Whether it’s a cup of tea on a rainy day, re-watching your favorite sitcom or putting on those old pajamas that you really should have replaced by now, we all have our own comforts.
But for a generation of kids in the 1990s and 2000s, nothing says “this is living” like unloading assault rifles and throwing grenades in Call Of Duty (COD) online combat.
“It’s like putting on a cozy old sweater,” says longtime fan Sam Jones, who started playing in 2007, when he was 11 years old.
“And as I grew up, it became a comfort. We have less time, people give up, find different interests, but I still have a core of four or five friends who have been playing for 15 years.”
Shelby Carleton has a similar penchant for directness, who just celebrated his 20th birthday.
“I started playing COD, actually the first Modern Warfare, when I was a kid,” she recalls, belatedly apologizing to her parents for ignoring the game’s age rating.
“I would invite friends and I have very fond memories of those games and those friendships.”
Sixteen years later, she is the lead narrative designer on Modern Warfare III, which releases November 10.
Yes, COD has been around so long that it’s now childhood fans who create it.
This is the latest installment in COD’s Modern Warfare sub-series, which returned after a long absence in 2019.
Modern Warfare first ran from 2007 to 2011, ending with its own Modern Warfare III. Although the rebooted entries are unrelated plot-wise, they offer plenty of winks, winks, and references to veteran players.
This makes the new game a fitting way to mark the franchise’s anniversary and show how far the series has come.
An ever-increasing reach
“It feels like it’s gaining momentum,” says creative director Dave Swenson, who has worked on COD for more than a decade.
“The army of artists, sound people and designers that come together to create the games is pretty incredible and it’s a huge amount of work over several years to create one.”
Despite the annual release cadence, each COD is a multi-year project for those who make it.
The franchise involves three main development studios: Infinity Ward, the original creators of the franchise; Treyarch, which spawned the popular Black Ops sub-series; and the Sledgehammer team from Modern Warfare III.
There has been a new main entry every year since 2005, while free COD Mobile on smartphones and Fortnite-like Warzone have also taken on a life of their own.
“I met my grooms on Call Of Duty! »
Tom Lynch is a fan who will always hold Warzone in particularly high regard.
He made such strong friends on the virtual battlefield while stuck at home during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 that they ended up being much more than just teammates.
“Since we had nowhere to go, COD became a great social setting to hang out with friends,” he says.
“And it connected me with friends I hadn’t seen in a while – and I also met people through the game who ultimately became the groomsmen at my wedding!”
Between the main Warzone series and the mobile game, it’s no surprise that at last count, more than 3,000 people were working on the franchise.
Sledgehammer alone has teams spread across the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
The scale is as high as the revenue, with the 2022 game raking in a record $1 billion in its first 10 days on sale.
Johanna Faries, who manages the franchise at publisher Activision Blizzard, believes that the teams have “continued to raise the bar in terms of ambition”.
“The video game industry is becoming more and more competitive,” she says.
“But the annualized cycle is quite unique for us – being able to maintain it is an achievement in itself.
“It makes the 20th anniversary even more meaningful.”
“An interesting challenge”
Directors Swenson and Carleton are confident they’ve found another winner with Modern Warfare III, which features a story-driven campaign and a host of online multiplayer modes.
The online experience stands out this year by allowing players to retain progress from the previous game, while the campaign strives to freshen things up despite an inevitable feeling of familiarity.
Swenson is excited about the campaign’s new “open combat missions,” which are much less linear than fans are used to, instead encouraging them to approach objectives however they see fit.
But serving as a direct sequel to 2022’s Modern Warfare II, and also a remake of sorts of the 2011 game, Carleton admits she knew she had to hit specific story beats.
“It’s an interesting challenge,” Carleton says of writing a hit game like this, which begins with a powerful brainstorming session involving enough whiteboards and post-it notes to fill a terminal .
“You start with the end in mind, work backwards, sometimes you move forward, sometimes you are in the middle!”
One concrete narrative decision was the return of fan-favorite villain Vladimir Makarov, an ultranationalist Russian terrorist determined to start World War III.
Trailers suggest its return coincides with a reimagining of one of the franchise’s most infamous levels, “No Russian,” which tasked players with taking part in a mass shooting at a Russian airport in an attempt to gain Makarov’s trust.
Swenson and Carleton are keeping tight-lipped about how things will play out this time around.
A real modern war
Of course, and it’s depressing, the idea of a new world war emerging from Eastern Europe Or somewhere else doesn’t seem as innocently escapist as the developers might have thought when Modern Warfare debuted in 2007.
Forget stock footage from World War II, today’s COD writers need only look at the news to see marching armies, rolling tanks, and toppled buildings that would look great in games.
Creative director Swenson admits “as humans,” his team “can’t help but take inspiration from the world around us,” but insists this franchise remains purely about entertainment.
“There is real conflict in the world today and it’s really heartbreaking,” he says.
“(But) this game is a work of fiction and a story in the making that we have been working on for years.
“As a company, we are not using this game to make political comments or anything like that.”
Regardless of what the real world has in store for us over the next year, few things are as assured as COD’s usual October/November release date.
It remains to be seen whether Record acquisition of Activision by Microsoft will change the trajectory of the series, but the money involved would suggest a reluctance to stop milking this epic cash cow anytime soon.
Whether 2024 sees another modern war, a return to an earlier conflict, or something entirely new, the developers themselves seem to guarantee one thing.
“Bigger” is the only way to go.