GamesBeat: You had a major event happen when a character dies in one of the missions. Was that a primary mission?
Kurosaki: Yeah, that was a main mission. The side missions flesh out what the SetDef is. They give you more time with your main characters to learn about their relationship. But yeah, [redacted] mission is the [redacted] that’s gone dark. The fleet depends on those resources getting back, so they can use them to repair the damaged capital ships.
Admiral Raines says, “Go find out what happened.” Now, he doesn’t say, “Go down there.” It’s just about ascertaining what happened. They go out in that Raven, get close, scan, realize that the temperature is fluctuating wildly, and Salter says, “All right, this place is messed up. Let’s go back to the ship and report to Raines.”
Raines knows that the mission comes first. It’s not about saving Reyes. He’s expendable, ultimately.
GamesBeat: And Reyes does fully execute the search and rescue mission —
Kurosaki: He turns it into a search and rescue mission. Again, he probably shouldn’t have done that, right? The mission from command was to go ascertain what happened to the mining facility. They get close enough to see what the temperature fluctuation is, and it’s probably a lost cause. Yes, there may be survivors down there, but is that really the best task to undertake at this time? Probably better for them to go back to their ship and keep hunting SetDef and take on the next mission from command. But I think Reyes’s judgment is clouded in that moment because he knows what it’s like to be left for dead. There’s the beacon and he says, “Search and rescue. Let’s go down there.” He’s the captain, so he gets to make that call, and against her better judgment Salter has to pilot the Raven down there to find out what happens.
Once he says that’s the mission, everyone falls in line. If you really break it down, that’s why [redacted] is lost…. It’s a tough lesson. There’s no do-overs. Reyes does the best he can and sometimes there’s a cost.
GamesBeat: This is perhaps a heavier narrative than earlier Call of Duty games. Kevin Spacey maybe took us part of the way there in Advanced Warfare. All indications seem to be that this is where gamers want to go, though. Complicated stories, deep characters, characters who change. These things never used to happen in games, or they were few and far between.
Kurosaki: It didn’t happen in Crash Bandicoot. [Laughs] I can only speak from my perspective as a gamer, but even with games where I spend more time in multiplayer, I really appreciate a good single-player campaign. It gives me context for that multiplayer world. For games that only have a multiplayer component, it’s hard to feel attached to the universe, because the universe is just the confines of that multiplayer map. If you have a single-player campaign, it suggests a world beyond that map. You know characters that inhabit that world. Multiplayer-only games tend to be less sticky, less longevity, because you don’t have those things to grab onto.
You could look at it from a purely economical standpoint and say, “Boy, they put a lot of resources into that campaign when players spend way more time in multiplayer.” But it’s an investment in the player. Even a game like Overwatch—it’s a multiplayer-only game, but they do it in a different way. They have those films, those animated shorts, that are just gorgeous. Overwatch isn’t just the game. It’s a larger universe. Even if you don’t enjoy the game, maybe you like the characters and the universe, and other games could use them. I’m a big proponent, obviously, of putting an emphasis on campaign, and specifically on narrative in campaign.
GamesBeat: Certain games have this tug-of-war going on. Battlefield deals with historical accuracy versus fun. Do you have a different tug-of-war between narrative and gameplay?
Kurosaki: Not at all. I never see that as a zero-sum game, where putting more emphasis on narrative means less emphasis on gameplay. They work hand in hand. The narrative supports the gameplay and the gameplay supports the narrative.
In our cutscenes, you might see that there are never any action sequences. Action sequences should be on the stick. Especially in a game like Call of Duty. You have a certain number of ways to express yourself as a player. Big, broad action moments, often with a gun in your hand, those are the core mechanics of the game. To have that in a cinematic isn’t using the right tool for the job. Also, it takes away the jeopardy. You know you’re going to live through a cutscene. You don’t feel any sense of urgency, any sense of peril, if we have an action moment in a cinematic.
Call of Duty is not a conversation simulation machine. Having meaningful conversations where characters express their feelings, that’s handled better in a cinematic. That relies on all the directorial language of camera movement to its best effect.
One of the reasons I came here to work on Call of Duty is I’d always admired how well they did those big blockbuster action-movie set-pieces. But my feeling was—if the guys that specialize in doing that stuff just do that again, they don’t have to outdo themselves. They just do the thing they do so well, and we can infuse context and characters you care about. You could have two equivalent set-pieces, and the one involving characters you care about is going to feel far more spectacular.
Again, the narrative is definitely in support of the gameplay. It helps enhance the game. This isn’t an absolute, but I think it’s fairly well-borne-out that some of the more successful in-game narratives are led by people who are game designers. Not by people who are storytellers in other media. The interactive medium is unique. It has its own set of rules.
If there were a tug of war between narrative and gameplay, I don’t think you’d see successful in-game narratives coming from people who—Neil Druckmann is a game designer. Amy Hennig is a game designer. These people are game designers who’ve also studied storytelling. My first job in the games industry was being the entire design department on Crash Bandicoot. We made the game with maybe seven people. I can’t think of a lot of fulfilling narrative-driven, character-driven single-player campaigns that were run by a movie director.