Designer Of Call Of Duty’s ‘No Russian’ Massacre Wanted You To Feel Something

Designer Of Call Of Duty’s ‘No Russian’ Massacre Wanted You To Feel Something
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

Long-time Call of Duty game developer Mohammad Alavi designed Call of Duty IV‘s famous ghillie suit level and Modern Warfare 2‘s notorious interactive massacre of civilians, the level called “No Russian”.

In a stellar piece about interactive atrocity, game designer Matthew Burns gets Alavi to explain the intent behind that level, a level in which the player is put in a position as an undercover agent to assist or simply watch a terrorist cell of Russians massacre Russian civilians in an airport. The level wasn’t designed to create controversy. It wasn’t to sell more copies. It was to further the plot, Alavi tells Burns, saying he wanted to: “sell why Russia would attack the US, make the player have an emotional connection to the bad guy Makarov, and do that in a memorable and engaging way.” He didn’t want it to be a movie. He wanted you to feel involved.

Was it fun? No. That’s fine with Alavi. “It isn’t really relevant whether that makes you enjoy the entertainment experience even more because you’re being naughty (à la Grand Theft Auto) or it engrosses you further into the story and makes you resent your actions. What’s relevant is that the level managed to make the player feel anything at all.”

Alavi doesn’t make Call of Duty games anymore. He, along with most of the original Modern Warfare development crew have formed Respawn Entertainment and are well on their way to making a new game that will be published by EA. Burns, meanwhile, has written a terrific essay about the atrocities that game developers have dared to let us experience in modern shooter games. It’s a topic we find fascinating here. His piece is highly recommended.

A Sea Of Endless Bullets: Spec Ops, No Russian And Interactive Atrocity [Magical Wasteland]


  • That was probably my favourite mission in any Call of Duty, it was really well done. I’m glad the original MW dev team is still together working on better shit than the atrocity that was MW3.

  • I thought ‘No Russian’ was rubbish… and this is suprising as ‘All Ghillied Up’ was such a fantastic level in CoD4

  • I had a very strong reaction to No Russian – it made me feel very uncomfortable, stressed and a bit sick emotionally, and when it was over I really had a feeling of appreciation that a game could do that to me. I don’t think I believe Alavi when he says that he didn’t do it to create controversy though, he certainly would have been aware of it, and I think the level could have been handled in a less controversial way while still getting across the same emotions. But overall it worked for me in the game.

    I did worry after I finished that section though that some psychopathic people might enjoy that level too much, and also the effect it could have on kids.

    I would prefer a game with a level like that, but where there are genuine branching pathways. So if you shoot the civilians, then Makarov believes you and you can continue undercover and get closer to him. If you follow along but don’t shoot anybody then they realise you’re not one of them and either kill you there or are more suspicious of you, and alternatively you could kill the terrorists, save the civilians and suffer the longer term consequences of that. It would have way more impact if it was your actual decision you made, rather than the game just playing out like a script.

    • Oh hey there Helen Lovejoy. Adults have thicker skins than you seem to think and hardly any children are as impressionable.

      The fact is, CoD has always courted cheap melodrama. The CoD 4 opening with the public execution, No Russian, the nuke, killing off the protagonists etc. It’s the worst form of heavy-handed nuance, that feels like it’s being manipulated by Michael Bay with baking mits, thinking he’s being ‘topical’ by showing innocent people being killed in Transformers 3. Boil away the fluff and it’s all childish war fetishism.

      • My last posts TL:DR is (in case you didn’t actually read it): I’d like to see more sophisticated games have experiences in them like No Russian, as I thought it had the potential to be very powerful.

        And please don’t call me Helen Lovejoy, as my views are pretty far from preachy conservatism. I love a good bit of ultra-violence in entertainment; I pushed hard for the R18+ rating, I loved Soldier of Fortune because of the dismemberment, I went out of my way to get the uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 so I could see the blood and guts, and I’ve even installed a Kid Killing mod in Skyrim because I don’t like that the children are invincible.

        But I also have kids, and I know how impressionable they are. I’m not sure what age you’re thinking of, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to worry about what effect it could have when a very young child plays a game where you control the terrorist and mow down fleeing, unarmed civilians. That’s a completely different situation than shooting ‘bad guys’ in most games. It’s a very adult subject (the mass slaughter of innocent people, which is happening all the bloody time in the world) that a kid might not be able to process properly.

  • yeah I remember the ghillie sniper level fro COD4, i think I actually held my breath as they were walking past.
    awesome level.
    MW2 didn’t effect me, at all. I get what they were going for – but to me it’s just a game.

  • meh, i mowed everyone down I could. still it was a conversation piece amongst friends. a co-worker who played it feared shooting any1 for fear of failing the level. she was spewing after I said the mission ended the same way regardless of your actions.

  • The sniper level is really one of the only levels to a game that has stuck in my mind of the last 8 yeards. I played that over and o ver with a freind when it first came out. It made me feel there was no other way to play that level, than to slither along the ground and hold my breath the whole time.

    Great, great gameplay.

    Same with the No Russian level. I personally fired a few shots here and there, if for no other reason than to break my suspended beleif of what was happening.

    It’s this type of gameplay that’s disappeared from COD IMO.

  • The player has to have real choice for it to be meaningful. Nothing destroys emotional impact like ‘oh right, the game NEEDS to me to do X to continue playing’

  • I call bullshit on the false artistry. It’s manipulation at its cheapest and most juvenile. It’s like a Nicholas Sparks movie dropping cancer and terminal illness into a plot to squeeze out melodrama. No Russian wasn’t effective, it just strummed up controversy and as they say, there’s no such thing as bad press.

  • No Russian end up being so boring and actually made the rest of the game’s plot even more laughable. Bang up Job by our US agent letting a massacre happen that for some reason Russia attacks the US over. Hell why not have an interactive re-enactment of the Beslan School massacre while we are at it since caring about the readers reaction is irrelevant to any cheap emotional response that can be garnered. Makarov could have a scene where he rapes a hostage, I’m sure that would get us going Alavi.

  • I was never so proud as when I refused to kill the civilians or the police and then discovered the “skip this mission” option…and then learned that killing the civilians and police ends in my execution and war between Russian and the US. Duh, of course that scenario ends badly! It just made me mad that even though I did NOT kill the civilians/police, the game story progresses as if I did. And of course the terrorists were invincible as there was no way to kill them. Horrible writing. Beyond stupid.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!