Activision has a lot riding on Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. The big game publisher has bet the billion-dollar business on the new over the familiar, as it has taken the franchise from modern war into science fiction.

To ease that transition, Infinity Ward designed the game’s core multiplayer to be as familiar as possible to the series’ diehard fans. When you pull the trigger on one of the title’s sci-fi weapons, it will feel like you’re firing a shotgun or an assault rifle in a previous Call of Duty game. It’s a delicate balance, and Joe Cecot, lead multiplayer designer at Infinity Ward, has been in charge of making sure it’s being done right. (See more of our Call of Duty XP coverage here.)

We talked with Cecot at a press event at Activision’s Call of Duty XP event in Los Angeles, where thousands of fans are gathering. Cecot explained why Infinity Ward chose to shake things up and deliver one of the biggest changes in years. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Joe Cecot, lead multiplayer designer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: Joe Cecot, lead multiplayer designer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: There’s a familiar feeling — but new tech here it seems.

Joe Cecot: Right. The evolution of military combat.

GamesBeat: How did you accomplish that? There are so many brand-new things here. It seems like it would be hard to make it feel like the older Call of Duty games.

Cecot: Certain things are core to Call of Duty. One of those is the maps and how we design our maps. We’re a bit conservative with where we put wall runs and boost-jumping opportunities because we’re trying to keep other players in front of you when you’re engaging. The next thing we do is look at weapons. We have directed energy weapons, but we also still have ballistic weapons. We wanted to keep weapons that look and feel like weapons that are used today.

And even our directed energy weapons — they have recoil. They fire much like a ballistic weapon. They have some cool new additions with the ricochet shot and the regeneration, but they still feel like Call of Duty weapons. Our artists spent a lot of time making sure they have good material separation. You see real-world materials, rubbers and polymers and hard metals. They do so much work to make sure these weapons are relatable, that they look like they’re real.

GamesBeat: A lot of the terminology is still familiar. A UAV is still a UAV.

Cecot: On the energy weapons, you’ll see a set of attachments with unique names because they have different functions. But keeping things like suppressors and UAVs familiar — the tactical nuke is still called a nuke, even though it’s technically a de-atomizer strike, a big laser from the sky. Naming definitely helps with that.

The action is very fast-paced in Infinite Warfare's multiplayer.

Above: The action is very fast paced in Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: Which map did we see just now? The one that’s circular with an underground section.

Cecot: That’s Frontier.

GamesBeat: You’re in zero-G, so when you shoot someone they start floating up. What did you want to accomplish with that aspect of design?

Cecot: We have the fiction that the players are wearing gravity boots. As long as you’re alive, you move like you’d move in a Call of Duty game. But we wanted another layer of flavor to it, to sell and succeed on the space fiction. That’s where we get into the dynamic entities in that map, the bodies that float around when you kill them. We have that in another map that we haven’t shown yet as well.

GamesBeat: What’s the path for becoming familiar with the game? Is there a tutorial, something that will teach you?

Cecot: Just like in previous Call of Duty games, we have player progression. We also have mission progression. Mission progression will help players because it pushes them into certain content. There’s a lot of shared content with single-player. But really, in MP — part of it is the progression, doling content out slowly. What you played today has everything unlocked. But as a player going into the game, you’ll have a subset of that content that’ll slowly expand.

We have message-of-the-day notices that will come up to introduce you to new mechanics in the game. That’ll introduce you to directed energy weapons, crafting, and mission teams. We can customize those per player depending on what point you’re at in the game.

GamesBeat: What have you noticed so far about players familiar with other games? If you’re good at Ghosts, say, will you get good at this pretty quickly?

Cecot: Certain aspects of Ghosts. Ghosts was a slower-paced, less directed Call of Duty experience. Infinite Warfare is more about getting into the action quickly, getting those head-to-head engagements. We had certain maps in Ghosts like that but not all of them. People are going to feel more directed here, like the map is guiding them. Players will be able to adapt. If you’re a slower-paced player, there are places you can post up, places you can hang back and engage. But the maps will push engagements more. They have more choke points.

Infinite Warfare multiplayer

Above: Infinite Warfare multiplayer

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: Some things from Black Ops are here as well. Did you cherry-pick some features that seemed to be the most popular, like wall running?

Cecot: For sure. With the movement, going into the future — we felt like the Black Ops evolution of movement was extremely successful. We wanted to build on that. A lot of Call of Duty games have done that. We had the goal of changing the face of Call of Duty, but we also wanted to be an evolution of Call of Duty. The things that worked in the previous games, we happily adopt and improve on them.

One example is Pick 10. You got to play a bit of that today. We removed wild cards because we felt like they were cumbersome to slot in and out and manage. We integrated that into the Pick 10 system, using the pips. You can quickly slot an item in, and it just costs you points. You can remove it and get them back. It streamlined the Pick 10 interface. We take that approach to everything in Call of Duty. We take a system and say, “We love that system, but what can we do to improve it?”

GamesBeat: What I used to do most often was play more defensively with the light machineguns. I’d sit in a spot with my back protected and aim toward the center of the map. Is there a style that would match that in this game?

Cecot: A few of the rigs would work for that. The Merc, as I talked about before, the heavy, he’s a very defensive rig in his abilities. Steel Dragon lets you sit back and pick people off at range. He has regeneration. We also have Man at Arms, which we didn’t talk about much. If you like to have a lot of ammo, the Man at Arms trait on the Merc combat rig allows you to come in with the maximum amount of ammo we allow for a weapon. You can stock up your AR or SMG or LMG, and it also removes the movement penalty cost for those weapons. Now you can become a bit more mobile but also have all this ammo. You don’t have to worry about reloading or switching weapons mid-combat as much.

