Talent from Naughty Dog Might Really Improve Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s Storytelling

on May 3, 2016 3:25 PM

The single player campaigns within the Call of Duty series always had highs and lows, but have been mostly ignored by players in favor of multiplayer content. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare‘s announcement press releases are full of promises about “unforgettable characters,” “rich, immersive narrative,” and  putting “storytelling front and center.”

We have heard similar promises before, and most of the times we didn’t exactly see overwhelming results. There have been some examples of enjoyable plots, but nothing really shined at the same level of the best story-driven games.

This time around, though, there is something different on the table.

After the legal mishap that caused Infinity Ward to splinter, leading to the formation of Respawn Entertainment, Activision initially struggled to rebuild its former Call of Duty poster team. We have seen the inevitable result with Call of Duty: Ghosts ending up being mostly forgettable.

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After the publisher brought the series back to the drawing board with the new three-year development cycle and studio rotation with Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games, they set out on a serious hiring spree to bring new talent into the team.

Among those hired,  are former Naughty Dog Narrative Design Lead Taylor Kurosaki and Lead Game Designer Jacob Minkoff, who moved to Infinity Ward to work on Infinite Warfare respectively as Narrative Director and Design Director.

Alongside Kurosaki and Minkoff, a few other developers from the house of Uncharted were scouted for the new Call of Duty game, including Senior Game Designer Benson Russell, Game Designer Douglas Holder, Senior Lighting Artist Omar Gatica and even Eric Monacelli, who has been one of the voices of Naughty Dog as Community Strategist for several years. 

The narrative/design duo formed by Kurosaki and Minkoff has been front and center in the introduction of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, appearing prominently in both the Heritage video that preceded the reveal, and the livestream that followed.

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This kind of prominence appears to clearly indicate that Infinity Ward really intends to steer the new game towards a more strongly story-driven approach, and what we heard yesterday also seems to confirm that.

Quoting their own words, as Narrative Director Kurosaki is in charge of all things story-related, including the plot, the scenes, the writing, the cast, the characters and the direction of the performance capture.

Minkoff’s mission as Design Director is to make sure is that all that story content is implemented in game  in a way that makes the emotions of the characters come across properly, focusing on visual design, language and mechanics. He makes sure that the player’s experience with the controller conveys all of the emotion that the script and performances supervised by Kurosaki are intended to evoke.

According to Kurosaki, the team has been shooting performance capture for the game for over a year, with actors completely committed to Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and today they’re having one of the last sessions before they wrap up that part of development.

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That’s an enormous amount of performance capture footage, indicating that the story of the game is most probably going to be quite a lot beefier than what we have come to expect from a Call of Duty game.

Minkoff also mentioned that the believability of the world is paramount to the team, aiming to create a science fiction story that actually could happen in the future. That’s also the reason why the game is limited to the solar system and there are no aliens:

“We’re looking for the most grounded, believable conflict you could possibly have in space, and that goes from the character performances and motivations, all the way through the environments and the plot”

As a big science fiction fan, my favorite books, film and anime belonging to the genre have always been those rooted in a degree of realism, and this seems to be exactly what Infinite Warfare is going for.

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If there are developers able to pull that off, and infuse the story-driven campaign of a Call of Duty game with the emotion and narrative power it needs, two Naughty Dog veterans like Minkoff and Kurosaki seem to be the ideal candidates.

Minkoff is the man behind the majestic train and convoy levels in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, before working as a Design Lead in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and The Last of Us. On the other end of the spectrum, Kurosaki has been at the forefront of all things story-related in Naughty Dog games since 2004.

That’s a hell of a pedigree that definitely gives me a degree of confidence on the possibility that this might actually be the breath of fresh air that Call of Duty‘s single player has been needing since the first Modern Warfare.

It’s actually interesting that for years there have been whispers about Naughty Dog courting the development of a science fiction game, and some of the most prominent developers that left the studio are now working exactly on that. Infinite Warfare isn’t even the only one, with former Uncharted Creative Director Amy Hennig currently hard at work on a Star Wars game.

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Since yesterday’s reveal, I’ve seen all sorts of negativity thrown towards Infinite Warfare, from people dismissing it because it’s “just another Call of Duty,” to others dissing its sci-fi setting, passing by websites creating disgustingly fake narratives of enmity with other development teams.

Let’s be honest. As a franchise perceived by many as the big, dumb holiday blockbuster shooter, Call of Duty is an easy target. Tthrowing negativity at it will always be the perfect way to pander to the cynics and get cheap hits translating into easy money. I’m pretty sure you know that I’m not a big COD fan myself, but this kind of preconception-driven attitude sets my teeth on edge.

We have seen very little of Infinite Warfare, and it’s very unfair to dismiss it before it even has the chance to prove itself. Infinity Ward’s troubles forced the studio to renew itself, bringing  in new blood that seems to be determined to create a new and deeper military shooter experience, more solidly rooted in its story and characters. It could end up being a blessing in disguise.

It’s certainly an experiment worthy of being pursued, and personally I can’t wait to see what results it’ll bring. Whether it’ll be successful or it’ll fail, future will tell, but I think that there are solid reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

A Call of Duty in space with a bit of Naughty Dog flavor could very well be the recipe that brings back to the franchise that epic feel that it has been needing for quite a while.

 /  Executive News Editor
Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.
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