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News From Uncharted to Call of Duty - Infinite Warfare's Narrative Director on the Shooter's New...

News Bot Nov 5, 2016

  1. News Bot

    News Bot Chaos Immortal

    Between the recent betas and details on its Zombies mode being revealed, much of the focus on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare as of late has been on the multiplayer side. But the single-player campaign promises to offer a much different sort of experience than what Call of Duty players are accustomed to.

    GameSpot recently had the opportunity to speak with narrative director Taylor Kurosaki, who had interesting insights to share as someone who came to Infinity Ward in 2014 after a long stint with Naughty Dog. We talked about what defines a Call of Duty game from Infinity Ward, the challenges of putting players in the shoes of a leader rather than a new recruit, and much more.

    You can check out our full interview below. Also check back soon for more interviews with the team behind Infinity Warfare, as well as our review of the game.

    GameSpot: Can you tell me about your history with games in general? What brought you into Infinity Ward?

    Taylor Kurosaki: Sure, well, my history goes way back to 1995 working on Crash Bandicoot--the first Crash Bandicoot at Naughty Dog. That was my first game job and then, from then on, was with Naughty Dog for a dozen or so years. Then started at Infinity Ward in 2014 to work on Infinite Warfare.

    Can you tell me, when you came to work on Infinite Warfare, can you talk about the brainstorming process for where you wanted to set the game? What you wanted to accomplish with the game? Maybe set it apart from other Call of Dutys, or at last Infinity Ward's past games?

    Sure. First and foremost, from a narrative standpoint, we wanted to tell a classic war story in the great tradition, hopefully, of a lot of the war stories that have come before us in books, movies, and TV. We wanted to have something that was transcendent in time, or transcendent in setting. In terms of the setting of the game itself, it was really dictated by what it allowed us to do gameplay-wise. You have some really new mechanics, and some new tools in your toolbox in Infinite Warfare that we couldn't have done had we been limited by the reaches of our atmosphere.

    These guys at the studio here, Infinity Ward invented Call of Duty in the first place, and then re-invented it with Modern Warfare. It sort of meant World War II: Call of Duty was synonymous with World War II until Infinity Ward said, "Well, maybe Call of Duty can mean more than World War II," and that's when Modern Warfare came out. To have these same guys--a lot of these same guys here, who know that core gameplay loop really well--think, "How can we retain all of that fun gameplay that everyone knows and loves, [and] also extend it in some interesting ways?" That's what kind of got the ball rolling on leaving the confines of our atmosphere.

    I'm glad you brought it up about starting Call of Duty, and then kind of reinventing it with Modern Warfare. Do you in some way, not to speak to the other studios or the other games that are making Call of Duty, but do you feel in a way this is Infinity Ward's chance to re-take the mantle at least for the next year? Is that adding to the gravitas of the situation at all?

    I think that you have a lot of people here. Infinity Ward is really a studio made up of leads. Everyone here is super senior. They've been in the industry for a really long time, worked on a lot of titles, working on a lot of Call of Duty titles in a lot of cases. They want to keep progressing the franchise in some new and meaningful ways. I think all of the three studios want to keep progressing the franchise. We always want to remain cognizant of what makes Call of Duty "Call of Duty," and where that fun comes from, but we also want to keep extending it. We don't want to just repeat ourselves over and over again. I think that there is a lot of really awesome, mutual respect between the three studios. We collaborate on a lot of things, we talk about a lot of things, and we also still want to keep progressing it.

    At a certain point, does it kind of seem like each studio has their own characteristic with these games? What would you say makes Infinity Ward Call of Duty? Is that even this concrete thing?

    That's a tough one. I think that I see Call of Duty as being more than just a franchise. I see it as being so big that I almost consider it a genre in and of itself. There's a lot of room within that genre for different takes on it. Do the studios have their own personality? I don't think so. I think the sub-franchises have their own personality and people kind of know what to expect. When you play a Black Ops game, you kind of want to play Black Ops. That's a thing, and it's a thing that tons and tons of people love.

    I think that Modern Warfare has its own personality. Sledgehammer has their own thing that they're doing with the franchise. So I don't think it's more of a studio-wide thing; I think it's exploring this genre, this really big umbrella that we are all under and realizing that there's a lot of spaces that we can all occupy.

