Before writing several of the highest-selling video games of all time, Brian Bloom cut his teeth as an actor on the soap opera As the World Turns. While the path for one of the creative minds behind Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and 2019’s Modern Warfare hasn’t been typical, Bloom’s willingness and love for the craft has seen his career evolve over nearly 40 years inside the entertainment industry. He’ll also helm the upcoming Modern Warfare II, which is set to release on October 28, 2022.
While Bloom couldn’t discuss the upcoming Modern Warfare II before its June 8 reveal, the all-star writer and voice actor discussed his creative process while reflecting back on what made Infinite Warfare and the Modern Warfare reboot such successes, which is due to creating memorable character moments with the likes of E3N (who is also referred to as “Ethan”), Captain Price, and more.
“Some of the things I like to follow in our process is that characters are not necessarily what they say, although that dialogue is very interesting and important, they’re what they do,” explained Bloom. “For all of our characters — E3N, NPCs or player characters, Price, Gaz — it’s about the choices that they make. Some of those are gameplay choices. Even in an authored experience, it’s about learning from your more senior, higher command, or even teaching them something in some cases. All of these pieces are coming from this little edict that I really like a lot, which is ‘story is character and character is story.'”
Bloom then elaborated on a character’s actions and how that specifically works for Call of Duty.
“And again, characters are what they do even more than what they say; it’s their behavior, it’s who they are. That’s what exposes [them], you know? What we do in the most austere circumstances reveals who we are. What’s awesome about Call of Duty, and what’s incredible about war genre stories is that the stakes are often mortal, often terminal, often life or death, often about saving or winning or something that feels potentially final [like] resolving conflict. Another great rule in all of this, and rules are meant to be broken, but if we agree that stories or characters in conflict and how they resolve conflict, the military genre is an amazing place to really push that concept to its limits.”
Embracing the Bandit
Hearing Bloom discuss characters and writing, it becomes clear that the multi-talented actor has a clear passion for crafting characters and story moments. However, it took decades of work to get there, which included a stint in between his soap opera days and voice acting career, where the actor starred in four Smokey and the Bandit television films. Those prequels were a thrill for Bloom, who got to work with Bandit director and writer Hal Needham.
“It was a big driver’s seat to fill, literally. What was awesome is it was a lot of the same crew back in those days. Hal Needham, may he rest in peace, was young and strong. I couldn’t turn that down. He never asked me to do anything that he didn’t do first. I jumped out of airplanes during the shooting of that. I did parachuting and skydiving and jumping cars and precision driving. I got a license to drive an 18 Wheeler and [I] went to school for it and it was a blast. I’m still in touch with a lot of the guys that I met at that time. Couple of great race car drivers from the Barrett family, Stanton Barrett in particular, and his father was Paul Newman’s double for years, [and] still looks just like how Paul Newman looked even to the end of his life.”
Of course, a particular highlight was getting to be alongside the original star of the series, the legendary Burt Reynolds.
“It was an opportunity to get some of that 1970s, even though it was the ’90s. They brought some of that ethos and some of that mythos and some of that energy and all those experiences and stories and anecdotes to those sets. It was an honor. I spent a lot of time with Burt. He was around all the time. They gave my guy a Dodge Stealth and he would periodically do these personal appearances and reunion things where he’d get near that Trans-Am. We used to joke about racing them. But yeah, I got on the racetrack with him a couple of times and it was an awesome experience. So lucky to have done that.”
Finding His Voice
While Bloom’s filmography is now filled with iconic characters, such as Frank Castle, Captain America, Silver Surfer, Wolfenstein hero B.J. Blazkowicz, and more, the actor had a hard time breaking into the voice acting industry. In fact, it was all an accident that he booked his first gig after years of trying.
“A friend of mine came to visit me at my house up in Laurel Canyon. He had a voiceover agent, I didn’t know this. We didn’t talk about it much,” recalled Bloom. “He said, ‘Hey, can I give my agent your phone number?’ This was in the old school phone days. I said yeah. It was like he needed to get a call about something, and that’s how we used to roll back in the day.”
The impending phone call that came as a result of that exchange was bizarre, but ended up working in Bloom’s favor.
