Infinity Ward has revealed the inside details on the greatest AI companion in the history of video games, Colin the dog from Call of Duty: Ghosts.
On Tuesday, Colin stole the show at the otherwise-disappointing Xbox One launch event when he bounded onto screen in his role as a trusty canine helper for the faceless military goons in Activision's latest shooter. The internet sat to attention and begged for more, lapping up Colin's first tweets (later proved to be fake) and fan art of various dog breeds dressed in camp gear and carrying weapons.
And now, Eurogamer can reveal intimate details about the immense challenge of bringing Colin into the Call of Duty universe.
"For me as the animation lead, [the biggest challenge of Ghosts] was definitely working with the dogs," lead animator Zach Volker said in an interview given at a demo event a week before the Xbox One reveal, his use of "dogs" suggesting that Colin may have been working with stunt doubles. "We'd never mo-capped a dog before! Working with two-legged characters is hard enough. The session was crazy."
Volker revealed that Colin required careful handling in order to capture his best performance. "We needed a way to put the markers on [Colin's] body and so we got a spandex suit for him and glued the markers on to that," Volker explained. "It worked pretty well, but [Colin] got hot very quickly so we could only work in 20-minute increments and give him a long break to cool off."
This proved time-consuming though, and Colin no doubt charges by the hour for his valuable time, so the team came up with other solutions. "We tried putting these booties on [Colin], with the markers glued on those - they were like these little rubber socks," Volker continued. "We were very excited, we put these things on for the first shoot, we let him go on the stage... but then he's walking around like he's on molasses. I thought, 'We are not going to get a single decent shot out of this whole day.'"
Finally, the animation department arrived at a working technique that allowed for realism, while avoiding such unexpected problems as Colin overheating or tiptoeing around in uncomfortable garments. "In the end, we came up with some reflective tape that we were able to stick on [Colin's] fur in key areas such as ears, head and feet that didn't bother him. It was challenging, but very rewarding."
Infinity Ward says the result is a realistic approximation of a Special Forces dog, which will be used in the game for sniffing out explosives and locating hidden enemy soldiers, possibly in return for a tummy rub who is a good boy yes it's you yes it is.