This interview sprinkles in the opinions of a few other developers for Plutonium who wished to share there insight with us. I’ve italicized and written a bit next to these additions to distinguish them.
Shoutouts to the team for taking the time to contribute to this piece, that’s super rad of everyone!
Mr. Android! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about you and your team’s COD revitalization projects! So you are the community manager for the development team? Do you have any other roles?
Hey, not a problem, always happy to answer questions. All Plutonium Administrators are also Project Managers and ensure our project keeps moving forward. That’s more of a background role though, managing the community area’s and our social media is my main area. I guess some light Cyber Security but we’re all pretty clued up in that area so it doesn’t need much management.
Just to ensure I don’t mislabel you guys, Plutonium is the name of your dev team and not the umbrella name for your projects? Or do I have that backwards?
There’s no distinction between the development team and the project as a whole; the entire project is called Plutonium and the games we support are Plutonium IW5 and Plutonium T6 — MW3 and BO2 are trademarked so it’s best to avoid calling them Plutonium MW3 for example. The entire team is over 30 staff members, most being moderators for our community areas and all staff act as support too. We have 2 core developers and roughly 4 to 6 other developers that assist and work on our launcher and backend. All of our work is on a volunteer basis; it’s a hobby for us and lets us gain new experience and skills in our respective technology fields.
So the mod for Black Ops 2 goes by T6 and Modern Warfare 3 goes by IW5 — got it. Are these names meant to reflect the engine these games are running on?
You got it bang on, they are the names that reflect the development studio and what number title they worked on. Modern Warfare 3 [was the 5th Call of Duty entry] made by Infinity Ward (IW). You can even see this naming system used in the names of their shipped game files e.g. iw5mp.exe
When I search for ‘Plutonium T6’ on YouTube, the very first video I get is a member of FaZeClan talking about the trickshotting lobbies in T6. Suffice it to say this project has picked up a considerable amount of traction with figure heads in the FPS community! How does it feel to see your work elevated to these heights?
It’s good and bad. We released IW5 in 2017 and then T6 in 2018 but we could never keep enough players in servers to maintain a player base. Our core developers lives got very busy with Uni exams, etc… so the decision was made to shutdown. T6 had roughly 60 players though so we put that into a sort of “offline” state, which meant it doesn’t authenticate players — people can just play.
We went on with our lives but in January 2020 we were made aware that [members of] FaZe were live streaming Plutonium T6. Seeing the increase in players is a huge motivator and we managed to assemble most of the team again. The clients both suffer from bugs that were never fixed a couple of years ago and as such, the decision was made to rewrite both of them from scratch. IW5 took priority and has recently been released with the bugs gone plus a fully working anti-cheat system. Authentication with our forum allows all this. T6 is due to get the same treatment but good things take time. That’s the good, and we will always be thankful for every person who plays our work!
The bad, which you touch on, is that FaZe — being the influencers they are — all their fans took to calling us a client for trickshotting when most of the staff team actually prefer normal gameplay. As such we’ve brought on a couple of players from the trickshotting community to ensure our features benefit both traditional players and the trickshotting community such as a server list filter to remove trickshotting servers. We even added back optional bounce glitches in IW5 so trickshotters had the option of enabling these and doing their tricks.
It became real to me when I saw we had made it on DramaAlert and Scarce YouTube channels. Sadly we were mentioned as a trickshotting client but our work is starting to reflect our goals and the community understands what we are doing. We’re often praised for being in touch with our community and I consider that a job well done. I’ve also had a few co-workers bring up Plutonium in casual conversation whilst being unaware of my role within it. That one was amusing.
In 4 months we’ve got the foundation to keep Plutonium expanding with new features, we’re very happy a core community of players has begun to form and anticipate our updates.
Many videos sharing Plutonium use naming conventions like, ‘Bo2/MW3 playable in 2020’ and of course comments respond with, ‘this game was never not playable, I call clickbait’. Just to clear the air on this topic, can you talk a little bit about what your team’s mods aim to provide that can’t be found in the official releases?
I think first of all, I should clarify that to us, these are not remasters; I think that puts too many expectations on people’s minds. At the heart of it, we’re a group of friends doing this in our spare time and not a AAA development studio so we try to limit expectations. We understand that people will call it what they want to call it though and there’s not much we can do about that.
Our ultimate goal is to bring the modding capabilities that we feel the games should have had in the first place; like the previous titles supported. The secondary goal is to keep the games alive as we enjoy playing them. The Steam versions suffer from horrible matchmaking — over 5 minutes to find a game [just to find out it] has a hacker in it. Some even suffer unpatched exploits that we have reported and simply never seen patches for. As such we use dedicated servers so the player count doesn’t matter and each server owner has complete control over their game. Any extra features we can bring along the way is a nice bonus and helps keep the games fresh such as porting maps and weapons. I believe we were the first group to manage to port maps into IW5. The goal is to have a working anti-cheat system too as Valve Anti-Cheat just doesn’t do the job on the Steam versions. We will never have a 100% perfect anti-cheat but if we can get 98% then that’s a damn sight better playing experience.
