Just what is a creative strategist, anyway?
Call of Duty is kind of a big deal. The series has been setting records with each subsequent iteration for years now and buying the latest title has become something of a tradition for most first-person shooter fans.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that we have pretty high expectations for the next game in the series - Modern Warfare 3 - which is just over a month away from making Activision some serious holiday bank.
We wanted to find out a bit more about what went into the production of the game, what series inventors Infinity Ward have planned for us this time around, and whether the great staffing debacle has had any impact.
How better to find out than to ask Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward's creative strategist? We couldn't think of a better person to ask, so we sat him down in a darkened room and set about
interrogating interviewing him...
NZGamer.com: Could you please introduce yourself and explain what a creative strategist does?
Robert Bowling: I’m Robert Bowling, the creative strategist on Modern Warfare 3 at Infinity Ward.
My job is a fairly unique one, and the best way to describe it is that I’m one of the leads at the company, so I work with the other leads to make sure that we fully understand the vision and expectation for the game we’re trying to deliver, so that we can execute on that vision.
NZGamer.com: How would the general meeting play out between you and other people? What are you trying to drive in your role?
Robert Bowling: It’s just talking it out. It’s taking about priorities and you have to take every feature and put it through a filter of “what is our core design philosophy for this game?”
For Modern Warfare 3, we’re always focused on being a fast-paced, super smooth cinematic experience. So you take every feature and you look at how that impacts that experience we’re going for.
Our games have a very unique personality, and there willl be things that will be cool - but will they be our style of gameplay? A good example of that is like a cover system; something that works very well in a game like Gears of War, but it wouldn’t work very well in our game for the simple fact that it’d slow down gameplay. And that’s just not the experience we’re looking for.
Then taking the other side of it. That’s our vision for the game, but what is the fan’s vision? We have to make sure we’re having those tough conversations, and realising that we’re not always right. We have a vision, but sometimes we should compromise on that because fans have different expectations.
NZGamer.com: We’re eight or nine versions in now; are you forced into a particular style of game as a result, or do you feel that you can still spice it up a bit?
Robert Bowling: I think we have the full control to do whatever we want. That’s what we’re doing more than ever with Modern Warfare 3.
Obviously - by choice - we have those core pillars which define Modern Warfare. But more than any instalment prior to this one, is all about being a platform that gives you more options than you ever had before.
That’s what we’re looking for; introducing all these things that allow you to have all these different play styles, because typically you would be pigeon-holed into a shooter than just has kills and stuff like that. Where with Modern Warfare 2, we started going in the direction of introducing things like the riot shield being a primary weapon, something that you would never expect to be a primary weapon in a shooter.
All of the kill-streak stuff, and all the air-support stuff. And now we’re going even further in that way of reducing the dominance on air-support, but giving you a lot more options to play in these different ways.
NZGamer.com: Between games, you’ve had some changes in personnel at Infinity Ward. How is the company right now?
Robert Bowling: We’re at a great place right now. We’re right at the tail-end of development, and we have a full team.
Obviously we had some changes, and any time you have any changes your culture changes in the fact that dev-teams are like families - we’re very close-knit people. If you have a single loss it has a lot of impact because we’re all very close friends.
But we had more than the majority of the company still there, and they all had a very passionate vision for what we should do with Modern Warfare 3. So we all stepped back and had the conversation of what we should do next.
We all had very big plans, and we had to execute on those plans. Once you get into doing what you love to do it’s all smooth running from there.
NZGamer.com: Speaking of smooth running, one of the big things that has happened with Call of Duty over time is the involvement of multiple developers. Do you find it a challenge to maintain the vision in this situation?
Robert Bowling: I don’t find it difficult to maintain the vision because we each all have our individual visions that do not have to be influenced by the other.
That’s what I think is the biggest benefit to having multiple developers on the franchise. We each have our own personality and style, so the Modern Warfare series that we created and make are very different style to what Treyarch does with Black Ops - the feel of the games are very different. And the way they prioritise things is very different.
From a fans standpoint, I think it’s fantastic because they get different style and different taste every year - it’s not just iterations of the last one.
From a developer standpoint, I think it’s great because we can have our vision, but we can be influenced from feedback from the entire franchise. We have our style, and we would never do zombies like Treyarch does extremely well, but it’s not something we’d do. We’d do things like Spec Ops, which is a completely different experience.
But then we can take feedback from things they did add - like theatre mode - and incorporate that into the Modern Warfare franchise, and tweak it to how we’d do it.
In terms of gameplay, some of the game modes they’ve come out with we think about how we could integrate that into our experience.
NZGamer.com: Are you able to explain how an idea goes from a fleeting concept to a finished component of the game? Like with the new Kill Confirmed multiplayer mode; was that the result of a single idea or the outcome of a defined process?
Robert Bowling: Nothing ever comes from a single person, and there’s no one person who dictates anything in a game - everything is a group decision.
Typically, you’ll have nugget of a concept that everyone builds on and discusses and you iterate on it. Kill Confirmed came from looking at how people play the game naturally and looking at what our vision is for MW3.
We wanted to go in a direction that is more team orientated, that is more about the support roles, and assault roles, and we had to figure out how we could introduce elements into the game such as the simple thing of dropping a dogtag and needing to confirm the kill, which would completely change your mentality of how you think when you’re playing it.
Because if you play it like Team Deathmatch (TDM) you’re not going to be good at it. And we’ve seen a lot of people that say they’re not a good TDM player but they’re a fantastic Kill Confirmed player.
So it really came from that mentality of having one-person’s desire of having more team in Team Deathmatch, and you go from there.
NZGamer.com: What other modes do CoD players have to look forward to?
Robert Bowling: In the public play-list we have Team Defender, which is a new take on capture the flag. You grab the flag and it’s all about holding onto it as a team; so you’re moving around defending it rather than defending one place or trying to get to a capture point.
Also in private match we’ve built it out in a whole new way and we have a lot of unique modes in there like Team Juggernaut, Juggernaut King of the Hill, and Infection where everyone spawns on one team except one guy, until he starts killing people.
What we allow the people to do is customise those game modes completely, so they can change all the variables like they can decide what weapon that one guy has, what weapon everyone else has, what the class restrictions are, and then share those with the community and their friends.
I will actually be playing those and seeing what people are rating and playing the most and adopting those in the public play-list.
NZGamer.com: Can you play all of the modes on all of the maps? Are there any restrictions?
Robert Bowling: We’re going to have 16 maps on the disc at launch. Every single one of those will be playable on Spec Ops Survival, and every single mode can be played on all of them.
When we set up public play-lists, we typically put maps in a rotation that we think are best on those modes, but you can always jump into private match and play all of them, and there are typically play-lists where you can find every mode on every map.