Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II has shown off one of the new characters joining the cast- Alejandro Vargas, leader of Los Vaceros and all-around cool guy.
We spoke to Brian Bloom, head writer of the game and Jeffrey Negus, Narrative Director at Infinity Ward about all things Alejandro- including how exactly they bring the world of military men to a more generalized audience.
From our conversation, the team are incredibly proud of their work on Alejandro- they’d set out to make a heroic figure who still feels like a person, complete with all the nuances of a person like code switching, as well as a personal belief system.
Call of Duty is a series known for being more grounded, with no mech suits or anything like that. What part of Alejandro did you want to stand out as a character?
Jeff: Something that’s really interesting about this thing in general is that 2019 was a reboot of the original series. We had this opportunity where we were gonna bring back certain characters and we were going to introduce new ones. We had Farah and we had others that we introduced in the last game.
We had a similar opportunity in this one where we’re bringing back certain elements of the older series who have very distinct personalities in a lot of ways, and we’re also looking to create new characters as well. Alejandro’s obviously at the center of that effort.
What was really cool about that process was being able to pick and choose what things about who those people were in the previous series and who they are now, pitted against who these new characters are and what they’re about.
We always start in a place of sincerity and truth: where somebody’s coming from, what they’re about and that its rooted in story since story is character and character is story, as Mr Bloom likes to say all the time and I completely agree with.
Alejandro, as you said, doesn’t wear an exo suit, we don’t have those sorts of elements in our game. So the thing to make our character stand out is what they believe in and what they’re about. How they make decisions when in conflict and how they resolve that conflict.
Brian: You know, we work with an amazing team and we have other tools in the toolbox to make our characters stand out in silhouette. If you turn the sound down, you’d recognize them. If you turn the sound up, it’s our job to make sure that there’s a voice there, that there’s dialogue there that stands out in frequency and range and tone but also in characterization.
Alejandro, we’ve done something interesting with. Instead of having him only speak in accented English across the game, which is something a lot of entertainment products will do even when the character is ostensibly speaking their own language, their first language for example, often they’ll use an accented language and ask the audience to take that leap and imagine when it’s the other language.
We see that in great movies like Hunt For Red October with the Russians. We wanted to remedy that and try something different. Alejandro speaks spanish when he’s talking to the Los Vaceros, or when he’s talking to his second in command, Rudolpho, Rudy. So we do that. He’s on target when it’s necessary for 141 and English speakers or perceived singularly English speaking characters to understand exactly what he’s saying.
He’s mixing and peppering what he’s saying, he’s giving some orders in Spanish, he’s using Spanish words but also he’s using English when its entirely necessary. When he’s speaking to his own team and the message is not necessarily for everyone else or if its a conversation or an aside and he’s speaking Spanish. It’s new ground for us and its a new way some players will experience the level. Places that they might have seen dialogue before, for comprehension purposes, that might just be a little bit more important here.
We thought it was a really interesting dice roll and think its working nicely to hear that authenticity and to hear that characterization and to hear that voice speaking naturally, speaking organically. Alejandro is in Los Almos, Mexico, and let’s build an entertainment product that honors that down to language.
Did Alain Mesa, who plays Alejandro bring anything unique to the role?
Jeff: It’s funny, Brian and I have been saying this recently. It was a search to find the right guy to embody this character. There’s an important energy that needed to be brought to it
Jeff: Physicality, exactly. There’s so much there and when we saw his audition we just 5 seconds in looked at each other and went “This is our guy”. He has such a presence and such a command, the character is a natural born leader. Hes’ a guy who commands his group of Los Vaceros. Al just perfectly embodies this guy.
Brian: We wanted to design a hero, bordering on superhero but in the most grounded way. In the way you might think of Price or Ghost as superheroes. Or heroes who are just a little bit larger than life. But also very reluctant heroes, reluctant leaders.
We wanted to try something different with Alejandro. He’s not reluctantly leading at all. He’s up against some serious challenges in Mexico and in Los Almos, but he rushes headlong, he’s completely dedicated, completely disciplined and this really speaks to your first question and is a great predicate- who he is and what makes him stand out.
Another aspect of that is if people already expect that the heroes of the game that they’re already familiar with might be the other members of 141, then one of the faders that we kind of used to grow and stand up and develop this character of Alejandro is, “who does 141 call when they need help?” If Ghost were to learn to trust somebody, shed some of that lone wolf skin, who would he trust first. What would that relationship be like, and how can we incorporate that into a story.
