Official Playstation Magazine have published an interview which gives us more info about the weapons, engine, multiplayer and the storyline. The interview and new material can all be seen below:
When revealing the game Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg stated, “We could have played it safe and simply made Modern Warfare 4. Which is what a lot of people were expecting us to do. There are 122 million search results for Modern Warfare 4, a sequel that doesn’t exist. So that’s a lot of interest and anticipation for us to walk away from. But we did. We didn’t want to rest on our laurels we wanted to push this thing forwards. And we wanted to use the opportunity with the new generation to usher in the next generation of Call Of Duty”. It’s feeling backed up by Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin when he talks about Ghosts being, “A unique opportunity to reinvent Call Of Duty”.
So what is Ghosts? Animation lead and best name ever, Zach Volker describes it as, “a new story arc”. He explains: “It’s not part of the Modern Warfare universe, its not in the Black Ops universe, it’s in its own world. Its own cast of characters, its own context of what’s going on in the world, it’s own timeline”. (And if you’re wondering what’s happened to Modern Warfare 4 Volker suggests it’s simply being rested for the time being). Unusually and frustratingly Activision and Infinity Ward are being /exceptionally/ coy with details. We know that this new setting sees America on the backfoot. According to Rubin some kind of “mass event” has left the US crippled years from now. “Our military forces are devastated, our government is in disarray,” he explains. “As the player you are actually the underdog and are fighting back against superior forces”. What that ‘mass event’ is or who the enemy are (a ‘new superpower’ was a phrase thrown around during the reveal event) remains to be seen. Although rumours suggest some sort of technological failure that sees a mix up of a future setting and current day weaponry and gear.
Then there are the Ghosts themselves, described by Rubin as being formed from, “the remnants of all the remaining special forces” – the blackest of black ops that have, apparently through necessity, “adopted every technique that’s useful for modern urban guerrilla-style fighting”. Volker clarifies that the Ghost team is, “a very specialised, small force that is going behind enemy lines and doing very important missions”. The name Ghosts has been earned too as, “no one knows anything about them” he says. “No one knows who they are, where they came from or how they work”. However, while they’re a blank page on the fine details, this team have become a thing of legend to downtrodden America. “We just know they’re there and they are doing things for us. The Ghost team is thing of potential salvation and, really, of hope. Something the country is rallying around”.
One thing we do know is that this ruined, no longer dominant United States has been in disrepair for quite some time. Volker gives us our first insight into the cast, stating that, “this is the environment, the context, that the player and his brother grow up in,” adding that whatever the mass event was it, “happened shortly after they were born”. Whether ‘the player’ will be the only character to control seems unlikely in a series full of body-hopping plot jumps but he’s clearly a prominent lead. One thing we do know is that the two aren’t Ghosts at the start of the game. “The Ghost team are the people they really idolise,” says Volker of the siblings. “They’ve said ‘this is who we really want to be. We want to be part of the Ghost team’, even though no one really knows who they are, we just know they exist. The story starts where the player and his brother go out and run a contact with the Ghost team and that’s where the game takes off”.
So that’s the setting, but what of the new tech that Hirshberg says will be delivering, “fresh characters, an all new world, a new storyline, new technology and new play mechanics”? What I’ve seen so far has been described by Rubin as, “running on the spec for next gen consoles”. Unsurprisingly it looks a lot like COD on a really high spec PC. It doesn’t have quite the mind blowing (and faintly unbelievable) impact of Battlefield 4’s next generation debut but it’s a huge improvement on the creaky old engine that wheezed through the last few installments.
A free camera demo showing a fly-through a jungle reveals incredibly dense foliage, pierced by rays of light picked out in the steamy air. (That’ll be the new high dynamic range lighting engine adding in volumetric lighting effects, then). The floor’s thick with plants, a lush covering that literally carpets the ground, while the detail’s impressively crisp and movement smooth. Another level I see, this time featuring actual gameplay, takes place underwater and fits in an astonishingly high density of seaweed, coral and fish that dart away as you swim past (fun fact: the fish have their own AI to control their behavior) . While it lacks an ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’ potency it more than makes up for it with a vibrant and, most importantly, believable level of eye candy. The fish sprint out of range with an instantly familiar flick of the tail while a forest of underwater fronds waft in the current. There are no flat pack plants here, or flat pictures of sea bed hoping you won’t look too closely, everything’s solid and with a realistic mass. Coral and rocks drift past and you can actually ‘see’ the water, a faint haziness giving it substance beyond simply ‘blue’. It’s all rather pretty and soothing. Until the shooting and explosions.
After a lengthy swim that wouldn’t have looked out of place with an Attenborough voice over, the two divers in the demo reach a shipwreck. The only info we have from Volker is that the unnamed pair are there “to infiltrate a special location and, on their way there, encounter a special frigate that needs to be destroyed”. The wreck is guarded by frogman who is quickly eliminated in a brief shootout (what the mysterious amphibious gun is, is never explained although the Russian built APS underwater assault rifle seems a close match from what I saw). In typical COD fashion everything quickly goes to hell as the drivers dodge between sunken cargo containers to avoid thunderous sonar blasts, before deploying a remote control torpedo to destroy the target boat. After fighting to avoid falling wreckage and escaping being pinned to the sea floor, the section ends with the arrival of enemy frogmen and the zipping white lines of their returning fire.
