The Call of Duty XP event took place in a giant hangar on Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. It was the place to be for 6,000 die-hard Call of Duty fans who are anxiously anticipating the Nov. 8 launch of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, the latest installment in the best-selling video game series of all time.
The XP event was a gift to fans and proceeds were donated to the Call of Duty Endowment, which helps veterans adjust to civilian life. But it was also a marketing extravaganza that was meant to capture the hearts and minds of the most devoted first-person shooter fans. If Activision can snare these folks and keep them away from Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 3 game, it will command the high ground in the battle for billions of dollars in game sales. That’s because fans like Darin Verduzco (pictured above) from West Sacramento, Calif., can help spread word of mouth about whether the game lives up to the highest expectations or not. Verduzco got his face painted at the Dew Bunker, sponsored by soda maker Mountain Dew.
The media got a sneak peek at the multiplayer version of Modern Warfare 3 on Thursday night, a day before the big crowd arrived. The briefing for 200 media outlets took place inside the huge quarter-mile-long hangar where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose “flying boat” aircraft in the 1940s. The stage itself was impressive, and it would later be host to entertainers Dropkick Murphys and Kanye West.
This military helicopter greeted guests in the VIP lounge. It looks like they couldn’t finish it in time for the event, or maybe crashed it on the way.
Let’s see if we have everything on our checklist for a media spectacle. Security guard, check. Video camera jockey, check. Women in short skirts, uh, check.
As the presentation finished Thursday night, there was a mad scramble for the machines. But Microsoft had hundreds of Xbox 360s on hand to keep the hungry addicts in the media satisfied.
Players could reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour in the zip line that towered above the complex. The zip line is a reminder of the Kowloon multiplayer map in the Call of Duty Black Ops First Strike map pack where you could zoom down a zipline onto unsuspecting enemies.
In this section with glowing green lights, you could play a new version of multiplayer gaming for Modern Warfare 3: Spec Ops survival mode. In the game, you pair up with a friend and fight off wave after wave of computer-controlled enemies charging at you.
As the event kicked off for the public on Friday, teams of professional gamers gathered to compete for $1 million in prizes. Many of the teams came from around the world and are celebrities for their skill in playing past Call of Duty games.
At the Dew Bunker, players could get their faces painted so they looked like badass Call of Duty warriors. The Joker was quite popular, as where the Guy Fawkes masks from V for Vendetta, the emblem of the Anonymous hacktivist group.
Larry Hyrb, also known as Major Nelson, is Microsoft’s lead voice in Xbox social media. He announced on his Twitter account that Microsoft would release a limited edition Xbox 360 for Modern Warfare 3. The $399 bundle comes with a big hard drive, Modern Warfare 3, and some related paraphernalia, including the battle-scarred case for the console. It debuts on Nov. 8.
The view of the hangar from the outside shows how big it was. So many people attended that traffic backed up along Jefferson Boulevard in Playa Vista and slowed down traffic on the 405 freeway. I guess you could call it the Call of Duty Carmageddon.
Gamers couldn’t play the single player campaign for Modern Warfare 3, but multiplayer was fair game. Activision showed off five of the 16 maps that will be part of the disk when it ships on Nov. 8.
Inside an authentic armory, one live soldier and two fake ones wore Ghillie suits, which are the camouflage outfits from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and are ideal for hiding out in grassy fields. Can you guess which one is a real person? (answer: the one on the left).
The armory also had a good collection of weaponry. I’ve wielded just about every one of these weapons — in the virtual world of the games.
I’ve felt the impact of many of these grenades over the years, but I never got to see one up close. Now don’t touch that little ring ….
The XP event had more than 500 soldiers on hand from real life. They were invited as special guests to participate in matches against sports stars and to otherwise enjoy themselves. These guys, on the other hand, were on guard in the armory, so I think they were actors. Do they look like the real thing?
Is this a preview of the next Call of Duty game? No, it was a sumo wresting arena where you could blow off a lot of steam.
In case you needed a flak jacket or helmet, the armory had plenty to spare. I don’t think I saw any gamers wearing one.
The tiny speck in the middle is basketball star Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics. He showed his outstanding skill at Call of Duty in challenges against real troops who played from inside the hangar as well as at military bases around the world. Garnett was actually an excellent player.
Activision must have raided a lot of the Hollywood props warehouses, for the XP premises were littered with military vehicles from the games.
Activision built a real-life Burger Town burger joint outside the hangar. Burger Town is a faux fast-food franchise that appears in the Modern Warfare 2 game. In advertising last year’s Call of Duty Black Ops game, Activision ran a cool commercial that showed how every one could become a hero, even a fast-food worker. The guy on the left is the dude from the popular commercial advertising the Annihilation map pack for Black Ops. The place sold burgers for $12 each.
The paintball compound featured a replica of the Scrapyard multiplayer map from Modern Warfare 2. I had a chance to film a paintball match between the American Task Force 141 and the OpFor (opposing force) terrorists. The guys in brown didn’t win.
Just about everybody on the brown team got splattered with green paint.
Celebrities big and minor showed up to be seen and associated with the Call of Duty name, which has become a kind of pop culture phenomenon.
Here’s a picture of the die-hard fans, who whooped and hollered with every new feature in the multiplayer version of the game. They clearly detested the “last stand” feature that allowed players to shoot back while crawling on the ground, after someone had taken them out. I could tell they detested it because they roared with applause when Activision announced there would be no “last stands” in Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer (except for the really newbie players).
Jeep announced a new Call of Duty edition of its Jeep Wrangler vehicle. The company gave test drives and gave away one at the end of the event.
Dave Stohl, executive vice president of studios for Activision Publishing, gets to call the shots about how many Call of Duty games to do. The company stepped up from one game every couple of years to one game every year as it ramped up past 500 developers working on the games. I asked, but I couldn’t get any details out of Stohl about the next Call of Duty game that will come out after Modern Warfare 3.
Eric Hirshberg, president of Activision Publishing, talks about raising the bar and why Call of Duty is in a class by itself. He’s the man who cut the check for the XP event, so you might want to bug him about doing it again next year.
USA”s team OpTic beat out team Infinity to win the $400,000 prize for the best players of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer. OpTic emerged as the top team in a field of hundreds that played the game in nonstop competition over the course of 48 hours. Overall, Activision gave away more than $1 million in prizes.
[OpTic photo courtesy of Activision]