Modern Warfare® Multiplayer First Look: Creating Maps

We interview Multiplayer Design Directors Geoff Smith and Joe Cecot about what it took to create the ultimate online playground for Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare®.

Modern Warfare® Multiplayer First Look: Creating Maps

We interview Multiplayer Design Directors Geoff Smith and Joe Cecot about what it took to create the ultimate online playground for Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare®.

Part 1: Creating the Multiplayer Maps

The Multiplayer Mantra: Strategy and Tactics

When Infinity Ward’s Multiplayer team set about designing the multiplayer mode of Modern Warfare more than three years ago, it was time for a change. As Multiplayer Design Director Geoff Smith began to work on the basic tenets of what would become the multiplayer experience, there were weeks of discussions and initial pondering, until it was agreed that a reimagining would extend not only to the Campaign, but to all facets of this Modern Warfare: “There’s a lot of fans of the original Modern Warfare, and there’s a lot of new fans too… so what do you make? Fast speed? Unlimited sprint? No sprint? All these different things – how do you go, what do you do? We decided to strip everything down and really do the due diligence. We questioned every feature.”  

            “While we were going through the process, we came up with some mantras and processes that helped us navigate, inspire us, and give us ideas to create new elements. One of those was ‘strategy and tactics’ – for us, it boiled down to trying to make the game approachable and playable for different playstyles. We felt we should expand the focus beyond precision-aiming and allow for other playstyles.”

One of the biggest changes was in terms of map design. Says Geoff; “if you take a horizontal plane, and you give everybody the exact same weapon, who wins? What skill wins? It’s really the player that has the better aim.” It was time to even the playing field (and the battlefield) just a little: “In our previous games, we would have these power positions, and those got boiled out of the game due to concerns about ‘head-glitching’ or camping. But that was the kind of special sauce that made Team Deathmatch work so well; that you have a power position and you actually have an advantage by having a line of sight and people would gravitate toward you.” In a general sense, the new Modern Warfare maps are more about these power positions, as well as “the ebb and flow between them, and digging into the negative space between them, and being [in] a realistic setting.” 

Massive Depth and Military Roots

The realism, as well as consistency across all the different parts of the game   extends to the way in which the team creates the majority of its multiplayer environments. “You can’t build a symmetrical environment and make it real,” Geoff explains, “humans pick up patterns really quickly – so we focused on making the layouts of the maps more believable. That was the starting point. We wanted the player to have more strategies than just ‘who can shoot each other more accurately and more quickly’.” With Modern Warfare, expect multiplayer maps to be comprised of a lot more freestanding buildings, many with upper floors, tiers, and doors.”

As the Art teams began the painstaking process of taking the photogrammetry data and placing in believable environments, Infinity Ward’s Design team went to work, explains Geoff. “We’re getting back to the roots of a military action title. Seeking inspiration, the team took a look at real-world combat, and how different the battles could be: Geoff tells us that “Marines taking back a desert city plays out very differently than a special forces team taking down an oil rig.” The team used that as inspiration to add different maps of different sizes, but also the equipment used in these different situations too. The results? “It yields a game that has massive depth. We have stuff that’s really small; custom little maps. We have a little bit bigger core maps, bigger still medium-sized maps, and then we have some really large-scale maps – bigger by an order of magnitude.”

Taking Grandma’s Plastic Wrap off the Furniture

Maps also have a larger degree of interactivity than ever before: “In terms of maps, we’ve taken Grandma’s plastic wrap off the furniture: By this, I mean in our last few games, you’ve not been able to climb up many [parts of the environment].” And now? “You can climb, mantle, and explore all over the place, and that’s part of the ‘strategy and tactics’ mantra. It adds another layer of problem-solving to a firefight. We want people to find a new spot that you haven’t found yet, it just adds to the fun.” Take climbing for example:

“A lot of the map design historically was three-lanes, where if you were fighting down a hallway, it’s not very easy. But now you’re able to able to climb up boxes, climb through windows, flank enemies in different ways. We tried to approach this more creatively.” This was due to the second mantra; making the Multiplayer experience fun and approachable: “Though we want to make the game as authentic as we can, we also want to keep that arcadey, buttery feel to the gameplay – it has to fun.” Finding that balance was the key to success. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few teething troubles:

Tactical Artistry: Making Entertaining Maps

“When we started, there were folks who were uneasy about, what felt like, open-field combat. We had one Designer who was really used to playing past Call of Duty games, and he was worried about an area in a particular map; ‘there’s no cover here, how do I deal with a guy in the distance?’ He’d never had to deal with closing distances.” The initial plan, as well as adding a variety of cover options, was to throw a smoke grenade to provide cover as you advance.

“So he threw it, but by the time it took him to advance to the next piece of cover, the smoke had disappeared.” This was subsequently fixed and now “smoke usually remains long enough so your Sprint speed can get you to the next piece of cover.” This was one of many tests and learning exercises that the Multiplayer team ran. The end result? “All our environments are built around certain solvable problems, and that’s the life-blood of making the maps entertaining.” Maps aren’t simply a set of different objects scattered around the play space; true tactical artistry is involved. This even extends to the larger environments, too. “We stick to those standards, and problem-solve whatever that gameplay detriment is. It’s interesting to see that after two years of testing, how this has evolved.

Join us tomorrow for Part 2, where we detail a variety of innovative gameplay mechanics that elevate the fight.

More First Looks: Modern Warfare Blog Takeover!

The Modern Warfare Blog Takeover is now on, with multiple new stories a week. Do you need specific, confirmed, and official reports on the creation of Multiplayer, the Heads-Up Display, Operators, Loadouts, Game Modes, Maps, Killstreaks, and Field Upgrades? This is the place to be.

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

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