Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare Story From Comic-Con

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Brendy posted about the 12 minutes of Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare [official site] footage over the weekend but I’ve been watching the narrative panel from San Diego Comic-Con in which it also made an appearance to just get a feel for what Infinity Ward are up to with this next instalment and what exactly is up with the space plot:

The whole thing is nearly an hour long so if that’s too much Call Of Duty for you to handle on a Monday morning I can break down the bits which stood out to me. Oh, and this was a narrative panel so I’ll pre-empt the first question by saying: no, nothing about zombies or multiplayer unless you count talk of the MW2 Terminal map reimagined as a moon-port instead of an airport which is only mentioned at the very end in the service of selling the pre-orders for the game.


So, the plot revolves around this idea that a separatist movement has developed in space and they are hell-bent on destroying Earth-dwellers. That’s the short version. The long version is about how the Earth’s natural supply of things like tin is dwindling so we’ve had to go mining for them in space. Space has made people go a bit space-weird as they go through a prolonged period of being away from humanising structures which exist on Earth.

The general gist is that because resources are scarce they’re the focus of a lot of money and a lot of potential for conflict – I’m assuming that the Space Jerk Faction (who are actually called the Settlement Defence Front, or SetDef) feels that they deserve the tin mines more than the people on Earth or they want to control them or something. That part is a bit hazy because the impression the panel gives is that the Space Jerk Faction just wants to obliterate Earth, which… I guess?

I mean, eradicating everyone on Earth would eradicate the competition for space tin. It also makes for a more bombastic game where the evil guy wants to kill everyone on earth rather than, say, set up a blockade around an asteroid and negotiate for advantageous trade agreements and financing.

Incidentally, Kit Harington is playing your nemesis here. A guy called Salen Kotch. He is in the panel briefly via a pre-recorded interview segment. Harington describes Kotch as “psychotic and unpredictable” as well as not being afraid of death. Honestly? I didn’t get anything but cliché villain traits from this.

Anyway, SetDef launches an attack on the Earth fleet when they all gather in one place for a celebration. I feel like it’s Military 101 to not put your entire fleet in one place but what do I know? Now there are only two ships left (and lots of little Jackals which are the ships whice can fly in space and in the atmosphere on Earth and apparently use FPS-ish controls). They/you need to buy Earth time so Earth can rebuild the fleet.


My first thought is that there’s a lot of talk about how you are the captain here and get to make choices, but the 12 minutes of footage didn’t really offer up anything that looked particularly choice-y. I think maybe there was a bit of telling people to use particular tactics but mostly it was Call Of Duty run and gun from scene to scene as far as I could see.

A potentially interesting thing is that your promotion to captain means this is the first time you’re space partner, Nora Salter’s superior. Apparently there’s dialogue in the game that acknowledges the discomfort that shift in dynamic brings. That sounds interesting just as a kind of rounding out of characters but it didn’t seem present in what was shown so no idea if it will actually play out in a cool way or just as an idea that gets talked about on panels but doesn’t really manifest in-game.

Another idea that was interesting was the robot/android companion soldier called Ethan. It has apparently been programmed with a sense of humour to help it fit in. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one I’ve always found interesting – AI ability to make and understand jokes and how it affects interactions with humans. I’m not sure how that is ultimately going to affect the game interactions apart from adding a bit of levity at points. I mean, in the panel they explicitly point out that David Harewood’s foot soldier/marine kind of character doesn’t like Ethan so the addition of humour doesn’t seem to be doing a job there?

BUT the whole area of artificial intelligence and whether it can successfully engage with or produce humour is fascinating so this is my way of saying GO DISAPPEAR DOWN A RABBIT HOLE OF ROBO-LOL RESEARCH… This piece over on Wired is an interesting jumping-off point. The implications for how far computing or AI design will have come if Ethan actually existed and was making off-the-cuff quips to respond to situations are kind of mind-boggling.

Unless Ethan just turns out to be a variation of the “That’s What She Said” bot. Although, to be honest, I’ve had human colleagues who would fill that description, and with a similar percentage accuracy.

What else?

The crew in some segments wears colour-coded jackets so you can tell their role at a glance. This is useful to people aboard an aircraft carrier IRL, but mostly I was thinking about how each member of JLS has their own signature colour. I have no idea how the coding works in the military but in JLS Marvin was green, Oritsé was red, Aston was blue and JB was yellow.

There were also some interesting bits about how redundancy is built into actual military constructions – a touchscreen communication device being backed up by a corded telephone which is backed up by a tube you can literally just shout into.

