Exclusive Iinterview: Call Of Duty Ghosts Executive Producer Mark Rubin

In many ways, Call Of Duty: Ghost — which Activision is releasing on the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, WiiU, and PC — isn’t just a new game, it’s also a new beginning, as it’s the first non-sequel in this series  since 2008’s World At War.

It was with this in mind that I spoke to Infinity Ward’s Mark Rubin, the game’s Executive Producer, at a recent event where journalists were given an opportunity to play the game so we could review it for our respective outlets (look for mine in an upcoming issue of @gamer). As a result…

WARNING: THIS INTERVIEW HAS SPOILERS ABOUT CALL OF DUTY: GHOSTS.

Call Of Duty Ghosts Mark_Rubin 

Going in to Call Of Duty: Ghosts, what was the biggest criticism of your previous game, Modern Warfare 3, that you guys most wanted to address?

Hmm…. That’s a tough one. I think the biggest thing that we wanted to do, in general, is that we wanted to get away from the world we know and go to a world we didn’t know. Modern Warfare could happen in our world, and while Ghosts could happen in it as well, it’s a bit more on the sci-fi side. We wanted to create a new world that people hadn’t seen before.

I don’t know if that’s a criticism, per se….

No, not really. I’m thinking more about something that people didn’t like about Modern Warfare 3. For instance, I thought it was a bit short.

Which you could say about every one we’ve ever done. They’re always about six to eight hours long.

I felt like the earlier ones were longer.

They might be. On C.O.D.4 especially, we made a conscious decision to make some levels harder, which made the game longer. For instance, the one where you defend the carousel…

Oh, god.

Exactly. Looking back, I think that may not have been the best decision.

Call Of Duty Ghosts 01

I want to go back to the question about looking at older games. For you guys at Infinity Ward, the last game was Modern Warfare 3. But for most people, the last game was Black Ops II because, while that was made by different studio, Treyarch, most people don’t know that, most people just look at it as the next Call Of Duty. Do you ever look at the criticisms of Treyarch’s games?

It’s interesting. Because of the development cycle, the two games have to live apart from each other. We’re always leapfrogging each other, and it’s so close that we don’t even share technology until the next, next game.

So even if fans hated something in their game, you couldn’t take it out of yours?

I get where you’re going. There are times when they add a new feature, and we’ll try it out as well, or vice versa.

But then, there’s also two schools of thought about it. There are some who don’t want to do what they’re doing…

Right, because there used to be this animosity between you guys. Which I always thought was dumb. I understand why people at Infinity Ward were angry with Activision….

It was difficult at that time. Call Of Duty was Infinity Ward’s game, we created it, and C.O.D.4 was the blueprint for Call Of Duty going forward, and we didn’t want to share it at the time.

And I understand that. I just thought the anger towards Treyarch was a bit misplaced.

I agree. But that’s not been the case in the last couple years. Black Ops was a great game, as was Black Ops II, and they gave us stuff to think about it. “Theater” in Modern Warfare 3 was something we got from Treyarch.

Though on single-player, we’ve always had a different philosophy. In Infinity Ward’s games, we never have the player character talk or be seen. But they do in Treyarch’s games. And it’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s just a different way of doing things.

One thing about Call Of Duty: Ghosts that I thought would’ve made the campaign longer, and thus better, was if you got to play the part where the Ghosts got their name. Why wasn’t that playable?

This is an origin story of the two brothers, Hesh and Logan. The Ghosts are something else. But the great thing about this world we’ve created is that there’s so much to it. I can’t wait to start exploring other stories. The dad and the Ghosts, that could be a whole other bit to explore.

Does that mean you could possibly do a prequel in which we see the story of the Ghosts? Not that you’re saying you will, but that you could.

Very possibly, yes. We concentrated on the story of Hesh and Logan. But in creating this world, we realized how rich it is, and how many stories we could tell in it. Like Rourke’s story: What did he do after he was thought to have died but before he resurfaced?

But I don’t get the sense, from what you’re saying, that you have a concrete plan, and that you know what part two is going to be and part three is going to be.

That’s correct. We’re not like that. We’re not tied in to what next yet. We just have a ton of ideas.

But why do you make your campaigns so short? Granted, with all the multiplayer and co-op, no one thinks they’re not getting their money’s worth. But as someone who’s more into single-player…

With a lot of games, 90% of the game is about the single-player and 10% is maybe multiplayer. We’re a lot more level about what our game’s are about. It’s more like 40% for the campaign, 40% for multiplayer, and 20% for co-op. That’s how our resources go, and that’s how we think people will value the game. Which doesn’t mean the story has to be short, that’s just how we think our game is perceived.

As far as the length of the story goes, we’ve always felt that it should be however long it needs to be, and shouldn’t be full of filler. A lot of games will have points where they make you grind, just to make it longer. We don’t want to do that. Even if we had all the time in the world to make our game, we’d still make a campaign that’s six to eight hours long. We’ve just found that just works best.

Call Of Duty Ghosts 02

The bad guys in Call Of Duty: Ghosts are a cabal of South American countries, while it was the Russians in Modern Warfare. Given that this series is a global phenomenon, how hard is it to pick an enemy that won’t end up pissing someone off?

