Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's engine revamp promises a generational leap in fidelity
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare goes official today with a reveal trailer giving us our first glimpse of the look, feel and content of the new game – a COD offering somewhat different to anything we’ve seen to date. Developer Infinity Ward is targeting a soft reboot of sorts for the Modern Warfare franchise: a Casino Royale-style revamp that transports beloved characters like Captain Price into the battlegrounds of the here and now, whether it’s the enduring nightmare of Middle Eastern war zones or eliminating domestic terror cells in central London, it’s a big tonal shift for the series – often gritty, harrowing and even shocking in places. From a technological perspective, the trailer demonstrates a radical revamp of COD’s rendering technology and the trailer revealed today is running in real-time on PlayStation 4 Pro. No CG fakery, no ‘in-engine’ footage – what you see is what you get, and it’s a new milestone for the franchise.
And obviously, it’s the technology that’s the focus for Digital Foundry. If you’ve watched the trailer, you may have noticed a very different aesthetic for this latest entry in the COD series, the result of a massive engine overhaul that reflects a drive to bring a new level of realism and fidelity to the new Modern Warfare. The engine has been radically retooled with an eye for real-life accuracy, kicking off with a move to a state-of-the-art physically-based rendering system built on exploiting photogrammetry – the science of scanning objects directly, replicating not just their shape but material properties such as their roughness and reflectivity, essential for integration into a brand new lighting solution.
Whether we’re talking about environment detail – right down to individual stones in a pile of rubble – or the materials used to craft uncanny replicas of the game’s weapons (down to customised ceramic finishes), the new Call of Duty engine accommodates this. The objective here isn’t just realism, but also consistency – a set level of high fidelity on every element in the game, requiring a big boost to geometry output too. Helped by the integration of an advanced culling algorithm, Modern Warfare is capable of delivering over five times the geometry of prior series entries – making scenes like the crowd shot in the trailer possible. Like all the trailer content, that’s running in real-time too, with that scene alone pushing eight million polygons. Procedural boosts to geometry via tessellation on characters, object and environment detail also help to increase the level of detail, with none of the artefacts such as terrain warping at close range that we’ve seen on some recent titles.