Modern Warfare 3's 9-Month Season of New Content is Ambitious, Surprising and Complicated

There will be at least 20 "drops" of new content for Modern Warfare 3, as a nine-month season of expansions to last year's big game kicks off this month.

The makers of the first-person shooter juggernaut are promising a season of new content, starting with the Xbox 360-first release on January 24 of the first two drops, a pair of multiplayer maps and stretching. The season will continue with at least a drop a month through September.

Three development studios are working on these expansions, which will turn Modern Warfare 3 into a year-long affair. The extended support for the November 2011 game will comprise "more post-launch support than we've ever done before," according to Robert Bowling, creative strategist of Infinity Ward, the long-time Call of Duty studio that co-developed Modern Warfare 3. The downloadable content is being made by Infinity Ward, MW3's other main studio Sledgehammer Games and the veteran shooter specialists at Raven Software.

The first two drops are maps called Piazza and Liberation, both playable in competitive and the co-op Special Ops modes. Multiplayer maps are the norm for Modern Warfare/Call of Duty downloadable content. But for this game, Bowling signals that players will get some surprises.

"We want to do more than just traditional multiplayer maps," Bowling said. "We want to do Special Ops missions, new game modes as well as experiment with things we've never tried to do before." Campaign DLC and new weapons are, like anything else "on the table," he said. "We'll go with whatever works, whatever's the most fun." One of the only restrictions, he said, is that new content has to fit into the Modern Warfare 3 universe.

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All of the DLC "drops" will be delivered first at no added cost to paying subscribers of Call of Duty Elite. Xbox 360 Elite users get the drops first, with PC and PlayStation 3 users to follow. Non-Elite users will be able to get the drops later in the form of paid, downloadable collections. Those collections will also be available for Xbox 360 users first, with PC and PS3 users getting access to them later. Xbox 360 users get the early jump thanks to a timed-exclusivity deal between the MW3's publisher and Microsoft.

The first two drops will be followed by one in February and two in March. The first collection, available for purchase by non-Elite users, will go on sale some time in March. All of those time frames are officially for Xbox 360 Elite and non-Elite users. Activision isn't saying how long PlayStation 3 and PC users have to wait to nab the content for themselves.

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The first two maps hitting for Xbox 360 Elite users on January 24 consist of an Italian seaside village (Piazza) and New York's Central Park (Liberation). The Piazza map "is very close quarters and has a lot of verticality to it, because you're fighting this uphill battle up this mountainside in the city," Bowling said. I's a more complex take on a storming-Normandy-Beach experience that people might have experienced in World War II games.

The Central Park level is "more wide open and gives you a lot more options in terms of moving around." It's filled with military emplacements, including turrets on opposite ends. The fighting takes place around the Bethesda fountain and boat pond. Bowling actually walked through that area in real life a couple of weeks ago and Tweeted a photo of it to his followers. Some of the real terrain was tweaked to make it fun to play in, but visiting the real place was interesting for the game maker. "You definitely get that familiar feel, that eerie feel when you're standing in certain areas."

The two January 24 maps were built after Modern Warfare 3 wrapped development, building on ideas and rough designs that were conceived while the game was being made.

The season runs through September, though there's not necessarily a big booming season finale planned. "We'll see," Bowling laughed. And why end it at nine months? Presumably it's to clear the way for the next Call of Duty game, likely coming from Call of Duty: Black Ops developer Treyarch in November. From Bowling's perspective: "That's just the development schedule that's working for the amount of content that we want to do right now. We want to focus on: 'What do we have the ability to do? What does our realistic development schedule look like without impacting when we have to work on other stuff and when we have to pulling people into other projects."

Call of Duty: Elite subscriptions cost $50 a year. Subscribers get all of Modern Warfare 3's DLC as part of that deal. Everyone else can pay a la carte. But could some of these drops be free? "We'll see," Bowling said. "I cannot announce anything yet."