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Spec Ops, the mission-based counterpart to Call of Duty: World at War's Zombies Mode was a great success in Modern Warfare 2. Scheduled to return in this year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, it will feature a new game mode, Survival Mode. Digitalspy interviewed Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward's creative strategist, on this wave-based co-operative mode that sets two players against waves and waves of never-ending hordes of AI-controlled soldiers, set out to kill you. Robert Bowling tells us about what's in store for players, adjustments to the AI system, and how they design their Survival Mode maps.
Q:Spec Ops was a new addition to Modern Warfare 2 - were you pleased with the positive reception it received?
A:"We were confident in the mode, we thought it was a great addition that solved a big problem we were having."
Q:What problem was that?
A:"When you're designing a game you always lose moments for one reason or another, whether they don't fit into the story or they're not right, and Spec Ops was a great solution to allow us to get out of that very scripted, very cinematic experience, which works fantastic for single player, but if there would be locations or moments in the story that would normally get cut, Spec Ops would give us a place to allow them to live, give them a more sandbox mentality and just let you have fun. Don't worry about plot, don't worry about story, just let them be all about the gameplay."
Q:And it looks like this Survival Mode takes that even further...
A:"Right. Survival Mode answers a completely different problem, which keeps the core philosophy of Spec Ops and focused on the fun, but this time while Mission Mode is just single player locations, objectives and scenarios like that, Survival Mode is played on all the multiplayer maps. It also introduces all of the multiplayer features you love, like progressive rankings, unlocks, kill streaks, customizing your weapons, different types of enemies, constantly changing up your tactics.
"And that's great because it allows for a player that maybe plays multiplayer but isn't a super competitive guy to experience stuff he's never experienced before, like some of the kill streaks, or the way certain things work. It also introduces the single player guy mentality, who has never jumped into multiplayer, a chance to get some of those experiences he's never had, and become more competitive in the process if he wants to move into multiplayer."
Q:Spec Ops is still two players - did you consider increasing it to four or did that not work out?
A:"It's not the experience that we were looking for. With Spec Ops, it was completely designed around being that two-man team because of the difficulty that presented, and the challenge and the experience that it was. We want everybody on the team to have an essential impact on the success of the mission."
Q:Survival uses maps from multiplayer – did you have to take into account Spec Ops activity during the designing process?
A:"Well that's what the Spec Ops designer does, he goes in and looks at the multiplayer map on how it would be a good Spec Ops map, and that's when he starts rebalancing things and thinks, 'where's a good balance for the weapon armories, where's a good kill box area?', stuff like that."
Q:Is it a back and forth between the Spec Ops and multiplayer teams to make sure the maps are perfect for both?
A:"Pretty much, yeah. But when you're looking at the philosophy of designing placements in a Spec Ops map it's very similar to how you'd design a placement for Search & Destroy and Domination, about where you'll put the objective points. So it's the same sort of mentality of making sure that a map can be universally enjoyed across all game types."
Q:Have you had to tweak the AI (artificial intelligence) at all with the more sandbox and open nature of Survival?
A:"Definitely. There's a lot of work that goes into the AI, not only the infantry, but the different types of enemies that we'll be introducing now, like the different types of Juggernauts, such as the riot shield one, the one who's explosive, and they all have their own different personalities. There's the kamikaze guys, and tweaking even the dog AI to be much more aggressive and advanced with the new environments.
"A ton of work went into making that happen. More importantly, it's making sure there's more variety, in having the guys push you and make you want to go into a defensive position, and then you have the kamikaze guys who are forcing you out of that position, and mixing it up in later waves is what really makes that fun."
Q:What's the hardest thing you'll come up against in Survival?
A:"Haha, it's hard! I would say it's when you get to a wave that has air support, so helicopters trying to pin you down, along with the kamikaze dogs in addition to a riot shield Juggernaut and a normal Juggernaut, both who have very different tactics. One will be charging at you, making you run away, and while the other has a Michael Myers-style stalking you and forces you into the other one, and that's when it gets really s***y."
Q:Is there a level of persistence in Spec Ops, or is the money you earn in a session for that session only?
A:"You have the star rankings in Mission mode, but have your progressive Spec Ops rank that is continual. What that does is, while you pretty much had everything unlocked in that demo, in reality you'll be unlocking stuff as you rank up, and that rank always stays with you. But the money is independent per session. So money always goes back down to zero when you start back to wave one."
Q:Spec Ops also has the Mission mode - have they been tweaked as well or are they similar to Modern Warfare 2
A:"We're always looking at doing different variety and different stuff. The cool thing about Spec Ops is that this is your place to really experiment and look at doing different types of scenarios that aren't just based on rounds down the range. You can do really cool creative objective stuff, or something that doesn't make sense in the story."
Q:Modern Warfare 2 didn't have downloadable content for Spec Ops; does having this survival-based mode and the mission mode widen the possibility for downloadable content?
A:"It definitely does. It widens the possibilities and the opportunities because they utilize multiplayer maps in survival mode, so it allows you to get a lot more mileage out of all that content than you could do before."
Q:So multiplayer maps in downloadable content should be able to sync in Spec Ops?
A:"I couldn't confirm that right now, because we haven't even started thinking about DLC, so I can't comment on anything DLC until we've finished the full game."
- DigitalSpy's Interview with Robert Bowling on Survival Mode
- N7's blog about the Survival Mode trailer