Can Advanced Warfare reinvent Call of Duty?

By Matt Martin, Friday, 3 October 2014 17:00 GMT

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Meet the team charged with reinvigorating Call of Duty

Explosions and words.

When I listen back to a recording of my time in a presentation of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, all I can hear are distorted explosions, clattering gunfire and Kevin Spacey’s belligerent words: “Power determines who’s right. And I have the power, so I’m right.”

The worry is that this is all bombast. Call of Duty isn’t known for it’s subtlety – what game about world war is? The difference for me with Advanced Warfare is that the developers behind it – Michael Condry and Glen Schofield – are open, genuine, humble people. There’s no doubt that they, and the rest of the team at Sledgehammer Games, have worked hard over the past three years.

The fact Activision has given them three years to work on reinventing the Call of Duty franchise speaks volumes, I think. It’s easy to see yearly releases as cynical, marginally updated games churned out to meet that November deadline and boost the Q4 bottom line, but Advanced Warfare isn’t filler like Ghosts turned out to be.

“There’s something about working on something for three years and then it’s over. There’s this emptiness…”

The more I see of it, the more I buy into the vision that Advanced Warfare can be the adrenaline shot Call of Duty needs.

I’ve interviewed a lot of game developers over the past 12 years. As a general rule, the ones working on smaller projects are more open. The more money pumped into the game, the more corporate they have to become. We don’t run a lot of interviews on VG247 for precisely that reason. No one wants to hear a millionaire run off a list of marketing bullet points. But the guys from Sledgehammer – tasked with building a billion dollar experience – seem free to talk, and a million miles away from the robotic, media-trained mouthpieces that some publishers push to the front.

“Gosh it feels good to have it finally done,” Schofield says during the most recent press tour for the game. “Although there’s something about working on something for three years and then it’s over. There’s this emptiness…”

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Schofield initially looks quite imposing. He wouldn’t look out of place with an AT 4 under each arm. But see him from a distance while he waits for the press to filter into the venue and he’s sketching on his pad – nothing high-tech, just pencil and paper. He carries a portfolio around with him rather than high-powered weaponry, and when I joke that he’s “the George Michael of games development” (for some reason I can’t remember, probably nerd nerves) he doesn’t punch me in the face as that comment deserves. I don’t know many games developers I feel comfortable joking with.

“When Activision came to us three years ago and we were to be only the third studio to work on Call of Duty, it was extremely humbling,” he says. “It’s been a true honour to work on a title like this.”

This new team is clearly bringing a fresh approach to the game and a respectful attitude. It’s isn’t running off at the mouth. Apart from the multiplayer work it did on Modern Warfare 3, the people at Sledgehammer aren’t known for their first-person shooter credentials. Instead, they come from Visceral Games, the studio behind fan-favourite Dead Space.

In this case, not being developed by Treyarch or Infinity Ward is one of Advanced Warfare’s biggest attractions.

“We listened to the fans, we listened to the press and we listened to our hearts,” says Schofield.

“I’ve been working on games for 20 years, and we hope we’ve done the brand justice.

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“Michael (Condry) and I sat back the other day and we had a moment to reflect after working so hard for the past three years. I said to him, ‘is this the best game we’ve ever made?’ We both looked at each other and said ‘yes’. It’s the culmination of all our years of experience.”

From years of interviewing developers and publishers, advertisers and marketing people, you can usually tell those that are going through the motions and those that are still genuinely excited about their game. Not their product, but their game. When Schofield says “I hope you enjoy it”, it’s genuine.

Now the journey is almost over – the game is about to be mastered after a final shakedown in time for it’s November release – I ask Schofield how it feels to finish three years of intense work.

“I don’t know whether to cry or laugh,” he says. I believe him.

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