Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

The next chapter in the Call of Duty saga, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is out now. I recently sat down with Brian Horton, Art Director at Call of Duty developer, Infinity Ward. We talked about the game’s futuristic setting, virtual reality and the future of video games.

VicBStard: Hello Brian, thanks for taking the time out for a chat.

Brian Horton: No worries!

VicBStard: I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on the way that Call of Duty has gone with this future setting. I never thought that the series would go this far. How have you kept Infinite Warfare grounded?

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

Brian Horton: That’s been our main goal. We did not want to go into science-fiction we wanted this to feel like a well-documented future version of ourselves. So, we thought about what would happen if we, the human race, were using up our resources at home and we built spacecraft to out into our solar system and start mining for more.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

What with Elon Musk and Space X, the interest in space is percolating. The idea of civilisation expanding from Earth to other planets is becoming more of a reality. So, what happens then is you have this power structure in space, where different human factions are fighting over all these resources?

That seems like a real grounding for a Call of Duty drama. Where you have these two factions struggling for power and then when the Settlement Defence front invades Earth. It becomes a real right for survival.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

Our aesthetic comes very much from things we see today so we took NASA and added an idea of a space flight program and the navy and we sort of fused them together. This is how we came up with the aesthetic for our military in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

VicBStard: Now, you are walking a very fine line between futuristic and science fiction. What aspect of those design decisions are you most proud of?

Brian Horton: I would say the Retribution, which is Captain Reyes’ ship. It’s one of the last remaining cruisers, capital ships, in the UNSA fleet after their defeat. It was a true accomplishment because not only is it a massive vessel, it’s also your hub, which is a brand-new mechanic in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. You are able to go into this location explore it take missions out from it choose, as captain, where you want to go. You can go along with the storyline or you can choose some optional content.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

But when you look at it, the Retribution really feels like a real working ship. Everyone has a role; there’s hundreds of people walking around and they all feel like they have a purpose on the ship. We actually did a lot of research. We went to a real naval battleship to see how it functioned. We talked to the people that were there and ask why things were the way they were.

The redundant systems, the feeling of technology that has been improved upon over different ages, it’s all a real thing with these navy ships. And we wanted to express this in the Retribution. I’m really proud of the team’s ability to execute the ship design and make it feel real.

VicBStard: Wow, I’m looking forward to taking a look at the Retribution! Now, something I found out about only recently is that you are going to have a VR segment in the game for PlayStation VR. How did that come about?

Brian Horton: It’s really exciting. We thought about how would we bring VR into Infinite Warfare. Because, our game is set in the future, that afforded us several different ideas about how VR might work.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

When we saw our Jackals – which we are very proud of, where we have full 360-degree flight in these vehicles, we though they would be perfect for VR. You can get into the cockpit and as if you are a captain, look around, tilt your head and see things as a real pilot would. That was a great thing for us to use as our first foray into VR.

VicBStard: What were the biggest challenges of getting VR into Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare?

Brian Horton: I think the biggest challenge with VR is that it is so new, so it’s really understanding what is the experience that works best for that platform. There was a lot of experimentation. We went through a round of demos. We just tried different things to see what worked best. I think that was the biggest challenge- just figuring out what felt right for the platform.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

The other thing is some people are not used to VR, so it’s just that not knowing what people will like and not like. It was harder to get the focus testing that we would normally have. With Call of Duty we have years and years of data on what works and what doesn’t. This is something brand new and we are very excited to see how people respond to it.

VicBStard: Do you think that you are taking a chance with a VR mode or do you think people are going to be OK with it?

Brian Horton: I think anything that is new will have a certain risk component to it. But why not jump in to the potential of VR? Because we are doing it on a smaller section of our gameplay and not the whole game it seemed like a great opportunity. The risk is actually very low and the reward and the upside very high.


VicBStard: VR is a very difficult thing to sell to people, isn’t it?

Brian Horton: Yeah, but we feel that, ultimately, the game is meant to be played, or can be played, traditionally without VR. But if you have a PlayStation VR system you have the ability to use it. It’s kind of a bonus.

