Modern Warfare 2 writer:

Modern Warfare 2 writer: "the airport level was a risk we had to take"

We talk to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's scriptwriter to find out what he hoped to achieve with the airport mission, how they considered putting aliens in the game, and why the game should be adapted into a movie.

Modern Warfare 2 writer: 'the airport level was a risk we had to take'

Jesse Stern (Modern Warfare 2 scriptwriter)

Jesse Stern has been a writer on the hit CBS show "NCIS" since 2004. With the show currently reigning at the top of the Nielsen ratings, Stern has another hit on his hands with Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. After working with Infinity Ward on the first Modern Warfare, Stern returned to collaborate with the developer on the sequel's action-packed storyline. While the game has etched its place in entertainment history with its historic opening gross, Modern Warfare 2 has also made headlines because of its edgy story. In this exclusive interview, Stern talks about the creation of the controversial airport sequence and gives his thumbs up to a potential Hollywood adaptation of the Modern Warfare franchise for the big screen.

GP: What was it like returning to work on the new Modern Warfare after being involved in the first game?

Stern: The second time around, we really felt like we had to play off of all the things we introduced in the first game. People have an expectation now that you're going to die, which is a weird thing. Here we have a video game where at any given moment your character's storyline might end. So, it became a real challenge to play into these expectations and try and keep things surprising and emotionally charged. We all tried to make it emotional.

In the beginning we talked about having things in Modern Warfare 2 like outbreaks, viruses, chemical warfare, and even outlandish things such as aliens and the living dead.

GP: Did any current events influence Modern Warfare 2's subplot of reopening the conflict between Russia and the U.S.?

Stern: Infinity Ward's Jason West, Steve Macuda, Todd Alderman, Mackey McCandlish and me would talk about the kinds of stories we could tell, and we didn't want to just make a straight sequel to Modern Warfare. We started kicking around anything and everything to weed out the bad ideas.

In the beginning we talked about having things in Modern Warfare 2 like outbreaks, viruses, chemical warfare, and even outlandish things such as aliens and the living dead.

We worked our way through it before we finally ended up with a more grounded version of the real world as it's depicted in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. And as we were kicking around scenarios for conflict, we kept stumbling into things that were happening in real life, which was honestly unintentional.

Modern Warfare 2 writer: 'the airport level was a risk we had to take'

GP: What kinds of real things?

Stern: At the time, there was a lot of rattling going on in the former Soviet Republic and Putin was making some pretty aggressive statements and declarations. We originally had the idea of: "What if we had real tanks head into one of the republics?" Then a couple weeks later, Russian tanks actually invaded Georgia (the country).

We also talked about how terrorists operate in the modern era. We played around with situations where we had heavily armed terrorists carrying machine guns and explosives -- shortly after this, the terror attacks took place in Mumbai. That was really scary. We actually sent out e-mails saying, "All right, let's take a little break, and stop talking about these horrific things," because it felt like it was hitting a little too close to home.

We didn't intend on doing anything ripped straight from real headlines or based directly on current events. We did want to capture that feeling of unimaginable scenarios that are prevalent, but so distant from the psyche on any given day. That's the thing about making Modern Warfare 2: it's mostly fantasy, but you can put people very close to real situations that you normally wouldn't want to be involved in.

People have really strong reactions to the airport scene and it's been fascinating because we all wanted to make it something that would be upsetting, disturbing, but also something people relate to -- as terrifying as it is, you want to know. And there's a part of you that wants to know what it's like to be there because this is a human experience.

GP: What did you hope to achieve from a narrative standpoint with the airport level?

Stern: We've been catching a lot of criticism for that and a lot of praise as well. People have really strong reactions to the airport scene and it's been fascinating because we all wanted to make it something that would be upsetting, disturbing, but also something people relate to. There's something instantly identifiable about it when it happens, when you're in that situation and the level begins.

I find that interesting, that the player knows what's going on instantly. It's too familiar and at the same time it's not something that people are able to get that close to. Right now, there's a documentary with interviews of people who were actually in Mumbai when that attack took place and you've got similar accounts of Columbine. I'm sure we'll get some from Ft. Hood.

People want to know. As terrifying as it is, you want to know. And there's a part of you that wants to know what it's like to be there because this is a human experience. These are human beings who perpetrate these acts, so you don't really want to turn a blind eye to it. You want to take it apart and figure out how that happened and what, if anything, can be done to prevent it. Ultimately, our intention was to put you as close as possible to atrocity. As for the effect it has on you, that's not for us to determine. Hopefully, it does have an emotional impact and it seems to have riled up a lot of people in interesting ways. Some of them good. Some of them bad.

GP: Is there a "right" way to play that scenario?

Stern: It's interesting because that level kind of comes out of nowhere and some of the criticism in the narrative has been that there's not much of a set-up. Your character has distinguished himself in battle and was handpicked for this undercover assignment. Then you're dropped right into the middle of it before you've even really gotten the chance to get your feet wet in the game, so it's really a sideswipe. We spent a lot of time trying to set the right tone there so that people wouldn't feel confused.

There's three things you can do. Once you realize what's happening, you can open fire on the other terrorists that are with you. They'll turn around and kill you quickly, but that is an option. You can do nothing for the first half of that level too. You're not obligated to do anything other than walk and watch, which I think portrays another completely different feeling of helplessness. And the third option is [that] you can open fire.

When we tested the level, it was interesting. Steve Mancuda, who ran a lot of the testing, said people would get angry or sad or disgusted and immediately wonder what the Hell was going on here. And then after a few moments of having that experience, they would remember that they were in a video game and they would let go. Every single person in testing opened fire on the crowd, which is human nature. It feels so real but at the same time it's a video game and the response to it has been fascinating. I never really knew you could elicit such a deep feeling from a video game, but it has.

