Multiplayer combat in Call of Duty games has never been that social. You shoot the other players, or perhaps insult them in voice chat, and move on to the next game. But with Call of Duty: WWII, developer Sledgehammer Games designed the experience to be more social and memorable.
Publisher Activision and Sledgehammer showcased the Headquarters hub of WWII this week to show what it means. The Headquarters hub enables 48 players to gather in a group that spans more than just a single clan. It’s a group that can share achievements, videos, leaderboards, and compete with each other in one-on-one sessions to see who is the best at a particular skill. Even when you played in clans before, there were very few ways to communicate in the game.
Michael Condrey, co-studio head and cofounder of Sledgehammer Games in San Mateo, California, believes that the hub will lead to better engagement and closer ties that will keep players in a more fulfilling Call of Duty experience. And he believes there’s no better time for that because Call of Duty is returning to World War II combat for the first time since 2008.
I caught up with Condrey at the Call of Duty booth at Gamescom, the huge event for gamers that drew hundreds of thousands to Cologne, Germany. I played the latest multiplayer map, Gibraltar, and talked with Condrey about Headquarters.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Michael Condrey: Gibraltar’s history is really remarkable. Super fascinating. I really enjoyed my time there. The multiplayer takes you to a few other places. You saw one in the reveal trailer, a battle on the USS Texas in the English Channel. That’s unique. There are a couple of others we haven’t talked about yet.
Gibraltar’s fascinating. The English and the Spanish fought over Gibraltar for decades. At one point, Churchill decided he was going to fortify it, a huge endeavor to fortify the Rock. Using 1940s technology, they bored through the Rock of Gibraltar, 55 kilometers of tunnels. There was so much rock taken out of these siege tunnels that they built the airport right at the base of it. They built hospitals, barracks, kitchens, garages. It’s Swiss cheese now, full of holes, all because that strategic anchor was so important. They have a British naval base there now. It’s a big refueling center now for access to the Mediterranean. And a lot of it’s been preserved as a memorial.
GamesBeat: Did it ever see any action?
Condrey: It was bombed, and there were some naval battles, but nothing on land. It’s unique, though, because on the top of Gibraltar, they had these giant guns with a 12-mile range. North Africa is only seven miles away. They could shoot five miles into Africa. It was a huge power play to control shipping into the Mediterranean. There was a huge investment there. Gibraltar is new to the beta. We also have another map that we can’t talk about now.
GamesBeat: It’s a very tight map. It seems like it has very small areas.
Condrey: We’d call it a medium-sized map. It’s bigger than the Pointe du Hoc map, for sure. It’s good for objective gameplay like Hardpoint. It has the side flanking routes and some elevation change, which is cool. I like the elevation change, because it gives you this feeling of different ways to approach threats and threat lanes.
You’re playing with divisions now, part of the player progression, so you can see what it’s like to pick your division and your basic training.
GamesBeat: Can you swap that on the fly, or are you committing to one division?
Condrey: There are five divisions. You progress on every one of them. As you progress, you have the ability to unlock different divisions. I have a series of unlock tokens, and I can use those to create a new division or unlock basic training. Our soldier really has two fundamental choices now: what division do you want to be in and what single basic training you want to take. Unlike before, in Pick 10, which had lots of choices — we found that those two choices still allow players to craft their own play style.
I’ll unlock a new one here. It tells you what you get. The infantry there get the bayonet on the rifles. Airborne gets the suppressors. Each division has a unique skill. Let’s do expeditionary. I get a unique skin, a uniform, and I get the shotgun with incendiary shells, which do damage over time. I can add one basic training — take two primaries, or reload faster.
GamesBeat: What does “forage” there mean?
Condrey: I can pick up more ammunition from downed enemies. Each of these is a skill you can unlock as you progress, and you choose one. Your division plus your basic training skill defines your soldier. I can go in and customize. I’ll unlock different unique uniforms. This is unique to the expeditionary force, so if you see him you know where he’s from. Obviously you can go in and personalize your weapons. You can choose from a number of score streaks. Right now the beta only allows you to progress to level 20, so this is just a slice of all the new options.
GamesBeat: You’re mixed in with everybody else, right? You’re not grouped with other people in the same division.
Condrey: That’s right. It’s just Allied versus Axis. Within each side, it’ll be a makeup of different divisions. It’s great for something like our new War mode, where you’re going to want to have some guys with smoke grenades that are fast, and some mountain division guys with big LMGs. It allows you to craft a team of different people if you party up.
GamesBeat: How many maps are you expecting to launch with?
Condrey: In line with other Call of Duty games — and this doesn’t include the War maps or Headquarters — we’ll have at least 10 multiplayer maps, Zombies, campaign. It’s pretty robust.
We showed Headquarters to everybody as part of the presentation before we started. You know the concept of Headquarters, right? This has been going for six years, since the beginning of Advanced Warfare, trying to bring your character to life and really personalize yourself and bring you to the war. Now we want to give you place that’s not just the war. It’s a social place you can be rewarded. This is a piece we’re going to unveil tomorrow.
You and I, over the years, have probably had about the same kill/death ratio, game to game. Something like that allows you to really hone in on — I’m not one that gets a lot of kill streaks and things like that, but with that you’re able to practice so that when you do get it, it’s a lot more effective. There are lots of things like that that you can do to improve.
GamesBeat: Usually when I get it it’s a surprise, and then I think, “Hey, wait, I don’t know how to do this.”
Condrey: Most people have that experience, right? Even Brian and I, we’re pretty good, but every new year you get a score streak and you think, “What is this? How am I supposed to use it?” Then you’ve wasted it. But you can go in and practice things like the turret gunner, one of the really high-end ones, similar to the chopper gunner in Black Ops II.
The cool thing for us is, we know that a whole bunch of players just want to be social and do things that aren’t gun-on-gun action. You can hang out and be social. You can party up. You can customize your guys. You can go play Zombies from Headquarters.