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.


Call of Duty: Ghosts Post-Mortem – The Final Shot

Call of Duty: GhostsThis week marked the final DLC release for Call of Duty: Ghosts, the tenth game in the franchise. Before the hype and marketing train really gets up and running for this year’s entry – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – let’s take one last look back at the latest entry into the biggest franchise going.

Infinity Ward took a little bit of a chance by deciding to start a brand new story, rather than make Modern Warfare 4. There are still similarities – the major set pieces that have come to define the single player campaign experience in the series were still present; perhaps even bigger than ever – it’s not everyday that you fight through a partially destroyed space station orbital weapon. In terms of story content, Ghosts tells the story of a beaten down America, one that had been devastated by a new super power in South America’s Federation. While the game does start with the initial attack, the real meat of the story takes place ten years later. You take control of Logan Walker, son of Ghost team commander Elias, taking part in the fight against the Federation. Early on, you learn of an American fighting alongside the Federation troops, who is revealed to be the former leader of the Ghosts, Gabriel Rorke. The rest of the campaign tells the story of your team’s fight against Rorke, as he tries to activate a second orbital weapon system. In typical Call of Duty fashion, the stakes get higher and higher, and the final climactic confrontation with Rorke goes very similar to the capstones in previous Infinity Ward titles (Zakhaev, Sheppard and Makarov) including the open ending, leaving it abundantly clear that the next IW title will be Ghosts 2. Overall, I enjoyed the campaign, it felt just different enough from the Modern Warfare titles to have its own identity; while at the same time it felt familiar.

The biggest drawing point in any Call of Duty game of late has been the online multiplayer. Infinity Ward again made a lot more changes to the formula than I think anyone expected them to, especially compared with their last game, Modern Warfare 3. Drawing inspiration from Treyarch’s work on Black Op II’s 10 point system, the create a class system allows for much more freedom, allowing players to make their classes exactly the way they want. Each perk is assigned a point value, and players are given 8 points to select whatever perks they want – or they can choose to get rid of other equipment like the secondary weapon or lethal/tactical gear to get up to 11 points. This gives players the freedom to either choose firepower in their loadout, or flexibility with a perk heavy one. Most of the perks hit the usual Call of Duty high points, so franchise players will have a good starting point to pick perks from. The other major additions include a contextual lean, giving players the ability to be behind cover, but still able to shoot at enemies; and an increased degree of customization. In previous entries, players had title cards and emblems; in Ghosts, they still have those, but can also customize their actual player character as well.

Strikezone Loadscreen

Map-wise, Call of Duty: Ghosts comes with a good mix of maps, with most tending toward the larger size. Assault Rifles feel the most fitting on just about every map. Ghosts also adds in a number of dynamic map features, with some maps featuring a small change that could happen, to others totally changing the map’s layout and flow. The maps themselves feature a good mix of settings as well – ranging from snowy Alaskan harbors, to large medieval style castle grounds, to the outer section of a baseball stadium. There feels like more variation than in previous Infinity Ward titles – previous games have gone more with drawing inspiration from the campaign, with this game using the overall setting as the inspiration.

The black sheep of the various modes in Ghosts would have to be Squads. It’s a co-op mode, pitting players against waves of enemies on the different multiplayer maps, much like Modern Warfare 3’s Survival mode. It’s a separate mode, but XP earned is shared with multiplayer as well. That said, the mode’s draw really is limited to playing it through to wave 20 to get the achievement for it, since multiplayer is on the same maps, with a more demanding opponent – actual people.

Extinction CoD Ghosts

Extinction is Infinity Ward and Neversoft getting co-op right finally. It definitely has some similarities to Treyarch’s zombies mode, but is a totally different beast ultimately. Up to four players make their way through new maps, designed for this mode specifically; fighting against a new enemy – the Cryptids. These aliens were unearthed thanks to a shot from the ODIN weapon system that plays a major role in the campaign. I would classify this as a parallel universe-type story setting, where it ties into the campaign, but clearly split away at some point. Over the course of the original map, players fight their way to a massive crater, at that point triggering a nuclear explosion before racing back to the start to escape. The real meat to the story is told through the DLC maps though, fleshing out the story of the Cryptids and our struggle against them. Extinction is a different character set, with player classes and different loadout options to help survive the hordes of aliens. Surprisingly, Extinction has actually ended up being my favorite mode in Ghosts, thanks to some unbalanced weapons in MP, and a surprisingly deep story and gameplay in Extinction.

As we’ve come to expect, Infinity Ward and Activision had a well thought out plan for the DLC for Ghosts. Abandoning the Call of Duy Elite model they used for Modern Warfare 3, and opting for a traditional season pass instead, they went with four separate packs – Onslaught, Devastation, Invasion and Nemesis (ODIN again tying in with the story.) Each pack came with three brand new maps, one remake or re-imagining of a classic, and the next episode in the Extinction story. I think that it was with Devastation that I really felt fed up with the multiplayer – adding in the Predator reward just seemed like they had gotten away from good gameplay, instead opting for headlines; which is a shame because the maps themselves were all actually pretty strong, across all the packs. However, it was because of the DLC that I really got into Extinction, which is where I really think the DLC shines. Each new map felt totally unique, adding in new features with each one that felt appropriate, not obligatory. I’m curious to see exactly how Extinction will factor in to the next Infinity Ward title in the long run, along with seeing how many of these maps they bring back in the future.

