A reduction of the number of so-called hotspots on the multiplayer maps of Modern Warfare 3 will alter and accelerate the flow of action in this fall's installment of the Call of Duty franchise juggernaut, one of the game's creators told Kotaku this week in New York City.
The makers of Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer mode are creating maps that include no more than five hotspots—places from which enemy players may be hiding or shooting—for a gamer to worry about at any one time.
"It simplifies it so that the less skilled player has less to think about," Robert Bowling, creative strategist at Modern Warfare development studio Infinity Ward told me yesterday. "What happens when you have more is that the professional guys are using that spot that is either difficult to get to. … There's fewer places to hide, which discourages the more camper mentality that seemed to emerge in the map design of Modern Warfare 2."
The multiplayer maps will also de-emphasize the verticality of combat that was introduced in Modern Warfare 2, Bowling said, offering that type of tiered conflict more selectively. A reliance on air support, also emphasized in the last Modern Warfare, will also be reduced, switching to something that will feel, Bowling believes, a little more like the first Modern Warfare, Call of Duty 4.
"Modern Warfare style is, for me, all about the high-speed, fast-paced—and I'm talking in terms of smooth controls and 60-frames-per-second framerate—infantry-focused combat," Bowling said. "And it's all focused on that gun-on-gun gameplay, especially in Modern Warfare 3. I feel like it's something we nailed with Call of Duty 4. We moved away from it a little bit with MW2, relying heavily on air support, killstreaks, perks and stuff like that. Modern Warfare 3, very much [is] building up from that Call of Duty 4 mentality of gun-on-gun, fast-paced infantry gameplay."
Infinity Ward and its publisher/owner Activision haven't shown Modern Warfare 3's competitive multiplayer mode yet, holding that reveal for the Call of Duty XP fan festival in early September. The mode and its maps will likely be the most popular element of Modern Warfare 3, given the dominant performance of previous Modern Warfare and non-Modern Warfare Call of Duty games among console and PC multiplayer gamers. Though the maps haven't been shown, it is expected that the multiplayer won't be radically different than that of recent franchise installments , pitting players against each other in first-person shooter competition, with a series of weapon upgrades and gameplay perks unlocking the better a player performs over the course of hours, days and months.
SURVIVAL STRATEGY Bowling was visiting New York this week primarily to show off Modern Warfare 3's no Spec Ops, two-player co-op submode, Survival. We previewed it last month, and I played it for the first time against Bowling yesterday. It invites comparisons to Gears of War's Horde mode in that it pits players against waves of enemies. But it intentionally supports only two players, in order, Bowling said, for each to feel like they are making meaningful contributions. Survival will be playable on all of the game's multiplayer maps. As players proceed through the first several waves of the mode, they'll unlock the ability to purchase weapons, weapon upgrades and air-support perks, all with in-game cash earned from kills. Survival fills a Modern Warfare void, Bowling said: "It's merging all three worlds, really, of a single-player experience, because you can play it all solo, a multiplayer experience and the co-op experience. It's giving you a completely new experience that blurs the line between all three modes. I think that's what was missing and I think that's where, you know, the future lies in blurring those lines instead of them being hard definitions of experiences."
While we're still short on details about Modern Warfare 3's competitive multiplayer modes and maps, Bowling had a lot to say about the philosophy driving the developers.
"There are core design philosophies in map design that stay the same [from one Modern Warfare to the next]," he said. "And what that is is really analyzing very aspect of how we want you to play out the map; how a team should play out a map; and how a lone wolf should play out the map. We're looking at things like: how many hot spots do you have when you're coming around the corner? How many angles and locations do you have to check that you need to worry about engaging an enemy from? It's allowing you to easily envision a map in your head as you're playing through it. So you're looking at, 'Ok, this map is going to be played in X amount of ways.'
"How you play team deathmatch is all about your sightlines, your viewpoints—like I said, the hotspots," Bowling added. "I'm coming around the corner. I don't want to have to worry about being shot from 50 different angles. I want to be able to know, 'OK, I cleared the top floor, I cleared the second floor, I cleared the base, I'm good in this area. OK, now I'm coming through this doorway, I have to watch this doorway, this alleyway and this spot.' And then, when you're playing objective [matches], you need to be able to know the routes and break them down in your head as you play the areas. Like Search and Destroy... I know I've cleared this area. There's no way this guy can get there. And then going in an adding the fun secret stuff that people find three months into playing, like 'Did you know if you run up the tail of the plane in Afghan you can leap to the top of the mountain instead of circling around to the route that everyone is covering?'"
That map philosophy is changing a tiny bit for this new game, Bowling explained. "Call of Duty 4 was much more simplistic in its map design: You have the sight points, you have the routes players will take. It was very flat in terms of where you could go. Modern Warfare 2 had a major focus on vertical combat, increasing the multi-floor levels, increasing the number of buildings you go into. There were a lot more places you could go than just the main routes and buildings where you were meant to go. That encourages and discourages a lot of types of gameplay. With Modern Warfare 3, it's much, much more on allowing you to focus on what's necessary; it's making vertical combat when it makes sense but it's not a blanket rule across every map. You will have some maps that focus on verticality and that are focused on multiple things. And then you have other maps that are very limited on the hotspots. The hotspots are a key thing on Modern Warfare 3. We went into each map wanting you to be able to turn a corner and know very easily that these are the three—no more than five—places I need to check.
Bowling knowns that these fine distinctions between Modern Warfare map philosophies won't register with a lot of the series' more casual players. "But for the hardcore guys who have been with us since the beginning, that speaks volumes: the map design, the return to focus on gun-on-gun, all that stuff." That stuff is for the most dedicated Modern Warfare fans. "I like to always make sure the hardcore players know we're building it up for them."