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Call of Duty: Warzone got some 1980s action heroes this week with its midseason update. Now you can play as Die Hard‘s John McClane (Bruce Willis) or Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). It’s the latest treat in Activision’s hot battle royale game, which has more than 100 million downloads in the past 14 months.
Since I’m the only one here old enough to remember, I should explain who they are. McClane is a New York cop who arrives at a holiday party-turned-hostage situation. He’s the hero of the Die Hard films, one of the most iconic action movie series of all time. The other is Rambo, a man double-crossed while on a clandestine mission and left to fight on his own in Rambo: First Blood Part II, which continued to inspire action movies since its release in 1985.
The Warzone map also got an update with scenes from the movies of both action heroes. I’m dropping into Warzone as Rambo and landing in a very inappropriate way at Die Hard‘s skyscraper, Nakatomi Plaza, with my friend, Duke Schnepf. We broke into the vault, and one of our team members picked up $521,000 in cash, which is about as rich as you can get inside the game.
I talked to Natalie Pohorski, a narrative producer at Raven Software (which is responsible for Warzone); and Chris Plummer, the vice president of mobile for Call of Duty. They’re a couple of the people responsible for this mayhem, which involved updates to Zombies as well as Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War’s multiplayer. It’s a much more ambitious update than usual for a midseason kicker, with goods such as special character bundles with new weapons like the ballistic knife.
The map also has scenes from Rambo movies such as a CIA outpost and a prisoner of war camp. They don’t really fit into the storyline of Warzone, but they are from the 1980s, just as the new 1984 Verdansk map for Warzone, and nobody really cares about the realism. character. I intend to practice a lot, and we’ll see if I can sneak into the World Series of Warzone tournaments, which are four events with $300,000 prize pools each.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: This seems like a pretty big update to happen in the middle of the season.
Chris Plummer: This isn’t a typical update. It’s the first time where, across the entire ecosystem on all platforms, we’re bringing one big theme to all of our community in the form of this ’80s action heroes event, with all the cool content from Die Hard and Rambo. We have unique points of interest and content depending on the platform. It’s a unique way to cater to the play patterns on each platform. We’re excited about bringing this to celebrate the start of summer with an action blockbuster throwback. It works perfectly with the theming in Warzone right now.
GamesBeat: Did you have to work with a particular Hollywood company to license this?
Plummer: Our studios have been working closely with Studio Canal and Disney, who own the properties, to make sure that we’re delivering all the detail, all the recognizable features, of the characters, the hardware, and weaponry you’ve come to expect. Even the locations and other things that feel consistent with the IP. They’ve been great partners throughout the entire process.
GamesBeat: Did you have to replace parts of the Warzone map?
Natalie Pohorski: In Warzone we’ve added the Nakatomi Plaza to downtown, which is now the tallest structure in the Warzone map. Inside it’s all playable space, five different floors. That’s the main point of interest. We also have a few locations on the Rambo side. In one of the airport hangars we have the new CIA outpost. There’s a playable event there. Several of the camps on the outskirts of Verdansk have been converted to survivor camps, basically. They’re definitely recognizable. We have some specific themed missions for those spaces that involve the storyline directly, and the characters themselves obviously.
GamesBeat: Do you launch into those as separate missions? How do you do that in the course of a Warzone match?
Pohorski: They’re considered side missions. We have the limited time modes we’re introducing, like Power Grab. For the tower we have an arms deal event that begins in the basement and you work your way up through the building to some of those recognizable points of interest. We also have a helipad event at the top where you’re defusing C4 and you have enemy choppers. There’s a scavenger contract, more of that contract format. That’s following McClane’s footsteps and finding loot crates throughout the tower.
Plummer: We’ve also designed a mode to try to tap in play patterns around MP. It’s called Guns Blazing. As you’re racking up kills, you earn a score streak that lets you power up as either Rambo or John McClane. You can be playing in this mode and see Rambo and McClane going after each other while multiple players are powering up at the same time. We thought it would be a cool chance for players to see the characters in action, see how authentic they are, in a limited time mode that lets you sample that before you go into the item shop to check out the bundles.
GamesBeat: Can you talk about the Die Hard component in Cold War? Is there something recognizably Die Hard there as well?
Pohorski: They’re using Hardpoint again, but one of the fun things again is that you’re running out of time, because a bomb has already been set off. You’re working toward that time limit. You’re also able to improve and buff your character. Throughout the mode you’re getting faster and stronger, in alignment with the action hero theme. And for Gun Game you’re getting to use a lot of iconic weapons, like Rambo’s combat bow and the M60 machinegun.
GamesBeat: What made you decide these two particular characters were a good match for Call of Duty?
Plummer: We’ve been looking for a way to tap into the new content theme throughout the Call of Duty ecosystem right now. We wanted something that felt like it was in the spirit of the summer blockbusters that we remember from back in the day, since we’re approaching summer again. We felt like these characters are in tune with the Call of Duty spirit and the feel of the brand, the hardcore action, the take-no-prisoners approach of these characters and the way people play Call of Duty.
Whether you saw the movies when they first came out, or you’ve watched them on video, or you’ve seen the characters in a thousand memes on the internet, we’ve seen that the audience has been reacting at a fever pitch ever since the initial teases went out. There’s been some cool ARG teasers and breadcrumb trails laid around the community on the internet. Almost everyone knows these characters. We felt like this was a great way to introduce some new action into the experience, and let the entire audience across all platforms engage in the same thing. It’s very on-brand.
