Call of Duty Last Stand

Interview: Beenox’s Involvement in the Call of Duty Pipeline

The Call of Duty franchise is in a very interesting place. Currently, Call of Duty: Vanguard and Call of Duty: Warzone just rolled out their Season 5 update, dubbed Last Stand. Introducing new modes, weapons, and challenges, the new season marks an exciting time for the games. Though, there’s more on the horizon.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 is also just around the corner. Activision and the many development teams working on the games are prepping a big showcase to highlight what’s in store. A live-streamed Call of Duty Next event is set to take place on September 15th.

For Quebec-based studio Beenox, all hands are on deck at this moment. Beenox largely serves as a support team for Call of Duty but has also been in charge of many of the recent Call of Duty: Warzone updates. Beenox tackles the PC port of the game, ensuring optimization is in place for casual and competitive players. Additionally, the team has been working on integral Warzone modes and feature sets.

Console Creatures sat down with Beenox Creative Director Etienne Pouliot and UI/UX Director Marc-Alexandre Milot. Throughout our discussion, we touched on development throughout COVID-19, and what it means to be a Canadian team working on one of the biggest franchises in gaming. Plus, we talk about how the team approaches the synergistic development cycle alongside other core studios.


Steve: It’s been three years since we last had the chance to sit down and chat, Marc-Alexandre. A lot has changed and we’re now on the cusp of Modern Warfare 2’s launch. How is the team feeling?

Etienne Pouliot: Even in the pandemic, we continue to work very hard and make sure that we just adapt the way we work with other studios. So, I think that there is a really great benefit of what was happening for us in the last two years. So we’ve been using Zoom more and more. So before that, we would need to get on a plane and go to L.A. just to have a meeting. So right now, it’s easier to work with everyone. I see some benefit from everything that’s happened. And I see the result of those benefits inside the next game. So that’s pretty great for us.

Steve: Beenox has been an integral piece of the Call of Duty puzzle, supporting development over the years. Are there any different strategies or lessons that are taken into consideration?

Pouliot: I think on the content side, we’re getting better at finding the right balance of what’s new and something that we learn from the other games. and to not create something that will not be like interesting for the player. So, we’re getting better and better at making the right choice for the game.

I see that as an improvement not just for us, but as a group within Activision. It’s really interesting to see everything you’ve learned with your team. I see that directly in the game and looking at Warzone. I see improvements with each Season and I’m really proud of the work we have done and the partnership with Raven Software and everyone. We’re just going to continue to build on those lessons. I hope for the best for the next one.

Steve: The competitive space has largely transitioned over to PC. What does that mean for Beenox and how do you garner feedback to ensure that it’s done right?

Marc-Alexandre Milot: That’s very important for us and for the competitive space. I personally am a very competitive player, but we also have a lot of really good players at Beenox. So, we do use them a lot during playtests to make sure that the game feels right. We are also always looking at what kind of features we lack on the engine. Or what improvements can we make to make sure that the games feel better?

We do talk with the folks that are at the Call of Duty League. So we do have a direct line with the CDL to make sure that we understand what are the needs or what they would like to improve. Sometimes they do report the report bugs to us like, “Hey, I was supposed to kill that guy, but I didn’t. Please investigate.” So, we do those kinds of investigations just to make sure that the games remain competitive.

At the same time, we want to make sure that the PC version remains fair and balanced with the console version. You don’t want to feel like you had a disadvantage due to the hardware or the inputs that you’re playing with. We take a lot of time to measure and analyze to make sure that everything is fair and we have also a great partnership with PC hardware manufacturers. With them, we can also identify bottlenecks and optimize the CPU or the GPU to make sure that the games feel fluid and to reduce the response time.


Steve: One thing I’ve been genuinely curious about these last few years is the line of communication between core studios working on Call of Duty. Between major updates and lesser patches, it’s a fast-moving machine. Where does Beenox fit in and how does the team keep up?

Pouliot: On our side, it’s all about communication. I have meetings with other [teams]. Each week and each day I speak with them. We’re making sure that the communication and latest information go through all the groups.

Let’s say they have an idea that is pretty cool. Maybe they don’t have the resources to do it. Maybe for us, it’s the right opportunity. You see a lot of teamwork because it’s not about doing it on your own. It’s really like a team effort in Activision. So, I see more and more opportunities for that. After that, they’re happy to work with us, because they know we’re open to those ideas. We know we can give them some feedback. It’s not something you do only on your side. That’s the key part that I see a lot of improvement through the years. We’re just going to follow that path for the future.

Steve: In 2022, what does talent acquisition look like in regard to the Canadian industry?

Pouliot: We’re really lucky because it’s quite easy to attract talent in Quebec and Montreal. I feel that we have the right people to work with. We see more people that have a lot of experience from different studios that want to work with us. I hope that it’s because we have a great franchise and that we have great energy.

Let’s say we hire you. We follow up each month to make sure you have enough information and training. It’s not just you get a job and after that, we’ll forget about you. It’s more about making sure that with each step, you’re in the right place. If we’re out here you want, we want you to stay with us. I don’t want to see someone who is going to escape after one year or so (laughs). So I think that’s the big thing for us and I see more opportunities with people that are not from Canada. Beenox is getting more attraction from across the world. If we see talented UK artists that want to be with us, I see that as an accomplishment for the business.

Steve: Beenox played a significant role in developing content for Caldera and Rebirth Island. Much of that came off the heels of the launch and ongoing support of Verdansk. What was that transition like?

Pouliot: It’s really a great great experience to be part of this and I feel privileged to be part of this with Raven and all the others too. I think that we’re always trying to give something new to play and not just the same experience. I see a lot of people that try it for a new gameplay experience.

Sometimes, we’ll look back at our catalogue. Rebirth Island was inside Blackout for those that might not know. It’s not just like porting that experience. But how do we port it and make it better and improve it from the feedback that we received from the community? It’s the same thing with Caldera. If you look at Caldera on Day One and right now, you will see all the work that the team has done to just make it a better experience.


Steve: Where does the inspiration for the new modes and challenges come from with Warzone?

Pouliot: That’s, that’s the fun part of being inside the studio. We have a lot of passionate people that come to me with crazy ideas. So, I wish that we had more time to do all of them.

I can give you an example right now. We just shipped Season Five, Last Stand. We introduced a new mode and it’s called Operation: Last Call. Some inspiration came from Search and Destroy and it’s a pretty competitive mode.

It was something that we never tried before in Warzone. So I was thinking about how you get that Search and Destroy experience that is really competitive inside Warzone with like, 80 players? That’s a great challenge. But I think it’s part of what making a great game is. It’s not just doing the same idea again and again. We have done so many great things in the past. I think there are a lot of things to tackle and bring into Warzone in the future.

Milot: And playtests. Playtests are so important. We encourage anyone to play the game during the playtest and to give feedback. So no matter, if you’re HR, OA or engineering, we want people internally to play the game. All the feedback is really useful for the development team.

Pouliot: We have people that are really bad at it and others that are really good. I think that feedback is really important because we never just listen to one type of player. I think that we craft the best experiences that way.

Activision Blizzard is currently facing an investigation regarding widespread allegations of a toxic “frat boy” work culture. Publisher CEO Bobby Kotick is also reported to have worked to cover up such allegations and has been working to halt unitization efforts across its studios.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is due to launch on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on October 28th.

This interview has been edited for language and clarity.