The Phantom is another guy who’s about sitting back. He has the Rear Guard, which gives him a shield on his back temporarily. It protects your flank. You can sit back and engage enemies that way.

Zombies has a realistic art style, with a ton of color splashed all over it.

Above: Zombies has a realistic art style, with a ton of color splashed all over it.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: You have a pretty big blast of content here as far as maps.

Cecot: It’s the majority of the game, yeah. There are some weapons that we’ve held back, that will come out later. There’s a whole set of maps as well. I think we’re showing four or five maps out of the total.

GamesBeat: You had the extra year. What did that help you with in development?

Cecot: It gave us a lot of time to explore new things. One thing was deploying grenades with the left hand. In real life that seems simple. You hold the gun and you just throw a grenade, and it’s not too bad. But in a video game, it was a very complicated system that had to be layered through all the weapon animations and all the grenades. Each one has to be individually animated and timed. Having that extra time allowed us to build up things like that.

A lot of times in previous games, we’d go into the DLC season, and we’d be split between DLC and the main game. This gave us a bit more breathing room to push ourselves. That’s where you get combat rigs. In previous games, you had weapons driving your play style and your class. This game, we were able to layer in combat rigs as well, building them around specific play styles. We could explore new play styles for Call of Duty that we hadn’t tried before.

GamesBeat: I used the bio spike at first. I quickly found out that you have to hit something with it first before you set it to explode.

Cecot: That’s one of our high skill, high reward weapons. A lot of times, when we look at guns and equipment in the game, we’ll have lower skill, lower reward weapons. You try to strike that balance. You don’t want a low skill, high reward weapon. You want high skill leading to high reward, which is the bio spike. You can chain kills. It feels so satisfying to get that hit and have it detonate. There’s a nice contrast, because if you hit the wall and you miss, you can run over, collect it, and throw it again. You get that pop.

You'll fight in outer space in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: You’ll fight in outer space in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: Vertical combat seems like a big opportunity, if you can jump as far as you want to jump.

Cecot: True, but our maps are specifically built around keeping that under control. We wanted to have purposeful wall runs. If you get a chance to play on MP-Frost, you notice there’s a nice flank wall run that goes over a death pit. You can hop out to the outside line. On the other side there’s a sneaky wall run where you can take the outside of the building and do the same thing coming around.

We wanted players to take these wall runs and deliver them into the combat space on the horizon of people that would be engaging them. We focused on keeping players from getting too high. If you’re really skilled, you can chain certain things. But our maps are built around keeping other players in your view.

GamesBeat: You can even theoretically go upside down.

Cecot: In multiplayer, we don’t currently have any spaces that flip you upside down. Again, we get back to the Call of Duty core, wanting to preserve that. Zero-G and sticking to ceilings, we didn’t want to push that. We wanted to make the core the best it could be. We focused on the evolution of military combat and head-to-head engagements and realistic future weaponry. We didn’t want to go crazy with the movement and make it detrimental to the experience. We felt like keeping players on the horizon of their opponents, keeping them in line of sight, was important.

GamesBeat: What do you hope for as far as fan reaction this weekend?

Cecot: Just seeing people watch the trailer and cheer afterward was great. I want people to engage with the game, see all the cool content and cool new aspects we’ve put in. It has a great amount of polish. The game has more content than we’ve ever done for Call of Duty. It still has that Call of Duty core that’s so important to us, but the amount of tactics we’ve added, the new rig play styles — mission teams aren’t on display at this event, but when players get to play online for a mission team, it changes how you play the game. Mid-match, I’m playing Domination, but the mission wants me to get slide kills. I’ll change my loadout, so I can get those and rank up my mission team to unlock new content.

The other thing I hope is that players feel engaged in a new way. They’re still ranking up their soldier and ranking up their weapon, but now that they’re ranking up mission teams, that’s driving them to different styles of play. We want to see an up-spike in player engagement.

The action will be furious in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare multiplayer.

Above: The action will be furious in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare multiplayer.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: This is going to be out at the same time as Modern Warfare Remastered. What do you think the contrast is going to be like?

Cecot: As a gamer, I think it’s an amazing package. You have the best new Call of Duty, and then the game that turned the corner for Call of Duty, that made it what it is. To be a part of releasing both of those feels so rewarding. I love playing Infinite Warfare, and I’ve also had the chance to play a bunch of Remastered. They complement each other. They offer different experiences for the player.

GamesBeat: Did you worry much about the decision to push into science fiction? Were you on board with it early?

Cecot: Early on, with Infinite Warfare, we knew we wanted to do something unique and different. Going into space, going into different locations afforded us that. But we knew that we had to pull back the reins. We didn’t want “space-ey” sci-fi alien-looking weapons. We didn’t want alien planets. We didn’t want to leave our solar system. We wanted things to feel grounded and believable.

At the same time, we wanted to push things. In multiplayer, we wanted to push what it meant to be a soldier. Jumping into the future, what would your getups be? How would you build yourself out for different situations?

GamesBeat: Was there any particular research that helped you in that area? Is there a lot of writing yet about space combat?

Cecot: We definitely have consultants who come in, and we talk to them about things like the weapons of today and how you’d engage with them. We see a lot of that in the campaign, with the door peek — instead of breaching a door, peeking in, and engaging targets one by one. Our visuals for the ships are based on naval ships. We used the navy as a reference a lot. “What if our massive ships of today that live on the ocean were brought into space? How would that translate?” That gave a lot of life to it.

Another challenging thing for us was going to different planets and making them feel relatable. Part of that is being topical. You have movies like The Martian, Interstellar, popular movies. You have SpaceX and all the advancements being made there. We look at that and try to say, “Where is that now, and where will that go?”

Our military advisors have talked about space as the next frontier. All that comes together as reference for this game.