Published on November 4th, 2016 | by Andrew Bistak
Taylor Kurosaki Interview (Studio Narrative Director, Infinity Ward) … behind Call of Duty Infinite Warfare
We catch-up with Infinity Ward’s Taylor Kurosaki, the Narrative Director for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare who helped put together one of the franchises most amazing single-player narratives to date. Taylor, a former Naughty Dog employee has worked on titles such as Jak and Daxter and the Uncharted series but this time, he brings us a classical war story filled with emotional realism that is fought on Earth, space and some of the planets in solar system.
So tell us Taylor, what was the drive and motivation behind the story in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare?
We wanted to tell a classical told story in the great tradition of war stories that we’ve seen in movies like Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. We’re all big fans of this genre and we wanted to do something that felt classic and a clear cut story of good versus evil, including a military leadership and the burdens of being a leader.
Can you elaborate on this burden?
Soldiers have an incredible burden in themselves and you have to be willing to sacrifice. This includes putting yourself in harm’s way but a military leader has that and then some. They have to be willing to sacrifice others and put others in harm’s way which is a whole different kind of level of responsibility.
For example, someone who is just a member of a squad, their MO (modus operandi) and guiding principle is to fight for the guy next to you which is true in the real-world. You keep the guy next to you safe and he keeps you safe as everyone is watching each other’s back in order for you all to get home in one piece. Every time you go out on a mission that’s the goal and that is Captain Nick Reyes (Brian Bloom) mindset at the start of this story and if you keep doing it right, you’ll come home… we protect our own but there’s got to be another way.
Reyes and Lieutenant Nora Salter (Jamie Gray Hyder) are both incredibly skilled soldiers and so they believe that if they do everything right and demonstrate skill and clear thinking in the combat zone, they will make it home and bring their fellow soldiers home. But in this story due to circumstances and a terrible attack, Reyes is forced to look at war from a different perspective where the goal isn’t necessary to bring everyone home.
So there’s a price to the goal?
Exactly! The goal is that the mission is to be a success at any and all cost. That is a totally different equation and not a mindset that comes naturally to him. He says it towards the beginning of the story “I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do the thing that my captain did, there had to be another way” and he is forced to consider there isn’t always another way and that sometimes not everyone makes it home. That was sort of the overarching theme of the story from the get go.
After finishing the single-player campaign, I was impressed by the realism and emotion of the characters in the game, especially from a first person shooter. So how did you incorporate the emotion into the Infinite Warfare?
First and foremost, we wanted to create characters that the player cared about that were likeable, relatable, had flaws, had personality traits and were human like we all are. We felt that our “gamble” was that if we cared and bonded to these characters, who put themselves in harm’s way, the player would care and if the player cares, then everything you see on the screen, all the big set pieces, all those action moments have an additional weight and emotion to them.
Call of Duty has always been known for that playable action war movie experience. It has all these incredible visuals, sights and sounds, these visceral moments but if all of those amazing set pieces are imbued with an emotion, feeling and caring, then it just takes all that great stuff and heightens it. The special effects, the sounds, the crazy destruction, all that stuff doesn’t have to carry everything on its own, it gets supported by the emotions that you bring with you.
That was our big goal to bring and being a fan of the series of many years, I was always impressed with how they put you in these crazy moments and how spectacular they were. Having worked on narrative games for a long time, I thought if I could just give those moments more narrative context, they would just play better and be more effective.
You’ve mentioned what drives Captain Reyes, what about the antagonist, Admiral Koch (Kit Harrington)?
He is a true believer and has a doctrine where he will not stop to get what he wants in order to reach the goals of his group and movement. He has a single-minded purpose who is a skilled soldier and a commander with a lot of experience who understands the equation that Reyes needs to learn and understand on the fly.
He gets it and is under no misconception that all of his men are coming home. In fact, he takes pride in saying that being attached to your men is a sign of weakness. He says this right at the beginning of the game where he shoots one of his own men in cold blood and says “care clouds judgment” and that’s why you [Reyes] cannot win.
It really takes Reyes awhile to see things in a similar way that Koch sees things in order for him to eventually succeed. So for all of Koch’s perversions, faults and how they do these terrible and awful things such as killing men in cold blood, resort to sneak attacks where they’ve been targeting civilians, all this stuff is reprehensible but as a soldier he gets the equation.
So it’s about balance?
That’s right and it’s a lot more complicated for him because he does care for his men and fights fair and square. He doesn’t resort to chemical weapons or targeting civilians. He fights honorable and if Reyes can balance all of those things and realise that the mission must come first and above all else, he will win but he needs to figure it out real quickly. If he can’t figure it out in this terrible war, it’s going to be real bad news for everybody.
