GamesBeat: It was hard to figure out where to shoot them. Shooting them in the head is harder to do. Shooting them in the leg, they slow down, but they can still crawl at you.
Stohl: I love that in Zombies, too. Shoot their legs out and they still come crawling after you. I think the correct answer is “yes,” though. Just shoot them. But shooting the zombies’ legs out sometimes helps you in challenges. Sometimes people will keep a crawling guy around to stop the next wave from coming in. If they still want to do other things they’ll just have one guy crawling around. There’s a lot of strategy in there. But I think we got our NPC reactions and those robot melee reactions a lot better this time.
GamesBeat: I don’t think I encountered a bug the whole time I was playing. Mafia III, in about 35 hours, crashed on me 20 times. The three-year development cycle seems to help with that.
Stohl: This is Call of Duty, so we keep super on top of it. We do title updates to make sure multiplayer is solid. We have that part down, hopefully.
GamesBeat: At this point, it seems like people have calmed down about the shift from the modern setting to science fiction. I’m curious about what it’s been like for you to follow that over time.
Stohl: It’s interesting to see how people—there’s certainly a passionate core to this franchise that will talk about that kind of thing. We made a smart decision at E3 to say, “Yeah, this is the game.” With our gameplay piece we showed at the Sony thing, that calmed a lot of it down. In a way, I think that emboldened the team. We wanted people to play the campaign so badly, because it’s different. We really hoped people would like it and get it, instead of just talking about space or not space. We wanted them talking about the narrative and new kinds of things like side missions and flying the Jackal around.
Now I think people will start talking about those things, judging the game on its narrative and character development and side missions and combat, rather than the initial reaction to the setting. But I’ve been with this franchise a long time. Smaller things than that have caused that core to go crazy. Just adjusting a shotgun in MP, aim assist, snap targeting—everything causes the core to get in an uproar.
GamesBeat: Does it still feel like the franchise has a lot of creative room for the future?
Stohl: I do think so, yeah. With all three of these teams, there’s a lot of places to go. I’m excited. For a franchise that’s been around this long—obviously I’m in the enviable position of knowing what else is going on. But based on everything I know I’m very excited about the future.
On top of all that—I’m not a super-competitive MP guy. But I’m so excited about esports right now. From an esports point of view, the franchise is just at the beginning. With huge prize pools, playing at the Forum, it’s crazy. That was awesome.
GamesBeat: I talked with Minh Le, the creator of Counter-Strike, not long ago. He brought up an interesting challenge for esports. If you don’t change a game, it’s good for esports athletes to adopt and get used to it and become masters at it. But if you change a game every year, maybe a different crop of champions emerges every year, which is potentially difficult for following players over time. I don’t know if you find your Arnold Palmer out of that process. A sport wants to stay the same, but gamers want a game that’s fresh.
Stohl: That’s right. It’s one of those awesome challenges for the franchise. We work with the esports guys every season to craft what that rule set will be. We have to strive to create some predictability within the esports side. It’s also important for people to relate to the mode that they’re watching. But yeah, with such a big audience, it’s important that we also innovate in the game.
That’s something we’re thinking a lot about. Even within the game, there are esports modes like Uplink. Uplink is fun to watch. It’s not a big public playlist mode. It’s designed for esports, in a way. People can and do play it, but it’s something we build and deliver year after year because it’s an esports mode. But yes, you’re right, that’s a tough thing to figure out. I can’t tell you all of our solutions yet, but we definitely think about it.
GamesBeat: Some players are going to be tempted to skip all the side missions. What do you think they’ll be missing out on?
Stohl: You get a lot of upgrades for doing them. Also, if you’re going to play on a harder level, it’s good to get all those upgrades done before you go back and try a harder difficulty. To your point earlier about places where I would weigh in, I think we could have put all of the side mission content into the linear path, but I felt like it reinforced the feeling of Captain Reyes as someone who’s in charge. You can choose to do something or not.
We motivate you to do it because of a cool upgrade path, but you don’t have to do it. Maybe you replay it again once you find out that ship assault is really cool, or you can get something from doing a certain Jackal thing. I like that exploration. I think it’s more modern than just the linear campaign. Even though there’s some cool content that potentially people won’t play, once people start talking about the game, you can still go back and do it.
GamesBeat: Did you design this with another three-game series in mind?
Stohl: Here’s what I’ll say to that. Obviously I hope this game is wildly successful. We spent so much—defining a new universe is the absolute number one hardest thing I’ve done. Not personally. I didn’t do it all myself. But I was talking to some of the guys earlier. It’s so hard to say—notice we never put a year on it. If you put a year on something, well, why do you still have trash cans? You wouldn’t have trash cans in the year such-and-such.
Everybody’s perception of what the future would be like is totally different. Getting concept artists and designers and everybody to create a cohesive universe was really hard. I talked to a guy who worked on Minority Report, a production designer. I think that was set in 2050. He had to get everybody thinking 2015, because 2050—your imagination goes way outside the box.
We had a bunch of guys, great concept guys. A guy named Aaron Beck, who came from WETA in New Zealand. He was the robots and gear guy. If you notice, he did some neat things with the Marine suits. There are these pressure cuffs right here on the Marine suit. He’d use a silhouette. Imagine a soldier in Vietnam with his sleeves rolled up to here. He’d take that silhouette and make these similar-looking silhouettes, but with all these advanced materials. We were always trying to ride that idea, that this is a bunch of new stuff, but it’s also grounded in something you’re more familiar with.
That’s generally where our aesthetic and our universe came from. You’re in space, but these ships still have very Navy and NASA cues. It’s not some gleaming white version of the future. That’s where we eventually found our groove, these familiar industrial and military pieces set in a more fantastic universe. Then it all jelled together.