Schofield: We had to build a studio. We had 40 people at the time. We hired and hired, but maintained the standard we always do. We got the people from all over, but we did get quite a few who worked with us before. We were able to attract the best talent because of what we did with Dead Space, as well as the Call of Duty name.
Condrey: We got talent from a lot of places, like Visceral, Valve, Naughty Dog, Crystal Dynamics, and EA. We always focused on quality. That was our mantra. Infinity Ward had a transition and some needs. We had a lot of really strong talent. It was a great marriage. We wanted to work with one of the best studios in the industry in a co-development environment. We had management and experience with story. They had some of the best first-person shooters in the world and a lot of them stayed. We worked well together.
GamesBeat: Did you find you were learning how to make a Call of Duty game?
Condrey: A lot of us had backgrounds using the same technology base that Call of Duty was using. So we had a familiarity. A lot of us has first-person shooter experience. In the creative space of Call of Duty, we learned about the hero’s journey, the journey of a squad, and the creativity behind it. I think they saw in us a studio that was hungry and was willing to take some risks. With three years and a new engine and a new generation of hardware and a new brand, you’ll see this is not the same old Call of Duty.
Schofield: Dead Space was a quality game. But when we came to Call of Duty, we realized we had to raise our A game even higher. You realize how many people are playing the game. It was an honor to work on it. We learned a lot from Infinity Ward. And they learned from us too. After that one game was under our belt, Activision entrusted us with this new intellectual property in the Call of Duty universe. It’s very humbling.
GamesBeat: Did you share much technology?
Schofield: For this game? No. We really upgraded the characters with a new facial system. We are lighting the game in a new way. All of it is new. It’s next generation, and it’s 40 years in the future. There is really nothing you can borrow. This game had to be done from scratch.
Condrey: We spent three years building our tech. We shared our builds with other studios. We branched into different paths. Infinity Ward went to build Call of Duty: Ghosts. We asked for feedback and vice versa. We know it’s a fan base that is 40 million strong. We were given the charter to deliver something on our own.
GamesBeat: Did you miss doing your third-person Call of Duty?
Schofield: We liked what we were doing. But this has been a lot of fun. This is really a brand new franchise within Call of Duty. It’s a new intellectual property. We have new characters and story. What they drive is brand new.
GamesBeat: Compared to something like Titanfall, is there a different experience you think people will have with the exoskeleton?
Schofield: We can talk about that a little bit. We worked on the game for at least a year and a half before we even saw Titanfall. Then we heard and saw a little bit. But we were probably in development almost two years before the game came out and we could play it and understand what it is. So our game is nothing to do with Titanfall.
We have an upgrade system in the game, the first time we’ve had it in campaign. That’s all about the exoskeleton. We have a new HUD because of the exoskeleton. We went and researched it at Berkeley and talked to MIT and NASA. It’s nothing to do with Titanfall. Here and there you’ll have similarities, but –
GamesBeat: — this is still something people have not seen before, this kind of experience?
Condrey: It’s rooted in what makes Call of Duty great, but with this added movement set. It’s pretty radical, too. The way you play Call of Duty will be fundamentally different from what you’re used to. 60 frames per second, fast, competitive, all those things you know from the past, but we’ve spent a lot of time listening to what people want.
GamesBeat: It makes the fast movement a little more plausible.
Schofield: Melee now, you punch a guy and send him flying 10 feet. It’s much more visceral. There are different layers to what the suit can do, though, without making you feel completely like Superman. The strength, the jumping, the quickness of throwing the guy when you come in that room to capture him. It has many different layers.
GamesBeat: Can you have an actual fist fight now, instead of just sending a guy flying out of the world with one punch?
Schofield: In the future, the combatants are going to have a lot of this stuff as well. In this game, you’re fighting a very advanced team. In some cases they may have a leg up on you. You have the boost jump, but so do they. Where we use the strength on some of those things is when you sneak up on a guy. We have some stealth areas. Or not focused areas, but just instances where you can use stealth to get the drop on someone.
It changes some of your tactics. Now you have boost dodge. You can get out of the way quicker. We use that in different ways to change how we set the gameplay up. I’m not covered in a suit. I just have something on my arms and legs. A bullet still kills me.
Above: Sledgehammer Games’ founders, Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
GamesBeat: You have some big armored soldiers. They tend to be bosses in a lot of other games, that kind of enemy.
