I’ve been a fan of Call of Duty for many years. I played the original PC game back in 2003 and was immediately pulled in by the realism and authenticity that developer Infinity Ward had achieved. I continued playing through almost every main entry in the series up through 2011, with Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare being personal favorites. After that though, the series seemed to lose its focus and the quality of each entry seemed to dip. I contented myself with being done with Call of Duty.
When the trailer came out for the latest entry, Infinite Warfare, I was intrigued but skeptical. Many players were becoming fatigued by futuristic shooters and the video infamously became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube. I didn’t really plan on playing the game even though my interest was piqued by the news that former Naughty Dog staff had been brought in to handle the narrative of the game, but after hearing some positive rumblings about the game I decided I would give the series one more try. I put my expectations in check and went into it thinking it probably wouldn’t be very good,… and it wasn’t.
It was actually great.
On top of the intense and heart pumping action that the series has become known for, I found the storytelling to be the strongest it’s ever been in a Call of Duty game. While the plot might not feature the complexity of some other science fiction titles, it’s a straightforward and well told story about war and the camaraderie between squadmates as well as the sacrifices that often need to be made to complete the mission. It also features probably the most memorable cast of characters since we met Captain Price and “Soap” MacTavish. For the first time in a COD title, I actually cared about the fates of characters such as your wingman Nora Salter, navigation officer “Gator” and your robot companion E3N (Ethan) who provides some great comic relief.
For the first time in a long while, I’m excited about the future of Call of Duty. Infinity Ward was managed to inject new life into the series with an increased focus on story and character without sacrificing the thrilling action that we expect from COD.
I recently had the privilege to chat with Taylor Kurosaki, who serves as the Narrative Director at developer Infinity Ward. I asked him about the memorable cast of characters, which war films served as inspiration, and tried (unsuccessfully) to get him to tip his hand on what the next COD game might be.
John Wahl: Before joining Infinity Ward, you were at Naughty Dog where you worked on (among other things) the Uncharted series. How does the creative process differ for you going from that series to Call of Duty?
Taylor Kurosaki: The main difference, really is 3rd person games vs 1st person ones. In 3rd person, the player can see the protagonist, or at least the ass of the protagonist, the entire game. This helps with the absolutely critical connection between the emotional state of the player with the character they are controlling. In Uncharted we did all kinds of animation states on Drake so we could convey his emotional/physical state to the player, so the player feels connected to him. In 1st person, we don’t get that gimme. The player only sees Reyes for maybe 20 minutes of the entirety of the campaign in Infinite Warfare. We have a much harder job keeping the player and Reyes in emotional parity because of this. In this case we created a bunch of view model gestures- things like Reyes pointing, putting his hands up, tilting his head when he’s talking, to help foster that player/protagonist connection. The upside, is when that connection is strong, our players can really feel like they are literally ‘in the shoes’ of Reyes, due to the first person POV.
JW: Brian Bloom served as both writer for the game and played Captain Reyes. What was that collaboration like for the two of you?
TK: It was absolutely incredible working with Brian on this project from the very beginning. Not only is it more difficult keeping emotional parity between the player and the protagonist in 1st person, it’s also very difficult for an actor to play a 1st person player character. The role is so much more strange than it is for the other characters- Brian’s takes had to work if the player was looking where we thought they’d probably be looking and also if the player was across the room looking in the opposite direction. Brian’s understanding of game design, from working with Jacob Minkoff and I every single day, gave him to insight not only to write a great player-character, but embody him on stage as well. We auditioned a ton of actors to play Reyes, but in the end, no one could match Brian’s take on Reyes.
JW: Infinite Warfare definitely gave me the vibe of some classic war films. Were there any movies in particular that served as inspiration?
TK: Saving Private Ryan, if I had to pick just one, would be it. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) must learn that his mission, literally saving Private Ryan, was more important than getting his squad home. Captain Reyes has to learn that same lesson in very short order. Our inspirations came from all over the place, though. Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down, Generation Kill, and all the way to a book about Spartan warriors in ancient Greece, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. The war genre is incredibly rich. We wanted this story, which takes place in an unfamiliar setting, to feel traditional.
JW: The game features probably the most memorable cast of characters of any Call of Duty game yet. How did you find balance between telling the story of the crew of the Retribution and featuring the epic action set pieces that the series is known for.
TK: We knew if we did our job well- creating likable, realistic characters the player cared about, then those huge, set piece moments would play even better. The characters are, in some ways, the set-up for those huge moments. They are the supporting foundation which infuse feeling and emotion into what otherwise might just come across as eye candy. Short answer, both work together to form a strong whole.
JW: The end credits sequence was a very unique way of giving players a closer look into the lives of the teammates that were lost. How did that idea come about?
TK: Writing a letter to next of kin is a tradition in the military. Sometimes these letters are referred to as “if/when” letters, to be given to loved ones “if” the worst happens. For someone like Captain Reyes, he’d be responsible for transmitting the letters to their designated recipients. Since you play as Reyes, the letters in the end credits are all the letters for those under his command, and no one else. There’s a ninth letter as well, available on the Retribution Cap Ops computer immediately after Reyes puts together his plan to return to Geneva. After the cutscene ends, you have to leave the bridge to go to the Captain’s office, the letter will be there then.
JW: The world created in Infinite Warfare seems to have a lot of potential for future stories. Can we expect to be piloting a Jackal again in a few years?
TK: I can’t talk about what’s coming up next for us, but, to create a universe big enough to support a game like Infinite Warfare, you have to, by extension, create one big enough to support multiple stories.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available now on Playstation 4, Xbox One & PC.