Ultimately, I think Call of Duty: Ghosts will be placed somewhere in the middle of the franchises entries. It didn’t have the same impact that Modern Warfare or Black Ops did, but was still a strong game. It’s a game that was stuck in between two different console generations, which I think ultimately hurt it – I think it would have been better to pick one generation and stick with it. I think the same thing happened with Battlefield 4 as well actually – and it’s something that worries me going into this fall – I worry that developers are spread too thin, creating four different games for four platforms (not including PC). We’ll just have to see how Infinity Ward approaches Ghosts 2 in a couple years, after this years Sledgehammer Games Advanced Warfare and next years Treyarch’s entry.

Call of Duty: Ghosts Nemesis DLC Exodus Overview

Call of Duty: GhostsYesterday I ran quickly through the multiplayer maps that were added to Call of Duty: Ghosts in the Nemesis DLC. Today, I want to look at a few of the new features that they’ve added for the final chapter of the Extinction story: Exodus. Full disclosure, I haven’t actually completed the map yet, since my group wasn’t available to get on last night. But I have been able to run through a good portion of the map, and I think I have a good feel for it.

First and foremost, Exodus features every variety of Cryptid enemy, excluding the Breeder and Kraken bosses. They throw them all at you pretty early too, I encountered Hunters during the very first enemy section, and during the first generator defense, I got a good variety of them – Phantoms, Scorpions, Hunters, Bombers and Gargoyles all spawned during the first generator. This ultimately makes a lot of sense tied in with the story, as at this point the Cryptids have all but taken over the planet, resulting in a massive enemy force. A good example of the scope of this particular chapter is in the skybox – they’ve put a good bit of detail into the skybox on Exodus, including a massive swarm of Gargoyles overhead, plus the result of a nuclear explosion in the distance.

Call of Duty Ancestor

The other major enemy addition in Exodus is the Ancestor. We got a glimpse of them at the end of Awakening, but this is the first chance to actually encounter them. the first one will appear during the second generator defense, and is announced with a marker on your HUD. The Ancestors don’t have the same amount of health as the Breeder or Kraken, but instead they come with a shield that they will use periodically. In terms of attacks, the Ancestor has a ranged energy attack that has a pretty good degree of homing tied in too; the second Ancestor also had a telekinesis attack that lifted me up and caused a pretty decent amount of damage. There are ways to disrupt it with NX-1 Disruptor grenades or the NX-1 Disruptor itself, but if it’s out of charge, or you don’t have grenades, you’re out of luck. The NX-1 Disruptor stuff is actually pretty neat – the grenades pretty much one shot every enemy I encountered, minus the Ancestors, with a pretty good blast radius too. The actual rifle behaved a little differently, with primary fire shooting smaller bolts of energy that killed scouts and hunters in one hit, while the ADS button fired off a large charged shot; the shot moves very slowly, but has a huge blast radius, and can kill multiple enemies easily, as well as causing a bunch of damage to Ancestors.

In terms of level design, they took a slightly different approach to this map. It’s set in a city, much like Point of Contact, but features branching paths, like Mayday had. The difference comes in that the overall path is much less linear than any previous map – the play has three different directions to head in as soon as they load up, and can back track to select a different one at any point. Being the final chapter, I expect the endgame to really ramp up the challenge, and hopefully tie up the story well.

Over the whole DLC season for Call of Duty: Ghosts, I think that Extinction has really been the standout. Each addition has really fleshed out the story, which went from being a pretty standard Alien invasion to something a little bit more; as well as adding in the appropriate new features to each map – new creatures, weapons, game mechanics – each played a role in giving each episode a unique feel. I’m curious to see if Infinity Ward will bring it back when their turn is up again with Call of Duty and Ghosts 2 comes out in a few years. I think they finally have a good second option to multiplayer, much like Treyarch has the Zombies mode. I’m also curious if Sledgehammer Games is going to have anything similar in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but for that, we have to wait until November to find out for sure.

Call of Duty Ghosts Nemesis DLC Overview: The Competitive Maps

Call of Duty: GhostsToday is the release of the last DLC pack in the Call of Duty: Ghosts DLC season, the Nemesis map pack. Like the three previous packs, Nemesis comes complete with four new maps for competitive play, along with a new episode of the co-op Extinction story, in this case, the final chapter. As it’s been with the other packs the maps include three brand new maps, and a remake of a fan favorite. So today, let’s look at the four maps, and I’ll talk about Extinction after I have a chance to play through it with my teammates.

