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Call of Duty: Warzone is Activision’s most successful post-launch content for a Call of Duty game, with more than 50 million downloads for the free-to-play battle royale mode in just a month.
And yes, I’m one of those players working hard from home. But the latest update threw me for a loop. The standalone download, set in the rebooted universe of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, is also unique because Activision’s Infinity Ward studio continues to drop new narrative elements into each new season of Warzone.
If you made it through the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign (spoiler alert), you’ll know that the hero, Alex, went off to sacrifice himself while Captain Price survived and teed up the sequel by asking his boss to form a new counter-terrorist group, dubbed Task Force 141. But in the cinematic that kicks off season 3 of Warzone, Alex came back. Simon “Ghost” Riley, who wears a scary skeleton mask, had asked for help. And Alex showed up, now with a prosthetic leg.
They’re in the port town of Verdansk in Eastern Ukraine. When 150 players land on this map for a battle royale match, they may not realize they’re part of a story. This place was where the East and the West settled their differences, and when the terrorists of Al-Qatala showed up, they all fought together. Warzone takes place after this, and when poison gas pushes everyone together, the operators on both sides fight each other. Everybody fights everybody.
That’s what I heard in an interview with Taylor Kurosaki, the narrative director at Infinity Ward. We talked about our experiences playing Warzone, and he filled me in on the story. It feels like Warzone is becoming a vehicle for rolling out more pieces of the plot for the next game. That’s a guess.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Above: Taylor Kurosaki, narrative director at Infinity Ward.
Taylor Kurosaki: I’ve been having a ton of fun with the game. We don’t usually get that much time to play, because we’re so busy at the office. Now — it’s a smoother transition with the team. You can jump over and play some matches. I’m having a ton of fun with it. I’m like you, traditionally. I’m not a massive MP guy. It’s cool when you’ve been working on something so hard and you’re actually a fan of it and having fun playing it, totally outside of your input on it. It’s addictive.
GamesBeat: I sadly have not won a match yet. Out of 63 matches, I came in second once. I’m getting close.
Kurosaki: What about Blood Money and Plunder?
GamesBeat: I only did one Plunder match. I haven’t tried Blood Money yet. I still keep trying to win at the three- or four-player modes. I’m concentrating on that.
Kurosaki: I have a second place as well in battle royale. But I probably play the most in Plunder and Blood Money. It’s a little more accessible, a little more casual-friendly. For example, I have won a Plunder match with zero kills.
GamesBeat: Just going around collecting everything?
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Kurosaki: Yeah! It’s about how coordinated you can be as a squad, taking on contracts, looting. You can win literally without getting in a firefight if you choose to play that way.
GamesBeat: I wanted to get into the design of it a bit, some of the decisions you made here. That’s an interesting way to make battle royale more accessible.
Kurosaki: We felt like if we were going to make a battle royale mode, we didn’t just want to make a me-too mode. We thought about some of the cool additions and ingredients we could add to the mode. Obviously the gulag is one that hearkens back to the old games. I used to dread — I’m vacillating between official answers and my personal anecdotes, but it’s hard to separate. I used to dread going into the gulag. Now my last three or four times in the gulag I’ve won. I don’t dread it quite as much. It feels like a little mini-version of a gunfight. That was something important to us.
Above: Call of Duty: Warzone has hit 50 million players.
GamesBeat: That was surprisingly fun. In the battle royale games I’ve played, I’ve never seen that, where you have to fight somebody to try to come back.
Kurosaki: I thought it was a smart addition. One of the high-level strategic things that can happen, if you and a squadmate get wiped in time with each other, sometimes your squadmate can be up observing while you’re fighting, or vice versa, and be calling out where your opponent is moving in the showers.
GamesBeat: I’ve done that quite a bit, yeah. Outlook 365 northeastern. “He’s on the left side!”
Kurosaki: Right. There’s a whole other level of teamwork that happens, even in that little part of the match.
GamesBeat: It’s very satisfying when you come back that way, or somebody actually buys you back. I thought that part was also another nice touch. It’s a way to keep you watching a match that you’d otherwise drop out of.
