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‘CoD: Ghosts’ producer shares what’s in and what’s out for the next-gen shooter

Call of Duty: Ghosts developer Infinity Ward found a lot to draw inspiration from in Treyarch’s 2012 take on the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The spirit of last year’s game lives on in Ghosts even if it’s not as obvious as a straightforward feature port. A lot of what separates the games and keeps the two studios from reaching for a design parity middleground is the personality, as Activision VP of production Daniel Suarez tells Digital Trends. 

“Each dev studio, be it Treyarch, be it Infinity Ward, or whoever is doing the title that year, they sit down and they have a key set of goal that they want to [accomplish],” he says. “We knew we were going next-gen for this title, so that sort of loomed as [a question]: how do we leverage that this year? For them, character customization was a big thing. We’ve been talking about it for a long time internally, [and] I think Infinity Ward felt that this was a good year to do it.”

There’s a popular notion of IW and Treyarch being in competition with one another when it comes to their year-over-year Call of Duty releases. It’s not hard to figure out why. The average gamer compares the work of the two studios and sees plenty separating the two. One has League Play and Zombies, the other has Spec Ops and Survival. You give up your beloved dolphin dive for a year, but in return you enjoy the added flexibility of pointstreak-driven Strike Packages. The alternating studio approach to these annualized releases always involves a tradeoff, but there’s a more indirectly collaborative spirit at work that many might not be aware of.

There’s a popular notion of IW and Treyarch being in competition with one another… It’s not hard to figure out why.

“The Pick 10 system inspired a lot of what has gone into the design of [Ghosts' Create-a-Soldier feature]. The Pick 10 system for what existed in Black Ops 2 versus what’s now in the perk system for Ghosts is based on the idea of points,” Suarez says, referring to the Treyarch-designed loadout customization feature that gives players a class “budget” to fill out with whatever combination of weapons, grenades, and perks they’d like. “You have each of the different perks – there’s five [in each of the seven categories] – and each one has a different point value associated with it that’s based on the degree of strength or severity in terms of what it changes for you as the player.”

Point values and other totals are subject to change pre-launch, but for the time being every loadout has a budget of eight points that can be spent on perks. Suarez confirms that you can also grow that budget by ditching equipment from other slots, be it primary/secondary weapons or lethal/tactical grenades, similar to the way Pick 10 works. Each perk category focuses on a different set of advantages; Speed perks focus on mobility, for example, whereas Equipment perks impact your loadout, in much the same way that Black Ops 2‘s Wild Cards did. 

The perk-specific point values create limitations on how much you can equip for the sake of game balance, but the underlying idea is to give players the flexibility to tailor loadouts to their particular style of play. That’s not a uniquely Infinity Ward or a uniquely Treyarch concept; rather, it’s been central to the Call of Duty spirit since the first Modern Warfare. “I think this idea of each team having their own way of looking at [design] pushes each of us, each year, to say, ‘Wow okay, this is a new way to approach the game.’ Some may think it’s better, some may not,” Suarez says.

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The new approach to loadouts is a welcome evolution of ideas that have been bubbling up in the Call of Duty-verse since 2008, but one of the changes coming with Ghosts is definitely going to fall into the “some may not” category for certain players. “We’re not supporting the livestreaming component this year,” Suarez tells us. “If you think about what’s going on in terms of the next-gen and being able to support their DVR functionality for that [it makes sense]. So that’s one of the things we’re not bringing over. It goes back to sensibilities of what features we feel actually need to be built into the game versus others.”

Some of these decisions are based entirely on what the teams feel is best for their games, but Activision and its studios also gather feedback from those players that are the most well-equipped to articulate what works and what doesn’t: the pros.

“We had the pro players here [at the Ghosts multiplayer reveal space] for the last couple days getting up to speed on the game and they’re digging it,” Suarez says. “We develop a strong relationship with those guys because they promote our game when they’re playing the game on the circuit. There’s just a lot of collaboration and communication. Every studio has a relationship with those guys. Their point of view is very different from the point of view of a mass casual player. I think more than any other franchise in particular, we’re always looking at people in the forums and talking to people on Twitter.”

Multiplayer has long been a part of the Call of Duty ethos, but Activision’s focus on community ramped up significantly with the launch of Beachhead Studio’s Call of Duty Elite, which rolled out alongside Modern Warfare 3. New features in Ghosts mean that there are going to be some necessary changes on the mobile app side of the user experience. You might have noticed during the Ghosts multiplayer reveal that “Call of Duty account” was referenced in place of “Call of Duty Elite.” That wasn’t a mistake. 

“Elite has been around now for two years. We’ve finally come to a point now where we have a much deeper integration into the game,” Suarez explains. There’s features that exist offline – being able to check my stats, follow other players, news about the game – but now when I actually get into the game, it’s going to know that I’m playing. There will be things that exist for me being able to change my loadout and send it into the game, picking my next class while I’m loading from the menus, all of that will now be seamless between talking to the game and me being in it. So if you want to have that second screen there, you can.”

“Each dev studio… they sit down and they have a key set of goal that they want to [accomplish]“

In practical terms, this means that there’s a new app coming with the release of Ghosts. The app ties directly to your Call of Duty account, whether you’re creating one fresh or you have one that you want to carry over from Elite. It’s the same sign-in and everything. What’s different is the app. Call of Duty Elite will still be there too, but you’ll be using something else for Ghosts. “They’ll work together,” Suarez says. “If you want to do Black Ops-specific stuff or MW3-specific stuff, it’ll launch a separate launcher for those apps. That account will now become your Call of Duty account.”

The new app is also your main point of interaction with newly refined clan management features and the Clan Wars metagame. You’ll have much more control over how you maintain your clan in Ghosts on the mobile app side, with players now able to edit their clan emblem, manage membership, and send invites or messages out to members using the “Rally Up” feature. All of this feeds into Clan Wars, a clan-versus-clan metagame that uses the dangling carrot of XP rewards and unlocks.

“The guys at Beachhead built [Clan Wars] in tandem with the guys at Infinity Ward,” Suarez says. “You have a map. Think of it like a Risk map. There’s eight key locations on that map. Each location is identified by some type of game mode, be it Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Kill Confirmed, Cranked, whatever it might be. Eight teams are matchmade based on skill and size to join [a single, two-week] Clan War.”

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Each Clan War lasts two weeks, with the winner receiving “gun camo and different unlocks for character creation,” according to Suarez. He quickly adds that all of these unlockables are cosmetic enhancements. There are other bonuses associated with victorious battles over each two-week period – Suarez confirms that capturing a point on the map gives the winning team an “XP modifier,” for example – but the endgame rewards for successful Clan War campaigns will always focus more on bragging rights than gameplay advantages.

“Say you have a clan of 10 guys, I have a clan of 10 guys; we’re going to get matchmade and thrown into this map. And we’re going to say, ‘Okay, we’re really good at Kill Confirmed, so let’s go after that point on this map.’ We then have a certain number of predetermined matches to capture that point,” Suarez explains. “So now suddenly I’ve captured that point, and I’m going to say, ‘Okay, nobody’s captured that point and it’s a Free-for-All point, so let’s all go over there.’ So we’ll move over there and play that one. The race is basically to have as many captured points as possible at the end of that two-week period. Other people going to try to win by taking over your location. At the end of the two-week period, whoever has the most locations, they then get unlocks within the game.”