Ever wondered what goes into designing the look and feel of a game? Curious to know what skills are needed to score a job as a game developer? These questions and a bunch of others were on my mind when I bumped into Brian Horton, the studio art director at Call of Duty developer, Infinity Ward and picked his brains about creating a game title like COD.
Patrick Pilcher: Hi Brian, can you tell me more about your role as studio art director at Infinity Ward?
Brian Horton: I manage a talented team of artists for the Infinite Warfare Campaign, Multiplayer mode and Zombies co-op mode. My job is to ensure that we as a team achieve the highest visual quality bar possible. I work most closely with a group of Lead Artists that specialise in areas like Characters, Environments, Weapons, Vehicles, FX, User Interface and Technical Art. Those talented guys manage their teams of artists to create the amazing assets you’ll ultimately see in game.
PP: What artistic vision did you have for COD: Infinite Warfare? Was there a particular look and feel you wanted to achieve?
BH: We wanted Infinite Warfare to feel grounded, more science fact than fiction. With that said, our guiding design principle for our vehicles was NASA meets Navy, so taking the aesthetic of Naval Battleships and Aircraft Carriers and blending them with NASA vehicles like the Space Shuttle.
Also, the weapons and pressure suits look more like modern military silhouettes by design. Our Directed Energy weapons for example, needed to look and feel real, so we chose to use battery replacements as an analogue to reloading bullets. Our pressure suits resemble the classic silhouettes of a modern soldier to maintain the classic look and feel that Call of Duty is known for.
PP: What processes are involved when developing a game such as COD: Infinite Warfare?
BH: Specific to art, which is my focus, we have been on the cutting edge of scanning photorealistic digital actors in video games. We continue to refine this process, and for Infinite Warfare we have been able to bring an unprecedented level of detail to all of our characters, down to incredibly small areas like their skin pores.
In the game, we capture over 80 unique facial shapes per actor, and then break these shapes into elements to recreate the full range of motion and subtle micro expressions of each actor. We also custom built a full performance capture stage, just for this project, to film tonnes of film quality cinematics for the game. In addition, our team had the honour to visit Navy battleships to observe their procedures and take hundreds of photographic references to ensure our space aircraft carrier, “The Retribution” was as authentic as possible, and we can’t wait for fans to check it out.
PP: Has the process changed from say, ten years ago?
BH: Our technology has advanced so much in the past ten years that we can now accurately simulate physically correct lighting and materials in our game, including photorealistic characters and performances. These all come together to really immerse the player into the game experience.
PP: Where do you see the future of video game graphics leading?
BH: We are getting closer and closer to creating actual photorealistic characters and environments, which will be almost indistinguishable from real life. After we achieve this, art direction will play a role in choosing what worlds we want to create, and how we want the player to experience them.
I believe VR will continue to evolve and enhance the immersion into these worlds and characters we create. I also imagine procedural generation of worlds will be a large part of how we make larger games that we could never create by hand. All of this though should be in service of creating a compelling experience, something that makes us think, feel and ultimately have fun.
PP: Given the big bucks being spent on gaming, has the gameplay experience improved or does it just look prettier?
BH: With every new leap in tech, we are always looking for ways to make our games look and feel more believable. That said, we use this new power and technology as a means to tell better stories, and ultimately create a seamless gameplay experience.
With Infinite Warfare, we have the ability to keep a player engaged in the game and world at all times, as in the past loading screens were once required. Immersion is a vital part of making people believe in your world, so I would say that is a benefit of the tech, in addition to the chase to make our games more and more realistic looking.
PP: Does VR have a big future in gaming or is it over-hyped?
BH: VR is really just at the beginning; I feel it has a ton of potential. We as game developers, however, need to understand how to create experiences for the platform that best take advantage of it. We have a VR experience for Call of Duty called “Jackal Assault,” which is a cool experience based on the Jackal dogfighting featured in Infinite Warfare. This is our first step into VR.
PP: What advice would you give someone looking to start a career in games development and what skills would they need?
BH: Playing a lot of games is a great first start, but you need to know why a game is good or bad and break down the experience into the gameplay loops and systems that make it unique. I always recommend to anyone wanting a job in games to be ready to do whatever it takes to help the team.
Be a problem solver. Be prepared to work really hard and even though you may have great ideas, those are definitely the easy part. Execution of an idea or concept is the real challenge, and it takes persistence, iteration and a huge investment of time to make something great.