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Why Female ‘Call of Duty’ Players Aren’t a Tech Breakthrough

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 24 comments
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This week, game studio Infinity Ward, makers of the preternaturally popular "Call of Duty" series, announced that their upcoming title "Call of Duty: Ghosts" would support character appearance customization in multiplayer mode.

That means you can customize your character's facial features, skin tone and sex.

Yes, you can now play as a woman in "Call of Duty" multiplayer.

But Infinity Ward didn't need a technological fix to get women into the game. It could have added them anytime. The new customization feature just means that players can create their own female characters (or male characters) without waiting for the game makers to finally do it.

Customizable character tech

Okay, let's break this down. The "Call of Duty" games run on a custom-built underlying system called the IW engine that was not built to accommodate customizable multiplayer characters.

MORE: PS4 vs Xbox One: Console Comparison

"It's basically a memory allocation issue. We had to create a new way for character models and textures to be loaded into memory," Mark Rubin, executive producer of "Ghosts," told Tom's Guide.

That meant significantly modifying the engine, which meant a lot of work. Infinity Ward announced in May that it was rehauling the IW engine for its upcoming game, the engine's first major rehaul since its creation.

When Infinity Ward decided to implement customizable multiplayer characters, it decided to include female appearance options as well as male. There's no in-game difference; it's all just polygons.

"With customization, we wanted to be cognizant of our diverse fan base," Rubin told us.

The female avatars will even be roughly the same size as the male avatars. Infinity Ward decided to prevent players from customizing their characters' sizes because a smaller character is a smaller target. That would give players using female multiplayer characters an advantage in a shootout.

This allows the first female playable characters in "Call of Duty" multiplayer, and the first playable woman in the series since "Call of Duty: Finest Hour" (2004), in which Russian sniper Tanya Pavelovna was one of several playable characters.

So in terms of tech, the fact that women are playable in "Call of Duty: Ghosts" is just a side effect of a new customization feature.

Women warriors

In an interview with gaming site Kotaku, Rubin said that the ability to do character customization "then gave us the opportunity to do female characters."

This is misleading. The IW engine was not preventing Infinity Ward from creating female characters. It just didn't allow players to customize characters of their own, male or female.

Rubin explained that in previous "Call of Duty" games, when you played multiplayer "you were just a randomly selected character model."

So why weren't there any female character models among that random selection pool?

"Couple of reasons," Rubin told us. "But one is that the factions that you used to play were pulled from [single-player] lore."

In other words, the lack of female characters in "Call of Duty" single-player meant that there weren't any readily available female character models for the multiplayer modes.

Why weren't there any female characters in single-player? It's not a question of technology.

For whatever reason, when the various developers at Infinity Ward sat down to design a single-player campaign, all but once (in the case of Tanya Pavelovna in "Call of Duty: Finest Hour"), the story they came up with happened to feature an all-male cast.

Women have served in the U.S. military in some capacity since the country's founding, and have served active duty in every U.S. war since World War II. Earlier this year, the United States Armed Forces announced it would now permit women to serve in certain active combat positions.

It's fitting, then, that women characters can finally ply a larger role in "Call of Duty," a franchise that celebrates the military.

So in terms of tech, the ability to play as a woman in "Call of Duty" multiplayer isn't a big deal. But in terms of game design and player experience, "Call of Duty: Ghosts" acknowledges the diversity of its fanbase and of the U.S. military.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 15 Hide
    fulle , August 16, 2013 9:44 AM
    If they wanted to be representative of the "diversity of the US military", they'd keep the dominantly male character models.
    - Statistically, still around 98-99% of casualties of war are male, precisely because the more dangerous roles, like you'd see in Call of Duty, are performed almost exclusively by males. Is that discrimination? Well, against whom, exactly? The male gender, who's lives are considered more expendable? Or the females who want to be treated as true equals, but have difficulty advancing due to lack of combat experience?

    Anyway, though, despite the irritating PR spin, I'm glad that gaming is becoming more inclusive.
  • 13 Hide
    kin3000 , August 16, 2013 9:50 AM
    Putting 'Call of Duty' and 'Tech Breakthrough' in the same sentence made me throw up in my mouth a bit. I think including the word "Aren't" (though it should be "Isn't") kept it from spilling out. The need to create an article to explain that the ability to create a playable female character isn't a tech breakthrough baffles me. I don't think anyone would've thought it was.
Other Comments
  • 15 Hide
    fulle , August 16, 2013 9:44 AM
    If they wanted to be representative of the "diversity of the US military", they'd keep the dominantly male character models.
    - Statistically, still around 98-99% of casualties of war are male, precisely because the more dangerous roles, like you'd see in Call of Duty, are performed almost exclusively by males. Is that discrimination? Well, against whom, exactly? The male gender, who's lives are considered more expendable? Or the females who want to be treated as true equals, but have difficulty advancing due to lack of combat experience?

