I’ve really lost interest in the Call of Duty series in recent years. I enjoyed Call of Duty 2 and Modern Warfare, but the constant stream of titles without much of a technological or gameplay evolution grew tiring. So when Call of Duty: Ghosts was revealed at the Xbox One announcement I wasn’t too invested, but I was still interested since there had been a lot of hype about how this was going to be a big jump forward. And while I was watching, my interest was really piqued when Eric Hirschberg mentioned that Ghosts would be running on an entirely new, next-gen engine. Well…
Turns out this “new” engine is really just an updated version of the same engine running Black Ops 2 with a few “next-gen” features tacked on. These features include tessellation (watch this video if you want to see it in motion), “Sub-D” which basically splits the geometry up as you get closer to make models look better, and…well, that’s all they really seemed to mention. Honestly, this isn’t surprising. Ghosts is not being developed with the PS4 and One in mind, it’s still going to be targeted at the enormous 360, PC, and PS3 install bases. Having Ghosts on these platforms is merely a luxury at this point.
Another thing came up that goes beyond my knowledge but I saw mentioned a few times is that the Quake III engine that Call of Duty runs on uses the framerate for a number of different calculations including rate of fire and, for some reason, level geometry. That seems to be one of the main complaints that while the graphics are well below the likes of Crysis, Battlefield, and Metro, the underlying gameplay is also a relic of a 14 year old engine. If anyone knows why this is, I’d love to know why.
What I found more interesting though, and unintentionally honest, was this statement by Animation Lead Zach Volker, emphasis mine:
As we develop and we add features, at what point does it become a new engine? Because it’s impossible to develop a new engine from the ground up in a two year cycle. You would need an army of 200 engineers. So what we do is we say ‘okay what are the things that are significant and that we would say that are encompassing of the engine or its visual quality?
Basically he tells the interviewer “we could build a new engine, but we have to ship a new game every two years, we just don’t have the time.” People often lament the yearly release cycle Activision has going between Infinity Ward and Treyarch, but this may be the first time I’ve heard a developer at the studio complain about the schedule, even if there’s no intention to do an engine overhaul (similar to what DICE did when they launched Frostbite.)
Do I think that Call of Duty will eventually use a truly brand new engine? Maybe. There’s a real chance that creating a new engine could change the winning formula they’ve established. But there’s also a real risk that as competitors continue moving tech forward, particularly Battlefield, Activision may find itself in a situation where their games are getting outclassed so badly that gamers may gravitate away. That day is likely many years away though.