GP: Do you hope this opens up things creatively for other games moving forward?

Stern: I hope so and I hope that people don't just look at it as being this simplistic and brutal sequence. We've done our best to treat it with care and not to make it gratuitous. The effect of it is you absolutely hate this guy, and the war that takes place in the game is set in motion. Obviously, the narrative of the game is not the real world. It is a hyper-real environment set five years into a future that may not ever exist where there are conflicts raging all around the globe. There are wars that take place in Modern Warfare 2 that don't exist in real life.

I hope that game developers take the lesson that you've got to try things. You've got to go out on a limb sometimes. This is a triple-A game and the top grosser of all time with this huge budget behind it, yet we're still taking major chances wherever we can and the airport level was a risk we had to take. Sometimes you take huge risks and it really works. Sometimes it doesn't work at all. But if you don't take the chance, you're not going to make something new.

GP: Would Modern Warfare work as a movie?

Stern: It would work very well as a film. Hopefully, that's a conversation I'll have with somebody somewhere down the line. Jason West, Steve Macuda and the rest of the guys from Infinity Ward have an interest in doing it and Activision wants to do it. I'd be very curious to give that a try. You've got your source material to draw on, which is the biggest advantage in getting one of these movies off the ground.

GP: We've seen a lot of TV shows turned into games from Criminal Minds to CSI. Would NCIS or its new spin-off work as a game?

Stern: This year has been very interesting for us at NCIS, where we're finally reaching number one. We've been climbing and climbing for the last few seasons and now that we're the top-rated show on TV, a lot of these opportunities are coming along. People are having those conversations with us more realistically about doing a video game. It'd be great to have an NCIS game. The main thing that you have to capture is the tone of the show. NCIS is a character-based show. There's a lot of humor. There's a lot of banter and the procedure elements of it are secondary. So I think the biggest challenge would be to make an adaptation that brings that same kind of flavor to it. But hey, I'm open to have that conversation soon.

Comments [19]

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Kubrick

They could make Modern Warfare 2 into a movie but the problem is that they stole the best parts of dozens of movies in the game. Its plagiarism so I'm sure they would get sued.

ZeitgeistXiii

The lack of choice in the airport is really pretty lame actually even my daughter said she didnt shoot people and when confronted with what they were doing tried to shoot the terroists to no avail. If they really were wanting to be unique develop the story to go on from either stand point which would of been more believable. I think the scene later when you rapel(sp?) down is much more personal and illustrative of what it may be like to do that at close range.

wariomangreat123

RDJ wrote:

You don't need top quality. You need top content. Providing the experience of an airport massacre to strangers you've never met lacks moral compass. Please ban the members of Modern Warfare's development team from civilized society. If you feel you needed to take that risk, then what other risks are you willing to take? What risks will be taken to put and end to this form of tacit recruitment to the dark arts.

JackThompsonlike retard go preach to the idiotic soccer moms who would listen to your bs; your logic fails on how video games cause people to become the character they play in the video game

FGP

Dear game pro, you are faggots I was browsing through google news and suddenly you've spoiled the game I havent finished yet, good job on writing a huge spoiler and putting it right in the middle of the damn webpage, as it turns out I don't give a flying balls how risky the writers thought the airport level was but I've always thought it was fun to finish games without knowning the ending a head of time.

Sincerly, my balls suck them
also the game

memphisBigTime

i'm still confused about how this is ok, but Six Days in Fallujah got cancelled for being too controversial

delirious1984

this will contain no perfectly correct sentence structure or punctuation so knowing that and thinking that looks a little like what the game says as u turn it on basically if u dont like what u might see block it but what does the human mind say lets do it and when the road gets rough hide our faces and complain. Seriously, you people show never watch any movies, tv series, or play any video games ever again in life that might contain elements that the simple mind cant handle. Its a game where they put in a sequence to show cause and effect of the war in the game and all i hear is...Well its too violent or seems to sadistic when i didnt see any of u inbreds trying to catch bin laden or find sadam not even give enough donations to get a comercial for saving the goddam whales but because a VIDEO GAME shows a little controversy u whine like 4 yr olds when u see something happen u dont understand or agree with. just everyone with a complaint i have too much i could say but not enough patience for this pathetic society or world we live in when it comes to people like u so just go to the nearest bridge, jump, and rid the world of immatured adults still dreaming of a sheltered life where the grass is just always green and disney comes to visit every week.

PS: ITS A 18 AND OVER GAME SO IF U DONT LIKE IT BUY PG OR 12 AND YOUNGER GAMES TO FUEL YOUR PATHETIC FIRE

xps9000

Psychologically, any game, can take a toll on someone. Especially if that person is lost when it comes to the difference between being morally right or wrong. If you have a weakness when it comes to violence, then, it's suggested, you stay away from the game. Personally, I have been playing it, and I rather enjoy it. As for the Airport level, at first, I was in sheer confusion, but, then, I realized, all I wanted to do was to get my revenge against the Russians for killing my fellow soldiers, so, I did open fire on the civilians, when the Russians shot me towards the end, I felt a level of helplessness, and it was an eye opener, I love being able to apply the feelings of emotion other people experience, in my own mind. That's why I love the human mind. It's a massively intelligent concept. I will throw out one thing I object, and that's Infinity Ward's lack of emotional conceptualization towards people who are not mainstream. That is, I believe they should keep their slanderous remarks, towards gays, to themselves. Especially, seeing many gay people play FPS games. You guys could have really cost yourself something. So, a word of advise, be more considerate.

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