"Maintaining the gameplay is key and it's something we're not bending on."
It was a 10 year-old game that got the loudest cheers at Call of Duty: XP last weekend.
Whether mentioned in passing or during the full reveal of the multiplayer gameplay, the crowd went wild at every opportunity for Modern Warfare. Infinite Warfare is still being met with caution on the internet (although there was nothing but love from gamers for the playable maps during XP this year), and the new Zombies mode gets the laughs, but it's Modern Warfare Remastered that's welcomed home like a vet after a tour of duty.
All the pressure is on Raven Software to deliver the classic with the production values and wrapping we expect from the best remastered packages, and it seems the dev team is pushing a lot more than the expected visual upgrades. We sat down with Raven Software's David Pellas to talk about fan expectations, updating the game ten years later, and the pressure it's applying to itself to deliver the ultimate Call of Duty care package.
"Maintaining the gameplay integrity was key. In a practical sense that means things like timing. If it took you X seconds to mantle it will still take you X seconds to mantle."
VG247: The buzz for Modern Warfare Remastered is crazy. How did you first approach this project, considering the classic status of the game?
First and foremost our primary philosophy was we cannot fuck with the game design. Maintaining the gameplay integrity was key. In a practical sense that means things like timing. If it took you X seconds to mantle it will still take you X seconds to mantle. If it takes the sniper X seconds to aim down sights, it still takes you that amount of time.
But we also wanted to modernise the game, so with something like the mantle you used to go up to an object, press the button, climb over it and keep moving forward. Now we've created a system that allows you to flow into the mantle and across but the timing is exactly the same. There's no gameplay change there but it feels more natural, more modern, because that's what games do now. For weapon ADS many of the scopes would just move up and then snap to pop up - and that timing was absolutely critical to maintain - but the visual looked wonky, it didn't feel modern. So we created a new system to make that more fluid. Maintaining the gameplay is key and it's something we're not bending on.
VG247: Visuals are the first changes players are going to notice, so tell us, is this just a quick job of making everything this-gen pretty?
Visuals are obviously the big upgrade that people are going to see. It wasn't just about making it look pretty and up-resing a few textures. We had great philosophical goals with artistic reinvention. In the original the buildings were very squared-up with sharp corners. What we did was bevel those edges and add character by taking out bricks. It can never effect the sight lines, cover or player reads. We're not changing that. But we wanted the world to feel more realistic. There are pockmarks in the buildings, maybe from bullet holes, or from kids throwing rocks.
Philosophically we approached it to maintain the gameplay and ramp up the visuals - not just environmental but with animations that connect you to the world a little but more. In Shock and Awe there's a moment where a guy gets sucked out of the back of a helicopter and that was a cool but we thought we could do a better job of grounding you in the moment by popping up a first-person hand animation, you can see all the godrays coming through the fingers, and you're trying to help him not die. There's almost this emotional tease. We added a lot of individual things there with a tonne of animation improvements. We're not changing the narrative in any way, we're enhancing it because it's a great story. The execution of that story was really strong but we can emphasise it to make it feel like it belongs to today's game space. It's not just an up-res or something.
VG247: How do you think new players are going to react to it, those that haven't played the original? Because it's very different to the most recent Call of Duty games thematically.
I hope they embrace it for the legendary experience it is. There's no way we want to change the gameplay experience because this is a remaster, it's not a complete reimagining or retelling of the story. It's important that we took those steps to connect the player to the world in a way that gamers today are used to in current Call of Duties. In terms of the setting if you look at any news channel today there are conflicts like this happening in environments similar to this. A lot of the story that's being told could happen today. What was great about the Modern Warfare series in general was it was believable and relatable. It still is today.
"It was terrifying, the prospect of taking this project on. But we have to control the fear that one might fail."
VG247: Also in a gameplay sense it's very different to Call of Duty games now in terms of speed and movement and strategies. You can't double jump over another player's head in multiplayer or bounce around those maps.
What's great about the original Modern Warfare was it's very focused. At the time it wasn't about that, it was about offering a completely new experience in FPSs. We wanted to maintain the movement of mantling but also make it feel modern. There are people who are going to be "I can't double jump" but why would you think that? This is the real world. With Infinite Warfare you can do all of that because of the setting. If you enjoy that then it's a great game to go and play. If you want something that's a little more strategic, a little more focused, and something where you control the pace yourself, this is something that's more one-on-one. You're not overwhelmed by a group very often.
If you check your corners you're going to do pretty well. If you don't, just know that there are players with skills out there. This comes from a time when being a sniper wasn't about posting up in one position for three seconds, taking a shot and moving on to the next position. It was very much relied on the strategic element of sniping, where you control and lock down a lane. In order to do that you have potential sniping spots and you, coming at me, know where they are. It's about map knowledge. These maps are so well designed that you can be in a position to pop just fast enough to see where someone is sniping from. That back and forth, that cat and mouse, is something that I think fans are really going to love.
VG247: Have you been surprised by the enthusiasm for this Remaster? Is it daunting knowing you're working on something that players have very fond memories of?
It was terrifying, the prospect of taking this project on. But not a single person at Raven turned away and said no. It was a universal, "yeah, we're there." That's 180-plus people all collectively saying I want to do that, I want to make that game. Then it sinks in. "oh shit, what are expectations going to be like?" But we quickly realised we're all fans of Modern Warfare so what are our expectations? It really comes down to us setting the bar visually, getting all 16 maps in the package, and pushing really hard to get that done. But we have to control the fear that one might fail. We're very proud of what we're showing off. Fan response has been incredible. We believe that when fans get the chance to play it they're going to be engrossed, like people were back in the day.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered will be available with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, when the game releases November 4 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.