Kurosaki: Totally. You can have one of your squadmates left living, or you can be the last remaining squadmate, and there’s still a chance to turn that all the way around and get both of your squadmates back in, either by buying them in or them winning in the gulag. It keeps the excitement up. It’s almost like sudden death, or a three-point shot in basketball. There are ways to make up ground late, which keeps it exciting all the way to the end.
GamesBeat: Last night I downloaded the new season. We have a story here now.
Kurosaki: We’ve had a story kind of throughout. The important way to look at it is, when we set out to make the game way back at the end of 2016, a big tenet for us was–I’m going to parrot this back, because it’s been drilled into my head so much. It’s consistency and continuity across all modes. In the same way that cross play allows our players to all come together and play, you want progress that you’ve made in one mode to feel like it’s additive toward your progress in the other modes. Skills you acquire in one mode feel like they’re applicable to other modes.
We didn’t want it to feel like three separate games in one box. We wanted it to feel like one massive world with a universal fiction, a universal narrative. For players that love story, we want you to get more story when you’re playing Warzone, when you’re playing multiplayer, or when you’re playing Spec Ops. We set out a long time ago to have the narrative continue in MP and CP, and of course we knew we were working on Warzone, so we set up the fiction that would support that mode as well.
If you go back and watch the season one intro movie, that’s telling a bit of the story. Then you watch the season two intro movie, the one where Ghost made his appearance. That’s telling a bit more of the story. Now with season three’s intro, it’s continuing that narrative thread. We’re going somewhere with it. Hopefully the players that care about that stuff–I care about it, of course, as a big campaign fan. There’s a lot to discover. We’re going to make discoveries the players can find available as we continue to evolve the mode.
Above: Simon “Ghost” Riley learns Alex isn’t dead.
GamesBeat: Alex isn’t dead.
Kurosaki: He is not dead. The important thing for Alex, when he made that choice to fight for something he believed in, when he made that choice to be willing to–rather than being ordered to complete a mission, but to be able to choose the mission that was important to him, it wasn’t, for us, about him actually dying. It was about being willing to make the choice, to be willing to sacrifice himself. That still holds.
The fact that he was able to choose his own battle, so to speak, for the first time in his career, and fight for something he believed in, and not just for something that he was ordered to fight for — and he was able to accomplish the mission as you saw at the end of the game, because of course the lab blows up — and he figured out a way to get out, despite the odds being stacked against him, he’s now a changed guy. He’s a guy who has evolved. I want to keep seeing where he goes from here.
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GamesBeat: Warzone seems like a bit of a difficult way to tell a story. Your chance is with these new seasons.
Kurosaki: With the season intros, that’s where we’re earmarking a new cinematic that continues the story. But all that is a setup for the discoveries that the players will make when they’re playing the mode. There are Easter eggs in the maps, hidden areas in the maps.
As you saw, for example, in the season two intro movie, Ghost makes his appearance and relays to Price that there’s a concept of blue-on-blue violence, meaning that members of the same squad, or members of the same allegiances–there’s friendly fire going on. This is a big problem and we have to figure out why this is happening. He says, “Send me fighters I can trust.” He can’t do it alone. Then, with season three and Alex showing up, there’s the answer. Here’s a fighter he can trust. Now the two of them, as well as all the operators–they all want to figure out there’s this intra-squad violence happening. Who’s behind it? Who is stoking the flames? Who’s sowing distrust? What’s their ultimate goal?
Modern Warfare 2: Ghost is a six-part comic bookmini-series. The series ties-in with the 2009 video gameCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The first issue of the series debuted on November 11, 2009, and the second issue followed in December.
Modern Warfare 2: Ghost was announced by Community Manager Robert Bowling via Twitter on August 17, 2009. The comic was published by Storm Productions and written by David Lapham, with art by Kevin West and Federico Dallocchio, who drew the covers of each issue.
