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Interview: Infinity Ward Lead Narrative Director, Taylor Kurosaki, on Modernising Modern Warfare
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:39am 31/05/19 | Comments
AusGamers was recently invited out to an intimate reveal of Call of Duty: Modern Warafe at Infinity Ward's La-based studio where we had a chance to go one on one with Taylor Kurosaki, lead narrative director on the 'reimagined' project. Read on for our full, in-depth Q&A...

AusGamers: Okay. Where to start. That was, umm, a lot of information to process.

Taylor: Sure.

AusGamers: I really appreciate these types of intimate sessions. I was out here for the Borderlands 3 reveal two weeks ago [and they had] 400 people there…

Taylor: Wow.

AusGamers: And sizes like that make it a little bit harder, especially for people like myself and sites like ours in Australia.

Taylor: Yeah.

AusGamers: I guess, when did the planning phase for this truly begin? And, at what point was it sort of realised that it was time to go back and sort of revisit the studio’s roots, but to bring those roots into modernity?

Taylor: Sure. Yeah -- we started planning for this game at the end of 2016. We were kind of wrapping up production on Infinite Warfare and we knew [then] that it was time to go back to Modern Warfare.

AusGamers: I just want to go back to Infinite Warfare and Ghosts before that. Was that like a teething phase for you guys after all the turmoil and then, conversely, is this kind of a refresh point for the studio?

Taylor: Sure, so I started at the studio July 1st, 2014. So, I was not on the team when they made Ghosts. But I was on the team for the duration of the production of Infinite Warfare. And from my own perspective I did see that this was a studio that... it's hard to lose a lot of your senior staff like that and it's especially hard when these games have got more and more complex to make. They take more people, they take more planning, they take more organisation. So, it was a studio in a bit of need for finding its identity again.

And I was excited to jump at the chance and have the opportunity to rebuild it, but to build it into something new and different. And [to keep] keep some of that amazing DNA that resulted in that first series of games, but also make it a studio that had new, different muscles that were strong that maybe the original studio didn't have. So, what I can say is that Infinite Warfare was the infusion. Infinite Warfare really to me represented… it was the merger of Infinity Ward and Neversoft and also the infusion of myself, Jacob Minkoff and bunch of our really close mates from Naughty Dog. And I think that was really a great foundation.

And then for the production of Modern Warfare it's, like, take all of that and then add in a bunch more people from Naughty Dog and a lot of the returning leads from those original games. So right now, I've never been... I mean, I've always worked with really crack, top-notch teams in my career, I've been lucky in that way. And with this [production], we're now starting to feel like we are there ourselves.

AusGamers: How much of the new technology and the power and fidelity that's been pushed into this feed the story and the cadence of how you built that narrative, versus the narrative forcing the construction of the engine?

Taylor: Sure.

AusGamers: Or is that a push-pull?

Taylor: It's a push-pull thing for sure but I would look at it like, I don't think that [Michael] Drobot and his team were making discoveries in a vacuum. I think that he sums it up really well when he says that making a new Modern Warfare game is what sort of forced them to focus on these particular features. Which is the way you want to do it, right? You want to purpose build the thing to serve the job it needs to serve. And so, what I can say that's different is having someone like Drobot kind of heading up this engine initiative has given us so many more toys than we could have ever hoped for.

And so that's what's incredible. He could have focused his efforts and energies into different avenues had we had the necessity for those features to be a part of the engine. But just having that talent and his whole team in Infinity Ward Poland allowed us to just do justice to this reimagining of this series.

AusGamers: So I want to get to the reimagining part. I was sort of thinking just before, that it’s likely based on feedback early on from punters sort of saying, "Oh maybe they should go back to their roots because they haven't been so successful". But I kind of liken it more to what Capcom did recently with Resident Evil 2 remake, which meant they got to open up that story, got to open up that experience and push players through that in different ways with a game of visual fidelity that wasn't around then. Can you talk to what the word ‘reimagining’ actually means? And, I know we've got Captain Price, so we’ve got familiarity there -- how far up the road do you go?

