One Day, Five Ways: Inside the Creative Culture of Infinity Ward
It takes a village to launch a game. Five Infinity Ward employees describe life at the studio, how they got to where they are, and what it’s like working on the new Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare™ II.
2022 is a huge year for Call of Duty. On September 15, the Call of Duty: Next event will detail the future of the franchise, including information on the next Call of Duty: Warzone, as well as the full multiplayer reveal for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.
Scheduled for release on October 28th, Modern Warfare II represents Infinity Ward’s most ambitious project to date. Behind the accolades and the storied history however, lie the developers themselves, a diverse group with one shared goal that binds them: to launch the best game possible.
Meet Communications Manager Guignard Isaac, Build Tools Engineer Bridget Murphy, Senior UI Artist Jade Greggory, QA Project Lead Indya Johnson, and Production Coordinator of Weapons Design Ruy Peña.
Long before Isaac joined Infinity Ward’s communications team, he ran competitive Gears of War tournaments for the local community at a GameStop in Brooklyn. He read video game magazines growing up and had always been interested in the industry. After attending a professional esports tournament in New York, he was inspired to do more.
“The tournament gaming there, was on another level. I got started with a job as a technician, setting up monitors and computer consoles, installing the game, breaking it down, and leading on-site tech support.” The experience opened doors to travel. “I flew to Germany for Gamescom, I went to E3…things I would envision as a child, I was doing it.”
Yet it wasn’t a straight shot into the industry. Still based in Brooklyn, Isaac took a chance working as an IT support coordinator at a charter school in Manhattan. “I loved the school and the kids,” he says, “but it was too easy and I needed a challenge. I missed being in esports.”
From Flatbush, Brooklyn to LA
Isaac’s persistence led to greater opportunities as he renewed his focus on the games industry. He supported a Madden NFL event in Orlando and in 2016 he coached his friends in a Gears of War tournament. “At that event I told my mentor that I’d leave New York for work.” Isaac adds, “He fought for my position, and a month later ESL Gaming offered me the role of IT technician.”
Isaac recalls getting the call at his train stop on Church Avenue, in Brooklyn, “He said I had two weeks to move to Los Angeles and it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made. But I said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to buy a one-way ticket and take the risk!’” Isaac made the most of his new home, prospering as ESL’s event tech. Attending E3 In 2017, he mentioned his interest in working for Infinity Ward - 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare being one of his favorite games. The inquiry paid off and the studio offered him a full-time position. “I toured the studio in 2017, and that’s when I made my decision to work for Infinity Ward. I knew Modern Warfare would be a hit then. It turned out to be a great game and I hope the same for this one.”
As an IT tech, I made sure that everyone had what they needed to create and support the game. I gained the senior title and then last year I moved onto a new role on the communications team. The position opened up and I pushed for it. They gave me a shot because of my personality and my work ethic.”
Regarding how Isaac perceives the studio, “I want people to know who we are and that there are a bunch of people making our game. There’s production, artists, and engineers and so many parts that have to come together. I’m passionate about the representation of our studio.”
Originally enrolled in physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Bridget Murphy shifted her focus to computer science, harboring a lifelong interest in computers. Following graduation, she applied for work across a wide range of jobs and industries, Infinity Ward among them. “I had a friend growing up who worked in the video game industry, and I was always interested in the games he was making.”
The studio responded and set up a tech screening. “It was one of my first tech screening calls and I was completely nervous. I didn’t get the job, but the hiring manager encouraged me to reapply in the future, directing me to a website dedicated to build tools.”
She took the opportunity to keep learning. It was 2019 and the studio was busy shipping Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, so for the fall and winter Murphy hit the books and studied for the technical exam, preparing for the next interview. “I ended up doing a lot better on my second tech screening and from there participated in more interviews and was thrilled when I was hired for the job.”
What does a build tools engineer do? “We’re responsible for taking all the code, the art assets, the sounds, and packaging it into a format that ends up on the disk or is downloadable by patch. I’m passionate about making sure the packages are pristine and as manageable as possible.”
She values the bonds she’s formed at work. “We interact with almost every discipline in the studio. “We’ve also teamed up with other Call of Duty studios which has been a very cool experience. We cover more ground and are able to innovate on new features while still focusing on stabilization for launch.”
A Champion for Culture
It’s not just her work as an engineer that excites Murphy about working at Infinity Ward. Since joining, she has become involved with the studio’s Women’s Network. “We discuss ways to improve the culture, and the studio leadership has regular meetings with us. They listen and act on our feedback. That’s made all the difference to me. My work with the women’s group has been one of the highlights not just of my career, but my life so far.”
She seeks to pass on that enthusiasm, helping to integrate interns into the studio culture. “We had two college interns over the summer and being a mentor to them was a great learning experience. We had lunch every day. They could ask questions regarding career development or anything else. Interns bring such joy and excitement to the studio.”
Growing up in Barbados, Jade Greggory always loved video games, though she had little idea she’d one day be developing them. “I grew up playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was the first 3D title I ever played, and the graphics were mind blowing. Now, as a Senior UI artist, I get to operate in unique and exciting worlds, developing motion graphics and interactive graphical art components.”
Working in games wasn’t originally in the plans for her. After attending university at Central Saint Martins in London, Greggory embarked on a seven-year career as a graphic designer. Though she had acquired an international client base, a death in the family convinced her to change course.