There’s also another “person” in the game who isn’t human but is probably one of the most human characters in Infinite Warfare. This of course is ETH.3n or ‘Ethan’ (Jeffrey Nordling), the battle bot who evolves through the game. At first he keeps his emotions and opinions to himself but near the end of the game, he is almost human-like. What was the idea behind Ethan?
Ethan is designed to be the ultimate squadmate meaning that not only is he well trained but he has great command over weaponry and knows good tactics. He’s an ultimate warrior and also knows how to endear himself to his squadmates through interpersonal relationships and humour which is really important because in war people use humour as a coping mechanism and is the thing that draws and bond people together.
He has all of these tools and the other thing he has is a sense of mortality. If you don’t have a sense of mortality at all, or any fear then you’re not going look after yourself. If you don’t keep yourself safe, you run the risk of putting your squadmates in harm’s way as well.
We’re big fans of two documentaries, Korengal and Restrepo that were made about troops in Afghanistan. They were about soldiers wearing GoPro Cameras and were stationed in this very remote area where they’re getting shelled by the Taliban and they had to go out on patrols. Their lives vacillate between death and destruction at any turn and terrible stretches of boredom and monotony as they’re stuck in this tiny space that is a fifth of the size of this room.
They use humour to pass the time and to escape and when their on patrol, they have to keep their eyes squarely on the guy next to them to protect them but also themselves. They have to be safe and measured because if they get too aggressive and go out in front, they might hit a mine or get shot in the leg and because every guy is trying to protect the guy next to them, they’re going to put their own squadmates at risk to pull them back to safety.
So Ethan is very much in the same vein as that who has a survival instinct that keeps him safe and keeps his squadmates safe so he gets to express that. So when he gets close to Reyes, he gets to express his feelings like he’s afraid.
We wanted to tell a story of soldiers who had emotions and were not cardboard cutouts who were gruff, tough and full of aggression. Sure these guys are tough but they are willing to sacrifice themselves. They’re also allowed to be afraid so you can have all those different facets of what makes us human and it doesn’t make you less tough or less worthy but rather, makes you smarter. So the fact that Ethan shows all facets of what it means to be a solider and a squadmate, it makes him almost more human than human.
How long did the filming process take in Infinite Warfare?
We shot for about a year and a half which was around 16 months. We shot somewhere between 40 to 50 days of shooting. We liken to shooting a NetflixTV series and we have about a thousand page script and we shoot in ensemble just like a live action scene.
So if you have five people in a scene, we have five actors on the set and we have a big ensemble cast. Quite a few of the scenes in Infinite Warfare have a lot of people in them and we firmly believe the way to get authentic performances is to have people acting and reacting in the same space.
As a director and working with some very experienced and talented actors, how do you draw this real emotion out of them or supporting them if the scene feels a little flat?
If we got into a rut and we’re doing a few takes of a scene that might be feeling a little flat or it doesn’t feel like having authenticity, I’ll lean in or pull one actor aside and whisper in their ear. It might be “here’s your motivation in this scene” or “have you lost someone in your life before?” and they’ll say “sure”, I’ll ask them to carry those emotions across in this scene and realise that if you don’t convince this person to change their course of action, you know you’re going to lose them.
I won’t tell anyone else that and now they have a certain different energy in that scene. Now the other actor or actors in that scene are going to have a different reaction and you can have some real authentic performances where people are not acting or not repeating the same lines over and over again, they are really letting their guard down and being empathetic and reacting in a scene in a natural way which is what good acting is.
People talk about method actors who can transport themselves into this alternate reality and really believe it and occupy it. They are not self-conscious. You need to have a really good relationship with actors if you’re the director. You do not want actors to be aware of how they’re being perceived or how they look or sound, you want them to just “be” which is a very vulnerable place for actors to be. But if you want them to just be that vulnerable, they have to have a lot of trust in you that you’re going to protect them and not let them look stupid for example.
You just say I got this and you let me be the observer and you don’t observe yourself like trying to look at yourself from a third person perspective. Just be, feel and turn off your brain so to speak. I think we had actors that believed in the process and the material. They kind of went for it which you see in their performances in the game.
What was your biggest challenge for your role as the Narrative Director of the game?
The biggest challenge is in a first person experience, continuing to have the player feel that emotional equivalency with the protagonist that they are playing as. Everybody has their own sensibilities, their own likes and dislikes, so it’s a difficult thing… So when you’re watching a movie, you are identifying with the protagonist on the screen because you’re watching him or her and you can empathize with what they’re going through.
You can look at their pain and feel empathy for them, even though their different beings than you. We are all empathetic beings, so we care for people, especially when they go through emotional experiences. However in a game, it’s a whole different thing when you are occupying the shoes of a character in a first person perspective, especially to still feel that empathy and still understand why they make the choices that they make.
Let’s be clear, there is a lot of choice in this game. You get to choose missions, how you tackle certain scenarios because you are a leader and we’re telling a story of leadership. But it’s not a choose your own adventure, you are ultimately making narrative choices that captain Reyes is making so the last thing you ever want to have to happen is say “I wouldn’t have done that” because then you break away from that emotional parody with Reyes.