Schofield: I guess so? We don’t necessarily have bosses in Call of Duty. We mix up the experience a lot. One place, you’ll be in a dogfight. Another, you’ll be racing in a boat. Yet another, you’ll be ripping a car door off and using that to block the drone swarm coming at you. We won’t necessarily have a boss fight. Just all of a sudden, “Oh, shit. I’ve got one of these big guys. How am I going to deal with that?” That sort of tactical stuff.
The thing is, you have boost jump. You can jump over them quickly and get behind them. It’s a matter of how you use their tactics.
Condrey: The U.S. government just started speaking publicly about something called the Talos project, which is essentially an armored exo soldier of the future. They say it’s battlefield ready in two years. It’s working now. If you look up the Talos system, it’s like the AST. A little smaller. Sort of a cross between Iron Man and our AST. But we know that’s where the technology is going.
Schofield: I saw an interview with one of the guys designing it. They’re one of the companies Hollywood goes to design suits. They worked on Iron Man. We’re waiting for them to call us. They’ll want to put the boost jump on and all that.
Condrey: It’s true. The U.S. military is going to the Hollywood guys and saying, “What’s the design?” One thing I can say on the multiplayer side, with three years to develop, it’s given us a ton of time to listen to our fans. We’ve had a good opportunity to listen to all the feedback on MW3 and Ghosts and things about the competitive space and the needs of the eSports community, as well as the general public. Good matchmaking and ways to make it so that new players can onboard and have a great experience. Making it feel like there’s a great reward system, where everyone can have a chance to get in and have a lot of fun. There’s a lot we’re going to talk about to specifically address those groups — making sure the onboarding experience is unique and making sure the competitive space feels like they’ve been heard.
GamesBeat: I wondered how you’d react to something I’d heard from Dan Connors at Telltale. They specialize in story all of the time. Everything they’re doing, it’s about a story unfolding. He was saying that in a Call of Duty game, you see the cinematic, it delivers a story, and then you go play. But you play for such a long time that you forget about the story. Then the next cinematic plays and reminds you. It sounds like some of the solution to this problem of how your story could be compelling, but you forget about it before you finish with the gameplay, is that you embed more of this drama into the gameplay.
Schofield: I know exactly what he’s saying, but you could say that about a Dead Space game as well. What we wanted to do, as I said, is get some of the storytelling into the level. We have audio logs you’ll get in the game, telling more of the backstory. We have this video log. Because we have this next-generation HUD system, it can come up in the middle of the game. Someone can just pop up and talk to you and tell you where to go.
The story’s been very important. I hope that we’ve reminded people and told them all along the way what happens. Some of the gameplay stuff that you’re doing is going to remind you of the story. It’s part of the story. In the middle of the level, you’ll be talking and finding out more about the story. I know what he’s saying, but we’ve worked our butts off on this.
Above: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Image Credit: Activision
GamesBeat: It also has the sort of sidekick convention. This Gideon character, if he’s always there communicating with you, you get the feeling of being part of the story.
Schofield: That’s a good point. One of the other things we tried to get across is some humor, some banter between the guys. But also, at the same time, you’re going to see their relationship develop in-game. “Don’t worry, we got this.” “Hey, try this, take this.” Some back and forth, helping each other out. If we get you to like Gideon, to understand more of the characters, you’ll follow the story better as well. So we try not to go, story, 20 minutes, story again.
Condrey: In fairness, some games in the genre, you might not even get a story before that 20 minutes. You just get a bunch of objectives and briefing stuff. For us, we’ve tried to take the objectives and put them into the level so you can follow the story that way.
We’ve married that with the single protagonist. The way to get attached to a character is to have time with that character. For me, I’m excited about the fact that I’m not going to jump around between multiple characters. I’m going to play Private Mitchell on his 10-year journey. That’s hopefully going to make me emotionally attached to his story.
Schofield: In the cinematics, he narrates. He’s telling you the story. You see who he is. A lot of games, you purposely don’t have the main character talk at all. Then at some point we say, “Okay, you’re not going to talk in the level, because we want you to feel like you’re Mitchell.” But in the cinematics, he tells the story.
We went back and looked at all the stuff we did for Modern Warfare 3. We’d have a movie for about a minute, and probably 40 seconds of that was telling you what you’re going to do in the next level. By then, people are just like, “Click.” And once it’s over they think the story sucked, because they skipped through it. In this case, it’s about the story. We have some really good actors. Not only do we have Spacey, but we have Troy Baker.
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