Call of Duty is one of the most famous franchises in gaming across the world, not to mention one of the most popular. It is also the bestselling franchise to come out of the United States of America and is even the bestselling first-person shooter (FPS) series to boot, which has been ratified by Guinness World Records. Being an annual franchise, the next game in the storied series is never too far away.
The art of developing video games is a tough one for a large variety of reasons. People from different departments of the game, such as hardware, software, story, audio, and more coming together to create a single cohesive product can be a very challenging task. Call of Duty is no different in that regard, with one of its worst-regarded games being particularly difficult to develop.
Which Call of Duty game was an “engineering nightmare?”
The game that was described as an “engineering nightmare” was Call of Duty: Ghosts, which was released back in 2013 on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. That year was also when the two aforementioned consoles launched, and Ghosts was released in that same release window. In an old, wide-ranging interview with Eurogamer, Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin detailed some of the problems that they faced. With particular reference to developing the game for the then-new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, he said:
“One of the greatest challenges the engineers have to deal with is memory management or thread management. There are X number of threads in your CPUs. Where in those threads is the stuff that’s Microsoft or Sony? Where does it fall? How does it work? We don’t have the SDKs (software development kit) for those features yet, and then they come in and you go, okay, well it needs 3MB of RAM – oh, crap, we only allocated two! You can’t just take a MB from anywhere. It’s not like there’s tonnes of it just laying there. You have to pull it from something else. And now you have to balance that somewhere.”
Further elaborating on the challenges that their engineers faced on Microsoft’s and Sony’s respective consoles, Ruben said:
“That’s what engineers are often doing: managing the traffic of CPU threads and memory and where that’s going. What kind of memory is it? Is it dynamic? Sometimes what has to happen is we have to allocate the 3MB straight off the bat and just say, these 3MB, specifically, these actual memory addresses, have to be used for this. They can’t be used anywhere else. Whereas dynamic, it’s like, okay, I need 3MB but it doesn’t matter where those 3MB come from. So all that stuff can change on the fly. And you’re trying to develop your system to match with that. And it’s two systems, now, not just one: Sony and Xbox. That creates a massive engineering nightmare.”
In a manner of speaking, the explanation and reasoning given by Mark Rubin was why Call of Duty: Ghosts ran at a mere 720p on Xbox One as compared to the more powerful PlayStation 4.
What other challenges did the developers face?
Despite being relieved that the two consoles were similar to the PC in many ways, Mark Rubin spoke of some of the other challenges Infinity Ward faced. With specific reference to the operating systems, he said:
“Honestly, the hardest thing to deal with is not the architecture. It’s the OS of the systems. That’s the thing that comes on the latest. The Xbox One’s OS on their box versus the Sony OS, becomes the hardest. All the SDKs and stuff you have to work with – that’s the stuff that changes, not the hardware itself.”
Perhaps it’s these reasons, along with some other significant ones, that led to Call of Duty: Ghosts being considered one of the worst games in the series.