Check Out CheatCC’s Exclusive Interview with Infinity Ward!

Check Out CheatCC’s Exclusive Interview with Infinity Ward!

Call of Duty’ s Zombies mode has become a time honored tradition. After all, it’s been eight years since Call of Duty: World at War introduced the element to the series. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Each Call of Duty Zombies adventure is unique, and we’ve come a long way since Nazi Zombies. I was recently fortunate enough to speak with Lee Ross, Infinity Ward’s Senior Producer and Associate Project Director, about how Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ s Zombies in Spaceland got its start and what made this installment’s development so special.

While there’s a constant stream of Call of Duty games always in development, prepared to brighten the latter half of every year, you often wonder when exactly certain games get their start. According to Ross, Zombies in Spaceland’s beginnings stem from Call of Duty: Black Ops III’ s Shadow of Evil. “”Bits and pieces of what has become Zombies in Spaceland were holdovers from the last game. In every game, you want to do a million things. And then, as you start to massage the game together, it ultimately becomes this experience you’re going to ship. There are things you leave on the table. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad ideas, it just means you either A) ran out of time or B) it just didn’t end up fitting in that core experience.” Ideas and concepts that don’t make it into one, occasionally fall into the other. Which seems pretty obvious, when you consider Call of Duty: Black Ops III’ s Zombie mode involved traveling to parallel timelines across time and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ s Zombies in Spaceland throws us in the wayback machine to the 1980’s.

It also allowed some dissonance between Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ s Zombie mode and main campaign. According to Ross, “We wanted [Zombies in Spaceland] to be something that, when players went from the campaign or multiplayer into Zombies in Spaceland, they’d kind of scratch their head and go, “Wait, am I in the right game? Is this the same thing?” We wanted to have a strong contrast and bring that kind of value to the experience.” Part of that was due to the inspirations brought in from the previous game, that made it possible and plausible to be in a different time period entirely, and part was because of the challenge that being so different from Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare would bring. Ross continued, “It could have been zombies in outer space. There’s a ton of assets and levels built, all these wonderful things we could have explored. But, I think that was the easy way out. Our team is a little masochistic. We love to challenge ourselves.” This led to the idea of breaking away from what was expected and reasonable and doing something completely different for Zombies in Spaceland.

Fortunately, it seems like Infinity Ward’s team was cohesive and cooperative enough to pull together and make Zombies in Spaceland work. Deciding on themes, settings, and characters can’t be easy, especially for a larger developer that’s bound to have multiple strong personalities. At the outset, Ross said, “We knew we wanted to time travel, we just weren’t sure exactly where we wanted to time travel to. We did a bunch of research on various time periods we could go to.” It was at this point that they came across the 1980’s. “I’m a child of the 80’s. The more and more that we sort of explored the stereotypes for our archetypes, the music, the movies, the music videos, it kind of kept resonating to the top of our list. The 1980’s is where we landed.”

Which makes sense, because the 1980’s was such a fruitful era to mine for inspiration. I asked Ross if there were any specific 1980’s movies that really made a big impact on Zombies in Spaceland, and he replied, “I think there are so many movies that we pulled bits and pieces from that ultimately formed these characters. Some that pop to mind are the John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off , even E.T. and Goonies . Watching all of those films, you can see bits and pieces of our characters in Zombies in Spaceland.” When I pressed for more specific examples, Ross brought up the jock character. “If you were to watch say, The Breakfast Club , you might notice the jock in that wears a letterman jacket. Our jock wears a letterman jacket. We didn’t want to say, “Brad from the Goonies is our jock.” But there are a lot of mannerisms from Brad we wanted to incorporate. Brad had a way of describing things with sports idioms, and our jock will say, ‘Oh, I just knocked that out of the park.’”

Calling to mind such famous 1980’s performances and archetypes and looking at the cast list, which contains famous current comedic actors like Seth Green and Jay Pharaoh and 1980’s legends like Paul Reubens and David Hasselhoff, it also makes you wonder how that happened. Did Infinity Ward immediately know certain people needed to be in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ s Zombie mode? Did it go with who might be available and fit? According to Ross, it was more of the former than the latter. “As a team, collectively we work together to figure out who we think is the best person. Our lists were gargantuan when we first started… We landed at the top three for every single archetype that we had. Once we got to that point, unanimously we started saying the same people. That’s what made it easy.”

Check Out CheatCC’s Exclusive Interview with Infinity Ward!

Ross mentioned that  he helped made many of the calls on storywriting, casting, and recording, with input from all members of the team coming together to help him make his Zombies in Spaceland decisions. “I definitely had a vision in my head for some of the people, but ultimately the team helped me arrive at a lot of those decisions. While I kind of thought in the back of my mind, “Yeah, this person?” They helped validate that when they came and said, “That person!”” One of the best examples of this situation, he said, was Seth Green. “I thought Seth Green was the perfect nerd character. He has played this role a million times. He is super talented. I think that he is someone who is going to walk in and bring this character to life. When the rest of the team came together and said, “We really think Seth Green. Out of this list, it’s got to be Seth Green.” It validates that whole thinking process.”

Unfortunately, people who saw the cast list, picked up on David Hasselhoff’s role as a DJ, and started hoping for new remixes of “True Survivor” or “Jump in My Car” are going to be disappointed. I had to ask if Hasselhoff would be singing in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ s Zombie mode. Ross laughed, “David Hasselhoff will not be singing, but he will be giving some very unique performances.” I guess we can’t have everything.

A lot of time, effort, and attention is going into Zombies in Spaceland. As Ross put it, “It was all bout creating something that you’ve never seen before in Zombies, but also felt so unique in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare that players felt like they were getting almost a brand new game within that experience.” On November 4, we’ll relive the 1980’s and see the fruits of Infinity Ward’s labors.

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