Infinity Ward Interview: Tuning Up Vehicles for Modern Warfare®

This deep dive into the creation of Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare® takes us into Infinity Ward’s in-house body shop for a chat with Vehicle Team members Manu Marín, Jon Bailey, and Dan Savage.

by James Mattone on October 22, 2019

Before the first shot is fired in battle, soldiers must infiltrate the combat zone by land or air, which makes vehicles an integral part of the Modern Warfare universe across all the game modes.

Much like how weapons were rebuilt from the ground up, the vehicles team at Infinity Ward created a new vehicles simulation engine and modelling techniques to redefine how modern military vehicles are represented in-game. Leading that effort are Senior Software Engineer Manu Marín, Senior Artist Jon Bailey, and Lead Vehicle Artist Dan Savage.

“There’s a lot of different roles they can take for infiltrations and extractions,” Savage said of the vehicles in Modern Warfare, “And in Campaign, vehicles are there as a service to the narrative and gameplay.”

Much like how the studio used photogrammetry to scan in real world environmental features, the vehicles team took that same approach to vehicles… Just on a bigger scale.

“We’ve always been told that you can’t scan cars due to the reflectivity and the gloss of a vehicle,” Savage explained. “But we found the magic touch on how to scan a car properly, and that extends from military vehicles to civilian vehicles… One of the ideas that was floating around was, ‘Hey, let’s drive a tank over a car and scan it.’ And we said, “Yeah, let’s do it.’”

“These scans add a level of detail that was not available to us before,” Bailey said. “It takes things that we once said we couldn’t build right away into having all the information in front of us.”

“But the challenge with it,” Savage added, “is that the scans are such good quality, that a scanned car makes a handmade car sitting right next to it in the environment, look less realistic. It’s the old cartoon effect where the background and interactable objects are shaded differently. Taking the scans challenged us to push that envelope on our hand-made vehicles to get them as close as possible to the scan quality. It really pushed us to raise the bar.”

“So, we build them, and then this guy,” Bailey pointed to Marín, “makes them move.”

Realistic and Responsive

As Marín explained, the drivable vehicles of Modern Warfare had to ensure gameplay reigned supreme. Plus, they needed to have the visual fidelity and  realism of driving a tank or ATV in the middle of a combat zone.

“It was really hard to find a balance between realism and gameplay,” Marín said.

Essentially, his goal was to make the vehicles feel like cars and tanks, rather than video game versions of cars and tanks. That all comes with having the vehicle in-game act like it would in real-life.

Another is with acceleration and handling on different road surfaces; individual wheels will spin faster on icy terrain or roll smoothly on concrete while others dredge through dirt and mud.

That all wasn’t the difficult part of making drivable vehicles for Modern Warfare, Marín said. Even making a tank, with 72 individual treads on each moving track that can react to the environment, was not that hard to do. The real challenge came in when it came time to see if those vehicles and vehicle mechanics fit in the game, especially when it came to Ground War or on the Special Ops map.

“Anything is possible,” Savage added, “it’s just a matter of how it can affect performance. In previous games, a lot of times we had to tone down vehicles and had to say, ‘Alright, we’re not making a car driving game. We’re taking up too many resources.’ But now, vehicles are serving a higher level of gameplay that before and the number of drivable vehicles is nuts.”

Infiltrations and Killstreaks

Outside of drivable vehicles, the vehicle team is responsible for other vehicle movement, such as with infiltration scenes, and also Killstreaks.

“One of the first prototypes we had was actually a troop transport helicopter for an infiltration proof of concept,” Savage said. “You hear the rotors around you, your team’s chatter over comms, and then the sliding door opens and unveils the world around you.”

“That was our first major green light,” Bailey added.

“Yeah, and I got chills just thinking about it,” Savage said as they shared a laugh.

“But these vehicles act as world building tools,” Savage continued. “Like for one infiltration, you can see farmers rustle sheep away, and the enemy team rolling up in beat up trucks from a desert. That all provides some backstory in just 10 seconds.”

While infiltrations, extractions, and drivable vehicles will all feel new, the Killstreaks, as the team explained, will feel familiar. Savage described some of them, such as the Juggernaut, as a potential nostalgia trip for those who played games like Modern Warfare 2.

“Players are going to see that impact and feel that power,” Savage said, “And players are going to feel dominant and fierce when they earn them.”

To wrap up how vehicles in general will feel to players, Bailey thought back to how far the Infinity Ward team has come since some of the first Call of Duty® games, referencing how vehicles were mostly used as potentially-exploding cover more than living parts of the game.

“Vehicles in Modern Warfare just add a level of gameplay we could never put in before,” Bailey said.

Whether it is setting the scene in Campaign, making you feel like a badass in Multiplayer, or helping you get across the massive Special Ops map for a mission, vehicles are as important as ever in Call of Duty across the Modern Warfare universe. And, above all else, the Vehicles team at IW just wants you to have fun with them.

“We would love players to feel like these vehicles are realistic and fun,” Marín added.

Incoming Intel: Pre-Launch Information and Content

Check back at the Activision Games Blog throughout the coming days for further intel. Check the Related Articles for further Call of Duty: Modern Warfare information.

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