Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

December 23, 2019 by Lori Solomon

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare recently took home the Audio Design Award at the 2019 Game Awards, and no doubt, it was well deserved. The audio team at Infinity Ward is dedicated to creating quality audio in their titles and Modern Warfare was no different. We had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Miller, Audio Director, and the audio team about the use of Dolby Atmos in this amazing title.

 Q- Can you tell us why you chose to include Atmos in this title?

A- We knew when we started Modern Warfare that the audio had to be the most compelling, most immersive audio of any Call of Duty to date.  We had to not only raise the bar, we had to set a new standard of quality in order to rope people into the world and keep them there.  The environment and gameplay needed to feel real, grounded, and allow the player to put down their guard and let their living room walls melt away into the action on screen.  Real-time Atmos was a key component to giving the player those feelings with a custom surround experience that preserved creative choices, even in different listening environments.  If the user had upward-shooting speakers or in-ceiling speakers we knew the original artistic intent was maintained and rendered to the individual player.

Q- Things don't always go as planned...did you run into any challenges with the technology?

A- The Spatial Audio API that Microsoft uses to expose this functionality was easy to use as it's very similar to the existing Windows Audio Service API (WASAPI) that we already use.  After some DSP and mix optimizations in our own proprietary audio engine we flipped the switch, and all the game audio objects started rendering in 7.1.4.4 without any hitches.  Our engine is already set up to handle multi-channel audio object spread and special panning, so it felt like the sound field just opened upwards and outwards.  The biggest challenge was getting the game’s level designers to create gameplay moments and geometry that could take full advantage of Atmos’ ability to render audio elevation changes.  It means presenting the player with set pieces and moments that aren’t necessarily in front of the player’s view, and might be offscreen.

Q- The game sounds amazing, do you have a favorite Atmos scene in the game?

A- That’s tough, because there are so many moments the player can experience in real-time.  The environmental emitters throughout all sound great, and there are great overhead set pieces.  But my absolute favorite Atmos moment in campaign is when you are walking up the stairs in the mission “Clean House”.  You are quietly infiltrating a home, going up these old stairs.  All the quiet Foley creates this great tension, only to be broken by the sounds of people running around and yelling to each other upstairs.  The elevation of the sound coming from the ceiling speakers completely draws the player in and points them towards their objective - up.  In multi-player and Co-Op the action gives so many incredible moments, from jets screaming overhead, to incoming missiles you have to run to find cover from.  The Atmos elevation channels also help locate enemies above the player by panning special footsteps.  The real-time Atmos panning based on the player-controlled camera makes for a complete wrap-around experience, and we love it!

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Thanks to Stephen Miller and the audio team for taking the time to talk with us about Dolby Atmos in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.  If you haven't done so already, pick up your copy today, you won't be disappointed.