Interview: Talking Call Of Duty’s Advanced Multiplayer With Mike Meija

Last night saw the big unveiling of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer gameplay, with the game’s exoskeleton at the heart of many of the changes that are being made to the traditional gameplay formula.

You can read our hands on preview from the pre-Gamescom event here, but with a lot of ground to cover, I sat down with Producer Mike Meija to talk about where some of these ideas came from and how they affect the game.


TSA: A good place to start off is going to be talking about the exoskeleton itself. What was the driving force behind its creation and how quickly did it advance to what it’s become now?

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Mike Meija: You know, when we first started development on the game three years ago, and we were coming off of Modern Warfare 3, we were doing a lot of research and one of the things that came up – outside of this PMC stuff – is the research on exoskeleton technology. That’s kind of where we brought that into our fiction and started to do a lot different things with it, like the boost jump mechanics. Obviously, when we brought that over to multiplayer, it gave us a nice spread of different things that we could do with it.

We knew we wanted to change the movement set, right? For almost ten years now, you’re kind of familiar with the same movement set, but we wanted to augment that and bring new things to it.

It was a lot of fun trying new things, and when we first did the prototype for the boost jump, we knew that it brought a whole new level of engagement and it was going to change a lot of things. We knew it was going to bring a fresh perspective to the game, which is what our fans have been asking for, and we’re happy to get to that point now.

TSA: When you say that you wanted to augment the new movement, was that the first thing that you nailed down before looking to extra abilities?

Mike: You know, we develop everything in a very parallel nature, so the mechanics started coming in, the maps, we were looking at everything.

We knew we wanted to fundamentally change movement, but we didn’t want to go away from that core run and gun, Call of Duty experience. That’s key, right? That’s what our game is and people love that. We love that too, and we’re fans of the game.

So we knew that when we started playing with the movement set, that opened up new avenues, and that’s why we went after it. Thanks to the three year development cycle that we have now, that we’re super happy about and we’re the first team to do that in the franchise, we had that time to try new things, play with them, dial it back, dial it up. That’s what that time gives you.

TSA:Speaking about maps, how have you had to adjust the creation process to cater to the exo’s abilities? During the presentation earlier, there was talk about keeping smaller indoor areas where you’re contained, but always having the outdoor section to jump around.

Mike: Yeah, and when we doing the maps alongside the exo, because we were, you know, developing them at the same time, we knew that we wanted our own map design philosophy. So we started looking at a three lane design philosophy and we really like that, because it gets you to engagements quicker so you’re always in the fight.

When we put the exo in and started playing in the mechanics, the map designs started to look at the verticality. So you still have the three lanes there, but with the added layers and the vertical aspect of it. We still wanted to have those small indoor areas where you can run and gun, take the shotty out and do some cool stuff there, so we knew that it wasn’t all about boost jump.

If you’re inside a small space, you can’t boost jump because you have a ceiling, right? So we started playing around with the boost dodge, which gives you this new different way to strafe around, and the boost slide, so you still have those interior spaces. It’s really up to you, though. If you want to boost jump inside of a small, contained area, that’s up to you!

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TSA: In addition to the movement, you’ve got a lot of new abilities like being able to cloak yourself, hover in the air and so on. Where have you had to draw the line? How have you decided what a step too far is?

Mike: Um, I think… what we did was, when we started playing with the exo mechanics, we knew we wanted to do stuff off the controller. We didn’t want to overcomplicate things, but give it this layer of discoverability where you can go, “Oh, I get this, I can learn this.” Then we started looking at the exo abilities and thought we could put these in their own kind of mechanic and make them player selective, so you can go in and select cover or cloak, and then we put it on the controller shoulder button, where your tactical ability used to be, so it’s easy to use.

We put a battery on it, because we started developing these things and started thinking how we could balance this. If you go cloak and you don’t have a battery there, you’re cloaked forever, so it messes with the balance. That’s where the exo battery comes in, and you have to manage that.

TSA: Do you drain the battery at different rates, depending on the ability?

Mike: Exactly, and to add another layer to that, when you take your gun out and fire your weapon when cloaked, it’ll de-cloak you automatically. So we have a lot of different systems like that in the game that keep everything balanced, and we’re happy where we’re at right now.

