Saturday, March 29, 2008

Design Lesson 101 - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Design Lesson: If you have a good, solid core gameplay experience, it can translate to many settings.

I am a huge Call of Duty fan (not counting the Treyarch developed Call of Duty 3). When Infinity Ward said the new installment in the series would be set in modern times, not World War II, I had some worries. After all, the series was defined by the feeling of being one man in a big war. How could that possible be translated to modern times, when we haven't seen a war on the scale of WWII since?

The core experience of the Call of Duty series has been the feeling of being a small part of something larger. You don't feel like a superhero. You feel like there is something happening in the world around you, and that you are one small piece of a greater puzzle. This leads to a cinematic experience, with helicopters, planes, and other soldiers at your side the entirety of the game.

In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare the experience is given to the player by making sure there are plenty of ambient events happening at all times. Jets fly overhead. Explosions occur in the distance. You rely on off-screen actions of other AI to complete objectives. You can call in for air support at specific times during the game. In other words, there is always something happening in the world. Infinity Ward is then able to leverage that feeling of there being a larger whole to tie it in with a well executed story and most important, well executed pacing. There are lulls in combat and in the game just when necessary. This pacing supports the experience they have delivered in the past. As a result, we get a game that feels like the other Call of Duty games, but is set in a wholly different setting.

I'm convinced that Infinity Ward knows their series well enough that the next Call of Duty game they develop could be set in the Wild West, and it would still work. To me, this proves if you have a really solid, well designed core of your game, and you know how to execute it well, it can work in almost any setting.

Bonus Design Lesson: Avoid the door problem.

Doors can be a big problem in FPS games, especially games set in historical or modern settings. How does the player know which ones he can open? How does AI handle doors? What happens if something is behind a door when you open it? Do all doors need to be two way, so they always open away from the player? Sci-fi games can have doors that open automatically and don't cause any obstructions. However, many games cannot afford that luxury. What results is a game with obstructions and problems that occur thanks to those doors. Call of Duty 4 has minimal doors that need to be used. The game mostly has open archways to navigate and unusable doors for dressing. When there is a door that can be used, the player is never the one to open the door. There are friendly AI units who breach doors instead. It's a good solution to a hard problem. Don't try to solve the door problem. Just avoid it!


  1. Great writeup. I just finished the single player campaign on COD4 myself. The core mechanic is definitely there the way you described it and I also noticed the door solution. I read your No More Heroes "lesson" too! Great series, and I look forward to more lessons. Teach me, oh wise one.

  2. Glad you are enjoying the series so far... really, I'm just teaching myself these things as I play and then passing on what I learned.

    Honestly, writing thoughts up forces you to understand it so much more than just thinking about the topic, so it's really helping me a lot!

  3. Call of duty is perfect I say that because I've heard many people love it, actually my sister watched all episodes and she says it's so cool.

  4. Dude I have to say I'm so glad to find your blog, even though I did it by a fluke. The information posted here is interesting and entertaining. In short, a really nice blog.


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