For a single miniature cutscene in a Battle Royale game – where you often barely have time to register an enemy’s presence, never mind their choice of athleticwear – it wasn’t just good; it was too good. I started to wonder who had made the decision to make Yegor’s jacket look so good, and then whose job it was to make Yegor’s jacket a reality. I wondered why they wanted to make Yegor’s jacket at all. I began to turn it into a proper noun in my head. This wasn’t Yegor’s jacket, this was Yegor’s Jacket, some kind of hidden message from its developers about the sheer amount of unseen work going into AAA-scale game design in 2020.
I started talking about it so much that a friend asked a question I should really have asked to myself: “Why don’t you just email Activision and see if they can get someone to tell you why Yegor’s Jacket is so good?” So I did.
“Yegor’s tracksuit,” says Infinity Ward studio art director, Joel Emslie, ignoring my chosen nomenclature, “is a love letter to a character that I created 13 years ago for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It was for Zakeav’s son, one of the guys that you ride in a car with in the beginning of the game. For some reason tracksuits were big that year.”
Charmingly unruffled by how stupid an interview request this is, Emslie finishes his reminiscence with a phrase that sounds almost philosophical – and that I, as the world’s biggest Yegor’s Jacket fan, very much appreciate: “That was then, Yegor is now.”
Yegor is now, in as much as he’s emblematic of how much game developers are wringing out of current-gen console hardware in the tail end of its life. Can you imagine a virtual jacket that looked like this in 2014? I absolutely cannot. I can’t outright prove this, but I swear that the moment Yegor’s Jacket appears on my screen in all its polyester splendour, it’s always the exact moment that my otherwise unworried PS4 Pro decides to start screaming. There might be a reason for that: “When it comes to this tracksuit,” explains Emslie, “it uses cutting edge in-game physically based materials to render the fabrics to the highest quality we can deliver.” When I ask him if Warzone features the most realistic clothing yet seen in a game, he gives a more diplomatic response: “It is by far the most realistic clothing in a game that I have ever been a part of.”
Yegor’s Jacket is, by itself, a collaboration between artists, lighting designers, animators and more – and that’s a single part of a wider whole. Once I noticed how good that looked, I began to realise how good clothing looked across the board in Warzone (and the wider Call of Duty: Modern Warfare package): Ghillie suits flap in the rush of an open-topped ATV, heavy weaponry jingles against buckles on the backs of crouching operators, Zane’s improbable cape billows as he leaps off a building in search of another kill. Which begs the question – why is any of this in there at all? It seems a monumental amount of work for something relatively few players will actively notice, and even fewer will become obsessed by to the point of watching videos for glimpses of a single jacket that they can put in an article about said jacket.
The answer, for Emslie, is to create an experience that feels more whole. “Early in development for Modern Warfare & Warzone, we challenged ourselves with what could be referred to as a gold diorama. This was a very small sample section of the game to stress test our techniques and some of our early development infrastructure. It included an exterior scene in overcast daylight, a couple of vehicles, and few characters. The scene was set on a hilltop in the Isle of Skye, Scotland and so it made perfect sense that there should be some wind to add visual stimulation to everything in the scene.
“This opened the door for some creative solutions to create windblown clothing and props worn by our characters. When we saw how effective the look of all these things together could be, we decided to get as much of that into the game as possible. There are so many moments where our characters are riding shotgun on a helicopter or tac-rover. It really adds a sense of reality to the characters and what they wear.”
Essentially, it lends an almost invisible verisimillitude, something your brain registers as feeling real, without it necessarily having to notice it directly. The more work put into making the stuff that grounds you in the game world, the more you’re likely to feel immersed by it all.The process for getting to that point is pretty fascinating. Like many AAA games, Infinity Ward’s artists have begun 3D scanning real-life objects – after all, if you’re trying to build realistic looking clothing, why not use the real thing? It lifts my heart to know that, somewhere in Los Angeles, there’s a real Yegor’s Jacket sitting in a big cupboard (Activision, I will pay for that, get in touch).
“It required us to build out a physical wardrobe collection right next to the model shop,” says Emslie. “It has it all. From full body jumpsuits down to the smallest props like a piece of glint tape on a helmet. This isn’t completely unique, but we not only built out a collection, we processed the clothing and props like a Hollywood prop house would do for a feature film. The entirety of our collection is processed by our artists to make it all look used and lived in.”
Those scans come in ‘clean’, with artists asked to dirty them up once they’re in the system, and make them look like they’ve actually been worn. But even that wasn’t quite realistic enough for Emslie and his team, with something about that invented grime giving away its virtual creation.
“I can think of a few moments early on where I stopped an artist from painting dirt onto a character and encouraged them to take the boots out for a hike or drag them through a dirt patch outside. If there is a way to get dirt into a pair of gloves or get the perfect patina onto a tactical helmet, we find a way. The result is a very natural look that seats the characters into the environments very convincingly.”
It’s fascinating to me to think of quite how much work is being put into these less-noticed elements, and the sheer level of expertise artists are bringing to elements of games that are designed to be somewhat invisible to the player. I ask Emslie how people get into this kind of work – in a way, the business of not being noticed:
“I think the people that are most successful at getting into various jobs usually have a healthy curiosity and fascination with the work itself. All of this takes a massive amount of time and effort. The work really needs to hold your interest to a point where you could lose track of time and almost sink into a trance. Anyone can get into a line of work. Staying in the line of work and being successful with something like this means you probably love it.”
Seemingly sensing that I’m going to ask if it’s satisfying to know that a piece of work may never be consciously noticed, Emslie adds: “The work is totally fulfilling – even if it’s creating the perfect dirty boot.”But what about when people do notice the work? What about when someone becomes obsessed with a fictional Ukranian just because of his choice of top? “We are creating what I can consider the largest catalog of unique characters I’ve ever been a part of. The most rewarding moments for me are when someone relates to a character in the narrative or makes a connection to an Operator that they feel represents how they want to look in our game.”
That’s mission accomplished, I guess – it might not be for reasons other than that his jacket is really fluttery and shiny, but I’m yet to play as any Operator other than Yegor, simply because of his look. I have one more question for Emslie – well, a question and a compliment. Who, specifically, made Yegor’s Jacket, and can I congratulate them?
“We are in the middle of our stay at home instructions and it’s been a while since we were all together in the art pit. I can’t remember who exactly crafted that particular jacket, but I will be certain to ask now that you’ve mentioned it and deliver the compliment.”
I’ll try too: in case you’re reading this, anonymous Yegor’s Jacket Designer, good work. I noticed.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News, and he just remembered he wrote a whole article about a game character’s sandals once, too. Follow him on Twitter.