Fantasy Development: Call of Duty

Call of Duty: GhostsA few weeks back, I played fantasy game developer with the sequel for Destiny. I threw money, time and honestly, reality out the window and focused on making what I think would be the perfect Destiny game. Today, as a bit of a breather from talking about The Division, shooter news, and Destiny we’ll revisit the fantasy development idea. Today I’m going to make the best Call of Duty: Ghosts 2 ever.

Obviously it’s a bit of an assumption that we’re getting Ghosts 2 this year. We know that Infinity Ward is making this year’s game, but that’s it officially. I’ve seen a couple posts online – including bigger websites – saying that they don’t expect Ghosts 2. I completely disagree with that – yes the multiplayer fell a little once the weapon balance deteriorated, but the other two pillars of the game are set up perfect for a sequel. So I’m going to build off of that idea, and deal with multiplayer last.

First off, the single player campaign: let’s not make it single player. Black Ops III showed that the campaign works as a co-op story as well as a single player experience. So we borrow that idea – make the campaign playable (optionally of course) as a co-op game. The story was set-up at the end of the first game – you tracked down Rorke, stopped his plans, and then had the big twist. Rorke survives, wounds you, and captures you – credits roll, sequel set. Now, I think realistically there’s one question to ask before we talk story – is Infinity Ward setting up a trilogy again? So far Call of Duty likes to work in threes – the original series was three numbered entries, Modern Warfare was three games, and Black Ops has been three. So we’ll assume that is the plan here and know we have a final third game coming in a few years. With that set, we have the basic structure of the plot – Hesh (player 1) and his Ghosts squad that he took over from his father are tracking down Rorke and trying to find his brother Logan. There’s still room in that basic story to throw in plenty of Call of Duty twists and big moments – there is still an overarching story of the war going on too after all. But instead of finding Logan in this game, save his role for the third game. I would have this Ghosts 2 end with Rorke’s defeat – and in this story we’re crafting, he sacrifices himself to save Logan, completing the brainwashing process and setting up the ultimate confrontation in the third game: brother Vs. brother. It’s real simple, which does play into the Call of Duty stereotype, but believe or not actually works here. There’s no reason to keep trying to adding twists and turns and other bells and whistles. Go back to the basics – a simple story, with less complications makes for a much more engaging overall experience. Call of Duty has a habit of putting in a whole bunch of characters to the games – Infinity Ward in particular was guilty of that in the Modern Warfare games. Keep it small – four protagonists, an overwatch character to drive the narrative and two main antagonists – that’s it. Keep the story focused and you can start to shake off that stereotype a little bit.

Now, before we leave the campaign mindset, there is one thing that I would pretty much steal from Black Ops III. Treyarch, I think, got the idea from Ghosts‘ Extinction mode – tell a different story using the same pieces. Black Ops III has the Nightmares campaign – it’s the same world and basic setting, just a totally different story – the zombies have jumped from their mode into a story setting. Ghosts 2 could do something similar – Extinction and Nightmares can certainly exist in the same game. I would love to see something like that, because it offers up another way to keep the game alive for a longer time. It’s not a fully fleshed idea yet – I don’t know exactly how I would tell that story, but I still think it could work.

