Modern Warfare® Multiplayer First Look: Down the Barrel Gameplay

In our third deep dive into the creation of Modern Warfare Multiplayer, Design Directors Geoff Smith and Joe Cecot talk about rebuilding weapons, in-depth gunsmith customizations, loadouts, and more.

Modern Warfare® Multiplayer First Look: Down the Barrel Gameplay

In our third deep dive into the creation of Modern Warfare Multiplayer, Design Directors Geoff Smith and Joe Cecot talk about rebuilding weapons, in-depth gunsmith customizations, loadouts, and more.

Part 3: Best-in-Class, “Down the Barrel” Gameplay

Familiar and Fresh: Stripped Down and Rebuilt from the Ground Up

When it comes to weapons, Call of Duty® has a lengthy back history. There are fans that enjoy the old-style weapons, have their favorite guns, and stick with them. There are fans that want fast-paced gameplay, and others looking to jump from other first-person action titles. With a diverse fan base, the initial challenge the team faced was daunting. That is, until the band-aid was ripped off. “We decided to strip everything down and use the rebooting of Call of Duty® Modern Warfare® as the impetus for MP too,” states Geoff Smith. “Let’s take everything down to bare guns, and then question every system and mechanic.” Then they slowly began to build everything back up again.  

“We were a little less precious with these [weapons] systems. We looked to see what still made sense, and pulled stuff out that we feel didn’t work, even if it made the team uncomfortable. Everybody on the team had pre-conceived notions on what ‘Call of Duty’ is and we had to shake people out of that mindset.”

Gunplay: An Extra Layer of Believability

As Geoff tells it, “our Game Director pushed us to go shooting and experience the power and impact of firing a variety of weapons. He challenged us to capture that visceral experience and find ways to get it in the game.” Aside from firing every weapon that appear in the game, many of the team wanted an extra layer of believability when it came to the way weapons react across the game modes. These lessons were in part “to get away from that ‘locked gun’ that feels like we’ve seen on screen for every FPS game.” Weapons now bob and sway with believable heft and physics. Which lead to buttery-smooth arcade gameplay, albeit with a dollop more believability: There is a weapon tuning based on realism this time around.

Geoff continues: “We made a big effort to make this the best down-the-barrel gameplay possible. We wanted to retain the ‘Call of Duty’ feel too. It’s kind of a dangerous thing to add delay to your shots but the way the system works is, given the speed of a projectile; if it were to reach a target within a frame [one 60th of a second], it would be hit-scanned, so up to a range that we feel is healthy [and accurate], you still retain that ‘my icon sights are on the guy, and that will hit him, and I’ll get the hit marker and everything’.” Or to put it another way, at close and mid-range, and depending on the weapon you’re firing, expect an instantaneous hit from your weapon’s ordnance.

A little further away, and you’ll need a little more skill, as Geoff adds: “Outside of that range, you’ll have to lead the aim a little bit, and there is a subtle drop, as all of our weapons are tuned based on real effects. For example, ballistics for pistols have a slower round, and you’ll have to lead a little bit more. It will make them less effective at long range, but they’ll still keep their lethality. However, you have to have higher skill to take out a foe at long range.

SMGs in the past have been high recoil, but in reality, they are low-caliber weapons and are easier to control; they’re lower damage, they’re fairly accurate so we’ve shifted the role of that weapon around. These are mid-level with your assault rifles, and your sniper rifles are obviously longest range.” Naturally, all the weapons come with amazing reflective audio sounds to them too, as detailed in this previous blog post.

Gunsmith Customization: Letting the Barbarian Learn Some Spells

When it came to customizing your weapons, Geoff freely admits that “we went a little nutty on this one. We made the call a couple of months into development that we wanted to make a bunch of specific improvements.” The team focused on greater customization options, resulting in the most weapon choices in Call of Duty history. Pointing to an in-game pistol lying on a photo-realistic gun bench, Geoff explains what these choices mean: “These numbers might change of course, but each weapon has anywhere from 30 to 60 main variations. The team had one major goal in mind when putting the Gunsmith in the hands of players: 

An astonishing breadth of options for a multitude of weapons was a main tenet established early into the creation of Multiplayer. “It really boils down to the gun as your main character,” says Geoff. “And if your gun was a character, how do you go about creating it? Leveling it up? Modifying it?” Then we started playing with the idea of ‘letting the barbarian learn some spells’. What I mean from that is pulling [customization options] from a different weapon class.”

Just for fun, the team set about increasingly the flexibility of their weapon customization options: “We have a shotgun that you can make by adding a long-barrel and a sniper scope, making it a sniper shotgun. Or you can modify that same weapon by removing the barrel and stock, and get this snub-nose, super-fast weapon that’s completely different than how you started out.”

As Joe confirms, when you can have a working M4 that you’ve “brought down to a pistol grip which ran super-fast with hip-firing, all the way up to this super-heavy enhanced sniper rifle; we knew we had it at that point.”

Loadouts, Gun Benches, and a Bit of Class

The team looked at how Loadouts (the gear and equipment you select prior to a match) worked together. Geoff explains the evolution: “Going back to the old create-a-class system from [previous] Modern Warfare [games], we found that it was a little overwhelming. We’re not necessarily simplifying it [for Modern Warfare], but we’re making it more straightforward.

You have the Primary, Secondary, Lethal, and Tactical weapons to choose, your Killstreaks, and then something called Field Upgrades; a new piece of equipment you can pick, based on your preferences. You can get a drone, trophy system, portable cover…” Despite the additional equipment, the team isn’t trying to affect moment-to-moment gameplay too much. “Rest assured,” says Joe; “gun play is still king!”

Geoff reinforces this fact with a quality-of-life element the team added to the game: “For years we thought that if someone was able to edit their Loadout in-game they would be AFK, but with so many different attachments, it’s fun to switch out the stuff on the fly. Everybody scoffed at it when we first said we wanted to put it in, but it feels so good when you quickly change to a different attachment depending on the situation. Instant gratification!”

Between battles, when you’re presented with your entire Loadout on a gun bench, the team attempted to raise the bar: “Everything you’ve chosen appears in 3D on this table, photo-real; you can see your explosives, pouches with Perk patch [icons] on them; basically, everything you’re equipping your Operator with.”

Joe is grateful to the Call of Duty fans for picking up on these improvements: “It’s great to see the community pick up on the details that took us three years to make, like the halo effect appearing after [certain guns fire] like it does in real life… that we put three years of effort into making look just right.”

Modern Warfare Blog Posts Continue

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