All of those things are part of building the foundation of this strong new character by giving him everything that he needs to stand out. And to stand up as tall as the others.
Jeff: What did he bring to it thats different? I think he just embodied so many qualities of who the guy actually is. Brian was mentioning that Alejandro is a guy who just dives into things headlong and he’s gonna just go after doing it 100%. Al was the same way. He was showing up every day super prepared. He came with this energy that really created an interesting chemistry on set that gave everybody this energy to play off of. It really did play into the performances that we got because of it, just because of what he was bringing to the role and to the set.
Brian: Al is really the best to answer from his own POV, what he kind of added to all of this. To kind of interpret to some extent, we were working from a place of authenticity. We spoke to our military advisers, we spoke to our language consultants and we do that routinely with all of the nationalities and all of the cultures and factions and armies we’re representing on both sides of the ball. Good guys and bad guys, so to speak. We asked mexican soldiers that we worked with, “hey if you had to get into a foxhole with one person on a small team, who would it be” and they gave us a name.
I took that name and begged for a number and I got in touch with that person and we talked for 20 hours for a few weeks and I learned about their mindset and ideology and their background and what they’re up against, and their challenges and their triumphs and trials and tribulations and we took those things.
Alejandro’s not based on those things exclusively, but they were part of the DNA and the rudiments of what we used. The seeds of the character.
Al said “I see this character as the spirit of an ancient Aztec Warrior”. That makes sense and that helped animate him and gave him another magnetic north in addition to the other things that made him authentic and graspable, so he wrapped it in a little of that spirit as well.
However he used that, wherever he tucked it away and whatever it did to light the fire inside him each day, it was all great. It’s kind of a combination of things and some of them are identifiable, and others are more visceral and hard to put your finger on. Man he definitely connected with the idea of being an incorruptible, unstoppable warrior.
Call of Duty is very built around the military culture. In SEA in particular, we don’t have a particularly strong knowledge of military culture. We’re the kinds of people who would say things like “marines and soldiers are the same thing” when apparently that’s not true. How do you still make things universally readable while also being authentic?
Jeff: My background is not necessarily in that field either, I’ve been learning a lot working on these games and working with Brian and lots of different people in that sector.
What it comes down to ultimately is the human experience, for us, and the sincerity of going through the experience that you’re going through. I would say its really important for this game not to be seen strictly through the lens of the military or military jargon or anything like that. Rather something that’s more universally understandable, what a person is going through from moment to moment and what they might be after and what they might want.
Brian: It’s not a military simulator. There’s some Milspec elements to it and part of what some of our audience is suiting up for is a bit of that military fantasy. We have a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds who are making the game and who are playing the game for sure.
You’re not alone. I tell you that if we put a lot of our team together, some of them have been making CoD for a long time, and I don’t wanna out any of them specifically, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the thing that you said.
It’s incumbent upon us that we make an entertainment product where you don’t have to get stuck in those specificities or those weeds. It’s important that you know what a character is motivated by or what his intentions are, or if you identify with something about them or if there’s something about them you don’t like or if there’s something about them that teaches you something or affects you or hits you in the heart or in the head or in the mind or if there’s something about them that repulses you and you wanna go after them, hopefully those are the bad guys and not the good guys.
I think that’s where we have to work from. It’s a balance to have to use the acronyms and the jargon and the other elements of the Lexicon to make the game. But its also our job to make sure that comprehension is king. We were just working on the game today and every night as we had our heads down here and we were just in a thread talking about who am I, where am I and what am I doing.
The answer to that is inconsequential if the answer is “I’m a marine” or “Im a soldier” or “I’m in the army” or “I’m in the air force”. It’s not inconsequential in real life, there’s a lot more to do with “I run an oil rig and I’m looking for a missile”. I’m looking for the controls to the missile, and I’m looking for terrorists. These kinds of things. And that overrides the other things.
“These are the PMCs.” Maybe you understand that those are private military contractors, but whats more important to know is are those my allies, are those my friends, do I trust them, am I with them, am I fighting alongside them, do I wanna fight alongside them? am I suspicious of them? do I like them? I think that’s what matters more.
With his fiery passion and charismatic charm, there’s no doubt Alejandro is gonna be a fan favorite among the 141. Our thanks to Jeff and Brian for chatting all things Alejandro with us, and you can pre order Call of Duty Modern Warfare II now.