- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 celebrates the franchise’s 20th anniversary with sandbox-style gameplay and revitalized classic maps from its predecessor.
- The game features an immersive and dynamic score that interacts with player actions, thanks to the collaboration between composer Walter Mair and the audio team.
- The development timeline for Modern Warfare 3 was quick, but with the support of resources and a well-organized team, Mair was able to create a unique and memorable musical experience for the game.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 launches during the 20th anniversary of the long-running Call of Duty franchise, and the 14th anniversary of Sledgehammer games. It offers a brand-new campaign that introduces sandbox-style gameplay in Open Combat Missions and a multiplayer suite that revitalizes classic maps from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009); longtime franchise faithful can enjoy a return to locations like Rust, Estates, and Sub Base. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 also brings the ever-popular Zombies mode to the Modern Warfare series for the first time.
Sledgehammer Games enlisted longtime player, first-time mainline Call of Duty franchise composer Walter Mair to lend music to the latest franchise entry. Mair, known for crafting seamless interplay between organic and synthetic instruments across his film and game scores, took a unique approach to his work on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Mair, whose previous work includes the Apple TV+ series Liaison, the video game Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, and Call of Duty: Mobile, also benefitted from the music engine used for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which greatly enhanced the way in which the score can interact with players.
Walter Mair spoke with Screen Rant about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, detailing his writing and recording process on the blockbuster game.
Walter Mair On Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Screen Rant: There’s been so much talk about the development of this game, and how it was maybe not going to be Modern Warfare 3 at first. How was it pitched to you?
Walter Mair: It was the fully fleshed Modern Warfare 3 game with insane content, Open Combat Missions, and stuff. I said, “I think this is really cool,” because I’ve been a fan since the first hour of Call of Duty, literally 20 years ago. I’ve played all of them to date. The issue that I found [in] being part now of this heritage, and being part of what I’ve played for many, many years, is, “How do I deal with that?” because I’m a fanboy and, at the same time, I need to score it like a proper job. I can’t be geeking out all the time. It was really fun.
Those Open Combat Missions appealed to me because sometimes you try to be in the back, being a bit sneaky, [taking] a bit of a sniper approach, [and] sometimes you feel like, “Today, I’m going full guns blazing.” That speaks to all of us, and that’s the idea. That’s why they designed it in such a way.
I was playing one of those this morning, actually; It was super fun. How different is composing for those open missions than the other video game work you’ve done?
Walter Mair: Quite different, because [with] those open missions, everything needs to fall into place. There are those lucky accidents where the music has a peak, and it needs to coincide with what the player does. The team revamped the audio system. Together with the Sledgehammer Games audio team, I also worked with a massive developer team in San Francisco called SpiderFarm productions. It was Jonathan Mayer and his team, and Jonathan was there to use my stems and build them into those blocks so that, for the first time in my life, scoring a game meant I could score it like a movie. I had my own playthrough and I scored it like a movie, with ups and downs, and it was super dynamic. These guys would then dissect it and throw the fragments [into their audio system].
Let’s say there’s a linear beat that goes on for eight bars; they would pull the stems of that. Usually I deliver 12, 14, [or] 16 stems; I got them 40 or 60 stems. [They had] each and every sound, [so they could] mix up the kick sound, or the synths. It’s just insane, the detail. They were like, “Send us more. Whatever you have,” and then they tweaked stuff.
That’s why I think the implementation is so good. When you play the game and you go into retreat because you have to reload or plate up your armor, the music is super dynamic and literally does what you’re doing. It follows you around. It’s a very immersive experience. I know immersive is a bad word now—everyone is using it—but it is. It literally is.
You started this year, so you had, what, eight months to put this whole thing together?
Walter Mair: In a way, I really liked that. I’d take the first few weeks just to be creative; to do all the nonsense, the weird stuff, [and] get it out of the system or create really cool sounds. I’ve got a synth rig here and other stuff. It’s like, “Do something creative, and then I can dive into writing melodies and themes,” which comes a bit later in the process. I used each section quite nicely from a time point of view. I wouldn’t want to write a melody from the beginning when I don’t know what the sound is for the game; I need a bit of time to find my feet.
That’s so interesting. I would have imagined it would be melody first, then sound. That’s really cool, to hear that you worked like that.
Walter Mair: That’s what they wanted from me. “Walter, we need some melodies first, because what some previous Call of Dutys didn’t have was something that you can sing along [with]. Something you can hum along with; something that’s memorable, that sticks out.” I was asked to write that early on, and I’m like, “Yes, but could I do a recording session with my weirder patterns, textures, soundscape-y stuff, [and] ideas that I’ve put together?”
They were like, “Do we have enough time to actually do those recording sessions first, and then go into melodies?” I’m glad Dave, the Creative Director, was one hundred percent behind my concept; the initial concept that I had pitched. He was like, “Hey. Let’s do it.”
So, I went to AIR Studios with the London Contemporary Orchestra; the LCO. I recorded hundreds of patterns and bars over a few days. I took it away and built this baseline of patterns and structures, and on top of that, I wrote melodies. That’s why the melodies are so different now; because they’re based on a very unique sound world.
I want to ask about other aspects of [your work] but, compared to other films and games that you’ve done, is this the quickest window that you’ve had to work with? It sounds wild.
Walter Mair: For a game, the quickest, for sure. But I have to say I got all the resources. I got all the programmers at my disposal, next to me, to make sure that whatever I sent out, we could try immediately. I had the best support possible. I had my team on standby [for] recordings, orchestration, doing some weird programming in the studio, getting some helping hands, [and] making sure that everything was there and worked so that I could really focus on writing the ideas, writing the motifs, getting those patterns out of my system, and working closely with the orchestrator. All of that had to be set up as efficiently as possible. To be honest, looking back at it, it was an easy ride. At the beginning, it sounded like a daunting task.
