As bona fide stop-the-press moments go, the events of 1st March 2010 stack up impressively. With Modern Warfare 2 smashing sales records across the globe and cementing the Call of Duty brand's claim to 'biggest gaming franchise ever' status, Activision announced out of the blue that its creators, Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella, had been relieved of their posts with immediate effect.
The headline, I'm told, became an all-too-regular mantra for Activision's beleaguered communications team long ago.
You have to feel for Robert Bowling. Infinity Ward's creative strategist has over 100,000 followers on Twitter (dwarfing ours, obviously), the press hangs on and repeats his every substantive word, and he's on the phone doing rounds of interviews for the Modern Warfare 2 "Stimulus Package" map pack.
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Modern Warfare 2 writer Jesse Stern made headlines earlier this month when he spoke about the background to the infamous "No Russian" level in Infinity Ward's latest blockbusting first-person shooter. But who is Jesse Stern, and how did he get involved in Call of Duty in the first place? Friend-of-Eurogamer John Gaudiosi tracked him down.
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The year's hottest and most successful videogame finally gets the full-on Digital Foundry Face-Off treatment. It's fair to say that Call of Duty titles in recent years have consistently favoured performance on the Xbox 360, whether they've been produced by series founder Infinity Ward or gap-year specialists Treyarch. With 2009's offering featuring an enhanced engine and brand new streaming tech, can the PS3 game match or indeed surpass the quality of the Xbox title?
First things first. While there have been plenty of attempts at comparison shots thus far across the net, something hasn't really looked quite right about any of them. The colour balance is quite patently wrong.
Basic settings don't cut it with Modern Warfare 2. You really need to spend some time setting up the game to play nicely with your screen... or indeed your capture kit. Usual form within any Digital Foundry Face-Off is simply to run the game at default settings and let the chips fall as they may - the assumption being that the default is equivalent to the colour settings within the console's framebuffer, or at the very least what the developer calibrates the output to. However, keeping the default settings is really not a particularly good idea within Modern Warfare 2 and we're also not sure how effective Infinity Ward's calibration method is for the end user is either.
Pleasant surprise: Modern Warfare 2 makes a pretty decent arcade racer. That's what it feels like anyway, when you're blasting through the tundra on a jouncing skidoo, driven on by the constant barrage of time extends as you zip past one checkpoint after another, with the cartoony three-tone starting buzzer still sounding in your ears. There are jumps to chain together, a racing line to unearth, and trees to dodge as you rush towards the finish flag, and when the camera shakes and the audio roars, it's all pretty exciting stuff.
Traditional indicators like pre-order figures or column inches aren't what tell you how big Modern Warfare 2's going to be this Christmas. It's the way other titles have quietly disappeared from its release window, giving Soap MacTavish and his bristly-chinned friends a clear run for their deadly assault on Santa's base camp. It's almost as if Infinity Ward has been staging a brutal deathmatch with its competition over the past few months, blasting triple-A titles deep into Q1 with frightening efficiency, until only a handful of other giants - like Bungie's Orbital Drop Shock Troopers - remain on the battlefield.
Modern Warfare 2? Modern Warfare 1 minute and 58 seconds more like. Nobody from Infinity Ward has made the trip to gamescom, the nervous Activision man demoing the biggest game of the year is under orders to refer all questions not on his script to Infinity Ward in spite of this absence, and the hands-off demonstration is a Special Ops level with a par time of 90 seconds. At least we get more than our money's worth.
This preview is arriving twenty minutes late, because the rigid demo schedule for Modern Warfare 2 was thrown into chaos earlier today when Verne Troyer arrived unexpectedly and was granted an extensive private screening. In this way, at least, Modern Warfare is the Mini-Me of E3: a bona fide showstopper. Every mention of it in the aisles and display areas of the LA Convention Centre is followed by a deferential pause, and other games - even fairly important ones - are often found struggling to get out of its way. Everyone feels a little nervous in the presence of real success, and Infinity Ward's game managed to be one of the genuine stars of a Microsoft press briefing that also included appearances by The Beatles, Steven Spielberg and a hard-coded science-bending Pinocchio.