    Anyway, though, despite the irritating PR spin, I'm glad that gaming is becoming more inclusive.
  • 13 Hide
    kin3000 , August 16, 2013 9:50 AM
    Putting 'Call of Duty' and 'Tech Breakthrough' in the same sentence made me throw up in my mouth a bit. I think including the word "Aren't" (though it should be "Isn't") kept it from spilling out. The need to create an article to explain that the ability to create a playable female character isn't a tech breakthrough baffles me. I don't think anyone would've thought it was.
  • 2 Hide
    gggplaya , August 16, 2013 9:51 AM
    Nothing breakthrough here. Other games like APB reloaded center around character customization, male and female.
  • 5 Hide
    gm0n3y , August 16, 2013 10:05 AM
    The COD games haven't been any good since COD4. Customization character models are good though.
  • 6 Hide
    MajinCry , August 16, 2013 10:17 AM
    Well gee, haven't games been doing this for the past decade or two? Baldur's Gate 1 had customization for both genders, for crying out loud. An aged 2D game made for the days of Win95.
  • -7 Hide
    StarBound , August 16, 2013 10:33 AM
    The problem facing the female gender in a game like call of duty is that should this have happened during CoD4 we might have seen violence against women rights groups using CoD as a scape goat. It's silly but sadly we live in such a world.

    I'm not defending activision in anyway. I would have liked to see this happen much earlier rather than now with my interest in CoD on its deathbed. I'm sure the cod gender split is about 30-50% for both so should such an outcry have been against women it would easily have been countered with "We are women and we will **** you up!".
  • -4 Hide
    bison88 , August 16, 2013 10:41 AM
    Many games, especially FPS titles, in recent years have went through extraordinary lengths to appease women gamers by adding unnecessary female characters that never fit the storyline. This is just another example. I'm sure people will just chalk this up to chauvinism, sexism, or being misogynistic though and they'd be wrong.
  • -4 Hide
    firefoxx04 , August 16, 2013 11:19 AM
    is this a lash out at IW because they decided to add it into the game? It is not a side effect of them allowing player customization. you say it was as side effect like the didnt even want to add female support.

    They didnt gloat about the fact that you can be a female. When they announced it live, it was not something he really pushed. He simply stated that you can be a female. Who cares. Sounds like someone is butt hurt.


    The amount of females in an infantry unit is very very small.
  • -4 Hide
    firefoxx04 , August 16, 2013 11:22 AM
    is this a lash out at IW because they decided to add it into the game? It is not a side effect of them allowing player customization. you say it was as side effect like the didnt even want to add female support.

    They didnt gloat about the fact that you can be a female. When they announced it live, it was not something he really pushed. He simply stated that you can be a female. Who cares. Sounds like someone is butt hurt.


    The amount of females in an infantry unit is very very small.
  • -3 Hide
    kinggraves , August 16, 2013 11:27 AM
    Who cares? When do I get to play as Dog in multiplayer?
  • -5 Hide
    ojas , August 16, 2013 11:43 AM
    Excellent, i like that on Tom's Hardware (for a change) i'm reading an article that recognizes the fact that women have been missing from shooters for a long, long while.

    And the truth is, devs are just lazy, and publishers are f***ing ignorant.

    Now, waiting for Arma 3 to follow suit.
  • 2 Hide
    10hellfire01 , August 16, 2013 12:00 PM
    Actually what caught my eye in the article was not playable women character models, but the engine. Many games already have female character models playable, so Activision/the developers are simply late to the game on that one. The one thing they need to pay attention to are the hit boxes due to the varying size difference between male/female models.

    Quote:
    That meant rebuilding the engine from scratch, which meant a lot of work. Infinity Ward announced in May that it was rehauling the IW engine for its upcoming game, the engine's first major rehaul since its creation.

    I thought they were building upon the already cluttered engine from each game in the past? They said they had no intention of rebuilding that much of any kind in the PSMag interview on Youtube. Sort of confused about what they are actually doing now...
  • 2 Hide
    Jill Scharr , August 16, 2013 12:23 PM
    @10helfire01 you're right! The engine was NOT built from scratch--while Infinity Ward significantly modified the IW engine, they did not rebuild it from scratch. The article has been edited to reflect that. Thanks for catching that!
  • 2 Hide
    Spooderman , August 16, 2013 2:09 PM
    Who the hell cares? No, seriously. Who actually cares? It's a low-tier game with low tier players.
  • -2 Hide
    IQ11110002 , August 16, 2013 3:26 PM
    Hmmm forgive me but I just have the urge to say it,

    Tea bagging will have a whole new meaning! ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    melvis72 , August 16, 2013 4:56 PM
    Nothing COD does is a breakthrough, so many games have done what they claim. All the mindless sheep will eat it up and think its the best thing since sliced bread and run their mouths about how great the game is. The COD train needs to derail, enough of the wash rinse repeat. Its sad that most FPS games get compared to COD now to see if they are worth playing when in fact COD is making FPS stale because other companies think they need to make games like it, they need to take chances and evolve the genre to make it grow or it will die off.
  • 0 Hide
    24oz , August 16, 2013 6:18 PM
    I remember MOHAA had a female character Manon but it might have been a modified pk3 file.this was in 2003.
  • 3 Hide
    yapchagi , August 17, 2013 10:25 AM
    they should change the title of this article to "Why all Call of Duty games Aren’t a Tech Breakthrough?
  • 1 Hide
    Repelsteeltje , August 17, 2013 7:15 PM
    So, have you done your army duty, or is this just fake entitlement wining?

    Requiring a higher precentage or even a 50-50 split in games and movies where in reality there simply are few to no women performing those functions ruins realism and makes the whole thing a patronising joke.

    I support an inclusive world, but there needs to be some sense behind it beyond raging soap-box politics. Pretty soon anything needs to have one of each race, gender, sexual preference, political creed, religion, hair colour, body shape and handicap – I already see the clown posse arrive.
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