Canine sol­dier

More than just another best friend, Ri­ley (real name: Ruger) is a hero, a dog that not only as­sists play­ers but can be com­manded at cer­tain points in the new game, Call Of Duty: Ghosts.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By DER­RIK J. LANG

HIS name is Ri­ley.

Un­like his squad mates in the next in­stal­ment of the hugely pop­u­lar Call Of Duty se­ries, he’s not adept at snip­ing enemy com­bat­ants or pi­lot­ing drones. He can’t even pick up a gun.

Even be­fore Call Of Duty: Ghosts was re­leased last month (in the United States), Ri­ley had al­ready be­come the break­out star of the mil­i­tary shoot-’em-up. He even has an un­of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count – @Col­larDuty.

Yup, Ri­ley is a dog, and he’s one of the largest and most pop­u­lar tech­no­log­i­cal leaps for­ward in the next gen­er­a­tion of Call Of Duty.

Af­ter footage re­leased ear­lier this year re­vealed that Ghosts would fea­ture a four-legged sol­dier, the In­ter­net uni­formly wagged its tail in an­tic­i­pa­tion. The mere tease of a canine char­ac­ter in­spired fan art, doggy cos­play and the un­of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count, which has at­tracted over 28,000 fol­low­ers.

Ghosts ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Mark Ru­bin said dur­ing a re­cent visit to de­vel­oper In­fin­ity Ward’s of­fices that the Ger­man Shep­herd orig­i­nated as an idea on a note­card dur­ing a brain­storm­ing ses­sion. The de­vel­op­ers didn’t ac­tu­ally know any­thing about mil­i­tary ser­vice dogs, just that un­leash­ing one on the Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard Inc fran­chise was “a cool idea”.

Call Of Duty fans drooled over Ri­ley again when a new trailer re­leased for Ghosts fea­tured him lung­ing at a he­li­copter, tak­ing

a bite out of the hu­man pi­lot and bring­ing the chop­per whirling down to the ground. As Ri­ley’s fame un­ex­pect­edly surged online, Ru­bin said the de­vel­op­ers’ in­cli­na­tion was to let the game go to the dog.

“There was a risk of shoe­horn­ing the dog into scenes where he wasn’t orig­i­nally go­ing to be,” he said. “For­tu­nately, that only lasted for a few weeks and every­body got back to con­cen­trat­ing on mak­ing the game. It’s great that Ri­ley is so pop­u­lar, but let’s fo­cus on the game. Let’s have Ri­ley make sense and not just put him in space or in a scuba suit.”

While canine com­pan­ions have been fea­tured in many games – from Fa­ble II to Grand

Theft Auto V – the de­vel­op­ers of Ghosts set out to cre­ate more than another best friend. They wanted a hero, a dog that would not only as­sist play­ers but could be com­manded at cer­tain points through­out both the sin­gle­and multi-player modes.

In the game, Ri­ley is out­fit­ted with sev­eral gad­gets based on tech­nol­ogy em­ployed by his real-world coun­ter­parts. For play­ers, Ri­ley’s bat­tle­field per­spec­tive can be glimpsed through a cam­era mounted to the back of his tac­ti­cal suit, and he can re­ceive or­ders, such as cre­at­ing dis­trac­tions or tak­ing down en­e­mies, is­sued from afar by play­ers.

To make Ri­ley as be­liev­able as pos­si­ble, the gamemak­ers first met with a re­tired Navy SEAL and his for­mer mil­i­tary ser­vice dog to learn more about how sol­diers and hounds work to­gether. They later cast a pair of pooches, a Ger­man Shep­herd named Ruger and a smaller Bel­gian Mali­nois called Rico, to be dig­i­tally cap­tured for the game.

“We had sev­eral mo-cap (mo­tion-cap­ture) shoots, and some of them we just had to write off as learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Ghosts lead an­i­ma­tor Zach Volker, who noted that if play­ers look close enough, they’ll be able to spot the dif­fer­ences be­tween the two dogs por­tray­ing Ri­ley. “Once we got a bet­ter idea of how to work with the dogs, we all be­came more ef­fi­cient.”

Ruger and Rico were out­fit­ted with cus­tom mo­tion-cap­ture gear made from form-fit­ting suits in­tended for dogs with skin con­di­tions. Nev­er­soft mo-cap su­per­vi­sor Kristina Adelmeyer said they orig­i­nally wore spe­cial booties on their paws so dozens of cam­eras could film their range of mo­tion. How­ever, they didn’t act nat­u­ral in their fancy footwear.

“We ended up us­ing th­ese pieces of tape that the mo-cap sys­tem could see as

Once we got a bet­ter idea of how to work with the dogs, we all be­came more ef­fi­cient. — Zach Volker (be­low)

mark­ers,” said Adelmeyer.

Rico pro­vided the bit­ing and tack­ling, while Ruger per­formed the move­ments. Chris Con­nell, Ruger’s trainer, said dur­ing a demon­stra­tion of his abil­i­ties at Nev­er­soft in Oc­to­ber that the big­gest chal­lenge for the Schutzhund com­pe­ti­tion cham­pion – that’s Ger­man for “pro­tec­tion dog” – was play­ing make-be­lieve.

“In this en­vi­ron­ment, we didn’t have trees or grass,” said Con­nell. “It was like, ‘OK, Ruger. Pre­tend we’re in a desert area and act ac­cord­ingly.’ Ruger is like, ‘Dude, this is a stu­dio with mats like peo­ple do ex­er­cises on at the gym, and there’s white lines on the ground.’ Just try­ing to get him to act as if it was a real en­vi­ron­ment was the hard­est thing.”

The in­clu­sion of a dog in the vi­o­lent, ma­ture se­ries begs the ques­tion: Will Ghosts have an “Old Yeller” mo­ment?

“Every­body thinks we’re go­ing to kill the dog,” said Ru­bin. “Maybe that’s the ex­pected thing we would do, so maybe it’s not what we’ll do? We’ll see. Peo­ple around here didn’t know, and they had that same sen­ti­ment: ‘We bet­ter not kill the dog.’ The emo­tional in­vest­ment for the dog here has been just as strong as what’s hap­pen­ing out in the pub­lic.”

— Photo by aP

Act­ing duty: trainer Chris Con­nell gives prompts to his dog ruger on a mo­tion-cap­ture stage at Nev­er­soft, Los an­ge­les. af­ter footage was re­leased ear­lier this year re­vealed that CallOf­Duty:Ghosts would fea­ture a four-legged sol­dier, the In­ter­net uni­formly wagged its tail in an­tic­i­pa­tion. the mere tease of a canine char­ac­ter in­spired fan art, doggy cos­play and an un­of­fi­cial twit­ter ac­count im­i­tat­ing canine star, ri­ley (@Col­larDuty) that’s at­tracted over 28,000 fol­low­ers.

a screen cap­ture from CallOf­Duty show­ing ri­ley in ‘ac­tion’.

Left: Mo­tion-cap­ture su­per­vi­sor Kristina Adelmeyer show­ing off the mo­tion-cap­ture sen­sors worn by Ruger in cap­tur­ing his move­ments for the video game footage.

Left: Mark Ru­bin, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of video game de­vel­oper In­fin­ity Ward. He said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view that the Ger­man Shep­herd orig­i­nated as an idea on a note­card dur­ing a brain­storm­ing ses­sion. The de­vel­op­ers didn’t ac­tu­ally know any­thing about mil­i­tary ser­vice dogs, just that un­leash­ing one on the Ac­tivi­son Bliz­zard Inc. fran­chise was ‘a cool idea’.

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