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Interview: Modern Warfare 2's Vince Zampella

Kevin Kelly

Inifinity Ward studio head Vince Zampella was exhausted, but in a good mood, by the time we caught up with him at a Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer event last night. Zampella's been working on one of the most anticipated sequels ever, after all. (GameStop has its fingers crossed for a slice of what could be the "bestselling title of all time.")

After the break, Zampella shares his feelings about straddling two brands, Call of Duty and Modern Warfare; the Wii port of the original Modern Warfare; and World at War's Zombie Mode. And, of course, he's got a few words to share about Modern Warfare 2 itself. Read on.

So, the first game was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Then when Modern Warfare 2 was first announced it was just Modern Warfare 2. There was no Call of Duty. And then later the Call of Duty was in front of that. Was that an Activision decision? Did you guys want to do that?

It has always been Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Now we purposely left it off because we don't want the game to be called Call of Duty 6. We want it to be Modern Warfare 2. We want people to know this is a sequel to Modern Warfare 1. We are trying to separate the brands out a little bit. Other games kind of live in their own space and our games live in this space. So that was kind of the intention. Like, what do you call The Empire Strikes Back?

Uh ... The Empire Strikes Back?

Right, but It is really Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Sure, you don't call it "Star Wars 2."

Right. So I mean the thing behind it was, "Let's get it out there so that people start to adopt it as Modern Warfare 2." The common terminology is Modern Warfare. That is what people call it, not Call of Duty 6. That was the whole intention behind it. I mean we created the Call of Duty universe. You know. We want the game to be there. It has always been in that universe.

So the original Modern Warfare is being ported to Wii. How do you feel about that? We know you aren't working on it; Treyarch is.

We are not working on it. Yeah. They are porting it. Treyarch is porting it to the Wii.

Alleged screenshot of Wii port of Modern Warfare

The Wii is obviously not a graphics horse like the PS3 and Xbox 360. The game's going to be ported down and look different and not as good on the Wii, and people are going to say, "Wait, this is Modern Warfare?" It might be some people's first introduction to the game. Are you guys worried about that?

At this point, the way we look at it is there are people that don't have anything but the Wii, and it is great for them to get that experience; to experience the game. At the same time, yes, there is always that worry that you created this thing that you put two years of your blood, sweat, and tears into. You want people to see it in the best possible light. And that is why ... well you know. It is Modern Warfare 1. It has been long enough that people can see it. They can see, "Wow. We think this is good."

Do you already have a team working on whatever the next Infinity Ward title is?


You're solely focused on Modern Warfare 2?

We are all focused on this. Yeah, you know we are just starting to come off of this, but we are focused on kind of testing. If you are not fixing a bug, then you're working on multiplayer. Let's balance it. Let's test it. The way we generally like to do it is we focus heads down, get this great, let's not be distracted, and then we will be done, and then we will scramble and go, "Oh shit. We got to do another game, don't we?" But we will worry about that later. Right now this is the most important thing in the world.

Internally though, do you guys have a hopper full of ideas? Are you like, "All right. We'll talk about 'this' when we're done with Modern Warfare"; or is it literally, "We're done with this game. On to Point B."?

It is pretty much, "Done with this game. On to Point B."

We kept hearing rumors that exclusive content was coming to Xbox 360. Was it the new console?

Yeah, I mean we partnered with Microsoft early on. They hosted this event. We were obviously at their press conference at E3. So you know, the content that is coming not exclusively, but exclusively first. So it will available first on 360. It will be on PS3 eventually as well.

And that content is the map packs?

Map packs, yeah.

All right. Will you guys continue to support Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the first game, with additional map packs? Or is it on to 2 now?

Probably not. I think we only did one map pack for Modern Warfare 1. We intend to support this one better, so we will do more for this game. But the chances of going back and supporting that game are probably pretty slim.

What about something like the Zombie Mode that Treyarch did for World at War?


It's too bad our audio recorder doesn't record the sound of eyes rolling.

That's why I did it! [Laughs.]

World at War's Zombie Mode

So what's the next big push between here and the game? Are you guys finalizing code, or is it just subtle tweaks at this point?

It is tweaks, balancing, bug fixing; kind of going through and doing that, doing obviously different localized versions of the game, however many we are doing.

We noticed that the kill streak appears to top out at 11, at which point the player can activate the AC-130. Is that the top reward, or there an unlockable beyond the gunship?

That is all we are talking about.

That's all you're talking about? All right. Very coy. How about a tactical nuclear strike? Just wipe off everybody off the map.

Yeah, if you get a 500-kill streak you can get it. [Laughs.]

Don't say that! Never say "never." Someone, somewhere would end up pulling it off.

Yeah, someone probably would.

Is there going to be a demo?

We don't have anything planned at the moment.

Are there other game types coming to multiplayer? Here at the event we've seen Team Deathmatch, Assault, and --

Domination and Capture the Flag.

Those will be the only game types?

No, there are more. This is just a small sample.

Do you have the ability to expand DLC from just multiplayer maps to, say, new Spec-Ops co-op missions?

We can.

Is Modern Warfare 2 running on the same engine as the original?

Well we started with our last engine that we built, and then we replaced the renderer, we added the streaming. If you notice, it looks much better.

Modern Warfare 2

It does look better.

And you know, the renderer gives us extra definition in the lighting and the shadows. The streaming technology gives us the ability to have bigger maps, but that is not the big win. The big win is local areas are more detailed because you are able to put higher resolution textures. You are able to put more debris. Like, if you see ... like look at the density of just plants on the ground and the sidewalks, and the seams between like walls and ground, like stuff that doesn't drastically change game play, but it does change the look and the feel of kind of where you are. It makes it more believable.

Also, the weapons have all been redone. Even if it is a weapon that made it back from Modern Warfare 1, it has been completely redone. The weapons all now have normal maps where they didn't before, normal specular detail. The characters have detail maps now where they didn't in the first one. So I mean it is a lot of changes, a lot of little thing here, little thing here, big thing here, big thing here that all adds up.

Can you still apply camo and other customizations to your weapons?

Absolutely. And that carries over into single player, too. Like if you pick up enemy weapons, it might have a red dot scope in camo.

Is Modern Warfare 2 now almost a completely different game from the original in your mind?

At its core, the heart and soul is what was there, and it just ... you know, it is the next evolution. So it is a good sequel in story, in game play, in core. It is kind of all there.

You guys created your own sort of fictional setting for the first game. We're imagining a continuation of that in the sequel. Is this true?

Absolutely. Because it is a sequel, it picks up where the other left off.

What do you guys think about Six Days in Fallujah? The developer of that game took a real world event and made it a game. You all went with a fictional setting.

I honestly know almost nothing about it. I have been distracted with other things ... yeah, I don't know how to answer that.

Well, thank you for your time.

Hey, my pleasure. Thank you very much.

Gallery: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (LA Multiplayer Event: 09-16-09) | 49 Photos

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