TSA: I guess a part of the balance comes from the Pick 13 system that’s inspired by the Pick 10 system in Black Ops 2…

Mike: Yeah, we loved the Pick 10 system! We were inspired by that, as big fans of Treyarch and Infinity Ward, and one of the things we were hearing in the community was that they loved a lot of these systems. We wanted to bring back something that was familiar to the players and Pick 10 was a fan favourite.

But we wanted to expand that further. We were inspired by the customisation that you had in Black Ops 2, but wanted to give you more. So you’ve got Scorestreaks integrated into the Pick 13 system and now you can customise that Scorestreaks and go in with low level streaks or augment them to be higher end but have more functionality.

A good example would be the remote turret the guys [Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey] were talking about, and you’d put it down and it would just go, right? But now you can rip the turret of the head, add different modules to it and make it behave differently. That’s where the balance comes in because it costs more. It’s given a lot of flexibility to the customisation that we wanted to give to the game.

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TSA: Do you think allowing people to play without any Scorestreaks at all might be good for newcomers, who won’t necessarily be able to string the kills together?

Mike: I think so. I think if you start adding some of your points to the weapons and giving them more attachments and load out with more perks because you’re taking those points away from your Scorestreaks, it gives you that. So you can get better at run and gun action and get better at engagements, and then you can kind of graduate from that.

If you got 500 points one life last round, maybe you’ll add a 500 point Scorestreak, and that customisation gives new players a better learning curve.

TSA: I guess the Virtual Fire Range can help…

Mike: Oh, man! Did you see that when you were playing?

TSA: I didn’t quite get a chance before coming to this interview!

Mike: Oh, it’s awesome, man….

TSA: So I wanted to ask, how does it work? Is it purely to test out weapons, or does it go beyond that?

Mike: Again, ideas like this came from the three year dev cycle, because how many times have you gone into a match and been, “I think this ACOG is going to work for me,” but then find you want to go back to something more like a red dot.

So we introduced the Virtual Fire Range, and with one press of a button you go straight from Create-a-Class into the Virtual Fire Range with that loadout that your built. If you don’t like an attachment, you can back out and change it. In addition to that, you can kind of check out your abilities and what they do, or some of your movements within this space.

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TSA: So is that kind of just in the area behind the stalls?

Mike: Yeah, so the beauty of it was when we put the range in there, but then the idea was like, “How cool it would be if every stall gives you a different kind of scenario?” So now you have all these different stalls and it’s just a lot of fun, because you can try different things like a long range engagement, short range… so check it out!

Especially for the supply drops, right? Because you get weapons in them now, which is awesome, because they’re different custom variants of that base weapon, and so we wanted to give players the chance to try them out. So you get something cool, and we’ve got a lot of weapons in the game, so you want to try it out before you go into battle.

TSA: Finally, in terms of the Create-an-Operator customisation, just how granular do you go with all the options that you can tweak and change? It seems pretty crazy with, like, knee pads and stuff?

Mike: [laughs] Yeah, it is! It’s pretty granular, actually. We loved that customisation that we were doing with the loadouts and the Pick 13, and we take it even further with Create-an-Operator. So you can change your head, you can be male or female, you can put a helmet on, your eyewear…

TSA: Multiple goggles… [laughs]

Mike: Multiple goggles! I don’t know why, but Glen [Schofield] always picks that guy with that double goggles thing. You usually know it’s him when he’s walking around the map, because he’s so bulky with the two exo weapons.

But it’s your full loadout, so you can change your guy how you want to change them. Then, with the supply drops, you can get some really cool stuff, some really rare stuff. You’ll see someone in the game, and you’ll be like, “How did you get that?”

Some of it can be via just timed play and just playing the game, or you can go to a very specific challenge to unlock something that’s really cool looking. We wanted people to have that unique personal avatar, so it’s really this is who I am, and it’s not just some gamertag anymore.


Thanks to Mike Meija for taking the time to talk to us. You can catch our preview of the Advanced Warfare multiplayer here.

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2 Comments

  1. Good interview, well done! I would’ve been interested in knowing about the trophy list, is it nearly all going to be single player related again even though everybody buys the game for the multiplayer?

  2. I’m really looking forward to Call of Duty this year. I thought the multiplayer in Ghosts was pretty weak, and because I spent such a small amount of time playing CoD since BO2, I really want this one to knock it out of the park. Love what I see so far.

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