    Say there is another Infinite Warfare after this. What kind of characteristics do you want to establish with this? What would I expect if I were to play an Infinite Warfare 2 based on what you went for in this kind of story?

    I think the defining characteristics of Infinite Warfare are, number one, a new way to express the Call of Duty gameplay loop, and that is through zero-G combat. Our designers at Infinity Ward and at Raven kind of examined what that Call of Duty gameplay loop is, and they identified that to break it down really simply, it is assessing a combat zone, it's picking a piece of cover, and then it's moving very quickly to that piece of cover and flanking your enemies and being strategic, and feeling smart. Feeling like a great, well-trained warrior.

    Taking that same formula and extending it into zero-G with this grapple hook, you are still doing kind of the same thing. You are assessing the combat space, you're identifying a piece of cover, and you're moving to that cover very quickly, but now you're using that grapple hook. That's a thing that's defining it, is that you have all of this traditional Call of Duty gameplay, and you also have this new take on the same idea, the same mindset Infinite Warfare.

    What defines Infinite Warfare is a classically told story about good versus evil in the great tradition of war stories that have come before it.

    I'd also say that a defining feature of Infinite Warfare is the Jackal. Call of Duty has always been known for these vehicular sections and vehicle moments, but in Infinite Warfare, we wanted to create a persistent vehicle you came back to over and over again, and that you could upgrade and you could hone your skills at and get better as you progressed. I think the Jackal is a really great example of a thing that is deep enough that you look forward to coming back to it over and over again, and increasing your skill with it. It's also simple enough and easy to pick up.

    If you know FPS controls, if you get the concept of strafing and of ADSing and of having a primary and a secondary weapon, the Jackal's going to be right at home to you, so I'd say that those are two of the gameplay characteristics that define Infinite Warfare. Then from the narrative standpoint, I think what defines Infinite Warfare is a classically told story about good versus evil in the great tradition of war stories that have come before it.

    Could you talk more about the story in terms of, this is kind of a departure from Call of Duty games because you're a leader now. You're not this new guy. The new guy setup gives designers an easy way to justify this is why you're training. The player doesn't know how to play the game yet. This is why there characters also train them. Is it kind of tough to have a leader come in and then say, "Why would I be training if I already am a leader? I clearly should be skilled at this point."

    A big tenet of this game was we wanted to give the players some choices. We wanted to give the players mission choices and we wanted to feel that you were leading the charge. We created this character of Reyes who is the captain of the Retribution. You are the captain of your own carrier, and yeah, that was a challenge. It was a challenge not having the fallback of a more senior leader telling you where to go and what to do. We thought that as we've been making these games for a long time, our players have also been playing these games for a long time and they don't feel like recruits anymore. They feel like they are veterans. That they have been through many campaigns and they have honed their skills and that they're sort of trained warriors themselves.

    We thought it would be really interesting for us--rather than starting at the first day of training camp, so to speak, going on an arc, so hopefully at the end, you feel like you are a skilled soldier--we said, "Let's start off from being a skilled soldier, and have the arc of learning how to go from a squadron leader, a leader of a few guys, a member of an elite squad, to go to the arc of being a commander of hundreds, if not, thousands."

    A co-worker who was at the review event this week was saying, "It also seems like much more of an intimate story between the characters" à la Band of Brothers, something like that. Call of Duty's always been about, to me, these moments in this kind of overarching conflict that involves these people. Was that an intent?

    Yeah. In a lot of really well-received war stories, the story really centers on you and your squad, what you guys are going through, how you have each other's backs, and how the pressures of the war and the enemy hunting you can reveal things about your true nature. It's a stress. It's a pressure that's put on your guys, and we think that's a very interesting thing to reveal. We didn't want to have cookie-cutter characters that just seemed tough and seemed macho and have deep voices. We didn't want to go to that sort of well. We wanted to have real human beings who have feelings, who have relationships that extend before the events of our story, and who are also bad-ass warriors in their own right.

