Gary Oldman and Ed Harris breath life into 'Call of Duty: World at War'
LOS ANGELES – After generating over $1 billion in revenue in under two months last year, Activision’s Call of Duty video game franchise has elevated itself beyond the gaming realm. Game developer Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sold over 4.7 million copies and raked in $310 million in North America and the United Kingdom in its first 24 hours, setting a record in the entertainment industry.
“I think Modern Warfare 2 was a wake-up call for Hollywood,” said executive producer/director/writer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight). “When you have a video game that does as well or better than some film franchises (and is cheaper to produce), you have to wonder if there aren't better ways of telling your story.”
Game developer Treyarch felt that it could improve its Call of Duty storytelling, which had previously been set during World War II. So studio head Mark Lamina enlisted Goyer to provide script consultation and story development support for the November 9 Call of Duty: Black Ops first-person shooter, which is set during the Cold War.
“The Cold War is an era that I'm just personally more interested in because I loved the original Manchurian Candidate and Seconds," said Goyer. “It was terrain that is still relatively virgin territory for video games. Once the Cold War hit, things got more complicated. Alliances got more complicated.”
The new game sends players across the globe from Russia to Cuba, blending a fictional story line with historical conflicts like the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War. Black Ops game director David Anthony said one of the team’s goals with this sequel was to make players feel like they’re the star of a big budget action movie.
“We wanted to work with some of Hollywood’s best proven talents to be able to pull off this very complex story and narrative that we were approaching,” said Anthony.
Actor Gary Oldman reprises his role as Russian Red Army squad leader Viktor Reznov from Call of Duty: World at War and Ed Harris breathes life into one of the game’s central characters, CIA operative Jason Hudson.
“Well, it’s always nice to revise a role,” said Oldman. “I feel kind of like I know him (Reznov) and it’s great to come back and meet everyone again. Meet new people but, see some new faces. And it’s kind of like the Call of Duty thing has become a bit like a family.”
Anothony said actors like Oldman and Harris wouldn’t be working in games if they didn’t think this was a serious medium.
“I think what's being done in the video game world is cutting edge,” said Goyer. “I came aboard Black Ops when the game was fairly far along -- and already, the team had a very sophisticated and daring story in place.”
Treyarch is also pushing technology with this game. The studio developed a new performance capture system that Anthony said adds a new depth of emotion to the in-game characters. Black Ops is also Activision’s first foray into stereoscopic 3D gaming. All three versions of the shooter – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC – will be playable in stereo 3D on any 3D TV or 3D PC.
Michael Pachter, videogame analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, expects Black Ops will sell over 13 million copies this year.
“There is a crazy amount of hype surrounding this game, so it will probably sell better week one than Modern Warfare 2 did,” said Pachter, who believes the game will end up selling over 17 million copies overall globally.
Those types of numbers ensure that Activision’s Call of Duty franchise will continue moving forward. Goyer, for one, is game for more interactive entertainment.
“Working with Treyarch was a wonderful, collaborative experience,” said Goyer. “It felt like being back in film school and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.”