When it comes to making war there is one weapon that no army can do without. I’m not talking about drone spy planes or laser-guided missiles; this essential weapon is none other than man’s best friend, the dog.
Throughout history, dogs have fought alongside men and women undertaking a variety of combat roles. These include, in ancient times, their use as attack dogs. In the Second World War they were trained to detonate explosives under tanks and in the Vietnam War sniffed out enemy bunkers.
Even in these technologically-advanced times dogs haven’t been replaced with robots, but instead continue to see action on all fronts during war. To give them a helping hand, dogs can often be found utilising hardware and wearing gear as advanced as the kits used by their human counterparts.
Because of this essential link between dogs and war, it comes as no surprise that Activision has chosen to debut a military dog named Riley in its forthcoming first-person shooter Call of Duty: Ghosts. Riley will use the latest in military hardware specially designed for dogs to aid players as they defend the decimated USA. But, how much of this canine companion and his fantastic in-game gadgets will be fiction, and how much will be fact?
Read on to discover the research Activision undertook to make sure Riley accurately reflected the real life dogs that armies currently deploy, and see how it cleverly incorporated modern military canine hardware to ensure COD: Ghosts portrayed war dogs as realistically as possible.
To understand how much detail went into creating Riley, we need to first look at how he came to be. In an interview with IGN, Activision revealed that the idea of a dog in COD: Ghosts came about when it was working on a successor to Modern Warfare 3.
The COD: Ghost designers revealed. "What we needed to create was a world that would feel familiar. But would also bring in a lot of new elements…..someone wondered what would happen if a dog appeared in Ghosts. This idea was well-received and we quickly decided the dog would be part of the squad.”
But how were the designers going to make sure a military dog in COD:Ghosts would be realistic? The IGN interview tells how the designers had a clever idea to ensure a high level of realism for Riley.
"We invited one of the specially trained Navy Seals and his dog to tell us about their symbiosis, the training, the special gear, etc. This was a game-changer for us; the role we had in mind for the dog multiplied by ten, just because of this meeting. And besides the interesting role of the Seal and his dog, we saw numerous gameplay possibilities.”
Turn the page to find out how Activision started to bring Riley to life.
So, Activision wanted Riley to take a bigger role in COD: Ghosts and to be as real as possible. Let’s look at how this came about.
Firstly, when choosing what breed of dog Riley should be, Activision decided to make him a German Shepherd dog. This reflects the modern military dog as this breed is favoured by the armed forces because of their high intelligence, rigid obedience and ease of training.
Now, in the real world a dog as experienced as Riley would have taken at least ninety days and thousands of dollars to train for its duties, which include sniffing out explosives, guarding its handlers or detecting the enemy. This level of investment means that when dogs go into combat they need as much protection as their handlers. So, Activision decided Riley would wear canine body armour just like his real world counterparts; these suits specially designed for dogs go by the fitting name of K9 storm armour and can cost up to twenty thousand dollars, showing how valuable a dog on the battlefield is.
But, Activision didn’t stop there with the level of realism. As a combat zone is a noisy environment, handlers need to be able to make sure their dog can hear them. So just like real military dogs, Riley has been fitted with an earpiece to enable this. But Activision didn’t just stop there, Riley is also equipped with a wireless camera so his operators can see what he sees and guide him effectively, yet again something real military dogs also employ.
The only real-life upgrade the military fit on their dogs which Activision hasn’t confirmed for Riley is titanium teeth. Real world military dogs have this ferocious dentistry to make sure their bite is a deadly weapon; though the footage of Riley savaging the enemy in COD: Ghosts shows he might be just as efficient without them.
So apart from the teeth, Riley really is just like a real-life military dog who can be given commands via a headset and use a remote camera to sniff out and engage the enemy. Overall, this makes Riley a ferocious ally of players in COD: Ghosts as they seek to defend the decimated USA.
While engaged in battle, gamers will be placing their life in Riley’s paws just as real-life military handlers do with their dogs, and hopefully Activision will be able to emulate this bond in COD: Ghosts. Maybe players will even get so attached to Riley that they will grow feelings for their side-kick, just as military dog handlers do. The high level of emotion handlers feel is best typified by this quote, again from Activision’s IGN interview.
"The bond between dog and trainer was extraordinary. One of the guys told us he would take a bullet for his dog without hesitation."
So, it seems there is little fiction in the use of Riley in COD: Ghosts, from his role in combat to his equipment, and with military dogs being used widely in the real world, including taking part in the mission that took down Bin Laden, it’s no surprise to see one in a game. When COD: Ghosts is released in November, with the detailed research Activision has used to create Riley, he just might become gaming’s most realistic, best behaved and fan-favourite gaming dog ever.