This could be the start of something that continues along these lines. We’re excited to see how players react to it.
GamesBeat: I was talking to someone about what Call of Duty is the other day. Some people have the perspective that feels like an “action movie.” But when you look at some of the stories, they can get more serious than a lot of blockbusters. I wonder if in some ways there’s a tug of war within the brand around what it’s really about. There’s CIA brainwashing on one side and the action movie style on the other side.
Plummer: Call of Duty tries to tap into a little of the inner soldier inside all of us. That fantasy takes on this huge dynamic range when you think about it. There’s really gritty, ripped-from-the-headlines stuff, the paranoid side of things behind the scenes, the secret operations, classic moments from history, and everything in between. There’s this big blockbuster action experience that Call of Duty delivers to people who want to unlock that little soldier inside. We think there’s this huge range.
The ‘80s action movie style falls within that, if you think about the whole scope of what it’s like to strap on your gear and go into combat, whether it’s in Warzone or in Call of Duty Mobile or in your favorite action movie. Call of Duty tries to tap into that unlock that camaraderie among players, banding together to go into the fight with each other.
GamesBeat: Mixing it all together is something you don’t mind doing, then.
Plummer: It’s really about what the players are interested in. We try these things and it’s easy to tell right away what the players are going to react to, what they enjoy. We try to give them more of that. This is something that works out well for us, and we’ll explore other ways to do something similar. They enjoy the variety that Call of Duty has been able to deliver over the years, and we hope to continue to do that.
GamesBeat: I’m trying to think of examples that have gone before in a similar vein. Didn’t you have a creepy movie character in Zombies a game or two ago?
Pohorski: In Warzone we had the Haunting of Verdansk event around Halloween, where we introduced Jigsaw from the Saw movies and Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw. Players loved that. They reacted really well to those operators and the different challenges and missions we introduced. It’s definitely something we keep in mind. For this event, and events moving forward, being to deliver more of that new content and the specific IP is always fun to work with.
GamesBeat: You’re giving away a lot in a midseason update. Is that something we can also expect in the future, that these updates you do to bring value to the game are going to be bigger?
Plummer: We’re always trying to deliver big moments for the players. This one’s unique because it’s the first time we’ve done it across all the platforms, delivering a common theme and the same marquee content across the whole franchise. It feels bigger because the theme is huge, the characters are recognizable, the locations and the new modes stand point, and we’re doing it across all the platforms. We won’t always have the moons aligning perfectly like that, but in this case we have a lot happening at once. It’s a great way to kick off the summer. We’re feeling it, and I think the players are feeling it. If this works well for us we can always try and move the needle again next time.
Pohorski: Both on mobile and on the Warzone side, we’re continually evolving and trying to find opportunities like this for new ways to engage the players.
GamesBeat: Does this represent a lot of work for you and the team?
Plummer: We’re always at work delivering content for the players. This is taking a different form. It has a different focus and theme to it. But all the studios and everyone who works on Call of Duty, we’re always committed to however we can deliver more content to our players, the kind of content that resonates for them and allows them to join together and celebrate and squad up to take names. This is just a unique and memorable one. The theme is resonating with people. It’s a lot of work, but it always is. It’s always a lot of work to deliver tons of content for our players, because that’s what they expect and that’s what we’re committed to doing for them.
GamesBeat: Even in Call of Duty: Mobile you’re doing something very similar, then?
Plummer: Yeah, we have the same characters. We have some unique content. Some of the gear and things are a bit different. The limited time mode is a bit different in Mobile, because we’re tapping into what we know the Mobile players like to do. We’re excited about Guns Blazing as a way to get in there and try out the characters and see them in action ahead of time. That’s going to be running for a couple of weeks. From everything we can see, the players are super excited, and we’re looking forward to everyone getting in there and living out their fantasies as Rambo and McClane.
GamesBeat: What do you have to do to earn the new characters?
Plummer: There’s different ways. We’ll have operator bundles for the characters on all the different platforms. In Mobile, the Guns Blazing mode is sort of like — think of it as a score streak or kill streak you earn. When you rack up enough kills, you’ll have the opportunity to power up temporarily as either Rambo or John McClane. That’s how you unlock it, through performance, like a score streak.
GamesBeat: Does the Warzone map return to normal after a certain point? Or are these changes going to last?
Pohorski: We’re focused on the event right now. We’re looking at the next window going live tomorrow and then through June. Moving forward we have other events that we’re looking toward, other new content we’ll be focusing on. We’re going to continue exploring. This is a new, exciting event for us, but I think it’s showing us some of the things we can do with the Warzone map. Especially as we’ve introduced the ‘80s theme, that’s something we’re going to continue looking into.
GamesBeat: Is there anything in particular you’re personally excited for in this event?
Pohorski: Playing as John McClane in Zombies with one of the new weapons, like the baseball bat. Being able to go around bashing heads and yelling “yippee-ki-yay!” I’m personally excited about that. But also getting to see players experiencing the different areas in the tower and across the map. I’m really excited about that.
Plummer: I’m looking forward to getting melee kills as Rambo with the combat knife. That’s my secret obsession. Right now the brand’s kind of on fire. There’s never been more people playing Call of Duty. This is an awesome time for people to come in and check out this kind of IP integration and have a fun event the whole community can join. We’re stoked about that. Some of the CDL teams are doing previews of the content. We have a lot of people in the community that have been watching all the teasers, and they’re ready to go and find all the little secrets. It’s going to be a fun time. We can’t wait to see how players react to it.
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