I guess that last thing I was left pondering actually came up only a few minutes into the panel. Co-writer Brian Bloom (who also plays the main character, Nick Reyes) said of the space setting:

“This is the natural progression. When you sit and talk to a real life top gun pilot and say ‘Where’s this going, what do you want?’ – because that’s the most awesome job in the world – ‘What’s the next step for you?’ They say that next step is space. That’s the new frontier, that’s the next frontier, that’s the next battleground.”

To me that’s so disturbing as a thought. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Star Trek, but my relationship with space posits it as this amazing, expansive, perspective-shifting thing. Something where people can share and co-operate. Maybe that’s also a consequence of having grown up well after the post-war space race and very much in the era of International Space Stations and ideas about advancing human knowledge. I hate the idea that space is viewed as another set of borders to enforce and militarise. But I guess humanity gonna humanity. Scarce resources, financial stakes, the precariousness of life in such a hostile environment…

Depressing that this particular view of space feels nowhere near the hopefulness of the message in a bottle we sent out as “representative” of Earth in both Voyager spacecraft.

Maybe this is why you shouldn’t look too closely at Call Of Duty beyond the explosions and what’s new in your arsenal this time around. You end up worrying about the future of humanity and what the space neighbours will think when they pop round and see you doing the military equivalent of throwing deckchairs at each other and hollering obscenities in the front yard.

Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare is out on 4 November.

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  1. LexW1 says:

    Trust Call of Duty to make the weaker party the aggressor and bad guy.

    It’s interesting, because there’s a long history of space-SF, in novels, in RPGs, and even in anime, where there’s a “separatist” space-based faction (whether based on Mars, the Asteroid Belt, in orbit around Jupiter/Jovian moons, or in another system entirely), and almost universally, authors either go realistic and paint both sides as having their issues, and examine the motivations and so on (obvs. CoD wasn’t going to go that way), or they tend to side with the separatists, because fundamentally, they are always, always going to be the underdog – they have far less in the way of resources and military strength, and typically either dependent on Earth’s good graces, or basically independent and don’t want to ruled by a distant planet which doesn’t have their best interest at heart.

    But CoD? Well, they’re space-foreigners who’ve gone space-mad so need to be space-shot-in-the-head. Even though it even sounds like, from the setup, that they have absolutely legitimate reasons to not want to be both ruled by earth and forced to give them stuff that they’re producing. It’s particularly funny given the biggest popular sci-fi novel series of our day, SA Corey’s Expanse series, actually treats basically the same subject with considerable intelligence.

    So that’s a whole extra layer of depressing on top of what Phillipa has said, I feel.

    • Love Albatross says:

      So they’re going against the common trope used in these sorts of scenarios by – as you say – many sci-fi stories. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

      Doesn’t really sound like the separatists are that underdog-ish either? If they’re living in space and have the technology to mine asteroids they’d have access to an enormous amount of raw material. And they’ve managed to build a big fleet and organise a surprise attack.

      Anyway, it’s a CoD game. Nobody is expecting great storytelling depth at this point surely. Let’s wait until the full story is revealed before trying to conjure up some controversy eh?

      • LexW1 says:

        So, discussing the story in a post about the story is “trying to conjure up controversy”? Are joking, sarcastic or…?

        I agree that the obvious, facile response is “Well they’re doing something different!!!”, but being different for the sake of it is obviously no more valid than being the same for the sake of it.

        Your idea that a faction which has a population that’s probably under 0.1% of that of Earth, which likely relies on Earth for many supplies, and which, according to what we’ve been told of the plot, basically just wants to not be controlled by Earth and forced to give away the fruits of it’s labour isn’t the underdog in all real senses seems a bit far-fetched.

        I mean, underdog and good guy aren’t always the same thing (c.f. US Civil War), but it is absolutely classic Call of Duty to make you shoot space-foreigners, even though your side likely outnumbers them 10000:1. Making them space-crazy to make it more excusable is just icing on the cake.

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          Vandelay says:

          There is just good dramatic reason why the separatist-esque movement would be painted as the good guys fightibh overwhelming odds. Doing it the other way around just creates an “America… Fuck yeah” story that isnt that interesting.

          But CoD will CoD. It is just depressing that the start of the 12 min gameplay footage opened with two devs saying that a great story was at the heart of great games (debatable,) and that they actually think what they are doing is good story telling.

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            Vandelay says:

            Edit – wow, what happened to autocorrect! By fightibh I of course meant fighting.

