The new March 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine has an exclusive creator-written article on the making of Infinity Ward's Call Of Duty 4, and Gamasutra has extracts from the piece, discussing a second 'new IP' team once working at the developer and the relative successes of CoD4's PC and Xbox 360 demos.
The postmortem, written by Infinity Ward's Zeid Rieke and Michael Boon, is described by the Game Developer editors as follows:
"Call of Duty 4 is one of the most critically acclaimed games of 2007, and the authors make no secret of their pride in the product. There are many important lessons in here, from sticking to your ideals for a game (even if you aren't completely in charge of the series), to maintaining focus when alluring new IPs loom."
The Evolution Of CoD4
In this first extract, the Infinity Ward team discuss the start of the project, and some of the thought processes the team went through when creating the highly rated title, which Activision is claiming is the best-selling game of 2007 at 7 million copies:
"Call of Duty 4 was Infinity Ward's third Call of Duty game, and as such we approached it knowing we needed to do something fresh. We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves any more than we have to, and many members of the team came off Call of Duty 2 promising never to work on another WWII game.
We tried several different directions, many of which were failures, but the ultimate result was the best game any of us have ever worked on. As a game development experience, it seemed to go so smoothly that it was difficult to come up with five things that went wrong...
Coming off Call of Duty 2, we knew we wanted to do something different for our next game. We don't agree with some critics who say that WWII as a genre is dead, but we couldn't muster the same passion for the subject that we had in our first three WWII games (Call of Duty 1 and 2 and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault).
We had a few ideas that we wanted to do and eventually settled on two. One was Modern Warfare, and the other was a new project."
Infinity Ward's Second Team Dilemma
In this second extract, the Infinity Ward duo discuss one of the items that needed to change through the development of the title, referencing a second parallel game team that was eventually folded into the CoD 4 team:
"At the start of development on Call of Duty 4 we tried to branch into two teams. We started a second project with a small prototype team, intending on shipping it a year after Call of Duty 4.
Our intentions were to create a new risky IP, which would allow us to stretch our creative muscles. We are determined not to stagnate creatively and just make clones of our previous games indefinitely. Growing a second team was one idea for how to do achieve this.
Almost immediately, the two projects began to compete with each other for ideas and people. We hired extra people, including some seasoned leads, so that neither project would be understaffed. As time went by, we were aware of the difficulties, but we initially focused on how hard it was for the team on the new game, failing to notice the damage that the second project was doing to Call of Duty 4.
The area hit hardest was the game design. Our design leadership was distracted by the second project and put a lot of their creative energy into it. This meant that problems like ['What Went Wrong' reason referenced in the full article] "too much desert" were allowed to linger for longer than they should have."
To PC Demo, Or Not To PC Demo?
Finally as part of these extracts, the team discuss what didn't quite go right with the PC demo of Call Of Duty 4, contrasting it with the Xbox 360 beta version, which helped build anticipation in a much stronger fashion:
"Our pre-release buzz was stronger than it had ever been for any of our previous games; we were getting tons of press despite it being a very crowded holiday season for games; our trailers and other videos on the internet were getting amazing numbers of viewers.
Despite all this, we did as we had done with all our previous games-about a month before release we put out a single player demo on PC consisting of one of our missions.
The reaction to the demo completely blindsided us. Our fans were disappointed. The demo was "more of the same," or even worse, just "meh"-not even worth talking about. After a couple of days we realized what went wrong. Anticipation was so high that we couldn't possibly live up to expectations.
Also a huge part of the appeal of our single player game is the gameplay variety. Playing Call of Duty 4, you almost never do the same thing twice. That makes it impossible to select just one mission to represent the entire game. Instead we had to choose what part of the game to represent with the demo. If we had chosen one of our radically different missions we would have alienated fans of the previous games, so we chose a level that we felt represented our "core gameplay," which is fairly similar to the core gameplay of Call of Duty 2.
Lastly we had to worry about story spoilers, as most of our favorite missions also advance the story. Giving away one of those as a demo mission was out of the question, as we didn't want to wreck the game for players.
Given all these constraints, looking at the examples of other games which managed to build tons of pre-release buzz like Gears of War and Halo 2 and 3 without doing pre-release demos, we should have realized that a pre-release demo would be likely to hurt us rather than help us.
In hindsight, the PC demo was a distinctly different case from the Xbox 360 multiplayer beta. The beta was released earlier and was responsible for much of our buzz, it was much more novel on the Xbox, where gamers are not as used to free content, and it showcased a large amount of what was new in Call of Duty 4. The beta also played a vital role in helping us ship a polished game."
Conclusion: Game Developer's March 2008 Issue
The full postmortem, including much more insight into the critically acclaimed game's development, with plenty more 'What Went Right' and 'What Went Wrong' reasoning, is now available in the March 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine.
The issue also includes a number of other major features, including the recently revealed Top 50 Developers countdown and a fascinating technical article on ambient occlusive crease shading - plus tool reviews, special sections, and regular technical columns from Bungie's Steve Theodore, Neversoft co-founder Mick West, Lucasarts' Jesse Harlin, and Sinistar creator Noah Falstein.
Yearly print and digital subscriptions to Game Developer are now available, and all digital subscriptions now include web-browsable and downloadable PDF versions of the magazine back to May 2004, as well as the digital version of the Game Career Guide special issue.