Playing on private servers with people who pride themselves for not being cheaters sounds super appealing to me! Was it difficult to implement this kind of netcode given how the base game dependent on matchmaking from dedicated servers?
Providing you port forward correctly, private matches and dedicated servers are quite simple to do when playing on Plutonium. We spent a lot of time reversing and emulating DemonWare, which is the matchmaking system that the base games use. We didn’t put the time into emulating all of it, as such in-game voice doesn’t work. From what the developers have told me, it’s certainly no easy job but also not insanely complicated; the knowledge of the engine underneath is likely what takes the most time. Our developers have years worth of experience reversing the game engine and backend services. Plenty of people praise the client themselves but our backend deserves just as much praise. It connects everything together and none of this would be possible without everything working together.
Obviously having private servers will keep the game alive as long as fans want to play it but what are some other benefits of the community utilizing private servers as opposed to matchmaking? Do you think players who previously only played on consoles will immediately notice these benefits?
The benefit is the control that server owners have. They get to decide their own rules, apply their own mods and have their own admins. Most of our custom features are entirely optional and server owners can decide to turn them on or off. I mentioned bounces in a previous answer — those are an entirely optional feature that the server owner gets to decide if they want to allow it. Servers allow for a much more community focused game — from Promod to Clan Wars to iSnipe and trickshotting.
In regards to console players, I do believe they will notice the difference from a technical perspective; most notably ping. The reality is that most console matchmaking games are hosted by a client [typically over] WiFi using a residential connection. This can lead to high ping, worse hit reg, lag spikes, the host quitting and more — all of which are detrimental to the experience. Plutonium servers are most commonly hosted at data centers and as a result, have a much more stable connection with lower pings for players.
Is IW5 running off of the IW4 engine?
They are very very similar. The developer working on adding controller support for Plutonium IW5 develops his code on IW4 and then ports it over to Plutonium IW5. It’s easier for him [that way]. IW5 has more limitations though; Activision certainly realized IW5 needed more protection to avoid modification like IW4. This also makes it more challenging for us to mod the IW5 engine.
Developer Note: While the IW4 engine is easier to mod, a lot of improvements have been made to the IW5 engine compared to IW4. For example, attachments and weapons are handled separately in IW5, whereas IW4 has a new weapon asset for every possible attachment combination.
Ultimately all the older CoD games use a heavily modified Quake engine; the later the game the more protection they added. It’s hard to say which is “better”. We don’t get to pick the engine, we’re forced to modify what the base game provides.
Developer Note: We decided to go with IW5 simply because MW3 was a popular game back in the day & compared to the other CoDs, it simply has the best engine to work on. A lot of optimizations and other improvements have been made to the engine compared to MW2, which in the end also makes it better for us.
In your forums, there are many people interested in incorporating their own mods into your builds! Has your team has made it pretty accessible for amateur designers to test and implement their own custom guns, maps, models, ect… into the Plutonium experience?
Custom models, guns and maps – certainly not. We use a custom made tool call ZoneTool which is used to port the maps over, I make it sound simple but the actual code research and reversing isn’t and hundreds of man hours has been put into it. When we shutdown in 2018 we open-sourced our version of ZoneTool however this has plenty of bugs — [some of] which can be seen by the red FX logos in our videos. We kept working on it when we shutdown and our current version isn’t released to the public. It has plenty of new features and bug fixes so our current maps are better than ever. We don’t have plans to release this tool anytime in the future whilst it gives us a ‘unique selling point’.
In terms of gameplay modding, we allow GSC modding in T6 [since its] engine allowing for that and ChaiScript modding in IW5 as the engine doesn’t allow for GSC except for limited circumstances. I believe the plan is to change ChaiScript to Lua modding as it has more documentation and is used for modding other games too. It’s certainly no easy task to just pick up the modding aspect but if you’re willing to learn or already know other programming languages, it can be picked up.
Developer Note: Some stuff does require GSC scripts on IW5 though. For example, for a map to work properly it needs a GSC script. We managed to make a simple assembler/disassembler for IW5 GSCs so that we could make custom map scripts based on the scripts of existing maps.
What are some of your favorite pieces of content the community has shared?
We allow for custom textures to be put into the game such as camos. We have threads that detail how to do it and how to edit the texture files. I don’t like modifying my textures too much; I prefer the vanilla experience. However, I have replaced my gold camo with a rainbow one that a community member created! As the Community Manager, I love to see the clips people record or the live streams and the videos they create.
Long before I knew about Plutonium, I started following the work of ODY ISLAND, a group of extremely talented video producers and modders. Being a member of the FGC where all we really have are combo and popoff videos, I was just immediately blown away by the work these producers were putting in using CoD Demos! They’ve all got a tremendous amount of creativity — not to say they’re the only ones, though.
Are you familiar with this group? I see at least one of their legends is now a member of the Plutonium staff!
