Sighting MW3′s multiplayer: Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling

By Stephany Nunneley
3 September 2011 01:57 GMT

Activision held a grand party this weekend to show its fans, and the world, Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer component.

During the extravaganza, filled with zip-line rides, drives across recreated Call of Duty locales in a Jeep driven by real armed forces folk, paintball wars, and actor Nick Swardson walking about the place, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer showed the world the multiplayer in what will undoubtedly be the biggest entertainment experience this year: Modern Warfare 3.

Robert Bowling

Creative Strategist for Infinity Ward.

Responsible for the release strategy of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series.

Previous positions with IW include: Director of Communications and Community Manager.

Has been with the firm since 2006.

VG247: With so much fan input out there, how did you guys weed through all the various opinions from the fans regarding the changes made to the killstreak and perk system in multiplayer?

Robert Bowling: Community feedback is very important to the development of our games but it is truly only one aspect of it. Keeping that in mind, with a conjunction of the ideas we had and the kind of experience we are trying to deliver, we went back to the drawing board to look at how we could improve the system.

Like I said in the keynote, we came to the realization that killstreaks inherently were all about kills which meant that it was all about one type of playstyle. The guy who goes out there, gets a lot of kills and doesn’t have a lot of deaths.

And that ignores the objective player. The guy like me, who is very good at our game and who doesn’t worry about the kill/death ratio, was having a different experience than the team deathmatch guy. We wanted to make that experience, that really fun experience that team deathmatch guy was having, universal for all our players.

With these changes being implemented, did you have the novice player in mind as well, you know, someone who let’s say has never played a Modern Warfare game online, can they just jump into MW3 and figure out quickly how things work?

Before you even unlock the custom classes, you have default things that introduce you to things like primary weapons, secondary weapons, perks, attachments, how all of that stuff works.

Now with MW3 we also have Spec Ops survival mode which outside of multiplayer is a co-op mode but it is really useful for being a great tool to introduce people to the concept of multiplayer but in an AI, non-competitive environment. So, because we brought all the killstreaks, perks and customizing your weapon into Spec Ops you now get to experience that all in the multiplayer maps before you even jump into what can sometimes be the intimating world of online multiplayer.

You said you did a lot of weapon balancing. How do you go about figuring out what weapons need balancing, do you look at stats? And do you guys actually also get hands on with real-life weapons to get an idea of how it will feel in your hand and how it shoots so you can bring that back over into the game?

When it comes to being authentic and how the weapon handles, how it reloads, how you carry it the weight of it, all that stuff comes into play when we do field research. We actually go out and get hands-on time with every weapon we put in the game that is available to civilians – expect weapons only being used by Delta operators in the field or very experimental weapons. But we go out there and try to get hand-on time with them because it’s great for adding personality to the weapon.

Watch on YouTube

Modern Wafare 3’s debut multiplayer trailer.

It’s proved surprisingly divisive.

Now, when you get down to the core balancing for gameplay reasons, it becomes all about stats. Looking at weapon damage, reload speed, ADS speed, and really balancing it against every other thing in the game to make the most fair experience.

You want to create a variety of weapons that are accessible to every play style, so how a sniper plays is very different from how an assault guy plays. It’s also very different from how a riot shield guy plays too, so it’s all about really balancing it out for all different play styles so they are competitive against each other so that everything will have a counter.

So like for instance, the shotgun may be great for ‘this’ but it won’t be good for long range where as a sniper is great at long range, but horrible at close range. So that is how we balance out the different classes of weapons.

How big will the maps be as far as the allotment of players on at one time?

In our public play-list, we have what is called ground war which is 18-player, but in the private matches, now you can have much more freedom and control and create custom play types and you can actually bump that up if you want to.

Private matches are about any way you want to have it and not worry about it being balanced because it is private. You are not playing on a ranked server, you are not tracking stats, private matches are all about just having the freedom to have fun any way that you want. If you want it to be completely crazy and unfair, then you have the option to do that, which is why we keep it separate from the public play-list.

