MP team do it, but our QA testers are always hammering on it. Last week we flew out these guys called Map Monkeys, they're community members. In Call of Duty 2, they started finding glitches, and finding cool spots like that, and posting videos on their website. Well, we flew them out last week for them to play the multiplayer maps, and say hey, what's your thoughts, anything that you think would be cool.
Shack: Blizzard's done that for StarCraft, have the pro players fly in to do crazy testing. It's a good idea.
Robert Bowling: Yeah, because we get in tunnel vision when we're designing something. We play it over and over again and get in ruts. And we all have our own unique play styles, and it's good to get an outside perspective, someone who's never seen multiplayer, just to see what they do with it.
Shack: What's the deal with the beta by the way? Or lack thereof?
Robert Bowling: There's no public beta whatsoever. At this point, we're probably not going to do one. We're getting really good results from our internal beta. We've gotten to a point in our franchise where everyone sort of expects a beta. "Of course there's going to be a beta, it's a Call of Duty game." When no, not really. Betas should be used if they're needed, because they take a lot of resources away from the dev team, when they should be focused on polishing the game all the way up to ship.
Shack: What else am I missing, as far as multiplayer features?
Robert Bowling: We have the callsigns, with the titles and the emblem.
Shack: How does that work exactly?
Robert Bowling: Basically we do call-outs to players. Say a guy takes down a helicopter--it's going to come out saying this goo took down a helicopter, and the more stuff you do in game, you can unlock titles specific to that. So say you're a knifer, you go around knifing guys; you might unlock a title specific to that. You unlock more and more, there's hundreds of them. And then we also give accolades at the end of a match that also reward you and show what you do really well.
Shack: By the way, have you changed the way multiplayer games function on the PC at all?
Robert Bowling: PC will be the same as it always was.
Shack: LAN support as well?
Robert Bowling: LAN support, yes.
Shack: And the DLC--you've said two to start, but maybe more after that?
Robert Bowling: There might be more after that. We haven't even started working on DLC yet. We're thinking about what we're going to do, but this is still something we're working out. We've promised them at least two DLC, that we'll release first on Xbox and then go wide everywhere else, so it's a very short, timed exclusive. We have plans, we'd like to do more, but we'll worry about that after we ship the game.
Shack: The Call of Duty 4 DLC was free on PC, wasn't it?
Robert Bowling: Yeah.
Shack: Should people expect the PC Modern Warfare 2 DLC to be free as well?
Robert Bowling: We haven't even made a decision as to what it is, so we haven't made decisions on how to price or sell it.
Shack: Can we talk about the singleplayer a bit?
Robert Bowling: Yeah. What do you want to know?
Shack: The AC-130 gunship level was easily my favorite level from the first Modern Warfare. I felt like that was a masterstroke--maybe one of the best moments in a video game to date. Are you pushing more toward unique experiences like that in the sequel's campaign?
Robert Bowling: Yeah, I mean that was all about story, and it was a cool way to show a different perspective of the firefight, instead of just being a marine. And we've definitely taken it to another level in Modern Warfare 2.
Shack: But it also made me seriously think about modern combat, in a way that I never have before in a video game.
Robert Bowling: Yeah. It was eerie, and it gave you a different emotion than the emotion you get from just shooting guys. We've been very desensitized to run-and-gunning. That shows you, here's another angle, where it isn't so pretty. And it's very common, and it's a job for these people, and it sucks. So that's all about playing with the emotions and expectations of the player, and we've done that even more.
Story is a huge focus in Modern Warfare 2, and once again we're showing you multiple perspectives that you probably don't' expect, to give you a more broad, global perspective on the conflict, and how it impacts the decisions and the actions of not only the story, but everyone involved in a conflict.
Shack: How scripted are the levels this time around? Are you going even more toward ultra-scripted stuff?
Robert Bowling: We definitely love those scripted, setpiece moments. But then we also have those much more dynamic, open-world areas now, because we have texture streaming, we can do much bigger worlds. So we have a larger variety. But we always want the player to be doing something new, and a lot of that is location-based, and the enemies you're facing, and the things you're doing. Like the cliffhanger mission, where you're climbing the mountain, and then stealthing in. That's more of a world where you can go anywhere you want, but then it smoothly segues into a more scripted, action-packed level. So it's all about the variety and how to best tell the story.
Shack: Thanks Robert.