You said you’re a fan. For me, there was so much nostalgia in playing the multiplayer, because it’s all the old maps and everything. How much did you look at previous games for inspiration?
Walter Mair: I didn’t, which is good, because we were trying to be very different from a sound palette point of view. Dave’s—the Creative Director’s–vision was very organic; I pushed it into electronic anyway, which is my nature, but also [took] live recordings [and tweaked] them with effects and stuff. But it needed to be more melodic and more organic, mixed with the brutal Nine Inch Nails-esque drums and percussion and stuff in there. It’s kind of a mixture of two worlds colliding.
Can you talk a little bit about that process? I’ve spoken to you before, and were saying you would take the orchestra, layer it with synths, and manipulate it digitally. Was that how you did this as well?
Walter Mair: Definitely. And we had a new concept here: we used the orchestra as a synth. Partly, I used synth as an orchestra, but it was more about using the orchestra as a synth. For instance, I had them play, let’s say, a 16-bar motif, like an arpeggio. Then, I would have them play differently in the beginning, even the finger position. Everything would be different. [They would play the bow] very close to the bridge, and then they would kind of slowly kind of move the bow further, so it’s almost like a filter opening on a modular synth or a keyboard. It creates this feeling that something is moving, even though it’s static and they’re playing the same thing. It’s just played differently with the fingering. It almost sounds like you’re opening a filter on a Moog synthesizer, and something is coming out of nowhere, and then it disappears again. But it’s all created live at our studios with the musicians, which is very different.
It sounded like you were also pulling in instruments and melodies and from around the world at times. Were you looking at different instruments to incorporate into the orchestra, or things like that as well?
Walter Mair: I think the initial theory was that Farah has a Middle Eastern background, so she’d have her own set of instruments. Within a second, we decided, “This is so cliché. Let’s not do that. Let’s go in a totally different direction. We can use some sounds from the Middle Eastern world, like flutes and duduks and certain kinds of percussive instruments, more like a spice every now and then, but it should be rooted in her.” She’s a female warrior. She doesn’t give a damn; she just goes in full guns blazing. She’s super smart and clever.
There is a part of my initial pitch track that I wrote that has an ending which I should have cut off, because it’s just a leftover bounce. I sent it in to the pitch anyway, because I thought, “Well, it’s nice. There is a motif in there,” and everyone loved that. They were like, “Hey, how about this on a bass?” Could that become a theme for Farah? I tried it, and I presented it, and they were like, “Yeah, there’s something about that. Maybe we should deviate from the overly expected [thing of] using a duduk or a beautifully played viola or something as a lead instrument for a character like her.”
Writing melodies in the Call of Duty world sounds like it might be difficult in general because of how high-octane a lot of the music is, and how intense it is. Was there a theme that was particularly hard to come up with [while making] it have the right tone?
Walter Mair: I think each theme had its challenges, in a good way, because it needed to be rooted in the universe of Call of Duty, it had to be very different from the other themes, and you have to start with one theme at first. From there on, you can differentiate. Captain Price was easy. He literally is the pitch track, which, by the way, has never happened to me. I’ve never delivered a pitch track that then became the main theme of the game. This has never happened before. It’s literally the pitch track, which was called “Stealth” at a time, which Dave liked so much that he kept referencing. I was like, “Well, if he’s referencing my pitch track so many times, maybe we should use that and incorporate elements,” and that’s the main Modern Warfare 3 theme now.
That’s incredible. I was playing around a little and the music is so identifiable in the campaign. There is also a Zombies mode in Modern Warfare for the first time and there’s the multiplayer. Were you contributing to all of that as well?
Walter Mair: My music is everything but Zombies. Zombies was developed by a different team just because it was so different, but I did the campaign, which is the most important element from a scoring process, because anything that you write there, you can dissect and distill and use in other places. I wrote a bunch of music for multiplayer and the upcoming Warzone, when it comes out. So, there’s this music that’s lined up to be ready with the next iteration of Warzone, which is going to be nice as well.
As someone who’s played the games, have you had the chance to play through it yet? Have you had a favorite moment of hearing your music come through as you’re doing it? That must be a cool experience.
Walter Mair: It is. When you write music for games, there’s always the question of, “How loud is it going to be mixed in the game? Is it going to be audible? Is it going to be very quiet in the back?” Very often, if it’s too quiet, it’s almost like an artificial part and it doesn’t do its job. I’m a fan of quieter moments, but then the music ramps up, and it’s being allowed to be in your face at times, and I’m so happy that the mix was so good. The entire audio team did a fantastic mix for the game, where the music is sometimes–like “Makarov”—in your face. I love that.
I came back from LA just a few days ago. I was there for a few weeks, so I couldn’t play the game. Everyone was talking about the game, and I couldn’t; I’d never played my own game because it wasn’t out at the time. So, I came home to London; I played the entire campaign in a night session. You hear your own cues; that is a dream come true because of the volume, and the loudness, and how it was mixed and everything. I think it’s a super successful way of implementing music in a game.
About Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Building on the legacy of the Modern Warfare series, Call of Duty Modern Warfare III is the direct sequel to the record-breaking Call of Duty Modern Warfare® ll. Players will experience a rich and immersive campaign with unprecedented player choice, picking up directly after Modern Warfare ll, all-new open world Zombies set on the largest Call of Duty Zombies map ever, and one of the greatest collections of Modern Warfare multiplayer maps ever assembled – both fan favorites and all new ones.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)
- Call of Duty
- PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
- Sledgehammer Games
- Action, First-Person Shooter
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)