    To see what the pressures of this particular war do to those relationships, we wanted to explore those things. Now, that doesn't mean that we forego set pieces. We still have, I think, the best set pieces in the business, but in this case, if we can create characters that you appreciate, if we can create characters that you identify with, and that you care about, then those exact same set pieces, that same bombast gets brought up. It raises the intensity level because you really, really are concerned about what's going to happen next. For me, and for a lot of the guys that started here, at the start of Infinite Warfare, we were really excited about the prospect of working with a team that's known for making these awesome, incredible set pieces, but imbuing those set pieces with maybe some more meaning and maybe caring more. We thought that that would pay off.

    You were talking about coming to the studio in 2014, correct?


    It's not a new studio, right? It's a very different face than when it began. Can you talk about building up a new team with new talents? Like you said, so many people were like leads in other places and they're leads here. Can you talk about meshing this new team and kind of building up to the point of culminating with the release of this game?

    People maybe know about the fact that Infinity Ward merged with Neversoft in 2014, and that was right around the same time, that was just a little bit after I started here, and a few other guys started here. We were really building, in a lot of ways, a new studio. Now, we have the history, we have the expertise of guys and gals that have made these games for many, many years, both inside Infinity Ward and from other studios that have contributed to Call of Duty games, and then we have a bunch of guys who have made a lot of other games for many years.

    We're trying to take the best of all of these studios and form a brand-new culture that utilizes the best methods of one studio, the best methods of another studio, the structure of another studio, and try to combine all of those things into something that's better and greater than the sum of its parts. It's been really exciting to be a part of this rebirth of this place.

    Not to linger too long on the fact that there are three studios making this game, and they're all great in their own right, but is there in some way, is there any weird internal pressure? I know a lot of people are new, but to say Infinity Ward needs to come back out on top for the year. Not maybe in comparison to other studios, but say, "We're the ones who created this franchise, the other ones modernize it." Was that in the back of people's minds when you're working on this game?

    We always want to challenge ourselves in new and interesting ways, yet also keep one foot firmly rooted in the past and in the history of the thing.

    I think what you see in Infinite Warfare is a really seasoned team who knows Call of Duty inside and out, and knows how you can retain everything that people love and also to extend it. I think what you see is guys who really, really love this franchise as creators and, like in the case of me, as someone who's played it a whole bunch and who loves it, and has great memories of those past games wanting to honor it. Also, wanting to make sure that it doesn't stay stagnant. As creators, we want to challenge ourselves. We want to do things that we haven't done before. That's why I think a lot of us are drawn to the games industry because games are really at an embryonic stage still in the grand scheme of things, right? We are a relatively new art form, so we want to always keep progressing it. We always want to challenge ourselves in new and interesting ways, yet also keep one foot firmly rooted in the past and in the history of the thing.

    It's a delicate balance, of course, to make sure that you retain all that stuff that everyone loves, and everyone expects when they pick up the controller. Also, to challenge yourself, challenge the playerbase, challenge the audience. Those are good things. We talk about this notion of same, but different. People want something that's the same, but slightly different. I think with Infinite Warfare, we've kind of struck that right balance.

    Again, the co-worker who was at the review event said, "New things in multiplayer, but it still very much feels like Call of Duty multiplayer." Zombies were just bat-s*** crazy, it looks really fun and zany, but it seems like from what I've seen from the footage and whatnot, it seems like the campaign is really where it feels really new. Its open-ended structure, again, and like you said, it's going for this leadership role. Was there a conscious decision to say, "Maybe we should look more at single-player than we have"? Maybe not in the past, because you came in 2014, but why break the mold of single-player, so to speak?

    Well, I think that single-player is incredibly critical to the overall reception of the game, and the overall feelings toward the game. Even if you're a player who plays multiplayer more, let's say, than single-player. If you pop that disc in, or download the game, maybe you start off in single-player, or you come to it at a certain point. Playing that campaign, if that campaign is a good one, one that you like, and you can tell the team has put a lot of effort into it, what that does for you is it gives you a tremendous amount of context for the other modes of the game.

    If I've played single-player, and I'm playing multiplayer, now, maybe those multiplayer matches feel like more than just me occupying this particular map. Maybe I think, "I've been in this location before. Maybe I was in a different part of Europa, but I've been on Europa before. I remember when I was there in that mission in single-player, in the campaign, and this happened and this happened, and these guys were here doing that thing. I recognize the environment in some ways." It allows me to bring greater context and greater meaning into that multiplayer. I think those two things work hand-in-hand.