I’m not aware of that group. I just checked their roster and I’m not surprised to see one of our staff members being part of it. We tend to approach talented people if we feel they can bring something to the team. This staff member was brought in to replace me from the YouTube side of things; I’m far from a good editor so it’s a good vote of confidence to see the person I picked has such a good portfolio. Let’s hope we see some great things from them!
BO1’s theater mode was amazing back in the day! Does Plutonium have any built in tools for videographers trying to render these files in just the illest manner?
We don’t really provide anything extra from a video producing point of view; T6 doesn’t support theater mode right now either. We are in discussions with IW5MVM — a theater mod made exactly for helping video [producers] — to see if we can incorporate the mod into our project somehow or atleast allow compatibility.
On the Plutonium homepage, it says that T6 and IW5 are ‘building on many years of research and development’. How long has the team been working on these projects? Did it start as a single person’s vision or has there always been a group of individuals executing on their ideas?
The CoD Client scene has been around since NTAuthority’s original AlterIWNet client for MW2 — I’m not the best person to be giving the entire 10 year history of the CoD Client scene to be honest. We’ve earned respect over the years as all our work is our own and not simply copied from NTA’s original code leak. We’ve worked on CoD Modding for roughly 5 or so years, continually improving more as a hobby than anything else. We enjoy seeing what’s possible with the games. Our staff team has people from almost every CoD Client from the last 10 years. We are all here for the fun of modding the games!
NTAuthority certainly deserves a lot of credit for being the inspiration and start of the entire scene though. His work paved the way for many more people to be inspired and learn from his work.
Was it too difficult to break down the compiled code of these games or would you say their PC releases were published in such a way that modding the core experience was always fairly doable?
No, a common misconception is that learning to reverse engineer games and any software is a simple task, it requires hundreds of hours of research, and before you can do that you need to be pretty good as coding in C++ and Assembly Code, without trying to inflate anybody’s ego, we struggle to find volunteer developers to help us because the developers with the knowledge tend to want to be paid for that knowledge too, which is understandable.
What were the major hurdles during development that took your team more time than anticipated? I’m sure networking alone and building a working infrastructure online is quite challenging enough!
The entire thing is a challenge and has taken years of rewrites and man hours to have what we have now, there’s also a huge difference between porting a weapon or map which has bugs or doesn’t fully support all the features (camos and attachments for example) and porting assets that fully work. Think of it as the difference between a 5 minute drawing, a 5 hour drawing and a 50 hour drawing.
Does your project have a definitive end goal? Maybe something like a Tony Hawk’s Underground Pro mod where development won’t end until every old map has been ported into the modified engine?
Players are the motivator, [we don’t have any] real goal to reach. As long as players are there, we will keep things running. Otherwise we will put the games into their offline patch states again and move on to other interests. I imagine at some point the developers’ lives will get too busy again to sustain the activity they currently provide.
What is it about these older Call of Duty titles that makes you want to pour an ungodly amount of time into restoring them?
We enjoy playing them, we enjoy the feeling of others playing them and from a developer point of view they enjoy the challenge of it all. I can’t tell you how motivating every tweet of thanks we get is. We also get a fair few entitled people but we remind ourselves it’s a hobby and we are free to ignore those people.
Is this purely nostalgia driven or do you hope restoring these games will also spill into the eSports side of things?
Purely nostalgia and the experience and knowledge we all gain from doing this.
The FPS genre has evolved so much just since the games you mod came out. How would you say Call of Duty stacks up in the history of competitive FPS games?
If Halo is Yin then CoD is Yang. Can’t say I’m a fan of the later Call Of Duty titles. That’s just my opinion though.
One last question: Do you still play the newer Call of Duty titles despite having such a strong fondness for the older games?
Modern Warfare 2019 is by far the greatest step in the right direction [CoD titles] have gone in recent years. Sticking to their roots is the best thing in my opinion. I think their sales numbers reflect that too. I see myself playing Shipment on Modern Warfare every now and then.
It’s been super enlightening to get the chance to speak with you about these endeavours! I think modding older games to retain their glory going into the modern era is so critical if we want to ensure the sustainability of the gaming ecosystem. At the very least, it’s like like taking care of the elderly. Give us back the past, dammit!
Thanks for sharing all your wisdom, Mr. Android! I hope everyone you care for is staying healthy during the pandemic! Before I let you go, are you a social media user? Do you wish to plug any accounts/sites/projects you’re affiliated with?
Thanks and I hope I’ve given some insight. Just a reminder that opinions are my own and I can only answer to the best of my ability. I’m far from a developer so please take [my opinion on that] side of things with grain of salt. I know enough in regards to development to be a danger to myself but get lost when the the developers start having actual discussions about memory locations and other low level computer science things.
Check our Twitter @PlutoniumMod, it’s managed by me 🙂 If you want to see my horrible editing, feel free to checkout our YouTube channel. every video on there is made by me. You’ll see the massive difference in quality when our YouTube team puts out their first video!
If you’re interested in playing these mods for yourself, everything you need to get started can be found on the Plutonium Project’s homepage!
If you’re interested in more interview and articles like this, follow me on Twitter @SheeshFr!