Robert Bowling talks all things Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
October 1st was a hugely exciting day because I got to attend Holland’s biggest gamer con, FirstLook 2011. In between pushing my way through the crowd and collecting as much swag as I could for us to give away to *you*, dearest reader (stay tuned for details!), I had the good fortune to sit down with Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward’s Creative Strategist for one of the most eagerly anticipated FPSes of this year: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Read on to learn about what Robert feels sets MW3 apart from other games, what you can expect to love about MW3, whether you consider yourself a hardcore gamer or more a casual player, what role fans play in game development at Infinity Ward, and what we can expect to see from them in the future!
Save Game: Modern Warfare 3’s release is coming right around the same time as Battlefield 3 and Halo: Anniversary. In a weakened economy, do you think that the market is big enough for all three of these games to succeed?
Robert Bowling: I definitely do, because they’re all three very different experiences. So they all have their individual audiences who are very passionate about them; because they are so different, people are going to be getting multiple games.
SG: What is it that really sets Modern Warfare 3 apart from the other two games, or in general, from other multi-player FPSes?
RB: Well, first, Modern Warfare has a very specific style to it that’s all its own; it’s that very fast pace, very smooth infantry-focused combat. But most importantly, what I think sets it apart for the mainstream audience, is that it’s a game that really has something for everyone. It has that cinematic single player campaign, it has the co-op experience, and of course, multi-player, which has 30 million people online, which is extremely deep. So it’s extremely accessible to anybody, to pick up and play and have fun, but also extremely deep for those hardcore players who want to master it and have a lot to learn.
SG: I love the elite subscription service, it’s a very intriguing concept. Do you expect more casual players to be really drawn into the service as well, or, especially with the premium package, is this primarily targeted towards hardcore gamers? Do you think that people will take that step?
RB: I think they will, because you have multiple aspects of that premium membership. You have the stuff that is very hardcore focused for sure, like the theater stuff and the competitions and all that. But then you also have the stuff that’s just pure value, like the casual players that buy DLC who get premium, basically will get all the DLC for Modern Warfare 3 cheaper than if they buy it individually. So there’s a lot of appeal to it, regardless of whether you’re a super hardcore value or a more casual guy!
SG: Well, I know that I definitely like to take advantage and save money on DLC if I know that I’m going to be getting it anyway! How involved is the fan community in the development process? Are there things that were changed about Modern Warfare 3 after fan feedback? If so, what were some of those elements?
RB: Yeah, definitely! Fan feedback is extremely important to the development of our games. I’m talking to fans one-on-one on Twitter from day one of development, being very accessible to them, getting all their feedback always, since Call of Duty 4, about what they want, what they don’t want, and what they want to see more of. You can point to very specific things in the game, additions and removals, from Modern Warfare 2, that were directly a result of fan feedback, like the removal of commando per one man army, game ending nukes, all came from fan feedback. And then additions, like the ability to scroll through kill streaks with the D pad, when you have multiples unlock, seeing how close you are to your next kill streak and what it is, all those little things come directly from fan suggestions.
SG: Do you think it’s been a positive change, or sometimes also one with negative aspects, the way in which game devs are increasingly having this direct contact with the fan base?
RB: I think it’s extremely positive! There’s absolutely no negative to it, as long as the developer understands how to use that knowledge. And that’s our job: you should always be accessible, but still maintain your core design philosophies. You’ve got to put it through that filter of “Okay, this feedback is important, but does it improve on the experience we’re trying to deliver?” And if it doesn’t, if it changes that experience in a bad way, then you don’t use it.
SG: Can you envision Infinity Ward ever developing a title that will not include a multi-player element?
RB: I have no clue! We really take it one game at a time, you know? Right now, we’re completely focused on Modern Warfare 3. We do multi-player extremely well, so it’d be hard to imagine doing something that’s not. What we’ve been moving into the direction of, especially with Modern Warfare 3, is experimenting with more ways to blur the lines between those experiences, of taking some of those really addictive developments that we’ve made in the multi-player mode and adding them to other elements of the game too. So finding ways in which multi-player can enhance other experiences has been a great learning experience for us!
SG: How do you attract new players to the Modern Warfare experience, especially now that it has the “3” after it, which may or may not scare off some interested new players?
RB: I think it’s all about building the abilities, giving them the tools and incentives to play the game however they want to play it. What’s intimidating about shooters is that inherently, you think, “Okay, I need to be good at getting a lot of kills, not dying a lot”. While that is one way to be good at a shooter, what we learned from Modern Warfare 2 is that we have 30 million people who are playing this game and who are all playing it drastically differently, and we were not really rewarding those players. So for Modern Warfare 3, we looked at giving a lot more options for players to be good at it, however they’re good at it, and to be rewarded the same way as that team deathmatch player. I think that’s what makes it so not intimidating for newer players, because they can jump in and they can be good at the game in their own way. Then also adding in things like the new Spec Ops survival mode that brings all of the really cool stuff of competitive multi-player into a co-op environment; this allows new players a safe and comfortable place that’s not competitive to learn the ropes of multi-player, to learn how kill streaks work, to learn how perks work, how customized weapons work, and then they can transition into the multi-player aspect. So it’s about giving tools and options for other experiences.
SG: It seems that in recent years, some developers are increasingly using established TV and film actors for voice acting. Is that something you’ve picked up on, and do you think that affects the gaming experience? If so, how?
RB: I think sometimes you can make the mistake of hiring someone based on name alone. It’s something we don’t do, something we purposefully do not do for Modern Warfare 3, because we’re looking for character actors who fit the role. We never want to sell a game based on a name. So we’re looking for the right person, not the right name. I think sometimes if you go for name over performance, then it can distract from the character you’re trying to develop, if they’re so heavily associated with something else.
SG: Yeah, it can be a little jarring to suddenly be talking to Captain Picard. Not that Patrick Stewart’s not great, but-
RB: Yeah! [*laughs*]
SG: Then my final question! If there’s one thing that you’d like our readers to know about Modern Warfare that we haven’t covered already, what would that be?
RB: [*groans and laughs*] Ohh, what we haven’t already covered? Well, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 comes out on November 8th, 2011, so, you know, pick it up, jump online! There’s literally something for every type of player, which I think is the biggest thing people should walk away with. No matter what, no matter how you play the game, there are tools and options available in it for you!
We’d like to thank Robert Bowling for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 releases November 8th, 2011 for the PS3, Xbox360, PC and Wii. To learn more about the game, check out the official website. Robert also has an official twitter which you can visit here in addition to an official website which can be found here. You can pre-order Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 right now – so if you haven’t already head on out to your local video games retailer and pop some dollars down on what is sure to be this years biggest blockbuster release.