Set in an old California gold mining town, this map might be the most complex of the new maps. There is a good mix of different sight lines, including a few longer ones; but at the same time, there are a ton of tight corners and tunnels that really let run-and-gun players shine. Beyond the actual layouts of pathways, the map has two different levels, including a large open elevator that moves between each level, but is still open to the upper level. All along the map there is also a couple of minecarts that run along the tracks – these carts can and will kill players if they aren’t paying attention. These carts are also open, allowing players to hop in and ride around the map, probably picking up a couple kills, but the walls aren’t particularly thick, meaning bullets will pierce the carts. The map specific field order reward calls in a bunch of wolves, basically functioning like multiple guard dogs.

I think of all the new maps, including previous DLC packs, Sub Zero feels closest to an older, classic Call of Duty map. It really feels like a spiritual successor to the Modern Warfare 2 classic Sub Base. It’s not as symmetrical, with most of the action taking place around a central courtyard, along with a few side alleys and hallways. This might be my favorite of the new maps, there’s a good mix of vertical levels, along with nice mid-range sightlines. The map specific field order, The Beast, calls in a blizzard that blankets the map, along with a group of snow spirits that hunt down enemies in the blizzard. It’s a pretty simple map, nothing too crazy, no real moving parts to worry about – very simple, arena style map.

CoD Ghosts Nemesis

The last of the new maps features a design aesthetic that hasn’t really been featured in Ghosts yet by having Chinese architecture. The map itself is a pretty standard CoD map, a couple different levels, with interconnected pathways that can create some havoc with players possibly being directly above or below others. This is a good close range map, with lots of tight corners, plus shorter sight lines. Beyond that, it’s a good map for stealth loadouts – as usual in Ghosts, the Honey Badger dominates. To me, and probably to most CoD veterans, the map specific field order reward might be the coolest part of the map – it’s the return of the Modern Warfare 2 favorite killstreak, the Harrier Strike.

The return of the smallest Call of Duty map in the franchise, Shipment, the re-imagining of it tweaks up the formula on it a little. Showtime is set in a futuristic battle arena, with the same basic layout of shipping containers in the center of the map, including the few open containers around the map. With the updated version of the map though, Infinity Ward has added in an outer section of the map, with halls that surround the interior arena. These halls function as spawns, plus they give players good flanking routes. The map specific reward on this map ties into the future arena style setting. When a certain number of “box kills” are met, a slot machine starts to spin, and the rewards are given to the team that met the quota. These rewards include six care packages dropping in the map, sentry guns popping up around the map shooting at enemies, or a deadly gas attack on the outskirts of the map that force players back into the central part of the map. Even though it’s Shipment, it really doesn’t play too much like the original did – it’s not as fast paced, instead I’ve found teams tend to hold a corner and play very defense oriented. Ultimately, I think Sub Zero is the standout of the map pack.

The Real Issue With Shooters’ Campaigns

For whatever reason, modern FPS games get a bad rap these days when it comes to their single player campaigns. That partially due to the rise of console online multiplayer becoming more popular, which lets more people play that might not normally do that. Because more gamers are playing online now, developers are putting a lot more time into crafting a multiplayer mode that has longevity, depth, and a strong social element. In order to do accomplish that, that might mean that the single player has to take a back seat. It’s a pretty standard internet argument against Call of Duty – every game is the same thing, and the single player is an afterthought. I would argue that the Call of Duty campaigns are far from the worst experiences out there. Look at another FPS from the last few years – Bulletstorm – developed for a single player experience, I wouldn’t say that it is a better experience than any of the Call of Duty games.Call of Duty: Ghosts

That having been said, this past round of shooters – Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts committed one of the worst offenses that I think any campaign can. It amazes me, that in 2013, the two biggest shooters of the year would release campaigns with silent protagonists. That might have worked back in the Doom, Quake, and Unreal day, but as the general overall quality of games has gone up, the mute protagonist I don’t think really has a place in modern story-based gameplay. In some cases, notably in RPG’s you can get away with a silent protagonist, but the best examples of those games have some level of characterization through dialogue trees. In both Ghosts and Battlefield there are a number of moments, both in game and in cutscenes, where the other NPC’s directly ask questions to your character – who responds by staring back at them blankly. Now for some gamers, that might be fine; but I think that that course of action kills the immersion, taking me right out of the story. It’s especially frustrating in the Call of Duty games, where silent protagonists gain the ability to speak in between games – Soap from Modern Warfare 1 tois a major example. I think it was especially grating last year since BioShock Infinite showed that an FPS can have a fully characterized player protagonist, who voices his thoughts and answers questions asked of him, and still have a fantastic experience.

Battlefield 4

This coming year I think will be an interesting one when it comes to shooters. As of this writing, there hasn’t been a new Call of Duty announced, although we all know one is coming; and while Microsoft has said a Halo game is coming this year, I have a feeling it will be the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition that’s been rumored for a while, since it’s the ten year mark for it. Add in that Battlefield hasn’t really been a yearly series, and Medal of Honor is all but dead, I think that leaves the door open for the two new kids in school – Titanfall and Destiny. Both look like they are taking new, unique approaches to the genre, in terms of blending story and multiplayer. Titanfall has said that they won’t have a traditional campaign, instead telling the story through the online multiplayer. Destiny looks like it’s blending shooters, RPGs and the persistent world of MMOs to craft a truly unique and new experience. All that’s left now is to just wait for March and September.