Moving to Canada, she studied digital design at the Vancouver Film School. “Off I went at 28, leaving Barbados for Canada, and I fell in love with user interface design for games. I really worked hard from then on, building up my portfolio and catering my niche to UI and motion design.”
At the 2018 annual Siggraph conference, Greggory met a hiring manager from Infinity Ward. That propelled her to interview, landing a job at the studio to work on her first game. “It was a crazy moment, a dream come true.”
A Second Family
The iconic Call of Duty imagery that lines the studio’s walls inspires Greggory as she begins her day. “After our team standup, I dedicate my time to creating art and motion on any current UI content that is assigned to me. At noon, I break for lunch and connect with my colleagues in the cafeteria.”
Then it’s time to play, afternoons usually being reserved for studio-wide playtests. “There’s a great sense of comradery and an infectious energy enters the room. The playtests give us a chance to engage with the other developers and to connect as a team.”
Establishing those connections is vital to her success at the studio. “I’m originally French and I’ve lived in Barbados for the last 20 years, so moving to LA was a big step. Infinity Ward quickly became my second family. I’m surrounded by the most talented designers and artists in the industry.”
Though she pursued a biology degree at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, Indya Johnson’s passion has always been for video games. “I was first introduced to games by my older sister. I would sneak into her room and play them. My cousins had a Nintendo, too, and ever since then I’ve been opening my horizons. Eventually I fell into Call of Duty and decided that I really wanted to be a part of that franchise.”
After finishing her degree, she found an opening for a Call of Duty Quality Assurance position. “I’ve been hooked ever since.” She was hired within Activision, and for six years worked as a QA tester and associate project lead. Having proved her abilities, she was invited to join Infinity Ward’s internal team.
On a typical day, the QA team playtests and ensures that any bugs encountered from the previous day are fixed in the new build. “Among other tasks and priorities, we make sure that every team is aligned with what builds they should be using.”
It’s more than just squashing bugs on a single build. “There are so many components to testing and so much content that has to be thoroughly played. We can get multiple builds in a day, and we sweep through each one.”
Though she considered herself an introvert when she first started at Infinity Ward, she now craves the collaborative process. “We get hit up by designers, artists, audio teams, engineers, and producers. It’s a great opportunity to find out what interests you and having that bond has gotten me to open up. I not only find bugs but also get to discover how things work.”
That cross-connection fosters opportunity. “I see a lot of growth in our department. People who used to be QA are now in other departments following their own career paths.” As for her own interests? “I love working with the engineers on coding, production, and the organization of deadlines.
“It’s refreshing seeing people who came from QA, doing the things they enjoy. It assures me that there are other opportunities if I choose to pursue them.”
Ruy Peña proves the advantages of taking one’s fate into their own hands, having accepted an experimental hybrid role at Infinity Ward. His journey toward production and design began when he was hired to the studio in 2013 as a QA tester during development of Call of Duty®: Ghosts.
“I started out by trying to make myself as proactive as possible. My goal was to become an expert in several areas, so that I could teach other people.” As he continued building his production credentials, he made a niche for himself as an expert in weapons testing.
“I have production responsibilities and I have a direct hand on every level of our weapons design.” That understanding of weapons design harkens back to his upbringing. His father served in the Marine Corps for over twenty years, retiring as a Master Sergeant. “I was interested in going into the military but ultimately it wasn’t for me. You’ve got to find what you love, and for me it was video games.
“By the beginning of Modern Warfare, I had become the unofficial QA weapons specialist. I was talking to animators and scripters, making sure that assets were delivered on time while corresponding with production. The glove fit well and I haven’t looked back since. In 2019, they offered me the role of production tester. I’m the best support character possible.”
Gameplay is King
“Gameplay is king, and the weapons can at times be the main characters of the game,” he argues. When reviewing blueprints, “The art team will run a design by me and I’ll look at the style, the attachments, and holistically how it all comes together. I then tune it for gameplay in a way that compliments the art style.”
Peña gained much of his experience while working for the QA department where he spent his early years at the studio. “The environment is nurturing for Infinity Ward’s internal QA team. You can walk over to anyone’s desk to ask about a bug or a feature. It adds to the polish and to our tradition of excellence.”
Like other employees, he wants to pass that knowledge on, to invest in the next generation of developers. “Even though I no longer work in QA, I’m one of those people to come to with any kind of questions. When you come from QA, you have the mentality of looking at features from a consumer standpoint, and it makes you very qualified to make great content that plays well.”
His hybrid responsibilities may keep him busy, but Peña still makes time for the afternoon playtests. “We’ve playtested the hell out of Modern Warfare II. We put our soul into 2019 because we wanted to bring an incredible experience to the Call of Duty community. I’m confident that with this game we’re going to match it and surpass it. It’s a bigger, better, faster game.”
Sign On for Early Access and Play in Their Work
Following Call of Duty: Next, the franchise showcase event on September 15, join the Modern Warfare II Beta taking place over two weekends. With an Early Access period for all players who pre-order the game, as well as an Open Beta period for everyone, the Beta offers a robust multiplayer experience along with new modes, maps, level progression, and more.
Though these five employees represent only a small portion of the greater Infinity Ward studio, the stories of how they got here provide a glimpse into the possibilities, when excellence, opportunity, and tenacity collide.