Exclusive interview: Jason West, Vince Zampella talk life after Call of Duty

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With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 about to take consoles by storm, the original Infinity Ward founders are hard at work on their next game project. This time, Electronic Arts, which was once their fierce rival, is their new ally and publisher. And Activision, their former employer, will be the competition.

West and Zampella are still in the midst of ugly lawsuits and counter suits involving hundreds of millions of dollars, but they’re leaving that for their lawyers. With a team of over 55, Respawn Entertainment is looking to the future. They talk about the games industry, what Wii U opens up for them and why what they’d like to see in the next generation of hardware from Sony and Microsoft in this exclusive interview. And for those wondering, it’s still too early for them to reveal specifics on the new title, and they’re not allowed to comment on the ongoing legal issues.

What are your thoughts about Nintendo’s Wii U that Nintendo showed at E3?

Jason: I was actually into it. I appreciate the pure gameplay of Nintendo and their interesting interfaces and their ability to come up with new experiences. That’s sort of the more pure gameplay, less cinematic aspect of games, which is also compelling. I think it’s really great for the industry that Nintendo’s out there pushing for new ways to approach gameplay that might have been stale in other forms.

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Does the HD capability of the Wii U open up that platform, because in the past you didn’t really explore the Wii as much as you focused on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360?

Jason: I think it does. We would need to find out more about the specifics of the processing power and GPU performance, things like that. Because it’s all about how similar it is to other platforms in terms of ease of port. But also the thing for Wii U is, for me, right now it just feels like it’s not the kind of system you just want to do a port to. It’s got some interesting functions and features that you’d really want to be able to take advantage of. So that would be some investment there.

 What are your thoughts about how Kinect is progressing, including the ability now to be able to talk to characters in video games like Mass Effect 3?

Jason: I don’t know about the talking to characters thing, I haven’t done that yet, but I did get a Kinect. I did think it was really cool. I was a little bit of a holdout, but then when I touched it and got to see my kids play with it. I think it is pretty amazing.

Vince: We kind of did the same thing at our house. We had the Kinect, we loved it for the first couple months. I think my only problem with it now is there’s not enough new software coming out for it to keep that surge going.

Jason: Yeah, the exciting thing for Kinect for me is you can project that technology out in the future in a generation or two. I would see myself — for the kind of stuff I like to do anyway — still holding the controller, but having all these other options open to you where it knows what’s going on in your room, it knows what you’re doing and it knows where your face is. It can look at you and do all those kinds of interesting things.

Vince: I’m not ready to give up my controller and just wave my hands in the air for every game.

Jason: No.

Forza 4 is giving players the option of driving with the regular controller, using the steering wheel, or just using the Kinect. So they are starting to give you options of how you want to play.

Jason: Yeah, I see it as a sort of doorway to your home automation, or the sci-fi movie where you come in and you talk to the TV and tell it to turn on and tell it what you want to watch and it works. That, I think, would be pretty amazing.

Vince: I think it’s cool because now I leave my Xbox on doing something, I leave the room and it goes to sleep and it dims out. When I walk in front of the Kinect it comes back to life. It feels connected. I like it.

Does this kind of technology influence you guys when you’re developing games as something you’d like to incorporate into the experience?

Jason: I would say it influences my daydreams about the future. Technically, on the Kinect, I was really excited about it, but it turns out the Kinect uses a lot of system memory and takes some of the resources away from the system. We can’t really afford to do that, so we can’t really use it in the near-term. But when you can use it effectively with no downside, then I think it will be really attractive.

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What are your thoughts about the industry shifting to create cross-platform experiences, where EA has The Sims on Facebook, on PC, on mobile devices and on consoles and each version is different, but complements the other?

Vince: I love that. I haven’t tried The Sims. What does it do that connects to each other? Because I think you get a lot of people that put them on different platforms in various forms but, like when I can get on my iPhone and connect to a game that has relevance to a game that I’m playing on the console, that to me is great.

Jason: I think that’s awesome and a lot of fun. The only danger at all is the temptation to try to set it up so you want players to have to buy all versions of the game. I think when that happens it can leave that sour taste in peoples’ mouth, but other than that I think it’s great.

There are games out now like Dungeon Defenders, which allows gamers on PC, PlayStation 3 and Tegra 2-enabled mobile phones and tablets to interact in multiplayer and cooperative experiences in the same game world.

Jason: Yeah, that’s totally awesome.

Vince: Yeah, that’s really good.

Jason: Hopefully the cell carriers won’t clamp down on our network usage.

Do these kinds of things, as they’re evolving, influence the choices you make with creating games?

Jason: Absolutely. I could paint a picture of something in many, many years that would involve all of that, that would be very fun.

Vince: But we won’t.

Jason: But we won’t.

As developers, what would you like to see in the next generation of consoles that will be coming out?

Jason: The viral digital downloading for sure, I think that’s huge. And then just a bunch of technical stuff — higher resolution, a lot more fill, which means being able to fill the screens many more times, so we can do a lot more effects and we can do proper, true 3D, not sort of the hacky 3D they do now. I’d like a ton more memory and flash storage, faster access to things. It’s more and more and more.

When you mentioned 3D, are you talking about stereo 3D?

Jason: Yeah, because you can do stereo 3D where it’s sort of a 3-millisecond shader pass that fudges it a little bit and gives you a stereoscopic-ish view. And then there’s doing two full renderings from two perspectives with eyes and getting true stereoscopic, which I think would be much more impressive.

Vince: It’s expensive right now…

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