Now, you said some of these custom game modes created are going to be put up on the public server if they are any good, you will profile those on Elite.

Yeah, the cool thing about that is you can share your game modes and people can comment on them, and rate them, and we’re going to be looking at the top rated ones and see if we want to incorporate any of those into the public play-lists as well.

And with Elite, it will be easy to find people to pay in matches, because you will be able to scroll through your friends list through filters so you’ll be able to see all your PSN friends, XBL friends, Facebook friends, flip it over and see the groups you created on Elite. So it really inflates and expands your social circle way beyond what you ever could before.

“It just made logical sense to have an experience outside the game that you could really utilize and take it further.”

So how long have you guys wanted to implement something like Elite into the series?

It’s been years in the making really, it really spawns from a desire from the depth side of how you want to build out the features of your game, make them more accessible, and it just made logical sense to have an experience outside the game that you could really utilize and take it further. That is what we’ve been doing and working alongside Beachhead Studios step by step, where we each come up with something and expand it together.

When Eric Hirshberg introduced the premium features for Elite last night, he mentioned monthly DLC. So instead of four packs a years released, people will get monthly DLC. This means when a map is released or new mode is ready people will get it right away, correct?

Correct. A non-subscriber who just buys the DLC when it comes out will still buy it in packs. Elite subscribers are getting them as the maps are finished. So as these individual maps are finshed, that’s how they will go out into the pipeline for subscribers, as opposed to waiting until they are all complied into a pack and released together.

The plan is also to look at user feedback once the game comes out to see what they are wanting, and having the option to expand on the multiplayer along with the Spec Ops and other things besides new locations in the multiplayer.

Compared to MW2, how long is the single-player campaign in MW3 going to last?

“Single player is such an essential experience for what CoD is.”

It’s hard to say, we’re not finished with the game yet so there isn’t an hour marker nor do we know yet how many hours it takes to play it. We tend to let the story dictate that but what we like to focus on is we do the very cinematic single-player campaign first and there are, sometimes, still moments we want to do or places we want to go to that don’t fit into the story.

So we won’t cram them into the story, and that’s where the Spec Ops mission mode really allows us to flex that creativity and just put in there something which completely focuses on fun outside the plot so you get the gameplay hours, you get all those experiences without sacrificing that story or pacing.

As popular as the multiplayer in the Call of Duty series is, I mean, all you have to do is look at the XBL Activity charts every week to see that, do you ever foresee not including a single-player mode in one of the games? Or just including it as maybe a tutorial? The military shooter genre in general just seems to be moving heavily towards a focus on multiplayer instead of the single-player mode.

I don’t see that ever happening for Call of Duty, because the single-player is such an essential experience for what CoD is, and yes we have 30 million people playing online and that is extremely popular and important, but it’s no more important than that single-player experience or the co-op experience.

With MW3, that’s where the future is, focusing on designing a platform to give you the option to experience it any way that you want to, rather than just focusing on where the most attention is at the time. I mean, sometimes, even though I love competitive multiplayer, I want to take a step back and just have that action thrill-ride that is single-player.

Dedicated servers are always a big deal to PC community, and you seem to have made them rather happy with the fact MW3 will incorporate them.

“It was all one team playing to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Yes, we have taken all the feedback from the PC community, and with MW3 we’re going to have the matchmaking that we had in MW2 but then we also have dedicated servers in the server browser so that it will allow our audience to have the control and freedom to set up their own server, to set up their own game roles, control the bandwidth, moderate and admin it like that. I think the solution is allowing them to have the best of both worlds of that quick join matchmaking solution we introduced in MW2 and also not losing the control and ease that comes with dedicated servers.

When it came to the development of the game, how much of a role did each studio have in the creation, you know between Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer, Raven and Treyarch?

MW3 was co-development across the board with Sledgehammer. Each team had a say in development and duties on all aspects of the game. So it was all one team playing to each other’s strengths and weaknesses rather than dividing the game into ‘you do this and you do that’ and not communicate. It was all about working in the same tree on every aspect of the game. The others [Treyarch and Raven] have been an excellent support tool. They really have.

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