Modern Warfare 2: Ghost relates to the history of Ghost, an important character in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The comic series is set before Ghost became a member of Task Force 141, with events from both before and leading into the game, focusing on the origins of the character, his skull-like mask, and why he calls himself Ghost.
Episode 1: Dead for a Day
The first installment begins to tell the story of how Ghost came to use his skull-branded balaclava. The narrative begins in a school in Lysychansk, Ukraine, and shows Ghost being held captive by a group of masked men. He then begins to tell about an old friend of his, Lieutenant Simon Riley. Riley is recruited from his unit, the legendary 22nd Regiment of the Special Air Service, to join a task force made up of DEVGRU and Delta Force operators. The task force is assigned to eliminate Roba, a Mexican drug lord working with anti-Western terrorists. However, things start to unravel during the mission when a team member is killed after his parachute fails to open during a jump. Riley suspects that there's a traitor among them. His hunch turns out to be correct when one of his comrades turns his gun on the team and reveals that Roba is aware of their presence. Riley manages to fight his way out of trouble only to be shot by Roba himself, leaving the action at a cliffhanger.
Episode 2: Dead Life
Lt. Riley and the surviving members of his team are captured by Roba's cartel. During their captivity, they endure continuous torture and advanced brainwashing techniques as Roba intends to use them for his own interests. Throughout this ordeal, the reader sees flashbacks of Riley's early life, from his childhood and how he had to endure an abusive fiend of a father, to his early years in the SAS and how he — after coming back from his first tour of duty in Afghanistan in January 2003 — takes care of his abused mother and helps clean up his drug-addicted younger brother, Tommy. In March 2004, he finally puts an end to his father's abuse and kicks him out of the house. By June 2006, Riley is seen as the best man at Tommy's wedding. During these flashbacks, many of Riley's adversaries are seen wearing 'ghostly' makeup (presumably a hallucination of Riley's) of similar style to that worn by participants celebrating the Day of the Dead. Eventually, two USSOCOM operators, Sparks and Washington, manage to escape after learning that the cartel plans to kill them for resisting the brainwashing. Riley is left behind, and Roba punishes him for the escape by having him dragged outside, thrown into a coffin that has been dug up, and then buried alive with the decaying corpse of a deceased soldier, Major Vernon.
Episode 3: Dead Will Follow
Back at the school, Ghost continues to tell Lt. Riley's story until he interrupts himself when he eyes one of the terrorists taking a good look at one of the young female victims also being held hostage and how upset and uncomfortable she's becoming. He shouts at him and catches him off-guard, making a comment that he basically knows what he's thinking of doing to her ('Prom's not for month's yet!' etc.), before continuing his story.
After being buried alive in the previous issue, Lt. Riley is now in a coffin with Major Vernon's corpse and wondering what he's going to do. It is only by using the major's lower jaw bone as a trowel that Riley is able to dig himself up from the grave, which takes him thirteen hours. After a quick rest, he makes for the border, and within days, is struck down by dehydration and delirium. He has vague memories of people helping him, but by the time he makes it across the border, about a month later, he has badly infected cuts, sores and wounds, is badly dehydrated, and has become delirious. He collapses in the sand and just lays there to die. He is later found by a Texassheriff who takes him to a hospital. The story then jumps to December 18, 2010 (four months and a few weeks later); Riley is being debriefed about his experience to his superiors. Physically, Riley is fine, but his superiors fear that his mental state is still in question. Riley starts being plagued by nightmares of Roba taunting him. After one of his nightmares, he and his mother have a small talk, and he learns a few things about his father that are both disturbing but meaningful to the plot as well.
