On Iteration and Lefty

I’ve had a busy week. Between the new Modern Warfare 2 Trailer that was released, writing like a fiend, catching up on podcasts and becoming inFamous, sometimes the little things will fall through the cracks. Every now and then however, I’ll come across a comment or two that may not initially trigger a response, but will still linger around, cooking in the back of my mind like a good stew. I came across one such exchange of opinions regarding Modern Warfare 2 (and Killzone 2) between JVB and Parris and something didn’t quite sit right with what I read.

Now twitter isn’t the be-all, end-all for discussion, but 140 characters is usually enough to get the point across. Below is an exchange between myself, JVB, and Parris (both of TalkingAboutGames fame) after the Modern Warfare 2 trailer came out. I starts with my response to JVB’s comment to my article describing my frustration with the big picture regarding the Modern Warfare 2 trailer.

Me (iam_spartacus): @JVB glad to see I wasn’t the only person less than enthused about what last night means in the big picture #MW2
JVB: @iam_spartacus Yeah, man. I wasn’t too impressed. It’s funny how people are drooling over it, but nothing significant was really shown.
P:
@JVB I think MW2 excited me because I know its going to be more of the same great game we love with some tweaks to make it even better
JVB: @vicious696 But, you said that KZ 2 didn’t add anything new to the genre (it did). How can little tweaks be acceptable? Just asking. 🙂
P:
@JVB its a sequel to a game that did change the genre for FPS, K2 did nothing to change the genre 🙂
JVB:
@vicious696 Thanks for the PSP update. KZ 2 added lots to the genre. Nothing revolutionary, but subtle.

Now this post is coming from someone with no prior knowledge of what this game will include. E3 has not happened yet. I don’t have exclusive access to any information. This entire post is pure speculation. But based on the track record of Activision regarding sequels and what worked and didn’t work in Call of Duty: World at War, I think I can make some fairly educated guesses regarding what we will get in Modern Warfare 2. If anything, it should be a good conversation starter…or flame war.

With E3 days away, it’s likely that this entire article will be debunked, but given Infinity Ward’s track record, you can expect a standout campaign and an addictive competitive multiplayer component that will put all other shooters to shame. Snippets of the latest trailer lead me to expect some kind of on-rails vehicle stuff that reminds of the “Die Hard Trilogy” for PS1. Specifically Die Hard 2. There was a part later in the game where you were taking out snowmobiles. It’s primitive, but it’s the first thing that popped into my mind. Regarding multiplayer, it’s unlikely that they will deviate too far from the COD4 model considering how successful it was. New perks, new guns, obviously new multiplayer levels with the same stellar design we have come to love and hopefully some more diverse multiplayer modes. I don’t want to speculate on the zombie thing, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see some kind of hoard-mode-ish thing along the lines of the final “Mile High Club” level. Personally I have faith in the competitive multiplayer to stand on its own, but what do I know? I’m just a guy with an unknown blog and some disposable income devoted to video games. Of course you don’t have to take my word for it, listen to Parris’ expectations in Episdoe 115 of Uncle Gamer Radio (start at 40:30) and you’ll get where I’m going with this.

Now if we look at the “new features” speculated for Modern Warfare 2, your first likely response should be “where’s the innovation?” I’ve talked about innovation before, but what I haven’t discussed is iteration. “Iterations in a project context may refer to the technique of developing and delivering incremental components of business functionality, product development or process design” (thanks answers.com). In the grand scheme of things, do any of you really expect Modern Warfare 2 to deviate from what made COD4 so successful? Of course not. A more general way to describe iteration in this case is “if it aint broke.” Again, this is personally speaking, I would be just fine with COD4+, which is what I am expecting Modern Warfare 2 to be. Maybe COD4+++, but I still expect this game to be built on the same foundation of game mechanics, controls, level design, and memorable experiences. All of this means I’m in for another well justified $60 purchase, assuming there isn’t a reason to get the “Collectors Edition” that we all know will be offered.

But I have to invoke my inner Stephen A. Smith, HOWEVA, aren’t all of the speculated changes from COD4 to Modern Warfare 2 the same types of changes found in Killzone 2? Before you get mad at me, I am not equating Killzone 2 with either COD4 or Modern Warfare 2. In fact, I have some serious issues with Killzone 2. Despite the group-think we all fell victim to with this game, I still think it’s worth addressing the features of the game in relation to what COD4 offered up. With the exception of that final level, Killzone 2’s campaign was solid, offering some simple vehicle combat and even a turret based sequence, sound familiar? Multiplayer included a variety of gametypes, customizable classes, and a level progression system. Despite my grievances with that third item, on paper it still sounds awfully similar to Infinity Ward’s 2007 masterpiece. I believe that we the gamer fell hard for the hype of Killzone 2, we all desperately want the PlayStation 3 to succeed and propped Killzone 2 up as the savior. As of right now, the alleged changes and improvements on the COD4 model made by Killzone 2 appear to be the same incremental adjustments that will be applied to Modern Warfare 2. And if these proposed bullet points are accurate: either Killzone 2 was a masterpiece on paper that failed in application, or Modern Warfare 2 is an incremental improvement that does not deserve an ungodly amount of praise because of it’s lineage. Let me say that again. On paper, Killzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2 both appear to do nothing to advance the genre beyond what COD4 offered, therefore they don’t deserve a separate but equal treatment because of the name on the front of the box.

I’m sure that my opinions will be radically different once actual details emerge on Modern Warfare 2, but for now, all I have is rumor and speculation. If you (Parris) want to say that Killzone 2 was a failed incremental update to COD4 in its final execution, that’s fine. But you cannot say that it did nothing to change the genre when Modern Warfare 2 does not appear to be doing anything monumental either. Call of Duty 4 was the ground breaking experience. Modern Warfare 2 is not expected to be a result of Infinity Ward “phoning it in” but I’m not expecting the second coming either. “Its a sequel to a game that did change the genre for FPS, K2 did nothing to change the genre.” So I’m assuming that if Modern Warfare 2 does nothing to change the genre (on paper) it will be treated as such?

Modern Warfare 2 has a lot of things going for it. Built upon the success both commercially and technically off of it’s older sibling Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, one would believe that instant success is eminent. While I’m sure the game will be heralded as a masterpiece by games enthusiast media and little unknown bloggers alike, I think it’s important that we take into consideration what exactly we will be paying for in relation to COD4. Even if we get another Game of the Year, if Infinity Ward simply offers “tweaks to make it even better” rather than something radically new, will we all be willing to rationally criticize the developer for playing it safe? Even if it will be really, really, really fun?

This post has been featured at Talking About Games. Because I’m sweet like that. (Get it!?!)

PS. For those of you that made it this far and don’t know about Lefty, check out the flagship podcast at TAG, Uncle Gamer Radio, they reference Lefty (aka Parris’ Bicep) from time to time. This post’s title was a reference that the TAG audience would recognize. Sorry for the inside joke.

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