Initial Intel: An Early Look into the Dramatic Story of Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare®

Reimagined: In the first Initial Intel Drop, Infinity Ward’s Storytellers Explain the Goals of the Single-Player Campaign Narrative.

by David Hodgson on May 31, 2019

It has been over two and a half years since work first began on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. With yesterday’s announcement trailer still fresh in our memory, we wanted to seek answers to some of the most burning questions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the game’s new engine tech, audio and weapon design to name a few with additional topics on the horizon. We begin today with a sit-down with Infinity Ward’s Narrative Director Taylor Kurosaki and Single Player Design Director Jacob Minkoff for a talk about Modern Warfare®’s comprehensive narrative goals.

No Sequels: This is Not Modern Warfare® 4

“Right off the bat, this is not Modern Warfare 4; this is not a sequel to those games,” states Taylor Kurosaki, Narrative Director at Infinity Ward.

But why not?

“Well, we’re setting out to make a realistic, and gritty, and relatable game, and if you think back to the end of [Call of Duty®:] Modern Warfare® 3, let’s remember what happened: Russian forces had invaded the United States, nukes had gone off, and basically that story arc had been told.” So, a reset was decided. “We had to put that storyline to bed, and we had to reimagine what Modern Warfare could be.”

That didn’t mean throwing everything away; especially all of the elements and characters that fans enjoyed. Captain Price, as you might have already gathered, is back: “He’s the quintessential Captain Price too; he does things in the game that you’d expect him to, but he’s not beholden to the events of the earlier Modern Warfare games.”

But aside from the stakes, what was the other, major reasoning for this reimagining? Due to the complex and ever-changing nature of war.

War is Always Changing

Taylor continues: “In many ways, the world that we live in today is more complex than the world of a decade ago. The battlefield where operations take place is less defined than it’s ever been. Wars aren’t just ‘over there’ – the battlefields are everywhere. The enemy doesn’t wear a uniform most of the time, and because of that, the risk of civilian collateral damage is a significant part of the equation.” Basically, the wars of today take place within increasing ambiguity, within an increasingly complex world. This is the backdrop that Modern Warfare’s characters are navigating through.

“As storytellers, we are surrounded by contemporary war movies that talk about these kinds of issues.” Taylor explains. “These are morally complex stories where there is no black and white, or pure evil or pure good; it’s the gray in the middle of all that, and finding your line is a hard thing to determine sometimes.” The narrative team also wanted to weave a story from a different type of perspective. “Frankly,” Taylor states, “this [ambiguity] is even more complicated if you’re someone that fights locally. If you’re fighting for your homeland somewhere in the Middle East, and fighting for what you believe is good, finding that line can be the difference between being labeled a freedom fighter or a terrorist.” This is a morally gray and complex world, where perspectives matter.

Some Russians: No Clear-Cut Enemies

Different perspectives have always been a hallmark of Modern Warfare, but creating a narrative with this aspect as a cornerstone has become even more important for this game, as Taylor shares: “In this new Modern Warfare, you confront Russians, but you also have Russian allies. You have western comrades [as well as] western antagonists, and we have Middle Eastern terrorist forces that we hunt down, [but] we also fight alongside Middle Eastern freedom fighters.” The results are shaping up to be riveting and enthralling, “not only from a storytelling perspective where we can delve into the types of characters we haven’t seen before, but also from a gameplay perspective.”

The Theater of War: A Number of Acts

Jacob Minkoff, Single Player Design Director at Infinity Ward, gives an overview of Modern Warfare’s theater of war: “When you’re playing alongside Tier 1 Operators, you get all of the best tech toys, right? You have NVGs [Night-Vision Goggles], you have the best weapons, you have airstrikes; the whole military industrial complex behind you. But when you fight alongside rebels, you’re the underdog; you’re up against enemies that have superior technology to you. You have to use improvised munitions and weaponry like IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and molotovs, as well as your superior numbers, guerrilla tactics, and knowledge of the environment to get the drop on a more powerful enemy.”

Throughout the story, expect to play alongside (as well facing up against) both types of enemy forces, as Jacob continues: “When you’re a Tier 1 Operator and you’re fighting Tier 1 enemies, it’s usually an even match. It’s technology versus technology. Imagine it’s at night and both sides have NVGs; no one has the upper hand.” Similarly; “if you’re fighting alongside rebels against terrorists, expect these sides to be evenly-matched [too; each force having] large numbers, knowledge of the land, and similar improvised weapons.”