VicBStard: I recently went back to take a look a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. You really are almost getting beyond the uncanny valley when it comes to your characters. How long do you think before we are going to have a Call of Duty experience that is virtually indistinguishable from real life?

Brian Horton: We are getting there, that’s one of the big innovations from our art group. We have been perfecting our photorealistic digital doubles. We are getting closer by getting the surface qualities right. We scan eighty expressions from each actor, from Kit Carrington all the way down to just someone playing a minor character. We’ll scan all his expressions so when we see them perform and animate it’s much more believable. We spend a lot of time making sure that the eyes are correct.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

VicBStard: That’s the thing, the eyes.

Brian Horton: That’s the thing, right? As soon as you look at the eyes and they are not right. I can’t tell you that we are 100% there. We look at each other every day and we might not know why, but there will be something that’s not right. The closer you get to photorealism the harder it is sometimes to get over that uncanny valley. But I think we are getting there. And I’m really excited to have someone like Kit Carrington who is a major star to have a role in our game and be able to deliver his performance so convincingly on the screen.

VicBStard: I’ve often said that the Call of Duty games are the best movies I’ve never seen. They have always been very cinematic, especially the single-player. Do you anticipate a melding of video games and cinema? What is your view on the future?

Brian Horton: Infinite Warfare gives us an opportunity to really push our campaign, our storytelling, further than we ever have before. This is the first time in a game where you can play the whole way through without a loading screen. We never want you to ever be pulled away, we never want you think that this is a video game. We want you to feel invested in that story and these characters all the way through, just like in a movie.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

We’ve also introduced more cinematics, you actually get to see your character, Reyes, so it feels very film-like. We actually shot it very much like a classically told film. I think for Call of Duty we are actually getting a lot more cinematic, not only in the gameplay section, but in some of the narrative moments as well.

I think, eventually, games and cinema are going to be similar enough in visual quality. But I think what we have with games, as a medium, is interactivity. That will always make our medium a little bit more compelling to me, because you as a player get to put yourself with your inclinations and your choices into the story. That’s what we’ve been doing in Infinite Warfare, by allowing you, as the captain of the ship, to make choices. You have more choices that you have ever had before and deal with the consequences of that burden of responsibility. I think the players will start to feel that when they experience what Captain Reyes has to go through.

VicBStard: It sounds like everyone’s experience may be quite different, because if those choices.

Brian Horton: Well with infinite Warfare we are still telling a linear story. So, when you look at the spine of it has a beginning a middle and an end. When you get to places where you are in the Retribution, you are the Captain, so you get asked things like “Do you want to go forward, Sir” or do you want to try one of these other missions of opportunity to go off on some of these ship assault missions.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

These are choices that you get to make which gives you a new angle on the story. It adds to it. But we are not doing anything where your choices affect the outcome. The journey itself twists and turns and you are able to feather in and out of that story more than you ever have before in a Call of Duty game.

VicBStard: For my last question, could you tell me anything that you haven’t told anyone else?

Brian Horton: That’s a pretty open-ended question. What I can say is with this game you are getting a value of not only one, not two, not three, but potentially four games in one game. Because we have single-player, we have multiplayer, we have zombies and then we have Modern Warfare Remastered.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

I don’t know if you remember playing Modern Warfare, I can tell you right now, Raven has done such an amazing job on this. You will think that that was what it was like, but I guarantee you if you go and play the original game and you look at Modern Warfare Remastered you are going to go oh my God. They put so much time and love into this thing.

Developer interview: Brian Horton, Studio Art Director at Infinity Ward

So, I think when I look at this package, if I wasn’t working here, that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is going to be the video game to buy this year because it’s got so much stuff. There’s so much you can do and it’s all different. So, I guess what I’d tell you is if you are not sure about Infinite Warfare, there’s something in there for everybody.

VicBStard: Well, thanks ever so much, Brian.

Brian Horton: No problem.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is out now on Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.