The multiplayer gameplay trailer for Call of Duty: Ghosts debuted earlier this week, showcasing not only the much-touted army dogs that were revealed during the Xbox One presentation, but also some of the game modes available and more of the standard cutthroat mayhem that has made the Call of Duty series so popular. The trailer culminated in a twist worthy of a Prodigy music video: the soldier behind the crosshairs had been a woman all along, since the multiplayer will finally allow gamers to play as female soldiers.
But does Call of Duty: Ghosts have anything new to offer besides dogs and women (especially since both have cropped up in the franchise before)? Innovation tends to be highly praised in video game reviews, but innovation alone isn’t enough to make a game fun to play, and it seems that innovation wasn’t really a high priority for Infinity Ward when designing Call of Duty: Ghosts.
When asked by Eurogamer about innovation in Call of Duty: Ghosts, Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin tackled the subject of whether or not new features such as dynamic maps and character customization can really be called innovative, since the former has been implemented in other game franchises for years, and the latter is looking like it will be heavily outdone by Battlefield 4‘s own dynamic environment design, ‘Levolution.’ Rubin replied:
“That’s always a tough one, because we have to innovate within our realm. Other games innovate within their realm. Other games have added stuff that we’ve had in our game for years. And we’ll do the same. So innovation becomes a weird word when you say it that way.
“I was toiling with the idea of what some gamers might think about it, which is, show me something I’ve never seen before. Anywhere.
“The problem is fans will be somewhat cynical and say, ‘You’ve been able to create characters since EverQuest 1!’ Well, yes, but not within Call of Duty. So, is that innovation? It’s a new feature within Call of Duty. Maybe that is innovation.
“We’re always looking for the best thing for the game. We don’t grade things on whether we think they’re innovative or not, necessarily. We just say, ‘Is this a cool feature we think is fun to play?’ And, ‘Is it making the game better?’ If it does, let’s do it.”
Rubin does raise an interesting question here: does it matter that a developer is the first to introduce an innovative game feature, or is it enough to just introduce a feature that’s new to that particular franchise? Since the Call of Duty series does have a fairly substantial fanbase of casual gamers, Call of Duty: Ghosts may actually represent their first encounter with character customization in multiplayer, and as such may feel pretty fresh and exciting. Having said that, the most you usually see of your own character in Call of Duty is the hands, so the time in which to appreciate their unique appearance will probably be limited.
Another point to consider is just how valuable innovation is in games, beyond simply being a sexy buzzword to put on the back of the game’s box. What distinguishes valuable innovation from mere novelty is the sustainability of its appeal, and whether it continues to be fun beyond the first few hours of playing around with it. After all, the central mechanic of Call of Duty – first-person shooting and combat – is a long way from being an innovative feature, but its perennial popularity since the days of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D is all thanks to the inherent fun and immersive nature of this basic design choice.
Having ruminated on the nature of innovation long enough, however, Rubin was quick to reassure Call of Duty fans that despite the yearly franchise often being accused of stagnation, there are plenty of new things on offer in Call of Duty: Ghosts.
“If you define Modern Warfare as a sub-brand and Black Ops as a sub-brand, then this would be another sub-brand… It’s a really new, new new new new Call of Duty that still has that magic formula.”
Are you always on the lookout for the latest innovation in gaming, or do you only care about how much fun a game has to offer? Tell us what you think of Infinity Ward’s approach to designing Call of Duty: Ghosts in the comments.
Call of Duty: Ghosts releases November 5, 2013 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. PS4 and XBox One release dates have yet to be announced.