Your tactics change when your situation does: If you’re fighting alongside rebels, (in the game’s fictional Middle Eastern theaters of war for example) against Tier 1 enemies, you’re now technically at a disadvantage, as you’re facing down a technologically-superior force. “You’re going to have to use stealth and ambush techniques,” Jacob says, “your superior numbers and knowledge of the land [is used in part] to overpower a technologically advantageous enemy.”

Conversely, what if you’re operating along with Tier 1 allies against terrorists? “It’s going to be the opposite way around. You have the best technology, you can hold the high ground, but the enemies are going to know the land better than you, you’ll have to look for ambushes from them, and they are going to be way more of them than there are of you.”

This isn’t Just a Hero Story

Infinity Ward are striving to develop the most authentic and realistic game they’ve ever made. Jacob explains some of the reasons why: “All we want to do as storytellers is to make the player feel something; to have a strong emotional reaction. I remember playing the first Modern Warfare, and I remember the [“Death from Above”] mission with the aerial view. I’m looking down and firing at these enemies on the ground… and there’s absolutely no consequences [for me]. They can’t hurt me and can’t fire back, and in that moment, I felt profoundly uncomfortable; and that stuck with me.”

A lesson was learned about asymmetric warfare which really hit home: “I understand why we fight wars this way and I understand it’s in our best interest, but it still felt uncomfortable. I thought about those emotions. That sort of social commentary has always been in the DNA of the Modern Warfare [franchise].”

Jacob continues: “Now [Infinity Ward has] a bunch of people [developing the game] from the original Modern Warfare, and one of the [aspects of the game] they were most proud of were these sequences like “The Coup” [from Call of Duty® 4: Modern Warfare®].” You take control of President Yasir Al-Fulani, who is driven through a captured city and faces execution without the prospect of escape. Another moment from the same game was “Aftermath.” Or as Jacob vividly remembers it; “when you fall out of a helicopter into a nuclear wasteland and die.” These experiences say something; that war is messy. War is unpleasant. It isn’t just a hero story; There are losses. There’s moral complexity. We want to continue that with Modern Warfare.”

Relatable. Relevant. And Ripped from the Headlines.

The development team didn’t just rely on gut reactions to plot out the new Modern Warfare, as Jacob explains:

“We sent researchers all around the world, and what players unanimously told us was that ‘we want emotional connections, we want morally gray and complex [stories]. We don’t believe in black and white heroes and villains. We want to see the world we recognize today, represented in the game. We want provocative gameplay that feels relatable and relevant. For me as a developer, I always want to push the boundaries of the media, to show people things in a video game that they’ve never seen before, and that’s why it’s a dream come true to be able to work on Modern Warfare.”

One Cohesive Experience

Will the campaign also feature a wide variety of missions that require different styles of play? Of course; this is a Call of Duty after all. But there are numerous new experiences too. Dave Stohl, co-Head of Studio at Infinity Ward, explains the overarching goals for the game:

“We’ve spent two and a half years on this so far, and it’s a new Modern Warfare for us, it is totally different holistically, and is a different Call of Duty® for us. The goal isn’t to be overly provocative; we’re aiming for an immersive, suspenseful experience over wanton and unsubtle action. This is authentic and gritty rather than a ‘superhero’ character world.”

Dave continues: “More so than ever, we are trying to make a game that is one continuous experience; this isn’t three separate games but one cohesive experience, and this has been the plan in the development from the very beginning.”

“When putting the team together over time, we found some of the most incredible talent in the video game industry, and some of the people on the team [who] were instrumental [in the creation of the original] Modern Warfare from the very start. There are a lot of folks with passion for the franchise that wanted to come back, as well as some amazing storytellers who came in from Naughty Dog and other studios, and who are making a huge impact from a narrative perspective.”

In short? Dave smiles and proudly states: “There is insane passion at Infinity Ward for this franchise.”

Additional Intel: Don’t Be Kept in the Dark

This is just the start. We’ll have more here at the Activision Games Blog in the coming days and weeks.

Pre-orders at participating retailers are available now, or at CallofDuty.com.

For more information and the latest intel on Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare®, check out: www.callofduty.com, www.youtube.com/callofduty and follow @InfinityWard and @CallofDuty on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook.

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