At Sony’s press event at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Activision showed off its hands-on combat for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Fans have been skeptical that the sci-fi space combat would work, but Activision’s Infinity Ward studio showed that it could create combat scenes that feel like a part of the Call of Duty series, which has led to more than $15 billion in sales over more than a decade.
In the battle that Activision showed, you are in Geneva, Switzerland, after a massive attack on earth by the Settlement Defense Front. You move through a ruined town and start fighting as you climb a hill. You have to shoot your way up the hill, using methods like hacking to take over enemy gunships or calling in air strikes. Then the demo shows you getting in a fighter and taking off into space. You engage in aerial dogfights and play for as long as you like. Afterward, you land on a giant ship and jump out into zero gravity. At that point, you have to jump from spot to spot and use your grappling hook to either pull enemies close to you for melee kills or shoot them from afar. Once you board the ship, the combat returns to a familiar Call of Duty firefight. It’s an intense and epic scene.
Giancarlo Valdes and I caught up with Jacob Minkoff and Chad Findley from the Infinity Ward team to talk about the demo. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You said there are assists in the dogfighting part. How does that work?
Chad Findley: You have full control throughout the entire thing as you’re flying around, but if you lock on to an enemy, the computer system of your Jackal helps you to stay behind them. We can do these really cool flights right by big ships, or threading the needle between things in ground missions. It’s super fun.
GamesBeat: What would you say is the balance between these ground missions and space missions?
Findley: It’s kind of all over. It’s whatever works best for the story we’re telling and the pacing we want to maintain. We have a main story that takes you from earth, up into space, to some other planets and moons. You might come back to earth at some point. Then you have these side missions that are all about these large capital ships you have to take out. Those have a lot of variety to them as far as the amount of dogfighting you have and the amount of fighting inside the ships and so on.
GamesBeat: Is there a difference between ground combat and zero G? Just puncturing somebody’s suit, shouldn’t that kill them?
Findley: These are self-sealing suits. They’ve thought of that. [Laughs] You still have to kill them. But you can do some one-shot kills with things like helmet cracks.
Jacob Minkoff: You can use your grapple both as a navigation tool and also as a “get over here” grab action.
GamesBeat: What’s the benefit of doing side missions?
Minkoff: You get both narrative and mechanical benefits. Side missions give you additional weaponry, equipment upgrades, cosmetic upgrades, general progression stuff. They also get you enemy intel that helps you target enemy forces better. There’s more world building, too. Some of the missions are more stealthy, where you’ll go behind enemy lines and hear their commanders talking about their plans. Those are very intense. You overhear a lot of conversations.
Side missions involve spending more time with your crew as well. It fleshes out the story and the characters while also providing mechanical rewards.
Findley: Some of the things you can get, energy weapons for instance, are much better against robots. A lot of the energy weapons are found on these side missions. If you want the energy shotgun or energy sniper, that’s where you can get those.
GamesBeat: How do you do the hacking?
Findley: You paint the target and then release the button.
GamesBeat: So, as soon as they get painted, or….
Findley: Yeah, when you see the square brackets show up, as soon as you see a diamond shape, that means you have a lock on. Then you release at that point. All these mechanics get tutorialized beforehand. We didn’t want to make the audience sit through that when you could get right into the action.
GamesBeat: Are the helmets different? How do you tell the enemies from friendlies?
Findley: The helmets are different and so is the general silhouette shape.
GamesBeat: You’ve done ground combat in all of your games before, but the spaceships are new. Did you look at any past games for inspiration on how to tackle that?
Findley: We looked at everything we could. We looked at games. We looked at real fighter aircraft, the way they work. We looked at current-day ship designs. The thing we really wanted to do is have parity with the precision and the controllability with our ground stuff. The ground combat feels great. We wanted the space stuff to feel just as good. We went through two years of iteration on that control system.
GamesBeat: Flying the ship seems like an extension of the on-ground Call of Duty controls.
Minkoff: In atmosphere, you need lift to keep going forward. That’s why you get that Top Gun ace feeling of constantly moving forward. But in space, in a vacuum, you have [reaction control system (RCS)] thrusters. Because you don’t have to worry about losing lift, you basically have strafe controls.
What we did with the Jackal — whenever you’re pressing forward, you have Top Gun-style flight controls. But the moment you pull back and brake, then you have RCS controls. You can just strafe up and down or left and right. It’s full parity with what you can do on the ground. Sprint becomes boost. Crouch becomes down. Jump is up. You’re circle-strafing around that destroyer. The slower the enemy is — those destroyers move slowly compared to the Skeletons, which are fast — that inherently makes you use one control scheme or another.
GamesBeat: In space, it would seem like you need to invert the controls if you’re used to pulling back on a flight yoke. But it looks like that is not necessary. Is the speed still the same, 60 frames per second?
Findley: Yeah, we always shoot for 60 frames per second, every time.
Minkoff: The big challenge here is, how do you make something that looks awesome, that has a new lighting system with physically based rendering and lit particles and all these things we’re doing to look next gen but still do it at 60? That’s been a huge engineering task, but our team has done a really good job.
GamesBeat: Is the announcement of things like Project Scorpio and other upgraded hardware kind of a relief to you guys?
Minkoff: I think everyone’s still focusing on [PlayStation 4] and Xbox One. We’re doing PC as well. But no matter what, we have to make the current platforms run it at a full 60.
GamesBeat: What are some things we should be looking out for in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered? I thought Soap’s face looked very good, better than the old one would have been.
Findley: We redid so much of the game.
Minkoff: If you do side-by-side screenshots on that — we’ve released some stuff from the press conference, and I’m sure people out there are doing comparisons. Everything is rebuilt. New characters, new environments, new visual effects, new lighting engine — everything is completely rebuilt. If you look at them side by side, it’ll blow your mind. It’s not just an HD up-res. It’s a rebuild.