In the game, Riley is outfitted with several gadgets based on technology employed by his real-world counterparts. For players, Riley's battlefield perspective can be glimpsed through a camera mounted to the back of his tactical suit, and he can receive orders, such as creating distractions or taking down enemies, issued from afar by players.
To make Riley as believable as possible, the gamemakers first met with a retired Navy SEAL and his former military service dog to learn more about how soldiers and hounds work together. They later cast a pair of pooches, a German Shepherd named Ruger and a smaller Belgian Malinois called Rico, to be digitally captured for the game.
"We had several mo-cap (motion-capture) shoots, and some of them we just had to write off as learning experiences,'' said "Ghosts'' lead animator Zach Volker, who noted that if players look close enough, they'll be able to spot the differences between the two dogs portraying Riley. "Once we got a better idea of how to work with the dogs, we all became more efficient.''
Ruger and Rico were outfitted with custom motion-capture gear made from form-fitting suits intended for dogs with skin conditions. Neversoft mo-cap supervisor Kristina Adelmeyer said they originally wore special booties on their paws so dozens of cameras could film their range of motion. However, they didn't act natural in their fancy footwear.
"We ended up using these pieces of tape that the mo-cap system could see as markers,'' said Adelmeyer.
Rico provided the biting and tackling, while Ruger performed the movements. Chris Connell, Ruger's trainer, said during a demonstration of his abilities at Neversoft earlier this month that the biggest challenge for the Schutzhund competition champion -- that's German for "protection dog'' -- was playing make-believe.
"In this environment, we didn't have trees or grass,'' said Connell. "It was like, `OK, Ruger. Pretend we're in a desert area and act accordingly.' Ruger is like, `Dude, this is a studio with mats like people do exercises on at the gym, and there's white lines on the ground.' Just trying to get him to act as if it was a real environment was the hardest thing.''
The inclusion of a dog in the violent, mature series begs the question: Will "Ghosts'' have an "Old Yeller'' moment?
"Everybody thinks we're going to kill the dog,'' said Rubin. "Maybe that's the expected thing we would do, so maybe it's not what we'll do? We'll see. People around here didn't know, and they had that same sentiment: `We better not kill the dog.' The emotional investment for the dog here has been just as strong as what's happening out in the public.''