      • GWOP says:

        “So they’re going against the common trope used in these sorts of scenarios by – as you say – many sci-fi stories. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

        Nope. It’s in the same vein of Homefront’s storyline of North Korea invading and occupying America. They want to simultaneously be the most powerful nation in the world with their cool gadgets and expensive weapons and be the underdog at the same time. These people want to have their cake and eat it too.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      I’m sad they didn’t go for:
      -Americanauts VS Cosmosoviets/NorKonauts.
      -ISIS (Islamic State In Space).
      -Just And Patriotic Space Colonies blasting the Evil Earth Redcoat Terranists space-tea into space, triggering the invasion protocols of Earth King George Mk3.

  2. Love Albatross says:

    “I feel like it’s Military 101 to not put your entire fleet in one place”

    That E3 reveal trailer also showed them blowing a bridge window to kill the crew, who for some reason weren’t wearing space suits or even using magnetic boots in the middle of a battle. So there’s stupidity on both sides.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Never mind lack of magnetic boots, why do they have windows on the bridge in the first place?

      • Love Albatross says:

        Without windows how would you see all the weird swirly space things??

    • LexW1 says:

      The big “dump contents of engineering bay into space” button seemed a tad poorly considered too.

  3. Apologised says:

    Jesus. You could play a “Guess what Gundam they stole that plot idea from” drinking game with that plotline.
    I don’t mean in a vague “It’s sort of like that one thing” kind of way, but directly lifted from the show.

    • LexW1 says:

      To be fair they will probably manage to make Gundam look extremely deeply nuanced, thoughtful and complex by comparison.

      • Apologised says:

        Depending on which series you pick, and if you count written sources like Gundam Century, they can be anyway.
        The science on that first series is pretty solid, even if they spend no time on it in the actual show.

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    Benratha says:

    Oddly, having read a bit into the Voyager message there seems to be some controversy regarding its content not being exactly ‘multinational’. Although, given we’re expecting aliens to be reading it maybe that doesn’t matter..

  5. Shadow says:

    “Depressing that this particular view of space feels nowhere near the hopefulness of the message in a bottle we sent out as “representative” of Earth in both Voyager spacecraft.”

    What’s depressing is that if Voyager’s message had been any more representative of humanity, we might as well had written “KILL US ASAP” on it.

    But at any rate, alien explorers would be intelligent enough to chuckle at the actual message and come up with their own conclusion. That they’d be dumb enough to actually believe we’re a peaceful race seems unlikely.

    They might think us to be dumb given we’re so recklessly giving away the location of our solar system. But that’s another story.

  6. Keasar says:

    “To me that’s so disturbing as a thought. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Star Trek, but my relationship with space posits it as this amazing, expansive, perspective-shifting thing.”

    Funny thing, as someone who grew up with a bit of everything when it comes to space, space for me is instead this “load of absolutely nothing”, hence the name “space” :P

    We have observed the universe for so long, catalogued so many things and all the time we come to the same conclusions “Yup, another dirt ball in space, no life, just us, awesome.” The Star Trek era of space will never happen as space is so bloody inconvenient that our spaceships will have the shapes of white and orange garbage cans for the next hundreds of years or so because everything else is a waste. The alien races we envision don’t exist. The alien fauna probably doesn’t exist as it turns out our planet is a lightning caught in a very, very tiny bottle thing.

    Space nowadays is a whole load of suck in reality. Some scientist will come up with “Oh shit, we found a tiny particle!” “What does it do!?” “Absolutely nothing that affects us!” “Oh.” and the world will move on with no difference. Scientists can continue their work and they should but for us normal people, we will all be dead and our grandchildren will be dead and their grandchildren will be dead too and so on before anything remotely life changing happens for the normal population regarding space.

    Fiction like this is the only way we can make space at least a little interesting, no matter how dumb it is in the end. Though I will admit the story for the Sector Defence Force whatever is kind of weak, even the Zeon of Gundam had some proper reasoning and different viewpoints behind it.

  7. Unsheep says:

    ‘I didn’t get anything but cliché villain traits from this.’

    What modern AAA game does *not* have cliche villains ?!

    Far Cry 3-4, Wolfenstein TNO, BioShock Infinite, Doom 2016, Dying Light, Just Cause 3, Batman Arkham Knight, Saints Row Gat out of Hell and so on.

    You can accuse all of them for lacking creativity when it comes the design of enemies or villains.

    Add the vast majority of Fantasy games to this list as well: Dragon Age Inquisition, Skyrim …

  8. crépuscule says:

    I find it slightly ironic that the legion of CoD detractors always complaining about “the same old thing” have started throwing fits now that the franchise has decided to go in a new direction. Suddenly, I’m seeing comments all over the internet along the lines of “Can we please return to WWI/WWII?”