Some games come and go but others remain constant within the games industry. Originally starting in 2003 as a competitor to EA’s Medal of Honor, Call of Duty was a WWII genre alternative for players. In 2007 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare arrived and changed the landscape forever.
The impact of Modern Warfare’s design shifts influenced both single and multiplayer games for years to come. Now nearly ten years after the release of Modern Warfare the development team at Infinity Ward are ready to change the Call of Duty landscape once more with the arrival of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
OLD AND NEW BLOOD
Call of Duty is a multi-player juggernaut, but players also expect a thrilling campaign experience. Known for fast action with tense moments, the Call of Duty games have delivered unique single-player tales set during the Cold War or those in a slightly distant future. Infinity Ward is now changing the narrative landscape of the Call of Duty franchise substantially in Infinite Warfare while still featuring the familiar elements players expect.
To help craft this latest Call of Duty iteration, Infinity Ward enlisted the services of Brian Bloom. A veteran of the acting industry in film, TV, and video games, some of Brian’s past writing credits include the 2010 film adaptation of The A-Team. Known for captivating performances in games such as Dragon Age (Varric) or Wolfenstein: The New Order (B.J.), Brian initially didn’t join Infinite Warfare as an actor.
“Some guys I’d worked with in voice over capacity over the years on COD [Call of Duty] reached out organically. They asked if I would be interest[ed] in taking a look. What would you do, how would you structure things? I think as those conversations started to happen things evolved,” said Brian Bloom in an interview with Two Left Sticks.
A LAYERED APPROACH
Familiar with the game industry, Brian was up to the task of tackling a complex narrative. Whereas a screenplay requires the writer to merely create the narrative, characters, and dialog, writing a story for a video game is a far deeper endeavor. “This is a very unique, layered and kind of advanced sector of screenwriting. To do the job right requires complete and total commitment to the project. You have to understand the mechanics, features, systems. It’s not like you can deliver a draft like a screenwriter does and walk away. It’s a skyscraper that’s being built on a daily basis that’s also evolving,” said Brian of the process crafting the narrative of Infinite Warfare.
Brian’s commitment as an actor carried over to the intense writing process of creating a new Call of Duty. “The narrative is not something that is just created and locked down in a box and the game built around it,” said Brian. “These things go hand in hand. Gameplay is narrative. Narrative is gameplay. Story is character. Character is story. We had a three year development cycle. You can’t just go home and write a scene. It doesn’t work that way. It’s quite a bit more of a commitment. And there are more factors, conditions, and elements that need to be managed, respected, included and supported as you are fighting for the video game.”
BECOMING CAPTAIN REYES
When Brian originally came aboard Infinite Warfare strictly as a writer, the role of Captain Reyes, the main protagonist, wasn’t cast yet. Speaking of how he ultimately landed the role Brian said, “It wasn’t something we were writing for me. We wanted to pick the best guy for the role and did rounds of auditions with some fantastic actors. I think it sort of happened organically that I started playing Capt. Reyes for the purposes of auditions, purposes of reading, table reads and looking over what we were doing with the character, dialog. It started to feel like I was the right guy.”
While having helped create the character and knowing the inner workings, Brian was hesitant to portray Capt. Reyes. “That wasn’t something I was targeting, it wasn’t my objective to play that role,” Brian said. “I was honored to be asked quite frankly. I was a little resistant as I wanted to concentrate on my other responsibilities, the other disciplines, and make sure that I could maintain the contribution that I was asked to do which was write all the dialog. Turns out to be a 1000 page script; length of five or seven screenplays. Those guys turned around and kind of said this is how we’d like to do it and we want you to play the role. Moving forward I’m glad we did it.”
A NEW, YET FAMILIAR DIRECTION
Call of Duty has a reputation for providing thrilling single-player campaign experiences. While some past entries haven’t fared as well as others, players ultimately have a set of expectations for what they want upon beginning a CoD campaign.
Stepping into new territory, the team at Infinity Ward has taken the traditional Call of Duty action and have transported it to the next level. Now with action taking place on space stations and asteroids, the action in Infinite Warfare is unlike what players have seen in past installments.