Extinction CoD Ghosts

Now, let’s actually talk about Extinction itself. Far and away that was the mode I played the most in Ghosts. It was the most fun part of the game I thought – no need to worry about the crappy weapon balance, or stupidly overpowered killstreaks. Just worry about beating progressively tougher AI monsters, ending with some pretty awesome boss battles. The achievements pushed the players to doing certain things that might have been out of their comfort zone, but not in a way that punished them. When the story finished, our group of survivors had actually left the planet – biding time on one of the orbiting space stations. Again, the story is perfectly set-up: tell the story of humanity beginning to retake our planet. Nothing crazy here – basic storytelling works best – it’s universal themes that the broad community can get behind. It also is sets us up for a DLC season – the first mission is establishing a beachhead somewhere; the DLC then tells how we began to branch out. If we’re still going under the assumption of a third game, we’ll need to close the DLC season with a big moment that leaves players wanting that final chapter. We got a taste of how I would do that in Ghosts‘ Invasion DLC’s Awakening map. That map brought us inside of Ball’s Pyramid, into the Cryptid tunnels. That’s how I would end this game’s season – our group finally moving into enemy territory, striking them on their own turf, ending with a fight against some kind of massive Cryptid. As for the actual gameplay, I really don’t think a whole lot needs to change. I like the four classes – they work well together, although I do think that the Tank class needs a little tweaking (my group tended to ignore a Tank and double up on Engineer – I played the Weapon Specialist as our damage dealer). Some of the perks could use a little tweaking – mainly the ammo types to make them all viable in different situations. Variety definitely suffered a little as we played the mode more and more – we doubled up on a couple items to make sure we had them in hand as often as possible. Keep the weapons on the maps, keep the money system, keep the armory and teeth system, keep the search piles and all of that – it helped separate Extinction from Zombies. I do like that a lot of the story was told through the intel pick ups too – I would however drop the random ones and make them all static pickups. Generally, I think Extinction is in a pretty good spot moving forward in terms of having a really strong base to build off of.

Which is a different story than we have with the multiplayer. Ghosts is such a frustrating game for me to look back on – I loved the multiplayer initially; but that changed real fast. First off, with this fantasy Ghosts 2, we’re keeping the basic movement and overall feel from the first game. No thruster packs, exo suits, or anything like that – go back to basic Call of Duty mechanics. Sliding and corner leans are fine – they fit with the world that the campaign established. And really I think the map design was fine, so I’m fine with Infinity Ward using similar thoughts for this game’s maps. One thing I would caution is adding in really big maps – they were definitely the weakest of the original game’s set and the DLC moved away from them. They can work, but they definitely take more work to get right. What really matters here is the weapon set. Now I can’t go through the plethora of weapons that we know are going to be there – that’s way more detailed than these fantasy development posts are meant to be. Instead I want to talk about a couple top level things that need to be looked at. First, get rid of built-in attachments. That’s a big part of what killed the meta – in particular in the assault rifle class. The Honey Badger, because of its built in silencer and really not reduced range was just too powerful. So get rid of that kind of weapon – just doing that already puts the gun game in a better spot. Second, the create-a-class system needs to be more traditional. Sure Ghosts had a lot of options to try out – you could load up on perks, or go with a really powerful weapon with lots of attachments. But it allowed for too easy creation of very over powered classes. Go back to a classic, ten item system and you bring balance back to the game. If you’re bent on having multiple perks possible, go ahead and put those Wildcards from Treyarch’s games in. In truth, those perks really need to be honed down a bit – there were way too many in there to mess around with. Less isn’t necessarily better, but less is when each option actually has utility. Finally, the big thing to really look at are killstreaks – in particularly the map-specific ones. Those streaks broke games just as much as over powered weapons. I’m fine with keeping the reward streak for completing the in-match missions, just take away huge ones that can kill entire teams. Replace them with a standard Care Package, maybe with the 7-10 kill streaks weighted higher. I think that goes a long way to bringing balance back to the meta across the board. No Michael Myers, no Predator, no Nuke that breaks the map. It all goes back to my core design philosophy with this particular fantasy development idea – simple works better. In the Call of Duty series in particular, simple is almost always better. The more variables you introduce, the more likely one of them will break the balance and seriously damage the longevity of the game. That’s a big part of why I am enjoying Black Ops III so much – there are only a couple guns that don’t measure up (I’m looking at you VMP) the rest are all totally viable. There will always be a gun or two that gets overly popular for whatever reason, but in this case there are a lot of them which keeps the games pretty well balanced. I hope that Infinity Ward has kept that in mind, and looked at what worked with Ghosts, and what didn’t and will give us the game that Ghosts could really have been – the true follow up to Modern Warfare.