“The phone rang, I picked it up since it’s my house. I said, ‘Hello,’ this person said, ‘Who’s this?” I said, ‘Who’s this?’ She told me what’s her name was from such and such agency. ‘I’m looking for Scott,’ and I said, ‘Let me get him for her.’ She said, ‘Oh, hold on a second. Who are you?’ And I was like, ‘I’m Brian, I’m Scott’s friend. He’s at my house.’ I totally misunderstood the question. I thought she was trying to decode why someone else was picking up the other guy’s phone, whatever it was. She said, ‘No, I want to know who you are.’ She’s like, ‘Do you do voiceovers?’ And I was like, ‘I’d love to! I’ve been trying. I’ve left demos on your doorstep.’ You can imagine that was how it happened. She said, ‘Well, come in and let’s meet. Let’s get to work,’ and it just happened by chance in that moment, after trying diligently to try to figure it all out.”
From Call of Duty Voice Acting to Writing
Bloom was a natural at voice acting and his work eventually led to him working on Call of Duty as a voice actor, working on nine titles before joining the writing staff and voicing characters in Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare. But the shooter series has been much more than just another job for him.
“It’s been an amazing evolution and journey, super organic. I never saw, in the beginning, and I mean this in the best way, Call of Duty or the franchise as an opportunity to turn my life or my career into something,” said Bloom. “But I think, sometimes, great things can happen more naturally. This is an example of that. I did Call of Duty: Finest Hour in 2004. That’s 18 years ago. So maybe I’m one of the people who’s still connected to this, who’s been around since the beginning. I think there are some of our [executives] in this company who have not been here that long. So again, it’s not a contest of who’s been here the longest or anything like that at all, by the way.”
Transitioning to writing the lines and saying them instead of just saying them was a move that Bloom was able to make thanks to an unlikely source: the oft-forgotten 2010 A-Team movie that he helped write.
“It worked out that way and the way it turned into writing was I just was coming in to do some voiceover sometime in  or so. I remember I was going to go do some voiceover and one of the guys who’s still on the team now, who I work very, very closely with, was starting to work on narrative as narrative was becoming more important. He had seen the movie, The A-Team, which I wrote with Joe Carnahan. I’d been Joe’s ghost and silent writing partner for several years.
“This came up naturally in a voiceover session, and to make a long story short, said, ‘Hey, man, we’ve been referencing that scene where they fly the tank.’ And I was like, ‘I remember when we wrote that, we came up with that.’ This is Justin Harris, by the way, who’s still on the team. He said, ‘Man, we’d love to get some of that energy into what we’re doing now. The encounter had narrative and it had character and it had style and it was over the top and it was interesting, but it was sort of grounded in some real military stuff.’ Then it was also this kind of empowerment fantasy, being able to use this machine in this different way.”
Harris would then ask Bloom to informally talk about story beats and what worked before a more formal meeting was set with Infinity Ward.
“I got asked to with a huge group of people, most of them are not here now, some of them still are, to break down the Modern Warfare [games] that had been made up to that point,” recalled Bloom. “By the way, they weren’t making a new Modern Warfare title at the time, but [the first three] existed, and they wanted to know, ‘What would you have done differently, or how would you fix [issues]? What would you cite that you think could have been better?’ Just a totally normal way to do an after-action or post-mortem on something.
“We had fun with it and worked our way. I must have done all right. And they asked me to start consulting on story and on narrative and on characters. I’ve just gone deeper and deeper as the years have gone on and eventually started writing most of it. I call it ‘chasing the blinking cursor’ and I’ve been chasing the blinking cursor for Call of Duty for a long time. It’s been an honor and a pleasure and a challenge for us to always outdo ourselves, and I hope we always do. I hope we will this time as well. I think we will.”
Crafting Realistic Stories That Are Unique to Games
While Bloom has plenty of Hollywood experience, he admits that the process in gaming requires a different approach.
“The process is different because it’s made with agency and because everything’s really created in the box, except for one thing. Something that’s really interesting to think about in regards to that is that we do ‘film,’ [and I’m] using that word sort of proverbially. We shoot, we tape, we record people, and do our best version of the uncanny valley with these one-to-one with so many of our characters. And we bring in technical advisors, guys from Seal Team Six and Delta and Rangers. When we worked on Infinite Warfare, we had Naval Advisors, and this is the place where the carbon-based life gets brought into all those ones and zeros.”
It’s a marriage of technical skill and real human elements where the team has to find a way to balance both in a way where it’s simultaneously believable and also an entertaining video game. Bloom talks about finding the “apron string” between authenticity and the outrageous and calls it a “beautiful blend of entertainment and authenticity.”
“That’s what’s really interesting about the narrative and part of the animation departments, if you will, on a game and particularly on our game is we work hard to get it right, and to find authenticity and to keep things grounded and to work with people there. Because in some of the other things that we’re creating, we’re imitating and taking photogrammetry. Again, always using inspiration from real life, whether it be the headlines or location, but the narrative department is one of the places where the heartbeat is put into all of the ones and zeros, if that makes sense.”