But with player expectations in mind, did Brian and Infinity Ward feel beholden to honor every past Call of Duty tradition?
“I think we felt compelled to deliver on this incredible formula. COD is the standard bearer of the military fantasy,” Brian said. “It has always put its players, hopefully from the safety of their console or PC, in the heat of battle behind the barrel, flanking enemies, moving from cover to cover, advancing on their objective with their teammates. That is the game loop. Doing that at 60 frames with those amazing silky twitchy controls. Something that no one has been able to duplicate.”
“What we had an opportunity to do with space was how can we use that to advance? Take our players to environments they’ve never been to before and give them mechanics and systems they’ve never had before. An example would be moving from cover to cover and flanking. But at times in zero G you’re in relative position. How do you get to cover? We put a grappling hook in player’s hands so they can pull themselves to cover or topside during combat. Changing the environment at times gives you an opportunity to develop something more awesome while maintaining the elements COD has always been known for.”
Past Call of Duty games have always featured characters that have gone on to become favorites among players. Gaz, Frank Woods, and of course Captain Price, are who players know Call of Duty for despite their limited appearances.
Rather than being a near silent protagonist who merely obeys the orders doled out to him, Reyes is the one in charge of the battles and the soldiers under his command in Infinite Warfare. This marks a unique distinction within the series since it presents a feeling of becoming the character rather than claim ownership over their nearly mute protagonist.
Of the evolved character direction Brian said, “It was fun to give that another look and give our main character a promotion and play as an officer who has been promoted to captain. It changes your sense of who you are in the game. You have crew around you for whom you are responsible. There are choices and decisions along the way and they’re tough.”
Becoming a character with a position ought to lend a sense of urgency within the battles. This, in turn, could further invest players into the story rather than breeze along it. It’s almost tradition for FPS games to allow the player to become the protagonist to deepen overall immersion. So it’s interesting to see Infinity Ward and Brian put direct character and depth into Reyes.
“We looked at stories about the burden of leadership and what it takes to be a leader under such difficult circumstances. You don’t just go through this game and get ordered around, pulled through the game. In many ways you take lead, take point, and that’s a little different perspective. Another piece of the ambition that was part of creating this new exciting version of COD.”
The main distinction Infinite Warfare has over past franchise installments is the setting of space. Whereas the last few CoD entries have gone into a more fantastical approach, there were still elements that were familiar to the player. Now going into the expanse of space, it’s a game changer as to what players expect from Call of Duty and the action it offers.
Yet with so many other sci-fi games on the market, what inspired Infinity Ward and Brian to craft this new era of combat? Speaking of the inspirations he and Infinity Ward had, Brian said, “If you moved into these other environments such as space, what would you need? What kinds of warfare, if space were militarized, would be realistic? We didn’t want the future to be a get out of jail free card. Putting our characters in space puts even more pressure on them. In addition to the other faction in the game the interesting thing is that space itself is your enemy.”
“It is a very grounded environment that is harsh and you’re not able to survive there without redundancies, durability, and dependable equipment. I spent the night on an aircraft carrier, toured the ship with almost total freedom. Did a lot of research like that. It was very interesting to see how the Navy has a sense of those grounded elements. On this aircraft carrier next to an LED panel for communication you would see an old-fashioned phone. And next to that a bell, and next to that a horn. Those things are all still there. There are protocols to using them. As one system breaks down the system before it in its evolution becomes all the more valuable.”
It’s interesting to see how Infinity Ward and Brian defined Infinite Warfare’s world with clear logic. Rather than allowing space to provide a purely fantastical tale there was a clear realistic direction in Infinite Warfare. Those elements should provide a sense of familiarity to players as they explore what that Infinite Warfare offers.
Brian went on to say, “We kept it grounded, kept it gritty. Our aircraft carrier is very much like a real aircraft carrier. We had the honor and pleasure of showing it to Naval admirals and officers. They looked at our concept art and they commented that they could smell the jet fuel, the sea, and iron. Those were great things to hear. I think we were successful in finding that balance between NASA and the Navy and mixing those ingredients to create the ethos that is Infinite Warfare.”