Fantasy Development: Destiny 2

DestinySince we’re in a bit of a slow period before the spring releases, I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming about what we’re getting later this year. I’ve written already about what I want to see in whatever Bungie calls Destiny 2 – but that was a more realistic look at it. Today we’re throwing realism out the window, and playing fantasy game developer – no worrying about cost or time and making this next year the best it possibly can.

First thing I’m doing – last-gen is being cut out. No more PS3 or 360 support for Destiny 2. We’re now three years into this current generation of consoles – it’s time to upgrade, and stop expecting developers to continue supporting old tech. This would free up time, money and in-game resources to make sure this is the best game it can be. Vault space isn’t limited by last-gen memory. It also helps push players to upgrade to the current-gen systems. Obviously I’m expanding the vault space, but I’m doing more than just that. We have all these other ways of getting unique items now, and we saw with The Taken King that the kiosks work beautifully for clearing space and makes running multiple characters easier. So combine them – I would create vaults for event gear and raid gear. The event gear as of right now is only Sparrow Racing gear and the Festival Masks, but we know that there are more planned for this year. This clears that space out of the main vault for more actual armor and weapons. With the Raid Vault, the basic idea is to create a way to show off the loot that is the hardest to earn. Even the old raids that aren’t relevant anymore still should have the loot shown off.

Destiny Black Garden

Let’s look at the main story content for this fantasy Destiny 2. The first game ended with a confrontation in the Black Garden against an embodiment of the Darkness sending forth three Vex champions to stop you. It was the first victory against the Darkness in a long time – the Light is starting to fight back. The easy thought is to continue that path – but let’s put that off a little bit. Instead our game starts with your Guardian out cleaning up the Dreadnought a little more for the Vanguard. It’s clear that you’ve become the go-to Guardian for just about anything the Vanguard really needs taken care of. While you’re out patrolling though you get a direct transmission from the Speaker. He has a task that only the Light’s best guardian(s) can handle. He sends you back to Earth – to a place we’ve yet to see in any capacity: North America. It’s time to take back our home. This serves not only a story telling purpose, but also opens up new areas to explore, meaning the Director gets an overhaul that it needs. After a few missions through the Speaker – which serves as a way for Bungie to flesh out the actual character of the Speaker – you’re sent back to the Vanguard – specifically Ikora. Her Hidden believe they’ve finally tracked down Osiris – and they need you to find out for sure just what is going on with the rogue Warlock. Now you have two distinct story paths that serve as the first half – retaking North America, and tracking down Osiris – on Mercury. That part I do want to keep from what we are currently expecting – we need to finally get Mercury in a PvE capacity.

Destiny Shield Brothers

Once we reach about the half-way point, that’s when we finally find Osiris. He tells us that he hasn’t forsaken the Light and has been tracking enemies that the Tower can’t ignore. He points us back to Mars, and tells us to look beyond the Reef toward Jupiter. We’ve reached the ramp up to the finale. On Mars, the Cabal will have refocused their efforts and congregated in a more central location – however that has allowed the Vex to start turning Mars into the same state as Venus and Mercury. It turns the planet into a true warzone – one that is really where we start to find the new enemy types. We got a taste on Earth with Fallen and Hive in North America, but it’s here on Mars that we really see the new enemies. New Vex models – including larger models of the Hydras, maybe linked together like a big snake. The Cabal brings out their war machines – and guys like Valus T’Arach are much more common. The command isn’t content to sit back – they’re more engaged than before. Mars is a legitimately dangerous place – even in Patrol, which is expanded to six-man, and has selectable Light levels. What becomes clear is that this Cabal effort is a beachhead – the real threat is still on the way. That’s when we head to Jupiter for the first time.

Jupiter is where the end-game takes place. Building off of The Taken King mission Outbound Signal, there’s a Cabal warfleet on the way. We first encounter it in orbit around Jupiter – it’s just waiting for a signal from the Mars team. Your team is tasked with grabbing a foothold on Jupiter to better combat the Cabal threat – this is direct from the Speaker. That fight against the Cabal fleet is told through the Raid – which has you hopping from ship to ship fighting against everything the Cabal has; and finishes in a DLC later on (I’m bringing back monolithic DLC, in concert with Silver items). The tease for the next big entry though is something we discover on Jupiter. Instead of a rehash of the Black Garden with a big amorphous blob, we find the Darkness equivalent of the Speaker, leading an army of fallen Guardians. He sends a fireteam out to face you, giving us the end-boss that we need. It’s different from anything else we’ve fought in PvE and helps set the table moving forward.