    At the same time, the multiplayer takes what we've done in single-player, and then expands it in some really interesting ways, right? No matter which mode you may think you're a bigger fan of, they sort of help each other. This is nothing new. Call of Duty has always had a tremendous emphasis on the campaign. It's never been an afterthought; it's never been dropped entirely. It's always been a real part and parcel of this game, and I think that Infinite Warfare is just really carrying that tradition forward.

    We really looked back in a lot of cases. We looked back at some of the early games and how they focused on these really large-scale battles with a lot of different people. We thought, "That is awesome." That was the genesis of Call of Duty in the first place, this notion of a playable Saving Private Ryan. This playable D-Day, playable World War II where you had these big, giant battles of allied forces, and enemy forces, and all that kind of stuff. I think that even though that may feel a little fresh now, it's really looking back and bringing that feeling of playing alongside believable NPCs who move believably, who react believably, [and] that you feel like you're part of a large fighting force. Maybe that feels fresh, but in our minds, it's a classic concept that we're bringing into a new setting.

    To look back to a recent title, Ghosts, can you tell me anything that, when you looked back, that you learned you wanted to change, or take with you to Infinite Warfare?

    One of the things the team explored in Ghosts was the concept of zero-G combat. There were zero-G combat moments in Ghosts, and I think that if you look back, you can see that's the germination point for some of the zero-G combat we have in this game. A lot of things were learned through that. It still retains some of those qualities, but we also realized where we could make that zero-G combat feel a little more satisfying, feel a little bit more tactical, and we did that in Infinite Warfare.

    That's one thing. Other than that, this is still in a lot of cases, a lot of those guys that worked on Ghosts and who put a lot of hard work, sweat and tears, into that game, they just wanted to get another bite of the apple. Maybe they learned some things from that game, and maybe they've made some great discoveries in that game. You can see the beginnings of some certain ideas. As you get to make another game, and make another one, and you put another one under your belt, you get another bite of that apple and you get to learn from those lessons and keep making it better, and keep progressing it. I think if you look back, you'll see a lot of those beginnings, a lot of these ideas, that we then were able to expand on in Infinite Warfare.

    Were there any seeds, germination, of certain narrative things that you expanded on here? Obviously, it's not the same narrative, but maybe ideas that you kind of expanded on or methods they used?

    I think again, in Ghosts, the primary sort of focus in the narrative was, it's us, we're a team. We're fighting an enemy, and how the pressures of that enemy and that war that we're finding ourselves in are affecting these relationships and pushing and pulling on those bonds, and how it makes us stronger going forward. I think that same concept is in there. In the same way that in Infinite Warfare, this is a sneak attack. This is an enemy who is fighting this war on their terms and you're having to react to their aggression, and you don't have a lot of time to plan, or to regroup, or to re-arm yourselves. You just have to go-go-go. The same thing happened in Ghosts. These guys are minding their own business and an attack happens, and they've got to respond. It's the same concept in that way.

    Can you talk about the writing process between the team? What it's like, the brainstorming process you've already touched on, but as the project moves along, I'm just interested in how that works for games, specifically.

    We are big believers that narrative and gameplay go hand-in-hand. We very, very quickly, at the start of this project, looked at some of the mechanics that we wanted to explore, some of the gameplay loop that we wanted to really emphasize, and we hunkered down and super-quickly came up with the macro, the outline, the theme of this game. But once we had the main pillars of it in place, and the underpinnings in place, we then take a step back, and we now work hand-in-hand with the designers, with the animators, with the lighters, and we say, "Okay, which missions are we going to start on first?"

    As we start on those missions in earnest, the development of those missions, that's when we get into the nitty-gritty and we start to write the actual lines, and come up with the actual scenarios. We try to work in tandem as much as possible because the more close to the design of the level you are as you're working on the narrative, the more intertwined it's going to feel. You're not going to really see where design leaves off and narrative picks up. They kind of become one seamless thing. That's a big tenet of our thing, is that we kind of write as we go along. As the designers and the animators, and the builders, and the scripters, and I already said the animators, but all these guys of course have ideas. They have ideas for cool set-piece moments. They have ideas for cool gameplay moments, and we need to respond as a writing team to those discoveries.

