Warzone development started in late 2017, built to match Modern Warfare feel

Keshav Bhat
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An interview with Infinity Ward’s co-studio heads describes the process involved with making Warzone, the pressure of pitching it to Activision, and how it was never meant to “step on Treyarch’s toes.”

The idea of Warzone seems like such a basic concept and you wonder why it took so long to fashion it. Fortnite launched in July 2017, and it would be nearly three years until Call of Duty followed suit with its own fully-realized version of battle royale.

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Black Ops IIII’s Blackout mode certainly captured some of this vision, but Warzone is an all-encompassing experience that truly captures the magic of the last man standing format and is heading for Season 3.

Yet the 2017 vision for Warzone almost proved too much as it required a massive undertaking – casting doubt in Activision minds.

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In the interview with Washington Post, Infinity Ward’s Co-Studio Heads, Patrick Kelly & Dave Stohl, described how Call of Duty: Warzone was created and pitched to Activision executives.

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Kelly states as part of the interview that Call of Duty: Warzone’s development pitch occurred in early 2018 when Infinity Ward leads convened with Activision executives to pitch this idea.

Warzone’s code name at the time was Magma.

Kelly re-called some parts of his pitch for the interview. “Okay, so here’s the thing,” Kelly said, reenacting his pitch to the Activision executives. “We want to have the same fidelity [in ‘Warzone’] as the rest of the game. And we want [players] to be able to go in every one of the buildings. And we want to have these [mission] contracts and we want to have really unique geography all over the world.”

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The ambition behind Warzone was big at the time.

“And, by the way, this is going to be a massive art undertaking. And, by the way, this would be a massive technical undertaking. And, by the way, we don’t have the gameplay entirely figured out yet. And by the way …”

“Some people were concerned, like, have you gone too far with this? You know, is this too big a bite to take?”

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He notes that the building of Warzone was not meant to “step on Treyarch’s toes,” but rather, the focus of Warzone was to become a battle royale to better fit and match Modern Warfare’s world.

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Blackout was focused on Black Ops 4, and it’s world, and Kelly believed the Modern Warfare experience needed a different take.

“[Blackout] was never the concern,” Kelly said. “The concern was like, ‘So, let me get this straight. You don’t have the tech sorted yet. You don’t have the bandwidth to do the art for the thing yet, and you don’t have gameplay entirely sorted yet.’” He told Activision executives: “But we will!”

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The actual development of Warzone started in very early stages in late 2017, Kelly says, with the idea of having a fictional city of Verdansk. The popularity of PUBG and Fortnite during that time period ignited the entire industry to bring out versions of battle royale experiences to compete and match up.

The Washington Post story describes how Infinity Ward started its development. They wanted to take a real environment and city and bring it to life at a massive scale never done before in Call of Duty.

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The game kept getting new buildings, locations, and they expanded the map to the point where it got too big.

“It’s funny, because it was starting to get out of control,” Kelly said. “What happened was there are some builders working on this and they just kept building, building, building. We were going to end up with this space that was going to be miles and miles and miles of city. It was like, whoa this is getting away from us here. We’ve got to rein this in a bit. And part of the reason was that we knew we were going to have certain physical limitations, you know, like how many players can you actually support in the world?”

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“So we started building the space,” Kelly said. “And we still didn’t know precisely what we were going to do with it.”

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Kelly did not mention if the original pitch included the game being free to play or if that came with how the industry changed and Activision’s need to adapt.

Call of Duty: Warzone officially released on March 10, 2020 and now has over 100 million players.

We’re over one year into Warzone’s release, and the game is integrated with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Infinity Ward handed off a lot of the development of the title to Raven Software, who has been supporting the project since its initial development stages.

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Image credits: Activision