Interviews

Interview With Beenox’s Marc-Alexandre Boulanger-Milot: Bringing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to PC

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is often looked at as one of the tentpole FPS shooter games of all time. This year, Infinity Ward, alongside Beenox, is re-writing the script and rebooting the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sub-franchise.

This past weekend, the first alpha test ran on PlayStation 4. It was also the weekend Fan Expo Canada was held in Toronto. This brought Marc-Alexandre Boulanger-Milot, the Game Director at Beenox out to discuss the studio’s involvement in developing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Beenox has a longstanding relationship with the Call of Duty franchise. The Quebec-based studio has often been in charge of porting the games to PC and ensuring keyboard and mouse is properly supported. This year, Beenox not only recently released Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled but has been tasked with streamlining the PC port and providing support for keyboard and mouse on the console releases.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is set to feature crossplay between PC, PS4, and Xbox One. The game will also feature dedicated controls for gamepad and K&M. As one could imagine, this is no simple flip of the switch. Both Infinity Ward and Beenox have been putting the finishing touches on the game, making sure all aspects, both online and off, are properly balanced across the three platforms.

Bobby Pashalidis and I sat down with Marc-Alexandre to discuss this process.

Steve: So, we’re were a couple of short months away from the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. How is everyone at the studio feeling right now?

Marc: Ugh, stressed out. (laughs)

Well you know, I want to make sure the game is going to be awesome. We’re just pushing all that’s left to make sure that we can have all the features ready and all that. Having the polish and bugs fixed. So we’re still playtesting, making sure all that’s currently in place still is in good shape. It’s a great project to be part of, but it’s a big project.

Bobby: With Beenox, you guys have obviously worked on this franchise before. So this time around, what are you guys doing?

Marc: Yeah, this year working on the PC version of the game. Also making sure that the keyboard and mouse are working well for the PS4 and Xbox One. Basically, we want the same feeling that you have on the PC there on the console if using a keyboard and mouse. You’ll have access to the mouse to navigate and all the different key bindings or binding options.

Bobby: What’s the most difficult part of porting keyboard and mouse to a console.

Marc: It’s a big challenge! (laughs)

It’s mostly UI and gameplay. I’d say those are the two main parts. With a mouse, you can go anywhere. You want to click the thing you want. You can interact with pretty much everything on the screen. The mouse, when we’re designing, we talk with Infinity Ward (IW). They’re a good partner, so every time they create a new menu we talk with them say: “Hey, how is the mouse gonna work for that? How is the keyboard going to work?” It’s a discussion that we have with them a lot.

For the gameplay side, you have more keys, which is good. But it can bring some negatives if there are too many keys. So what we did was add some key binds. For instance, there’s a key to go directly to prone. These are kind of the features that we are adding to make sure that the keyboard and mouse are well supported.

Steve: Beenox is not the largest team but also not the smallest team. What was it like to juggle the development with Modern Warfare but also wrap everything up with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled? Is there anything you can tell us about that process.

Marc: We worked on the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 PC port last year. So, we took the experience and all the knowledge that we have learned throughout the last project. It’s pretty much the same thing, we switched over to work on Modern Warfare. So this is the same expertise that were are using. At Beenox, we have a very technical team working on Call of Duty. We also have some very creative people that were on the Crash team. Since they don’t ship at the same time, we can help each project before making the switchover. We made sure this one is awesome and switch over. That’s a value that’s very important to Beenox.

You know, the balance between real life and work-life? So that’s what’s very important for us. We ship a game like every year. But this year, we’re shipping two. We don’t like people to work crazy hours and work for multiple months and years consecutively. So, we want to make sure that everybody is happy. Hit the balance between life and work.

Steve: That’s really good to hear.

Bobby: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has often been described as a soft reboot to the franchise. Characters aside, what does that mean in terms of the themes and mechanics within the game?

Marc: I cannot say too much about the design decisions and those mechanics. But yeah, it’s kind of a reimagination of the old Modern Warfare. So they used the same characters but they have completely different stories. Basically, it’s a new experience. The engine is much better than it was 10 years ago. Of course, there’s a lot of technology that was brought together.

Also, this year, all the game modes are tied together like a big unified experience. The campaign, the co-op and multiplayer, IW wanted to make sure that it feels like the same game across all of them. The pacing may be a little bit different. Like the singleplayer is more of a cinematic experience, but they want to draw the same cinematic experience in multiplayer as well.

Bobby: Beenox is spearheading the development of the PC release. Can you talk to us about that process and how it’s been shaping out?