Creating E3N, One of Call of Duty’s Best Characters
One of the highlights of Bloom’s run as a Call of Duty writer is creating memorable characters, like Infinite Warfare‘s E3N, a great robot character that’s also known as Ethan and isn’t entirely unlike the more memorable and witty droids seen in the Star Wars films, like Rogue One‘s K-2SO. But even with some similarities, E3N stood apart, which was a key target for the team.
“The process when it comes to characters is always looking for analogs. Not to copy, right? Not to copy but to be inspired by, and to see where people have been successful and what people have been interested in and see if we can do something with it, confound it, make it more interesting, make it better, make our own version of it,” Bloom told ComingSoon. “Own it for our audience and for our mechanics and systems and features and our narrative. E3N was an interesting example because you can’t base him on real life. So that’s an exceptional little area of its own there, but in that case really quickly, we looked around at our favorite movies and characters where there had been some kind of A.I. that was in some way, sentient and thought, ‘Well, where would that have come from?’
“What I always try to do is start with something real and see how much of whatever’s real we can hold onto. Real isn’t necessarily what Boston Dynamics is doing with a robot, for example, [although] that’s real too. You talk to your Navy Seal advisors and you say, ‘If there were something mechanical with you, what would you want it to do? What would be its strengths? Where do you think the weaknesses would be? What might the blind spots be?’ Again, try to build it from something carbon-based, if that’s possible, and I think we were pretty successful there.”
Bloom also credits actor Jeff Nordling for humanizing the robot, adding that “carbon base” that he seems to find crucial.
“When we cast Jeff Nordling, we were looking for somebody who was going to help humanize this character. And we were going to stay away from the HAL 9000 approach and go in the opposite direction and say, ‘How much person can we get into this?’ Jeff really helped a lot. No matter what, when you’re building characters, hopefully, you’re building relationships.”
Evolving Call of Duty as Gaming Changes
Video games continue to evolve, and few series demonstrate that better than Call of Duty, which, even though the quality can differ between entries, offers a robust package of multiplayer and solo content. As such, Bloom has to account for narrative content in multiplayer modes and the greater Call of Duty universe going forward.
“There’s a holistic look at the whole thing, and we’re doing that more and more. I don’t wanna talk about the new title too much, but that’s all evolving and it’s evolving in a direction where it’s happening more, not less. The ambition, of course, is to have the entire piece, in some way, be connected to some strong narrative principles and a strong narrative universe. ”
This opportunity to have a more holistic narrative and Modern Warfare‘s status as a reboot means that the writing team can take old characters and modernize them, letting them play a better role than they did before and serve a larger story in the process. They can now be better characters and take part in a bigger, deeper story.
“What’s awesome about bringing characters back more than once, or even rebooting a character, like we did in many cases with the Modern Warfare 2019 release, is that there are some elements that you have to work with that you can either repurpose or rediscover or reinvent or jettison completely.
“Then going from 2019 into this, and again, not talking too much about where we’re at now, but bringing certain characters back. I’ve written their voice and the actor of course, in the most carbon-based way, have contributed their voice and their body and their physicality and their mentality and their spirit and their performance and their drama and their accents and their colloquialisms and their verbiage to the process. We have found those things, and when we find great ones, we incorporate them and we build on them and we advance them and look for opportunities to use them more. So, it’s great to have another bite at the apple with the characters a second time around. Not meaning another bite, like to fix something that went wrong, [but] to expand on what went right and to make it even better.
“In real life, everything we’re doing is about relationships on some level. So building relationships with the actors, building that trust, learning each other’s voices, learning our capabilities, learning our strengths. We all get better at what we’re doing, and that goes for the entire team across all the modes and all the disciplines that it takes to make the game. Fresh blood is great, too, but there’s also something to be said for the people that have been playing in the band for a while and their call and response just gets better. That’s natural.”
Bloom, who is still an active voice actor, continues to learn from his roles elsewhere and incorporates those lessons into his work on Modern Warfare II and beyond.
“I think we learned from our successes and we also learn from other people’s [success]. We learn from our mistakes and we learn from other people’s mistakes and I’m always looking at what other people are able to do well and see how it can help me get better, help my team get better, and how I can bring something into the Call of Duty universe, the Call of Duty narrative universe. That’s gonna make it more awesome and continue to move things forward.”