Working as an actor and writer on Infinite Warfare, Brian has a deep knowledge and affinity for the project. But if there’s one standout element of Infinite Warfare for Brian it has to be ETH.3n, the robotic member of Reyes’ squad.
“He’s a very unique character,” Brian said of ETH.3n. “We’ve seen a lot of robots. Version of stories that look at the humanity of the machine, both from the common warning and with the robot asking the deeper questions. Those themes are inescapable since they’ve been done. So we tried to do something that people had not seen before.”
“Jeffrey Nordling played the hell out of it and made it even greater than the sum of its parts. We were looking to create a teammate who would have all the AI and knew everything. He would need to be a dependable and valued teammate. But he would need to know more about being human than a person does in order to manage those elements effectively. We thought that would be an interesting concept and that he would have a fantastic sense of humor. ETH.3n is a terrific character and not quite like anything we’ve seen before. Engaging, likable, witty and more heart than any person in the story. I think people will really have a great time knowing that they are deploying with ETH.3n.”
A COGNIZANT APPROACH
Acting in dozens of games throughout the years, Brian’s accustomed to tackling various types of characters. But what sort of direction does an actor take to play a soldier in the distant future? On his creative process as an actor Brian said, “I try to be cognizant and in this case being on the creative team as well I had the chance to have more attention to these details, more opportunities to hone these things.”
“For example you have to think of the core convictions of the character. But you also have to think what it feels like for your audience of one. I try to be cognizant of what it’s like to communicate and have a sense of what it would feel like to be that audience of one. I try to remember people of all different shapes, sizes, and ages will be holding this controller and probably be alone when having this experience.”
With a unique approach such as that, it’s clear why many of Brian’s performances are the best in the business. This more personal approach Brian takes with his performances is thoughtful and is more than evident in Wolfenstein: The New Order. Further speaking on the matter Brian continued, “I try to balance giving you exactly what your character is feeling, but leaving room for you to fill in some of that empty space. Some of that negative space emotionally is yours. To be cognizant that you’ll be playing alone and it’s all walks of life that will pick up the controller. Especially for COD and its massive audience. They will all bring a bit of themselves and we want to leave room for you to bring some of yourself and make discoveries for yourself. But also to enjoy the authored experience we have in store for you.”
RETURN TO WOLFENSTEIN
In 2014 Brian portrayed B.J. Blackowicz in Wolfenstein: The New Order. With B.J.’s fate unknown at the end of The New Order, Brian said this of future Wolfenstein games, “I’ll be safe with this answer. If you look at Bethesda’s E3 2016 lineup there was a title hinted at in a cool way. It sparked a bit of wildfire. That subtle, very simple DOS language, going through the titles. Perhaps we’re working on that as we speak.”
The potential of a new Wolfenstein game is exciting, but questions are still abound as to what’s next for B.J. On the topic of what he would like to explore next as B.J. Brian said,”Whoever B.J. Blaskowicz was, in the content we have so far, he’s the articulation of a promise not kept; a country that surrendered while he was in a coma. He’s fighting a war on his own with a very small group of people, completely outgunned and out-manned. A world taken over by scourge of racism, nazism, and fascism.”
“Anya and their relationship in many ways is B.J. attempting to give redemption to the dream lost. Those ideals that he has that might be idealistic – marriage, children, living in a free world. It’s all part of who he is. Putting my own feelings aside, and giving the audience all room to have their own feelings about this. I think we can agree that his core convictions are related to that kind of loyalty.”
With Infinite Warfare’s three year journey finally coming to an end, Brian now has his focus on other projects. Cautious to not violate any NDAs, Brian said this about upcoming projects, “I worked on X-Com 2 and I’m super excited about that. The game was really well-received. There are characters that I’ve played in the past that people seem to have liked that have new versions in the works. Better for me to keep my mouth shut for now.”
With over thirty years under his belt as an actor, Brian’s passion as an actor and writer is evident. Based on the footage released Infinite Warfare’s campaign is looking promising given it’s deeper dramatic approach. Infinite Warfare could become the new narrative standard for the franchise moving forward, much in the way Modern Warfare did in 2007.