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Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey feel like Call of Duty: WWII is a personal passion project for the employees in their studio. Sledgehammer Games is making this year’s Call of Duty game, and they’re taking it back to its roots in the Second World War.
In the single-player campaign revealed today, you’ll play as soldiers in a squad in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division, known as The Big Red One or The Fighting First. The division saw a lot of action throughout the war, starting in North Africa in Tunisia. It moved on to Sicily, Normandy, Aachen, and the Ardennes, the site of the Battle of the Bulge.
It felt personal to Schofield because his grandfather was a decorated veteran who won a Purple Heart medal while part of the 34th Infantry Division. Condrey and Schofield visited battlefields in Europe, such as the freezing Hürtgen Forest in Germany to the beaches of Normandy in France. From that, they developed a huge amount of respect for the sacrifices made by ordinary soldiers on all sides, Condrey said. And many of those veterans are no longer around to tell their stories in a truthful, unvarnished way.
Sledgehammer set out to make a fun first-person shooter, but it will tell the story from the eyes of a squad of ordinary grunts. They will run into situations that expose the dark side the war as well as the diversity of the combatants, including the exploits of African-American soldiers and women leading the French Resistance.
“To make sure this story is told and heard—it’s time for us to retell it. That’s a huge honor,” said Condrey.
Both Condrey and Schofield will speak at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit event on May 1-2 in Berkeley, California. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You were saying this was personal. You were researching your grandfather?
Glen Schofield: Yeah, that’s where I started. We had the meeting where we decided to do WWII and we’re all high-fiving. Then we think, “Oh shit, what part?” Everybody had their own place where they started to research. It was just a few of us. But that’s where I started. We wrapped back to Normandy. We didn’t want to shy away from that.
GamesBeat: What did you pull out of that research?
Schofield: We all got, very early on, as we were doing this—the word is “respect.” I only knew him until I was 12 or so, but I would have never known he was a hero. He never talked about it. As a matter of fact, my father never even mentioned him getting a Purple Heart until I saw this two and a half years ago, or the Bronze Star. It’s just a different generation. Nowadays you’d hear about it. They were very humble. That, I think, is what I got out of it.
Michael Condrey: I find that’s the most powerful thing about the people we’ve heard from, family members that tell their stories. There was a story of a man who landed on D-Day. He was hit three times before he made it up the beach. He was shot in the jaw, and then he stepped on a mine, and then he got shot in the shoulder. He made it across the beach, which took about 12 hours, and he didn’t describe himself as a “hero.” Doesn’t consider himself heroic. He talks about the men who fell as the heroes. He talked about everyone else in terms of heroism, but not himself. It’s remarkable. It was a different era.
GamesBeat: It’s a lot different from going into a game expecting you to take out 45 people in the first level.
Condrey: In Modern Warfare 3 you’re a tier one operator, the best of the best. In Advanced Warfare you’re the tier one operator of the future. Those were great stories to tell, but this is different. This is about the common man and the camaraderie of a squad, how they came together to persevere. It’s a different motivation.
GamesBeat: I was talking to one of your other staff about how you’re re-creating an experience, more so than playing a game.
Schofield: I hope so, yeah. Playing a game—we’ve discussed this a lot. To me, a game is a toy. What we’re creating is art. “Game” doesn’t feel deep enough for what we make nowadays. They used to be more and more game-like. Now they’re story-driven, emotion-driven, all sorts of things. It’s an evolution of the art.
GamesBeat: But it’s still very interactive.
Schofield: That’s the key to this one. We want to put you—the difference between, say, storming the beach in an earlier game and storming the beach in this game is that we can really make you feel like you’re there. With bigger 4K screens now and better sound systems, everything is working together to make this thing put you in the boots there. I hate to use the obvious terms, but that’s what we’re trying to do.
GamesBeat: And you’re aiming this at an audience that isn’t as familiar with the history?
Schofield: I hope you, who have experienced this and played these games before—the idea is that we make games for ourselves. We’ve all experienced that. We said, “Okay, what I want to do in a new game, since I’ve played all of these before? How do I want to make it more immersive?” What we wanted to do is make it more realistic, like you’re really there.
Condrey: I think of Force Awakens. For me, who grew up as a Star Wars fan, it was powerful to come back to that. If a viewer is having their first Star Wars experience, it’s a great film as well. Whether this is your first Call of Duty WWII experience, or the first one you’ve played in 10 years, we hope it’s an emotionally powerful new way to play, a new narrative, an experience you haven’t had in a long time.
GamesBeat: Your talk at the GamesBeat Summit is about inspiring creativity. What was it like doing that with your team, inspiring them to work on another Call of Duty and another WWII game?
Schofield: I’ve thought about this a lot since my career took me over to the creative side. These days, with ideas—you can go home nowadays and say, “Okay, I’ll come up with that idea in two days. I got that.” You have to find a way to have ideas all the time, or how to inspire them, because every day is 100 new ideas. Some of them are tiny. Some of them are giant mechanics. We have to make sure we get our team thinking about being creative and thinking differently, thinking deeper.
A lot of times it takes an example from us. We were trying to think of a new beginning a year and a half ago. Maybe we can do this, maybe we can do that. One of us said, “Why don’t you take the eleventh level and put it in the beginning?” It wasn’t that that was the example, but it got them thinking, “Oh, wow, we can go that far? Good.” That’s what we do all the time. We have to always be getting people excited and inspired.
One of the guys came to me yesterday. We had a meeting about his level a couple of days earlier, with a new team, and they were so excited by it. Yesterday they came to me and they wanted to pitch me this new little part that they wanted to add. That was powerful. I’d much rather do that than be the guy saying, “This is my idea.” It’s fun to discover these ideas now. That’s our job.