Taylor: We've got Captain Price, but I think it's important to realise that we didn't go for a facsimile of the original Captain Price. We could have done that. We could have found a lookalike and a soundalike and, like, [revive] the original Captain Price, and Captain Price was in Call 2 also. So, let's look at Captain Price from all of Modern Warfare. He's not a real human being. He was... his visuals were conceived of on a tablet on a character artist’s desk. His voice was brought to bear by an actor who doesn't look anything like the visuals. And his movements were generated by stunt men, basically, and animators. And so, again, reimagining, it didn't feel right for us to find a soundalike or a lookalike; try to do a carbon copy of a Captain Price. Because the best thing you're ever going to get is, "Oh, it's mostly like that guy but you know, it's not exact".

And so what we did is we put out the search for finding an actual human being who can embody the spirit of that character. When they remade James Bond, when they remade Casino Royale, Daniel Craig was a not a facsimile of Pierce Brosnan, or a facsimile of Roger Moore, or Sean Connery. He was his own guy; he was his own take on that character. And I thought that that was really an important thing for us to do and I couldn't be more excited, and the team couldn't be more excited for the actor that we found to fill those shoes. It really does feel like that character, everything that you love about that character, in a breathing, living human being.

AusGamers: Okay, will there be other returning characters as well?

Taylor: There will be some other returning characters.

AusGamers: So… Ghost?

Taylor: I'm not going to talk about that today. We're going to save some surprises. But there will be some returning characters. And I think it's important to keep in mind that we are, in the same way that we are reimagining this series, or reimagining Price, we are reimagining those characters as well. Again, if you can take the analogy from Casino Royale, or the Daniel Craig Bond movies, or Batman Begins, for example, the characters may have some of the same names and the essence of the character may remain the same, but you shouldn't look to a one to one comparison. I think that's important.

AusGamers: Okay, from a single-player perspective, which is what we are focusing on today, how important is agency versus driving a character down a path; a linear path? Albeit, one that has bells and whistles and takes you into that experience. Because we've moved into a world now in videogaming where all the power we have is opening worlds up. And I'm not asking, “is it open-world?”, because I know that's not going to be the answer that I want, but I want to talk about how gameplay has driven that with this reimagining and how much agency players will have.

Taylor: Sure. I think a facet of agency that we are focused on is the agency of the player sort of finding their line. A real thing that operators in the field today having to go up against is trying to discern friend from foe. And it's not an exact science. It is some of the most harrowing experiences that these operators must go through is making those determinations in a split second.

So for us, trying to make this game be as relevant and realistic as possible, having our players be put into those shoes, those boots of these real Tier One soldiers, and have to, in a split second, determine the difference between hostile intent and not, and a combatant and a non-combatant. Those to us are some really, really interesting ways that you can sort of use agency. The game doesn't tell you. There's no perfect score. There's no perfect way to play the game. And the game does test you in a lot of different ways to sort of find your line, in terms of achieving the greater good for yourself and for your squad mates.

AusGamers: Okay. The second half of the demo, which was incredibly jarring, how difficult is it to write and direct something like that where you are building on characterisation and then the significance of history and what that can do to people and drive their priorities in life and how that shapes them? I mean, it's just such an incredible sequence, to have even written it would have been an incredibly difficult experience.

Taylor: And the research is incredibly difficult too. Watching documentaries like The Last Men in Aleppo or watching The White Helmets. Those are some difficult things to watch. For me in particular as a dad -- it's tough to see some of the things that we see on the news today. But those things are really happening. And of course, the moment that I see something like that on the news I think about myself, I think about my child and I think about how unfair it is when the theatre of war spills over into someone’s personal life and their family and their home.

But to not touch on those subjects felt, as hard as they were to touch on, would feel like a disservice to all those people. So, for us it's really important to raise awareness. Again, we kind of took the challenge of reimagining this series really literally and we just said, "What is modern warfare?" Well, modern warfare is turning on the news and seeing a child who was victim of an air strike or something like that. That to us was one facet of what that means. And so we had to do that service.

