TA Interview with Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling

By Andrew Ogley, 5 years ago
During the first weekend in October, the annual FirstLook Expo for 'Games, Gadgets, and Gear' takes place in the Netherlands. The event, although smaller than some other game expos, takes place over the two days and still manages to attract some big names.

This year, Infinity Ward brought Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 to the event. We were lucky enough to see two full levels demonstrated live by a play-tester (not just a trailer), and we were also presented with information about the CoD: Elite service.

Present at the event, and flown over especially from California, was Robert Bowling, the Creative Strategist for Infinity Ward and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Despite every game journalist in the Netherlands wanting to speak to him, Bowling was gracious enough to grant us a short interview away from the sweltering heat and bustling crowds.

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So first of all, the key question, what is a creative strategist?

RB: Well [laughing], I’m a lead at Infinity Ward and my job is to work with all the other leads to make sure we all fully understand what our vision is for the game, so we can actually hit on that.

I’ve seen the presentations with the gameplay. I'm really impressed - especially with the London scene. Also with Elite, I’m really interested in this side of it. You’ve got it coming out on Android and you’ve got it coming out on mobile. Do you think that is going to really deliver something to the community?

RB: I think it is, really, because our community is so massive - I mean we have over 30 million people. It really allows them the tools and freedom to have more control over customising their experience and enhancing their experience, in and outside of the game.

Is it going to work across platforms? If your buddy is playing on a PS3 and you’re playing on an Xbox, will you see his career?

RB: Elite, yeah yeah! You can search up anybody you want on any platform.

The game gets bigger and better each year. Have you got great expectations for this one?

RB: We do. I mean we had a very big vision for what we wanted Modern Warfare 3 to be, and luckily I’m happy to say that not only were we able to execute on that vision, but build on top of it in ways that we never expected we could thanks to things like Elite.

What’s more the focus these days, the campaign or the multiplayer?

RB: It’s equal. It’s definitely equal because we actually have three major parts to the game, because Spec Ops is more than ever an even bigger part of the game.

So Spec Ops is back again?

RB: Yeah, we have Spec Ops Mission Mode, but in addition to that we have a brand new mode called Spec Ops Survival Mode, which is infinite waves of enemies and that really blurs the line between the two experiences.

Like a Horde mode?

RB: Yeah, like an infinite wave based mode ... like Horde mode. We’ve brought in the kill-streaks, the perks, the attachments, the progressive ranking ... all that cool stuff from multiplayer into the co-op environment.

You introduced all these perks, the whole levelling up thing, and I see that coming back in other games as well, such as Gears of War 3. How do you feel about that? Is that a compliment for you guys?

RB: Yeah. I mean it’s great because we take inspiration from all sorts of games - the things that people are doing well. What’s so great about game design is you can take inspiration, bring it in, put it into your design philosophy, do it in your style, and that’s what makes it so great. So, we love it when the same thing is done with features that we think are great.

Do you learn from other people? Do you adopt from other people? Do you see things in other franchises and think “Yeah I wish we’d do something like that”?

RB: Yeah, yeah you do. You take inspiration from everywhere. I mean what I love most is when you find something outside your own genre that you can pool from - something from racing, something from MMOs, something from RPGs - I mean that’s something that really started the direction we went in with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare with bringing in RPG elements, progressive ranking, perks that change abilities.

You’ve got Elite coming out and I know that it is for Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, which is a lot of effort for two games, so I’m going to make the assumption that there are more coming. Are we going to see Black Ops 2 or Modern Warfare 4 for example?

RB: I have no clue. We really take it one game at a time. Right now, we’re 100% focused on Modern Warfare 3; it’s a massive game that takes all our time.

In relation to that, there is Battlefield 3, and other “Modern” shooters coming out soon. Is there a risk that the market will become saturated again, for example, like the old WWII shooters?

RB: I don’t know. I think as long you have creative things that you can do, you never have to really worry about saturation. As long as you are making a great game, people are going to enjoy it. Right now, we don’t have any plans for what our next game is, or what direction we’re going to go in. We’re going to worry about that once we finished Modern Warfare 3.

Ok. A personal question that’s probably a bit outfield, but I have to know. Why do you keep killing off the player [Rob chuckles at this], like the soldier in Modern Warfare, or “No Russian” and the characters in Modern Warfare 2?

RB: Well, we definitely like to show you the conflict from different perspectives, see different roles. I mean the most important thing to realise is that, actually in war, the hero doesn’t always win, especially in Modern Warfare and the story that we’re telling.

Going back to “No Russian”. You knew that you were going to get a lot of flak from the press. Do you ever panic and think “oh my god, what are they putting in the game this time?”, because, obviously, you are going to get a lot of feedback from the community about that?

RB: Right. No, we don’t really worry about controversy or reaction like that when we’re designing the game, because moments like that are meant to be story elements; they’re meant to be character development. In terms of “No Russian” and the type of enemy Makarov is, they set the tone for certain missions and conflict that you’re doing, so that was right for that story that we were telling. It’s not always right for every story you’re telling, but you have to find what’s right for the pacing and the tone of the story at the time.

A question about the demo of the gameplay. You chose to show it on the Xbox - was there any particular reason for that?

RB: No, that’s the easiest thing for us when we’re on tour. The game is completely equal on both platforms, PS3 and PC, in terms of how much dev time it has. We started on day one and everything is equal; it’s just typically what we use on tour. The Dev kits are smaller to carry around.

The map packs are always coming out quite early. Have you got plans for those coming out soon after release date?

RB: We have plans to do DLC, but we don’t start planning what that DLC is, or start working on it, until the full game is finished. We plan to do a lot of support but we don’t know what it is yet.

A general question again. With the community you get a lot of feedback. In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, there was the Javelin exploit. You worked very closely with Microsoft to close that off very quickly and Microsoft suspended some accounts. Sony took the other direction and said that it was really a CoD issue and you guys had to sort it out. What do you feel is the best approach and how do you feel about it?

RB: I think the best approach is you know it’s on us developers to ensure we can support it. You really can’t rely on the hardware manufacturers to take action for you. We’ve done a lot of work on the backend and the anti-cheat system, especially with the inclusion of Elite now. We have a dedicated team that will be monitoring all that activity post-launch, so we can take action in-game on players who are violating things like that, as well as a lot of work we did that allows us to update the game, re-balance it much quicker, and isn’t so much reliant on title updates.

Do you compete with other franchises on who can get the fastest selling title on a particular day, or who’s going to sell the most copies?

RB: No we don’t, no. I mean our stuff is focused very much on making a good game. We don’t worry about sales numbers at all. It’s not something we focus on, because we just want to make a good game that our fans are going to like.

Another general question; Gears of War has just posted over 1 billion in sales across the whole franchise. Have you got plans for books, spin-offs, movies? Are you going to take the franchise onto any other media?

RB: With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 we did the “Ghost” comic with Wildstorm, and we really take those opportunities as they come and look at what’s right for our franchise. Do we really have a story to tell? Is there something compelling we want to do? We will never do something just to do it, just to create merchandise. We only do things if we can add to the franchise, and if we can add a lot of value to the story and the characters, and the message that we’re trying to tell.

Finally, are you enjoying it here? Is it your first time here?

RB: No, I’ve been here quite a few times. I love Amsterdam and I love the Netherlands.

I can imagine it’s a little bit smaller than what you’re used to.

RB: Yeah, a little bit, but compared with GamesCom everything’s a bit small.

Rob, it’s great to have you here, and thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it.

RB: Thank you, man.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.