Destiny The Speaker

That’s all the story content – gameplay-wise I wouldn’t touch too much. Ideally I would increase the number of weapon balances two every other month, just to really keep the meta from deteriorating. My big shake-up would be, instead of adding a fourth guardian type or a new element, I would have Osiris teach the guardians how to merge two of their subclasses to create a fourth potential subclass. Now it can’t be a straight merge – that would just be crazy. But it would be something where the design philosophies of the subclasses merge together to create something new and shakes up the sandbox. For example, take the Striker Titan and Defender Titan. Defender is all about support and suppress, Striker is shock and awe. Here’s how I combine those and create a new super ability. The Ward of Dawn is such an important part of high level PvE play that it needs to stay – but when it’s combined with the Striker, it gains a small shockwave upon activation. Taking a little from the Fist of Havoc, putting it on the Ward of Dawn and you have a panic super that also keeps your team protected. Now, to balance that out, I think you have to limit how high you can raise your inherent stats – get rid of a row of those talents on the grid. Shrink the talent grid in general – stick with three grenades total, the super stays with three upgrades, and I think you can get away with maybe four class upgrades.

There are a couple other little things to look at. I would love to see the old raids looked at – not necessarily brought forward, but utilized in someway. Maybe have those areas become training grounds for Guardians – which ties in with the other new activity I would add in: Horde Mode. It’s an easy thing to explain away too – enemies of the Light try to re-invade areas we’ve liberated; we have to go and shut them down. It fits in that Arena size activity that Prison of Elders was, and doesn’t require as much foresight for puzzles and design, which means that the raid can thrive. It solves a big problem that the game has right now – meaningful PvE content that isn’t the raid or nightfall. It gives PvE players something that can live on and rival the Crucible for longevity. In terms of gear – it’s time to completely move away from the exotic weapons we’ve had so far. The armor pieces make sense to move forward from a lore standpoint, and in theory so do the weapons. The problem then becomes an increase in stagnation in the weapon meta. So toss them into a new showcase Exotic vault, and start a brand new collection – it brings back the excitement of chasing them. Crucible stays more or less the same – maybe add in a true CTF mode or something along those lines; obviously add new maps in and keep tweaking the matchmaking to work right. One area that can actually get a bit more attention is Trials – since we’re bringing Osiris into the game proper now, he can get involved in his Trials in a more active role. I don’t know what that role is, but I think it’s got to happen.

Destiny Cayde-6

This is a lot of dreaming – I think there’s a good mix of reasonable thoughts along with a couple real longshots. I don’t really think we’ll see mixed subclasses, at least anytime soon; same with a Darkness Speaker and fallen Guardians. But Horde Mode, Osiris’ involvement and Mercury/Jupiter as settings don’t seem too far-fetched. Since Destiny 2 hasn’t even been announced yet this is all total speculation, just speculation built around the Lore we know. One thing that I really, really need Bungie to do though is continue the character building that they started in The Taken King. Cayde, Eris, Amanda and Zavala all actually feel more like people now. That trend has to continue through the summer and into whatever step is next – there’s fantastic backstory there for pretty much every character on the Tower. Dive into that – tell us about Twilight Gap, through Zavala, Shaxx and Saladin’s own words. Expand on Ikora’s group of Hidden spies. Make Rahoul and Banshee and the Faction Reps actually characters instead of just button prompts. You have the whole rest of the year to do that – use these timed events like Crimson Days to add more to the story/world we’re playing in. Do it for everyone except the Speaker – save him for Destiny 2; and give him a twist – have him be revealed as the physical embodiment of the Traveler – essentially a person sized Ghost. There’s so much possibility built into the world of Destiny, now is the time for Bungie to capitalize on it.