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Call of Duty: Ghosts preview: rebooting a franchise

by John Keefer, shacknews.com, May 21, 2013 11:00AM PDT

Activision deliberately crossed everyone up when it announced the next Call of Duty as Ghosts instead of Modern Warfare 4 on May 1. It was a calculated attempt to reboot the franchise with a new generation of consoles on the horizon. But no matter what it was called, the company was confident the next game would be popular no matter what.

"I plugged in Modern Warfare 4 into Google on my phone and saw there were 122 million search results for the name," said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. "Just for fun, I plugged in Dark Knight Rises, which does exist, and there were 116 million results."

It is that fan craving for the next iteration in the series that is driving Activision and developer Infinity Ward to basically start from scratch with a new story and characters, and we got some brief details on the story, a new squad member, and multiplayer during a showing of the game prior to today's reveal of the Next Xbox.

The story--coming from writer Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Traffic--opens with a devastating man-made event that has crippled America. The military forces are practically obliterated and the government is in disarray. As the player, you take on the role of the underdog to fight against superior forces with your team, composed of remnants from all the U.S. Special Forces. Your group of Ghosts have become one of the elite combat teams that have adopted and perfected urban warfare.

A new member of your squad will be a German Shepherd, and while there have been dogs in Call of Duty games before, Infinity Ward is making this canine an integral part of the team--so much so that they have done motion capture with dogs trained for combat. The dog will do everything from sniff out explosives to protect members of the squad.

And for players who want a few more options in combat, the game will add lean & peek, vaulting and slide movements, something players have wanted for some time.

While single-player will be starting fresh, multiplayer is also getting a makeover. Dynamic maps are being added, where natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, or player-driven actions will create a constantly changing experience for the player. Another new multiplayer feature will be character customization. Players can choose heads, bodies, and the gear they wear to help them better identify with the character they create.

We did get to see the new engine in action in an underwater level, where the player is in scuba gear. It appeared to be part of the single-player story, where the player is tasked with taking out a heavily guarded ship from below, while dodging enemy scuba divers and undersea obstacles. The player is also able to use his gun underwater to dispatch enemies. The ship is eventually sunk by a torpedo released and aimed by the player. After that, it becomes a job of staying out of the way of sinking debris.

The development team is striving for more realism, and to do that they are building a brand the new engine from scratch. "One of the core philosophies of Infinity Ward has always been that gameplay drives tech," said Mark Rubin, executive producer at Infinity Ward, "and what we are creating is not tech for tech's sake. The textures, the shaders, the lighting, the particle simulation … all these things work to create a world that is immersive as possible." And even will all the new tech, Rubin said he is confident the team will still deliver 60 frames per second and low-latency controls.

While he was really happy with Modern Warfare 3 and how the game pushed that engine to its limits, Rubin said the new engine makes some refinements that improve on the look of the characters, the environment and the equipment. The company has hired several individuals with Hollywood CG experience, and these folks have been invaluable in creating improvements to the real-time rendering of the engine. These improvements include displacement mapping--which, in layman's terms, basically turns flat images into a high-definition environment that looks 3D--and SubD, an open-source project from movie studio Pixar that essentially smooths out the rough edges by increasing the number of polygons. The latter is particularly noticeable when looking close-up at a sniper scope or a character's hands.

The game is set for PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 on November 5, and sometime after for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. And all DLC will be available on Xbox One first for a limited time.

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