The key word that Infinity Ward continually refer to is ‘immersion’. “With Ghosts our goal was to make everything around you more lifelike and more immersive which really helps pull the player more into the story,” explains Rubin. It’s something the new engine achieves well with none of the videogame lines, joins or other illusion breakers apparent in the demo. There are high resolution textures for example and two things called Sub-d and displacement mapping. The latter forms 3G geometry from from flat textures with the example I saw turning both a flat rock-covered floor and a cliff face into craggy, solid-looking structures as it was switched on. Sub-d on the other hand is a rendering technique that’s crossed over from CG film making and simply throws more polygons at an object the closer you look at it. Essentially banishing straight lines so that things like gun sights become perfectly round when you bring them up to you eye.
“Developing a new engine comes out of a necessity of something,” says Volker and that necessity is the processing power of next generation hardware. “What we have now is an open bandwidth that can accept more things going on and the current engine can’t push that. We are now going to have the bandwidth to build many more things and our engine just can’t handle as much as we’d like to throw at it. That necessitated the need to go onto a new engine”.
Interestingly, considering some of the criticism of the old engine Volker feels, “we’ve never felt that tech itself really has limited us from a gameplay perspective”. Instead that word immersion comes up again. “Usually the problem comes when we’ve done a cool gameplay feature and it doesn’t have the level of immersion we originally anticipated”. In current gen tech the lack of resources would mean that was the end of it. However, the new engine has plenty of extra reach. “Now we can do things like add more characters on the screen if necessary,” says Volker, “we can increase the fidelity of the particles, or the lighting quality, or just the number polygons on screen. Those things we now have at our disposal to aid in the immersion of the scene and really attack what we call the ‘believability’ of what is going to make this look good and sell that this is really happening to you”.
Two important things worth mentioning before we move on though. Firstly Rubin is keen to point out that, “the new tech does not affect our core design philosophies of low latency controls and staying true to 60fps on every platform”. Volker on the other hand has good news for anyone not able to jump on the PS4 rocket straight away: “No matter what you buy the game on – next gen hardware, current gen console or PC – you’re going to get the same gameplay experience. If you do go with the current gen it’s not going to be [as] visually impressive as a next generation console, but you can feel safe and satisfied knowing you’re getting exactly what we wanted you to get from a gameplay perspective”.
One other trick Infinity Ward are packing up its combat sleeve is a certain Stephen Gaghan, an Oscar winning screenwriter and director. He’ll be helming the writing duties for Ghosts with the the brief of achieving, “emotional reality”, adding, “Infinity Ward want these characters to feel real, to feel like real people”. How that works is something we’ll only know when Infinity Ward show off a little more but there is one character that will have an immediate instant emotional impact, and that’s the dog. The origins of Ghosts’ canine sidekick originated from an Infinity Ward brainstorming session that ended with simply the word ‘Dog’ written on a whiteboard. A few meetings later with real army dogs and a German Shepard, in full military gear joined the team. The studio has said that, “this is a squad member: you fight for him and he fights for you. He does everything from sniffing out explosives to protecting the team. This is someone you care about.” So, dead in the third act via some heart wrenching sacrifice then. I vote failing from a height or catching a bullet.
I joke. Possibly. However, the presence of COD’s new animal star has now added ‘dog in a mo-cap suit’ to the list of things I’d never even considered before. And they certainly put it through his paces with footage of the animal savaging heavily padded stuntmen’s arms and throats. The studio even stuck the little white balls on its face to capture actual real life growling. Something else worth noting during these video sequences is that the man apparently playing the animal’s handler had his face blurred out. A potentially recognisable face presumably that’ll be announced at a later date.
And that’s about it for Ghosts, unless anyone’s bothered about the multiplayer…? Okay, the specifics are, once again short, beyond Infinity Ward’s promise to “revamp” the competitive online. Volker admits, “We’re still being pretty shy when it comes to multiplayer features”. The rumours of dynamic maps have at least turned out to be true. There’s talk of larger scale events like earthquakes or floods and smaller “player driven actions” such as doors and explosive traps that will change the flow of maps mid-match. The studio say that the new twists, “create a new dynamic experience for the player whether it’s a large map changing event or a gameplay mechanic you work with to win the game”.
Volker says, “[In] every map in multiplayer we’re looking at some sort of way to make it a little bit more reactive, a little bit more asymmetrical. One neat example that we’ve been putting around is a satellite crashes in the centre of the map and it’s a race to whoever can get there first and activate it. Maybe get some temporary UAV features. Little things like that”. It sound like these features have yet to be finalised so who knows how far Infinity Ward might take it? “We also have some larger scale things, a large scale earthquake, and that’s going to affect the map in a certain way. Little things things that could possible change out the the map layout in significant ways could be an option. We’re looking at things where we can say, ‘how can we push the design of the map and give the players a little bit more freedom and make it feel like they’re having an effect on the environment”.
For the first time you’ll also be able to customise your online character beyond gun camo and emblems. “For the most part we give you the flexibility and freedom to outfit your character in a way that kind of reflects your personality,” says Volker (conveniently dodging the issue of the average COD online player’s personality). “A lot of the assets are being brought over from single player so you can look and see those cool guys in single player, you can grab some of their gear – we’re looking into helmets, heads, upper bodies, lower bodies. Different texture maps that can go with that”. It’s a small addition but given the ferocious multiplayer following the chances are the ability to play dress up with you online avatar will be something the average fan leaps on.