AusGamers: It's interesting how you say, “What is modern warfare?”, and it's turning on the news and seeing these horrendous fallouts and the collateral that comes with global conflict. And that, again, is such a confronting and jarring sequence [you showed in the second part of the demo] so, will we get to enjoy parts of the game as well or is it always bleak?

Taylor: We will get to enjoy the game as well. I think that's an important part of it is you want to feel another aspect to great war stories. It's feeling the comradery of the men and the women who put their lives on the line in order to achieve the greater good. And so, we think you'll feel that as well; finding the beauty in the destruction. It's finding the humour in the sadness. That that's the way we sort of retain our own humanity and we don't lose ourselves in that mire, so to speak.

AusGamers: And, I kind of felt a little bit at odds with the presentation terminology of, like, "The gun is the hero". And then we have the second part of the demo. How do you balance that out? Because you're kind of speaking to two very different philosophies.

Taylor: I think what is meant by that is that as a Tier One operator or as a rebel freedom fighter, your machinery, your equipment that you use is on the screen a whole heck of a lot of the time. So that's what's meant by that statement. And what it does mean is that if the goal of this game and the goal of this story is to feel a certain sense of empowerment of navigating these complex situations, but in the end doing the right thing, that you need the tools to accomplish these goals. And having the feeling of being powerful, and the feeling of being able to actually make a difference is, in a lot of ways, connected to the feel, the sounds and the animations that are linked to your weaponry.

AusGamers: What do you hope the average gamer out there will take away from the experience you've been creating? And I want to delineate that with experience versus videogame. Because you guys are going to face questions like, "Oh how long is the campaign? Can I blow up the whole house?". Like, that sort of stuff.

Taylor: Sure. You meant the experience, like, the takeaway; sort of the feeling that they'll take away from playing this game?

AusGamers: Yeah. And are you hoping, are you attempting to transcend gaming in a way?

Taylor: Yeah. I've been making games for... 24 years now. And, I should say I started making games 24 years ago. So, I'm always trying to push the medium forward. I'm always trying to… that's one of the things that I love so much about being in this business, is that it is a relatively new industry and so the games and the advancements are huge. Every day you come into work you are trying to solve new problems that you didn't think you would even have the opportunity to solve because you didn't know the technology would allow you to do it. So, are we trying to transcend gaming? That's a pretty grand statement, I guess. But I think I'm trying to transcend gaming with every game that I make.

With this one in particular, I really want people to think. I want people to realise that if you are a Tier One operator fighting domestic counter terrorism, or you are a guy, or a woman fighting in a distant land that you are faced with a lot of incredibly tough situations. And discerning the right thing to do from the wrong thing to do isn't always the easiest thing to do. And that is a thing that we have, as a theme, that we sort of got from our consultants, over and over again. We work with a lot of Navy Seal consultants, and former SAS and SBS consultants, and CIA consultants and they talk about the complexity of warfare. And how they have to be sort of right all the time or the headline is they were wrong. And that's an unenviable position to be in and so for them finding that line is a hard thing to do. So that's one thing I want people to take away from it on the one hand.

On the other hand, what I would like people to take away from this game is finding that line between how far you're willing to go for the greater good is maybe an even more fraught situation if you are a local fighter fighting over there. That the line between right and wrong as a Western combatant is, "Are you on the front page of the newspaper for a good reason or a bad reason?". The same sort of decision if you're over there is, "Are you labelled a freedom fighter or are you labelled a terrorist?". So, finding that line is even more complicated for those people, and I think that that's a thing that, generally speaking, the fans of our game maybe haven't been exposed to as much as they will after playing this.

AusGamers: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Taylor: Great, great questions. Thanks for your time.

AusGamers: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you.

Stay tuned for an in-depth preview of the deep-dive we were given out at Infinity Ward shortly.

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