Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s photogrammetry captures gritty realism like never before

Call of Duty games have been known for pushing the edge of technology on the consoles and the PC. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare lives up to that tradition thanks to improved graphics technologies such as photogrammetry.

When Modern Warfare ships on October 25, it will feature a new game engine that delivers one of the most immersive and photorealistic experiences in a combat game, based on a preview I saw at Infinity Ward, the studio that is making the game and is the shepherd of the Modern Warfare franchise.

All of this in-game technology makes the game more gritty, intense, and emotional. And coupled with the content, it can inspire some very intense emotions. I found it to be quite horrifying.

Cool tech

It has a physically based material system, with modern photogrammetry. Objects in the game world look like they do in the real world, with reflections. I don’t know how it will look on the older technology on the consoles, but on the PC, Modern Warfare will be able to take advantage of new graphics processing units (GPUs) like the Nvidia GeForce RTX family.

It has a new hybrid tile-based streaming system, new physically based rendering that models light better, world volumetric lighting, 4K HDR for better lighting, DirectX raytracing (on the PC) and a new GPU geometry pipeline. Principal rendering engineer Michal Drobot said that the engine can take all kinds of layers of materials, mesh them together, and make everything come out looking realistic.

It has spectral rendering that delivers thermal heat radiation and infrared identification for both thermal and night-vision in-game imaging.

The technical investment made provides a cutting-edge animation system and blend shape system, Activision said. The new suite of audio of tools allows for full Dolby Atmos support, on supported platforms, along with the latest in audio simulation effects.

Ghillie suits, or camouflage with grass hanging everywhere, looks a lot more realistic, studio art director Joel Emslie said.

Making a new kind of game

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Infinity Ward coupled this technology with research on warfare, including consultations with U.S. Navy Seals. Emslie said that one of his artists was messing around with photogrammetry. It’s not new, but it has gotten good in the last two years based on the software you can run with it, Emslie said.

“It changes the way we build the game,” Emslie said.

Even the rocks look awesome, and the process is more automated than it has been in the past, thanks to things like real-time ray tracing. Something that once took six months can now be scanned in an afternoon and put in the game, he said.

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With a feature dubbed “micro-tiling,” you can go up to a wall or another object and see lots of details. But when you move away, those details vanish and the processing required for it doesn’t tax the player’s machine.

Dead bodies now look far more realistic, partly because Infinity Ward scanned the bodies of its staff members who volunteered to lie on the ground. The team swept landscapes with drones, capturing the detail in three dimensions via drone cameras, and used them as the foundations for the landscapes in the games. The real landscapes blended seamlessly into the gamescapes.

The team used real actors to play roles such as Captain Price. Then they did face and body , using the full performance of the actors as characters in the game.

Sound and animations

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

The visceral nature of the combat applies to the sound and animations, too.

Animation director Mark Grigsby and audio director Stephen Miller said in a presentation that the sound of the guns will be more realistic. A weapon will sway in your hand when you are standing still. The reloads will be more visceral. When you eject spent bullets, the shell casings will bounce on the ground and make tinkering noises. A soldier’s walking and running speed will be more realistic.

If you are holding a light machine gun, it will be heavier and slow you down. If you are aiming down the site and you need to reload, you can keep your eye on the target and do the reload without dropping the gun away from the target. The game’s Navy Seals advisers told the developers that they keep their eyes on the target while reloading.

“We are moving toward realism,” Grigsby said. “The effect when the bullet travels and hits the target has been another thing we focused on.”

They showed us a scene in Picadilly Square in London, after a bomb goes off and the streets are deserted.

“Our gun is a character, and each character needs to have its own unique voice,” Miller said. Each gun sounds different. The team used 20 different microphones to capture the sound of every weapon being fired. If you fire inside a subway corridor, it sounds much different with echoes than if you are firing in open air. There are multiple audio engines, and you hear three distinct sounds at the point of impact of a bullet. Explosion sounds are also shallower or deeper, depending on the environment.

“As you are running around, you get different sound constantly, as it behaves with the geometry,” Miller said.

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