It breaks the illusion so even though there may be things in our story where you might think I wish he would have done this or that… if you can understand why he made the choices he made, and think “well for a guy like that, I can see why he made that choice”, that’s the link we want you to have. So as long as you can understand why he made those choices, then we’ve succeeded in creating enough emotional parody where you can feel like “wow this is what it feels like being in a leader and in their shoes during war”.
Speaking of choice and without spoiling the story, there’s a moment when you give the player an interesting choice and either of these actions feels right as to what Reyes may do.
That’s right and this choice is an acceptable action for Reyes to take as to whether you’re going to show mercy or exact your revenge on some level. Given that Koch is the architect of this sneak attack and he is responsible for thousands of innocent civilians being killed in Geneva, he’s also responsible for deaths close to you. As you’re in the shoes of Reyes, we give you control to do those acceptable actions and not lose the narrative of the story.
CALL OF DUTY INFINITE WARFARE IS AVAILABLE NOW ON PC, PS4 & XBOX ONE
ABOUT CALL OF DUTY INFINITE WARFARE
Infinity Ward, the award-winning studio that helped create the blockbuster Call of Duty® franchise, reaches new heights with Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare. At its core, Infinite Warfare returns to the roots of the franchise where cinematic, immersive storytelling takes center stage as told through an unfolding large-scale war and epic battles that deliver an authentic Call of Duty experience.
Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare delivers something for every Call of Duty fan with three unique game modes: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombies. Delivering a rich and engaging narrative in a setting unlike anything to date in a Call of Duty game, the campaign is a return to the franchise’s gritty, military roots throughout new environments never before seen in the franchise.
The player will embark on a classic war story about grand scale warfare; all set in a grounded future where human conflict has spread throughout our solar system. Multiplayer brings ground-breaking gameplay innovations to deliver the deepest and most engaging Call of Duty experience to date. The title introduces stunning, never before seen, multi-planetary environments, new weaponry, and all-new player abilities to Call of Duty. In addition, the new cooperative zombies experience will thrill players with an original direction featuring fun and unique gameplay, all wrapped into an entertaining narrative sure to excite fans.
RETURN TO CLASSIC, LARGE-SCALE WAR
Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare will take players on an unforgettable journey as they engage in battles from Earth to beyond our atmosphere against a relentless, enemy faction that threatens our very way of life. It’s grand scale war and hallmark Call of Duty action with memorable characters, rich emotional arcs, and stunning new environments, all within an epic new setting.
A CALL OF DUTY CAMPAIGN TO REMEMBER
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare puts storytelling front and center, in a deeply engaging narrative. It features jaw-dropping set-pieces and blockbuster cinematic moments, while also delivering a gripping portrayal of war that harkens back to the roots of the franchise. Infinity Ward also breaks new ground by thrusting the player into wartime leadership as Captain Reyes, a Tier 1 Special Operations pilot, who takes the helm of the Retribution, one of Earth’s last remaining warships. In a time of unthinkable hardships, Reyes must lead the remnants of coalition forces against a relentless foe in a war that spans our solar system.
FIGHTING A FANATICAL ENEMY
The Settlement Defense Front (SetDef) represents a splinter group of insurgents that broke away from the United Nations Space Alliance during a war of secession, years ago. In the world of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, our planet has been stripped of its natural assets through population growth and industrial expansion. The people of Earth now rely upon colonies throughout the solar system to mine planets and asteroids for necessary fuel and other resources. The SetDef is a fascist power, comprised of brutal and militant radicals, toughened by the extreme conditions of offworld environments. They seek to control those outposts and their wealth, putting a stranglehold on the countries of Earth. After years of uneasy stalemate, diplomatic relations are strained, and it will take only the slightest nudge to lead to full-scale war.
GEAR UP FOR INTENSE MULTIPLAYER
Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare will incorporate the popular chained-based movement system players know and love into an innovative multiplayer experience that rewards players more than ever before for utilizing their surroundings and applying strategy in the heat of the moment. Maps are designed to further leverage the chained-based movement system and immerse players into fast, fun, and frenetic gameplay that players have come to expect from Call of Duty. With its new approach to play, multiplayer will bring innovative gameplay that challenges players to achieve their goals in creative ways based on their specific play style.
BATTLE THE LIVING DEAD IN A ZOMBIES THRILLER
Infinity Ward introduces a fresh take on the nightmarish Zombies mode in Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare. With an all-new, immersive Zombies storyline for players to uncover and explore, players are thrust into a spine tingling adventure not for the faint of heart. Zombies will take players on a wild ride with a multitude of new features, while thrilling players with the core mechanics that fans have come to expect from the mode.
Call of Duty Infinite Warfare is available at all good retailers