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Retro Friday: Call of Duty

In the mid-90s, games like Doom and Quake had became the default poster boys for what a video game was. And it wasn't hard to see why, since every other game that came out during that period seem to echo their aesthetic. In the minds of the layman at that time, the term video game equated to a first person shooter full of aliens and mutants.


When the 2000s rolled around, that perception experienced a mild evolution. Video games were still thought of as first person shooters, but instead of a lone super-soldier fending of the advance of a bloodthirsty alien race, you were now one soldier among many defending freedom from tyranny in World War II and much later from terrorists.

As in the 90s, that transition in perception hinged on the success of a single franchise: Call of Duty.
With the most recent chapter in the franchise having been released earlier in the week, now seems as good a time as any to take a step in the "wayback" machine and take a look at the history of the Call of Duty franchise.

One of the ironies of Call of Duty is that the development team that started the mammoth franchise wear also the architects of the game that would serve as their greatest competition. The majority of Call of Duty's development team were all originally part of 2015 Inc, the development house that Electronic Arts (EA) had hired to create a PC iteration of the surprise PS2 FPS hit, Medal of Honor. The resulting game was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, a game that took the FPS's first steps away from the sci-fi scenarios it had traditionally portrayed, into the historical and more realistic settings that dominates the genre to this day.

Despite 2015's massive success with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, creative differences with publisher EA saw twenty-two members depart the team. Lead by Vince Zampella, Grant Collier and Jason West, these twenty-two established Infinity Ward and set to work developing the original Call of Duty under the auspices of Activision.

Released in 2003, Call of Duty was a monster success and firmly established Infinity Ward as a major developer and started the trend of a more cinematic approach to FPS gaming, introducing the concept of setpieces and smart AI companions with human like behavior, which furthered the illusion that the player was just one soldier among many.


With Call of Duty 2, the team refined the action of the first game, improving the visuals, AI and opening up player choice by allowing players to choose how to tackle some of the games objectives; an ironic feature, since more recent Call of Duty games are often accused of linearity and lack of choice. In an effort to maintain the praised breakneck pacing of the first game, health packs were abandoned in favour of regenerating health. While they didn't innovate the practice - that honour goes to Halo - the use of regenerating health in this game influenced all of gaming and became the default system in nearly all genres going forward.

Call of Duty 3 was the first in the series to not be developed by Infinity Ward, but Treyarch, and would see the beginning of Call of Duty's move to an annual release schedule, with alternating teams. It was with this third game that saw development focus shift away from the PC and move to consoles. Intending to take advantage of the newly released Xbox 360's online service, Xbox Live, Treyarch poured extensive resources into the multiplayer.

By that point there was no denying the Call of Duty was top-performing franchise, but it was in 2007 that Call of Duty would go from being an uber-successful game, to becoming a cultural brand icon.


Building on the success of the first three games - not to mention a host of expansions packs - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare became the de facto FPS of the this generations and established the tone and features that would define the genre going forward. Nearly every aspect of this games design, from it's muted colour palette, bombastic action set pieces and multiplayer features set has influenced or been outright copied by hundreds of games that have come out since.

Obviously there have been other Call of Duty games since Modern Warfare, but it wouldn't be unfair to say they are all simply tweaks and variants on the foundation that was built here, both technically and in terms of game design.

Call of Duty is, without a doubt, one of the most influential games of the last decade and their is no denying that it's place in, not just gaming history, but in the history of entertainment.

For a more detailed looks at the history of the franchise, check out his video produced by GamerSpawn, just prior to the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

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