    We can't just say, "Well, sorry, we have already written this." We wrote this six months ago, and this is what it is. It has to be a living, breathing document that responds to how the game is shaping out, and what things are fun, and what things we thought were going to be fun [or] maybe need to be modified. It's a partnership. There's a reason why our writing team is here on-site. We are surrounded by the design team, and in each of these designer pods, there are also artists, there are also animators, there are lighters, we are all here so that we can get up out of our seats and go, "Hey, this section that you're working on here, how do you think this is actually going to work? Have you learned anything new? Does anything change from our last meeting last week?"

    If they say, "Yeah, actually, we think this is going to be more fun," we can come back here, get on our computers and reflect that change in the scripts.


    Everything you just said reminded me of something [writer] Brian [Bloom] had said. The space setting not only allows you to do zero-G combat and the Jackal from a gameplay perspective, but from a narrative perspective, space is not a hospitable space. Brian was saying that's figuring into the narrative itself because you were saying this story couldn't be told within the atmosphere of earth alone.

    To break it down really simply, as storytellers, we are always searching for incredible sources of pressure to put on our characters. If you're working on a war game, on a military shooter, your go-to, gimme source of pressure is an enemy that is trying to shoot at you. If we can take that enemy and we can ratchet it up so this particular enemy doesn't value your way of life, wants to decimate your military, wants to then attack your home, your loved ones, your friends, your families, your culture, that's ratcheting up that pressure even more.

    Then with Infinite Warfare, having a lot of the missions take place outside of our breathable atmosphere, that just puts even more pressure on you. Now, you have an environment that's trying to kill you as well. If you can't breathe, if you don't know which way is up, if you don't have normal gravity, these are all things that are conspiring against you as a player, conspiring against your squad, and it just adds to that pressure. We're always looking for those ultimate sources of pressure because when you have those ultimate sources of pressure, all the niceties go out the window. All of the courtesies can go out the window and you really know what makes a person tick. Revealing that true nature of these people, that's storytelling in a nutshell, and that's the kind of stuff that we look for as a way to educate ourselves going through our own lives.

    From a personal standpoint, going from Uncharted, The Last of Us and obviously, way back to Crash Bandicoot, what have you taken from Naughty Dog titles that you've brought to Infinity Ward?

    I think a big tenet in the narratives in Naughty Dog games that you see in a lot of successful games across the industry, it's the closeness, the bond, the emotional symmetry that you, as the player, have with the protagonist that you are playing as. When that symmetry is broken, when there's a schism between how the player feels and how the protagonist feels, that's a disconnect, and that's something that kind of takes you out of the game.

    I think a real big focus for us is making sure that the player is in sync emotionally with the protagonist. The more successfully you can do that, the more bought into the story, and bought into the narrative, and bought into the characters the player feels, and the more closeness he feels, and the more care the player feels. Therefore, you have these set pieces, and the more emotional and more impactful they are. That's a big focus, and I think you see that across the industry, that people want to feel like a oneness with the character they're occupying. With third-person action games, there's still a little bit of a distance because you see your character in front of you. You are not actually him. You're controlling him or her, but you're not actually them. In a first-person shooter, like Infinite Warfare, you are actually in Reyes's boots. It's actually even more imperative that you feel an emotional parity with him.

    That's not something I would just think of when I think of a Call of Duty game, to go back to breaking the mold. It's always been great campaigns; I've always enjoyed them, but I don't think I could look back at too many characters and say I have an emotional connection to them. I mean, obviously, they're silent protagonists, but also, the characters always just seem like these vehicles to facilitate the action. Whereas here, it seems like the action and the characters, you're trying to make it coalesce more.

    Yeah, absolutely. This is ultimately Nick Reyes's journey. This is his story. You play as him; you are him. If you can feel connected to the things that he's going through, to the emotional growth he must go through over the opening hours of this war, you've going to feel invested in the rest of the characters. You're going to feel invested in the story, you're going to feel invested in the game, and hopefully, the mechanics of the game. What we really want, ultimately, is we want that controller in your hand to sort of vanish. To sort of disappear. We want you to just feel like you are occupying this world, and you are going on this journey along with this guy. You're actually doing it by standing in his boots, and seeing the world through his eyes.

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