I have a funny story about that. I was at an event, and this guy with a Russian accent came over and said, “I love your games. But could you not have the Russians be the bad guys for once?” And what I told him was that while I saw where he was coming from, Russia was our best enemy in fiction, post-World War II.

What’s also funny is that, when we’ve talked to people from South America about Ghosts, they think it’s cool that they’re the bad guys.

For me, the worst thing about the campaign is that you have a guy named Rourke, but nobody makes a Fantasy Island joke.

Ha!

I was hoping someone would joking say to Rourke, “Look boss, da plane, da plane,” and Rourke would just sigh and then shoot that guy in the head.

Ah…that would be awesome. We should do that as an Easter Egg somehow.

The game’s story was written by Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the movie Traffic and also wrote and directed the movie Syriana. How much of the story had been figured out when he came into it?

The way we normally write is that we have several writers so they can bounce ideas off each other. But when Stephen came on board, it was quite an amazing experience because unlike when we’ve brought in Hollywood writers before, who will look at the story and say, “here’s what I think you should do” and then go home, Stephen came in early and got an office in our space, and was there every day. You would go into the kitchen or wherever at 7:00 or 8:00 at night, and he’d still be there. He also helped direct levels. Like, “I see what you’re trying to do with this scene, it might be more impactful if you did this.” I almost want to say he was a writer/director for Ghosts.

How often did you ask him if he could get George Clooney to do a voice for it?

It’s funny, when we were starting to cast it, he had some really funny ideas. But Clooney never came up.

It would’ve been especially funny if you had gotten him to be the astronaut in the beginning of the game.

That would’ve been hilarious. By the way, we had already made those levels when we found out about Gravity. The coincidence of that is not lost on us.

Call Of Duty Ghosts George Clooney

Now in regards to multiplayer, my favorite of the new modes are “Blitz,” “Grind,” and “Hunted.” But all three are variations on old ones: “Capture The Flag,” “Kill Confirmed,” and “Team Deathmatch,” respectfully. Do you based new modes on old ones so people will understand the rules quicker, or is it because it’s easier for you guys to come up with them?

It does help, to an extent. Though “Blitz” didn’t really start as a “Capture The Flag” clone, though it became one very quickly. Also, “Hunted” was originally going to have it be like “Free For All,” but you’d spawn in a circle like in Hunger Games.

But you also added “Infected,” which is a common mode I’ve played in Halo 4 and other games.

Right. Though the game I loved that had that mode was the original Aliens Vs. Predator, where one person would start as a face hugger. Similarly, “Grind” is actually based on the mode “Headhunter” from Tribes 2.

How often do you guys come up with a new type of multiplayer mode, but it isn’t until you build it and try it out that you realize it won’t actually work?

Fortunately, for modes, it’s not too difficult for someone to take a couple of days to put together a version of it. Which is how we do it; we have someone put together a prototype, and then we play it, and give them feedback, and so on. So we’ve had modes where we know right away that they won’t work, while others we’ll work on for a while before we realize it won’t work.

It’s the same thing with maps. There’s eight to ten maps, in various stages of completion, that we didn’t include in Ghosts.

Let’s talk co-op. First, why the decision to get rid of “Spec Ops”?

Just because we did “Extinction” instead. We couldn’t do both. “Spec Ops” also didn’t have the replayability that we would’ve liked. Though some did, especially the ones that were time-based.

“Extinction” is basically your version of “Zombies” from Black Ops, but with aliens instead of the undead. Did you go with animal-like aliens instead of the stereotypical big eyed grey ones because “Zombies” already has a campy, ’50s sci-fi vibe?

Actually, when we set out to do “Extinction,” we tried to figure out what the gameplay would be like first. And we decided that, whatever it was, we wanted something that would be jumping around and climbing off walls. We wanted that kind of chaotic feeling that you’d get from something coming at you from everywhere, as opposed to guys with guns just walking towards you.

Call Of Duty Ghosts Extinction

We also liked the idea that melee would be the way you’d get damaged, as opposed to getting shot from a distance. Which is ultimately why we went with something more animalistic.

My biggest criticism of “Zombies” is that it’s so frickin’ hard. “Extinction” is clearly not as hard.

Oh, it gets hard.

Dang it. Finally, what is your favorite part of Call Of Duty: Ghosts, be it your favorite level in the campaign, favorite multiplayer mode, whatever?

I have a couple. In single-player, I love the underwater parts and the stuff in space. We were afraid of the combat in both of those areas early on, but I think they came out really well.

We were actually talking earlier how we think both of those would be cool for multiplayer.

Yeah, but what happens when you call in Riley [the dog]? Does he show up in a little scuba suit?

Yes! Or you’d have a shark that comes in. Granted, Injustice already did that, but it would still be cool.

Ha! Right.

Call Of Duty Ghosts water fight Gen

For multiplayer, to be very, very specific, I love the new Marksman class. Call Of Duty 2 was the first FPS game I really played on consoles. I was a PC guy before that. But when I started at Infinity Ward, I started playing on consoles, and fell in love with it. So I still have strong memories playing C.O.D.2 with those single-shot, really powerful rifles. The rifles in the Marksman class remind me of those. They make things harder for you, but they’re so satisfying.

 

 

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