GamesBeat

How Sledgehammer Games became the new Call of Duty studio (interview)

GamesBeat: The third-person games, like Uncharted, they can tell you a lot about the character because you’re looking at them. You don’t have that advantage when you’re only in first-person. How do you deal with that?

Schofield: You’ll see the other characters looking to you, talking to you. That happens throughout the game. “Mitchell, go get this!” He’s not led along, as if he’s just the handyman. But he’s telling the story when you get outside him. In some places he’ll be narrating over it. I think you’ll get to know the character quite a bit. We put in a lot of backstory.

We tried to have a couple of surprises along the way with the other characters. You think one thing about one guy, like Spacey. You’re going to love him in the beginning, the first few levels. Half the game it’ll be like, this guy’s great! He’s powerful, rich, helping out the world. You’ll see it in his performance. When he came on the set, he elevated everyone’s performance. He got to know all the other actors. They’d sit and eat lunch all the time. There was a good camaraderie between the four or five of them. That comes across.

Condrey: You talk about motivating your cinematic team.

Schofield: We never told the actors, either. He shows up on set one day and they’re like, “What the heck?”

Condrey: Back to what I thought was transformational for me in a first-person shooter, it was the first time I played the original Half-Life. Being immersed in the world of Gordon Freeman. I never saw or heard Gordon Freeman. I was Gordon Freeman. But it was the storytelling around him that was so compelling.

For me, with the rich acting from Kevin—like House of Cards, you just want to watch him. Troy Baker, Gideon Emery, these strong performers around him, I think it’s an exciting opportunity to be Mitchell and go on that journey.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare E3 2014

Schofield: Over the last couple of months, and we’re still doing it now — as the game comes together, that’s one of the big things we’re focus testing. Did you understand this? Did you feel you knew enough about this character? There are holes where we as writers knew all the backstory, but we realized, “Oh, we assume too much here.” We do pickups and go back and add scenes.

That’s another thing those three years have allowed us. As we play through, we can go back and help you understand what happened. What we don’t want is a moment where you’re like, “This is good, this is good…wait, I don’t understand this. I’ll still play the game, because I’m having fun, but I don’t get the story.” How many times has that happened? So we’re aware of that.

Condrey: Let’s be honest. We all feel that way. We have amazing gameplay in Call of Duty, but sometimes, with the multi-hero convention and the multiple locations around the world, all the factions—Even for hardcore Call of Duty guys, it’s like, “I was in the favela, but who was I again? Why was I there?” I love those games. You’re not going to find a bigger fan than me. But sticking to one protagonist and his journey is going to be really identifiable.

GamesBeat: Do you value that part enough that you see that as part and parcel of Advanced Warfare? Would you always do it this way, with a single character?

Schofield: It worked well for us on Dead Space. On Dead Space, he was an engineer. He was an everyday guy. We wanted you to be able to relate to him, even if he’s off in space and all. “He’s not some space warrior. That could be me up there.” He started out as just a guy looking for his girlfriend.

This is a guy who’s a patriot, but he’s just joined the military. He’s kind of green. What’s going on here? And he’s thrust into a crazy situation right away. But he’s an everyday guy. How does an everyday guy deal with all this stuff?

One thing that we’ve always tried, even on Modern Warfare 3, was to tell a good story. We really have tried. People are always putting down the game industry for telling stories – we don’t tell stories well. But if you think back 10 or 12 years ago, the game industry was stuck in licensed products. For a while there, we made James Bond games, Lord of the Rings games. We made all these games where a story was just given to us. Then we come out of it, licensed products are behind us, and it’s taken us a few years to understand how to tell a great story in a game.

Condrey: There are amazing stories, great narratives in media now. Every time I turn on Game of Thrones, it’s some of the best TV I’ve ever seen. That has multiple characters you become attached to – and then they get snatched away sometimes. So I don’t think we could say with absolute certainty that we’re always going to do a single-protagonist story with Call of Duty. There’s some real emotion attached to losing a character you care about, and continuing on. But for this one, that’s how we want to tell the story.

The studio at Sledgehammer where you can play and watch Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on a big screen.

Above: The studio at Sledgehammer where you can play and watch Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on a big screen.

Image Credit: Sledgehammer Games

GamesBeat: In the future it looks like it’s easier to kill, and likewise easier to die. What do you do about the problem of survivability? I’m thinking about multiplayer a little, for someone like me — how many minutes would I last — but in general, you have a lethal environment. You can see through walls and stuff like that. The poor infantryman in the middle of all this is just going to die and die and die.

Schofield: We realize we have a huge demographic. There are so many thirty- and fortysomething people who play one game a year, and it’s this game. Then you have the hardcore. I think we’ve made a game for everybody. If you play on Recruit or on Regular, we keep adjusting it all along the way. We make sure that we have a game for everyone. We don’t want to alienate any players.

Condrey: We recognize that there’s a part of the experience that’s about mastering the game. Some people want to build up that skill level. Then you have a group of people who are new to the franchise – and probably more now, coming in with the new generation. You have to provide something that feels like a good introduction to the experience – some good middle ground, where you match skills together to make it competitive, but balanced. When we talk about MP in a couple of weeks, I think there will be some things to get people excited. We’ve tried to address that on all fronts.

GamesBeat: Were there some things you think that were going too far toward sci-fi in this game, Like, “We could do that, but maybe in Call of Duty 3000.”

Schofield: A very simple example is holograms. We know that there’s augmented reality out there. But we stopped short of having—If you don’t have goggles on, it’s not like there’s a hologram you can see there. You’ll see a couple of things like that in the levels, but only when you have AR glasses on.

Condrey: Early on, because it’s 40 years in the future—40 years means so much to different people, when you think about what 40 years looks like. We ended up having a bunch of ideas like that – “Is this too far?” “Is this too fiction[y]?” We came back to a core philosophy that everything has to be grounded in research that we know is happening today. If we can find an article or get access to someone who’s building this, we believe it’ll be on the battlefield in 40 years.

Everything you see in the game, we can point you to the article. We can point you to the prototype. We can point you to something that’s actually working now.

Schofield: We’ve seen it or read about it.

Condrey: We’ve gotten introduced to scientists working on it. Directed energy weapons, we know that’s real. One of our early prototypes was a teleportation grenade. Throw a grenade, teleport to where it landed. That doesn’t exist.

Schofield: It was a lot of fun, though.

Condrey: But that was a bridge too far. That was not a Call of Duty grenade type.

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Timothy Green
Timothy Green

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