Marc: Well, just so you know, I used to be a lead engineer. I worked as a lead engineer for Black Ops 4 on PC. I was mostly in charge of the UI and gameplay team, so I was mostly talking with engineers making sure we weren’t breaking the build and we’re not breaking our stuff. It was a really good partnership with Treyarch.

Later, we started working on Blackout for Black Ops 4. It was at that moment that I decided that I liked to design and talk about PC because I’m a big PC fan. That’s when I asked them if I could put my hands on it and asked how we can make a better PC game. We sent a lot of emails to Treyarch to open a discussion about how we can improve the game.

This year is pretty much the same process. So, basically every time we see that there’s an opportunity for keyboard and mouse, we make a big wishlist of what we’d like to have in the game. Then, we talk with IW and ask: “What do you think about this feature?”

Last year, we could kind of make the game unbalanced because PC and console we’re not playing together. So for instance, the sniper rifle was too powerful on PC most of the time because you can quick scope. It was super easy. On console, it’s much harder. So what we did on the PC version, we reduced the efficiency just so it feels right. But we couldn’t bring those changes to console because it would make the gun useless.

But this year, we can’t do the same because we don’t want to see a PC player using his mouse and one-shot a guy in the chest. If the other has a gamepad, he can’t do that. That would feel unfair because they play together. We don’t have any other choice than to make sure that every single step is fair.

We have a great partnership with the multiplayer game directors at IW. We can make sure that every idea we have, we can all agree. Some of the changes we made for the PC ended up being used on the console.

Steve: Call of Duty has a colossal following on the competitive side. With new additions like Infection, Gunfight, and larger deathmatch modes, what was the process like balancing each of them, ensuring quality and entertainment were maintained?

Marc: As I said, IW wants to have that unifying experience across all the game modes. It’s a big challenge and it’s mostly through playtesting. IW does a lot of playtesting, we also do a lot. We do some user research. We bring in some people who have never played Call of Duty to get unbiased feedback. Based on that feedback, we make sure that we understand what exactly the player was saying. Somebody might say: “I don’t like this gun, it’s too powerful!” Sometimes you have to think about what it means when they say it’s too powerful. Is it because they killed 20 people at the same time, or it’s too easy to get. Those are the small things that we have to change. You have to make sure that the game remains fair no matter how many players are playing.

Of course, the maps also vary based on the player count. Gunfight is on a small map. We have Ground Wars with 32 vs. 32 players. It’s a much larger map. So it takes a lot of time to walk from one end to the other. You need an ATV or a truck to do it.

Steve: The introduction of night-vision goggles might be one of my favourite new additions. It seems like utilizing those will impact the multiplayer, urging players to take a more thoughtful, strategic approach. Is that a correct assumption?

Marc: Yes! You know, this year’s gameplay should be slower paced. You’ve got to be more tactical. You can’t just run and walk on the walls. You won’t be able to do that. It’s more ground-based. It’s slower and there’s a lot of recoil on the guns. It’s a little bit harder to aim and to be efficient with them. So yeah, that’s the main idea. Just to slow down a bit in comparison to Black Ops 4, which was fast. It was fun, but that’s not where we’re going this year.

Bobby: Gunfight has also been gaining a big push from previews, gameplay reveals, etc. What is it about Gunfight that is so special for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare?

Marc: All of that was done at IW and it’s fun. It’s really cool! It’s all about having a small zone where you can play. You also have the same loadout as your opponent so you can’t say: “Oh, you killed me because you had this gun or this particular weapon.” It’s a fair fight. So it’s really, really fun. The pacing is fast as each round is a minute, so it lasts for like 10 minutes and you’re done with the matches. It’s pretty cool. Especially if you play with friends.

Steve: Yeah, you can kind of you bounce off each other.

Marc: Yeah you’ve got to talk. Exactly. Like if you’re pinned down and cannot move, you just tell them: “Hey they’re coming for me.” Then they can flank.

Steve: Finally, as someone who has undoubtedly spent an ample amount of time around the game, what has been your favourite aspect or component that you can’t wait to see players experience?

Marc: I like the campaign. The story is fun. I try not to spoil myself. You know, when we need to fix a bug or see if the keyboard is being well supported. I try to only see those moments where I have to give my input. (laughs)

I really loved the Modern Warfare (2007) campaign. Back in the day, it was amazing. I saw one part, and it looks amazing this year. That’s pretty cool. But after I’m done with the campaign, I’ll switch to multiplayer.

A big thank you to Marc-Alexandre Boulanger-Milot, who took the time to speak with us this past weekend. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is set to release on October 25th on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His enthusiasm and adoration of the video game industry go back to the days of SNES. Find him on Twitter and join in on the escapades.

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