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I got a good dose of multiplayer action this week at the Call of Duty: Ghosts event in Los Angeles. But I didn’t emerge from that combat any wiser about how to stay alive in the upcoming game’s relentlessly competitive multiplayer combat.
Tina Palacios, the community manager at Infinity Ward, offered her condolences to me after those sessions and offered her advice on how to learn from my death streaks. As a veteran Call of Duty player, she spoke with GamesBeat about the team’s design decisions to help or hinder the “noobs,” or newbies, among us.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Palacios.
GamesBeat: So how do I stay alive for more than 30 seconds in Ghosts multiplayer?
Tina Palacios: You’re getting killed a lot?
GamesBeat: I did OK. I’m learning. I think when it’s brand new and people start playing, that’s one of the questions. What’s the quickest way to learn how to survive a little longer?
Palacios: We introduced Squads, which is our third mode. It’s basically combat training. You can jump in and customize your soldier and your loadout and play against bots until you feel confident enough to jump into multiplayer. While you’re playing in Squads, you’ll get multiplayer experience, so it’s not like you’re missing out on that.
GamesBeat: The bots, do they teach you about certain kinds of tactics?
Palacios: Yeah. Depending on what squad mode you play, you can go up against other squads from around the world. Their movements and the way they play against you vary based on how each person has built their character – what weapon they’re equipped with, what perks they have.
GamesBeat: Are the same principles applying here, the same choices between stealth, speed, and heavy armor?
Palacios: We wanted to give players the feeling that they have control over their own destiny in multiplayer. Customization is an important pillar for us, all the way down to the way your character looks in-game, as well as what your equipment is. We revamped the perk system. In the past, we had three different categories and you could choose one perk from each. Now we opened that up, so you have eight points – or up to 11 if you give up some of your equipment – and the freedom to create the player you want.
GamesBeat: If you start that way, what are you leveling up to? There are no levels per se anymore, but if you want to get better, get to some destination, what are you working toward in multiplayer?
Palacios: You’ll earn tokens or points to spend on your character. That’s how you unlock different equipment and weapons. You don’t have everything available from the start. You have to play to unlock the things that you want. Each soldier that you customize – you can have up to 10 – when you’re playing with each one, they gain experience, and that’s how we incorporated prestige. Each soldier, when you max them out, that counts as a prestige level. You can prestige up to 10 times.
GamesBeat: One tip for staying alive longer is always “you have to know the maps.” Are the maps designed the same way, or are they designed in a different way this time around, given all these other changes?
Palacios: We wanted to give more variety to our players, so the size of the maps varies a lot. We’ll have 14 maps once the game ships. The team’s been working hard to make sure the flow of the maps feels natural. We looked closely at movement and wanted to improve that, so now you can lean around corners with what we call contextual lean. How close you are to that corner will determine how far out you lean. Then we have the new mantling system, where you can just run and jump over objects. You can shoot while you’re doing that. We introduced the slide, too, so you can slide into cover or into a crouch, and again shoot during that.
GamesBeat: It seems like there are things that appeal to the skillful player there. They want to try fancier moves and get away from people more easily. I guess there’s something for the new player too, though, because these aren’t hard moves to do.
Palacios: It was important for us to make sure that you didn’t have to push any new buttons to do anything. We wanted to use them in a way that felt natural and familiar to people who have played Call of Duty. We also wanted people who are new to Call of Duty to feel comfortable being able to jump into multiplayer or Squads. We’re bring back private matches, so if you just want to go up against bots, you can do that.
GamesBeat: It seems like there are different philosophies for multiplayer between you guys and Treyarch, with Black Ops II. Is there anything obvious you’d point out? I remember the support streaks were very big with them. It felt like even if you weren’t the best shooter, you could still contribute to the team effort by being a support player.
Palacios: Yeah, in Black Ops II they had score streaks. We have different kill streak packages. We have assault, where you can gain kill streaks by how many deaths you rack up. With support, it’s just dependent on how you support the team. If you capture points or get assists, that all counts toward your support kill streaks. That won’t reset when you die, which is the key. I think a lot of new people will love using that.
GamesBeat: If I were playing in Black Ops II, I’d get a light machine gun, camp out in spot with a long field of fire, and then protect my back with Bouncing Bettys or shock charges. That was a good way to stay alive for a longer period than I normally would running around. Can you think of an equivalent play style in this game?
Palacios: I guess it all depends on what you prefer in terms of kill streaks. A lot of the perks that we included will help if you want to play stealthy. One we introduced today is called Takedown. When you kill somebody on the other team, Takedown makes sure that their teammates can’t see where they died. That’s really significant. Right now, it has an icon showing where your teammates die, so you can see where the action is happening. Using a perk like that helps you out.
We also talked about the support kill streaks. Someone who doesn’t want their kill streak gauge reset when they die would want to use that. I think a lot of experts will want to use that as well, though, because there are some really cool kill streaks in that. We talked about the helo sniper today. A helicopter picks you up and flies you around and you can control where you go on the map while you snipe people.
GamesBeat: Was there anything you decided to move away from or leave behind because gamers thought they were too easy or too hard?
Palacios: Death streaks were one thing we left behind. In Modern Warfare 3, if you died consecutively for a specific amount of time, you’d earn an incentive. Juiced gave you the ability to run faster after you were spawned if you died three or four times. Things like that. We got rid of those. Based on all our feedback, the fans didn’t seem to like it.
GamesBeat: When you’re triggering the dynamic events, does that happen because you’re very skillful, or can you also pull it off just because you know where to be and get lucky?
Palacios: It all depends on the map. Each one has a unique dynamic event attached to it. In Strike Zone today, you saw people running around and playing in a stadium. The way you unlock that event is by completing a field order. Field orders are briefcases that are dropped around a multiplayer match. When you pick one up, it gives you an objective – anything from getting a headshot to using a melee weapon. When you do that, you earn the kill streak that allows you to destroy Strike Zone, and it becomes a whole new map. The lanes and the set lines change. But it depends on the map you’re on.
GamesBeat: I was on a map where you could shoot the legs out from under a building that would collapse on top of people.
Palacios: Oh, that was Octane. On that one, you can interact with parts of the buildings to blow them up or take down that gas station roof. I think we even added red icons on walls you can interact with to do something.
GamesBeat: I noticed on the Domination map that around the B flag in the cave, everybody was just gravitating toward that. You could just throw a grenade down that way, and everybody’s there. Why would you do a design like that?
Palacios: On Whiteout, yeah, that’s an intense spot. The multiplayer designers really take a look at how players move on a particular map. We playtest almost every day at the office, and we pay close attention to how people move. But creating a spot like B on Whiteout leaves A and C up for grabs. Some people may think everyone’s running to B, but the smart player will say, “Well, I guess A and C are open. I’ll go that way.”
GamesBeat: The Cranked mode seems like it’s pretty newbie-friendly. You’re just shooting as much as possible, and everybody’s motivated to do that. The Search and Rescue, you could die once and die forever there. That doesn’t sound like it’s quite so friendly.
Palacios: Search and Rescue is interesting, because we wanted to take Search and Destroy – a familiar mode – and give it a new take. In Search and Destroy, once you died, you were out of the match until the next round. With Search and Rescue, when you die, your teammates can pick up your tag and save you and bring you back into the game. Or, if the enemy gets to it first, you’re out of the match.
That’s an interesting mode. When we were playing at the studio, I noticed that people had different tactics. Before, they would play very slow in Search and Destroy. You’d be very careful about going out in the open. But now, with Search and Rescue, I feel more confident running out with a teammate. If I die, there’s a chance they can revive me.
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