The Origins of Call of Duty

Call of Duty is undoubtedly one of the biggest video game franchises right now. 2019’s Modern Warfare has earned $1 billion in revenue. Not to mention the game’s massive following thanks to its Warzone gamemode tying Modern Warfare and 2020’s Black Ops Cold War into one explosively addictive package. Simply put, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Image for post
Image for post

However, it wasn’t always like this. Those that stuck through the game’s humble beginnings knew the franchise wasn’t about doomsday scenarios and 100-man battle royale arenas. Instead, like many during its early days, Call of Duty chronicles one of the biggest armed conflicts in human history: World War II.

But even then, fewer still knew about how that first Call of Duty game came to be: from the splinters of 2015, Inc., which was responsible for 2002’s Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. That’s right, turns out the fates of the two biggest World War II shooters in early 2000s were intertwined after all.

So, where do we begin?

It all started with a man named Steven Spielberg.

Image for post
Image for post

The year was 1997, less than a year before the release of Spielberg’s WWII epic Saving Private Ryan. At the time, Spielberg wanted to educate younger audiences about WWII through means aside from his motion picture, which he knew wouldn’t be able to reach younger generations since it was going to be R-rated. Drawing from his son’s liking for GoldenEye 007, Spielberg then reached his own production company Dreamworks Interactive (DWI) in order to create an engaging but historically-accurate WWII shooter.

At first, it seemed as if only Spielberg was fully sold on the idea. Medal of Honor writer and producer Peter Hirschmann told IGN in 2012, “People were dubious,” claiming the gaming market back then was more interested in ray guns and laser rifles. “The idea of doing something with historical relevance set in a low-tech game environment was a challenging sell,” he said.

But production pushed through. Early in development the team was able to secure the services of retired US Marine officer Captain Dale Dye, who’d previously consulted Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan. Initially thinking the game to be exploitative and tone-deaf, Dye’s rhetoric softened when he found out about the team’s honest intentions. Dye then agreed to assist in the game development, helping the team achieve historical accuracy and even acted as the narrator in the game’s opening sequence.

Dye wasn’t the only person the team had to convince to keep the project afloat. Paul Bucha, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s President, also vehemently opposed the game, particularly in towards the game’s title, claiming it to be dishonorable towards the Medal of Honor (the award given to distinguished soldiers, not the game). The sensitivity of the issue was so severe, Spielberg considered cancelling the game. It took an invitation to Bucha from Hirschmann to turn the narrative around, and after seeing the passion and attention for detail the team had for the game, Bucha agreed to endorse it.

Image for post
Image for post

The game’s demo disc was sent to Electronic Arts in 1998, and the DWI team responsible for the game was subsequently signed into EA’s Partners Program. A year later Medal of Honor was released in 1999 to widespread acclaim, with praise directed at gameplay, graphics, level design, and Michael Giacchino’s epic soundtrack. It was also regarded as one of the most influential first-person shooters of its generation, one of the first instances a video game can be effectively used as a storytelling medium.

But hold up, you might ask. Where does Call of Duty fit into all this?

It turns out Steven Spielberg has more to do with the Medal of Honor franchise past its first game. In the early 2000s, Spielberg approached 2015 Inc. by id Software’s recommendation, which he’d approached earlier but unable to comply due to them being busy at the time. Spielberg pitched the idea of another Medal of Honor game to 2015 to which they agreed to develop which saw the recruitment of game developer Jason West (an important person in this story, you’ll see) and the return of Captain Dye as consultant.

The game developed under 2015 was eventually named Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, and was released in 2002 to universal acclaim, winning various awards and selling 900,000 copies by 2006 in the US. Key points include Allied Assault’s effective usage of the more powerful hardware in the PC compared to the first title’s PS1, epic battle scales as shown in the D-day invasion sequence, and an engaging single-player campaign.

However, some of the 2015 team members weren’t satisfied with how the company was run, particularly with the contract they had under EA. This led to some key members leaving the company after Allied Assault was released to form their own company called Infinity Ward with the help of Activision. Among the notable members leaving 2015 to form IW were Grant Collier, Vince Zampella, and you guessed it, Jason West.

With 25 developers on board, IW began development on a new WWII FPS codenamed “Medal of Honor killer”. Activision agreed to give IW $1.5 million for 30% stake in IW in order to kickstart the development of the project. The pet project is said to draw inspiration from other WWII epics such as Band of Brothers, A Bridge Too Far, and Enemy at the Gates.

The game promises features that weren’t available in previous Medal of Honor titles. This includes the ability to aim down sights and a dynamic squad AI system that can provide support to the player during combat. The squad-based AI system was brought in to replace the lone wolf soldier concept often pushed in other FPS titles including Medal of Honor. This was done to give players a more grounded and vulnerable feel in having to work together with their squadmates to complete objectives.

AI was a big part of this new WWII game. Not only that the enemy AI is improved allowing them to take cover, flank the player’s position or lay down suppressing fire, squadmates AI was also improved with them reacting accordingly to the battlefield around them. This was demonstrated with them taking cover from enemy fire or carrying a wounded ally through a battlefield to safety.

The game would eventually be titled Call of Duty.

Image for post
Image for post

Released in 2003 as a PC exclusive, Call of Duty went to receive acclaim from critics and players alike. It was dubbed “Game of the Year” by multiple outlets, being named as one of the best games of 2003. Praises were particularly aimed towards its epic single-player campaign, its groundbreaking innovations towards the FPS genre at the time, and its engaging multiplayer. It was a also a massive success commercially, becoming one of the best-selling video games of 2003 and ultimately selling more than 4 million copies by 2013.

And the rest is history. With the release of each title, Call of Duty ultimately grew to what it set out to be: the Medal of Honor killer. It continued to be a thorn in Medal of Honor’s side for years in the WWII FPS market, eventually wrestling the dominance off its hands to claim the throne as its own.

And there you have it: how the mega-franchise Call of Duty came to be.

To think that none of these would have happened without Spielberg. Not only that Spielberg was responsible for the creation of Medal of Honor, Spielberg was also responsible for the creation of Allied Assault, which led to the creation of Infinity Ward, which led to the creation of Call of Duty. Simply put, there is no Call of Duty without Medal of Honor, and there is no Medal of Honor without Steven Spielberg.

And remember, Spielberg got the idea for Medal of Honor from seeing his son’s love for GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64.

So all in all, we can say that there is no Call of Duty without GoldenEye.

I write about what I like. I like video games, movies, and a little bit of anime.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store