While spending Christmas with his family, Riley gets a surprise visit from Sparks. The two men have a beer together at a local pub, where they rehash old times and their experience during their time in Mexico. Sparks tells Riley that he and Washington will soon deploy to Afghanistan. He then notices woman with a nice body that he likes – and wants - as the conversation goes on. While walking back home, Sparks approaches the young woman and tries to sweet talk her into bed, but the young woman is not impressed. Sparks angrily knocks the woman unconscious and orders Riley to help him get her inside her house so that they can rape her. Riley secretly calls the police and they arrive just before any harm can be done to the woman, forcing Riley and Sparks to flee. Once they both arrive at Sparks' hotel room, Sparks starts having a panic attack and collapses on the bed and asks Riley to get his pills for him. Riley suspects that Sparks is up to something and when he finally pieces together the clues, Sparks points a gun at Riley's head. Riley immediately disarms Sparks and interrogates him. At first, Spark just says he 'Wants to go back', but then finally reveals that he and Washington were allowed to 'escape'; in truth, they've been brainwashed by Roba for months. Before Riley can get any more information, Washington arrives from an undisclosed task, exclaiming 'Sparks! You won'tbelievewhat I---' and gets cut off when he sees Riley, panics, and attempts to gun him down. Riley escapes by jumping through a window, slightly injuring his leg, and steals a cab to drive away. Remembering what Roba said about his family, and what would happen if he screwed up: ('You were told what would happen..' 'This is your Mother's Skull..' 'This is your Brother's Skull..') Riley speeds home and witnesses a shocking display. His mother, Tommy, sister-in-law Beth, and his nephew Joseph, have all been brutally murdered by Washington. Riley vows that he will kill them all: Sparks, Washington, Roba, and his entire clan.
Episode 4: Dead Won't Leave
Haunted by the murder of his loved ones, Riley swears to hunt down the man responsible.
Episode 5: Dead Won't Rise
As Ghost begins to finish his story, the leader of the terrorists suddenly barges in fully armed and says the soldiers outside are taking positions and to get ready for a fight. Ghost looks at him and continues his story as though nothing is wrong. Riley is shown sneaking into a military base, where he kills Washington in his sleep and kidnaps Sparks, taking him back to his house and showing him his family's remains. Sparks begs for mercy, but Riley isn't listening. He binds, gags, and beats Sparks, then murders him and burns the house down to destroy the body. He makes sure to leave his dog tags behind so it seems he was the one who died. The base goes on alert the next morning when Washington's body is found, and the base commander checks the previous night's surveillance tapes. In Mexico, two retired military men are enjoying themselves on vacation when they are both ambushed and killed. Riley learns about the ambush and decides to hunt down the killers. He finds one of them, and takes him to a remote location to be tortured for information. He learns that Roba is trying to cover up any evidence of his crimes, giving him the perfect opportunity for revenge.
Episode 6: Dead and Gone
Riley locates the manor where Roba is hiding after a long trek through the jungle. Roba is captured after a firefight and tells Riley that, when his parents died in a crossfire, the terrorist within him saw that 'a few people are nothing among a billion'. Riley then finishes him off, escaping Roba's burning mansion while killing the rest of his guards. Back at the elementary school, the terrorists holding Ghost and the students hostage decide to act, but Ghost, having freed himself while using the story as a distraction, pins them down while backup arrives. A girl then asks if Ghost and Riley are the same man and if the story he told is true. Ghost then answers that his story is 'true enough to that lot'. The series ends with a flashback to Riley walking away from Roba's burning mansion. He is suddenly approached by a high-ranking military officer with a 'Task Force 141' badge, leaving the impression that this is the moment when Ghost is born.
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- ^ abMcElro. 'Wildstorm publishing Modern Warfare 2 comic mini-series (update)'. MTV Multiplayer. Archived from the original on August 17, 2009. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
- ^McElro. 'Wildstorm publishing Modern Warfare 2 comic mini-series (update)'. DC Comics. Archived from the original on September 26, 2009. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
- ^Frushtick, Russ (August 17, 2009). ''Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2' Comic Book Series Coming From Wildstorm'. MTV Multiplayer. Retrieved July 8, 2016.
- ^'IGN: Modern Warfare 2: Ghost Pictures Full Size 3031799'. IGN. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved March 8, 2010.
- ^'IGN: Modern Warfare 3: Ghost Pictures Full Size 3031800'. IGN. Retrieved March 8, 2010.[dead link]