Messing with success: Sledgehammer talks Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

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Activision is gearing up for its first-ever Call of Duty XP event in Los Angeles September 2 through 3. Developer Sledgehammer Games, which stepped in to help Infinity Ward create Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 after the drama that erupted following the launch of Modern Warfare 2, has revealed new details on the much-anticipated November 8 release. Comprised of key creatives from Electronic Arts, the relatively new Sledgehammer (formed in 2009) is now poised to go head-to-head against its former employer’s Battlefield 3.

Playing for keeps

“Competition is out there every year,” Mike Condrey, vice president and chief operations officer at Sledgehammer Games. “I’ve been developing games for over a decade, and every year there are some really great opportunities for fans. I’m a game fan to start, so it’s interesting. I think competition drives everyone forward. I’ve never complained about there being too many great movies during the summer. It’s the same with games. The more, the better. It pushes innovation. It pushes opportunity and it grows our fan base. That’s all healthy. For Modern Warfare 3, we know where we’re going. We know what we’re true to as far as the core values, and I hope there’s success all across the industry this year.”

Combining forces

Sledgehammer has experience with shooters, as core team members previously worked on EA games like Dead Space, The World Is Not Enough, Agent Under Fire, Nightfire, Everything or Nothing and From Russia with Love. Married with Infinity Ward, which has pushed shooters into the mainstream with the Call of Duty franchise, the two studios have worked together over the past two years on Modern Warfare 3.

“We have a true co-development relationship, which has really been great for us,” said Condrey. “We came to this franchise knowing that we’d be working with the best studio in the genre. We employ a fully integrated co-dev development methodology. It means the best ideas from both teams get put into the game, and we really push each other to bring the best product to the fans.”

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Unlike past co-development relationships like Electronic Arts’ Medal of Honor, which had DICE focus on the multiplayer experience while EA LA created the single-player campaign; Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward aren’t splitting the duties in half.

“It’s very rare and it’s hard to do, but what we found is a ton of talent on both teams with a ton of great ideas, and they really come together in a collaborative and sometimes competitive way that lets the best things get into the game,” said Condrey. “Both teams bring important elements to the table.”

New gameplay modes

Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward had playable levels available at Gamescom and PAX focusing on the game’s new Spec Ops modes, which comes in survival and mission variations.

“Survival can be played as single player or co-op, with either online or split-screen fighting options,” explained Condrey. “The gameplay throws increasingly difficult waves of enemies coming at you for as long as you can survive. It has a ranking and XP system that allows you to rank your character and buy new weapons. It’s a great way to experience playing with a friend in a way that you really haven’t had before in the Modern Warfare line.”

The new Spec Op levels take place in Paris and Berlin, offering new weapons and armory options like “self revive” to the gameplay. The Paris mission introduces a large map good for as many as 18 players. The level of detail within these maps is amazing, right down to the French newspapers stands. There are plenty of old buildings ripe with second story perches that are perfect for sniping.

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“The Berlin mission mode has you and a partner work in a ‘Hurt Locker meets Juggernaut’ scenario to disarm bombs in the streets,” said Condrey. “One player acts as a sniper using the Predator missile to find and mark the locations of the bombs, while the other controls the huge, armored Juggernaut to go in and disarm the weapons.”

Keeping an ear to the ground

Features like these have been developed, in part, thanks to fan feedback from previous games. The two studios have been listening to the over 30 million gamers who engage in Call of Duty combat. Condrey said the developers have been cognizant of the passion that the fans have for this franchise.

“Feedback is key, and I think you really have to be open to constructive criticism to push the game forward,” said Condrey. “There are a lot of great ideas out there. We have community managers at both Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward and they’re both very active online, communicating with fans. Things like bringing back dedicated servers to the PC game came from the fans. That’s just one small example of many changes they’ve asked for.”

Know thy enemy

A lot of changes will also be coming to the online game once Call of Duty Elite launches in tandem with the Call of Duty XP event. Condrey said both studios have been working with the Elite studio to ensure that the service will improve on the game’s core pillars.

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“To me the idea of connectivity is just one example, where I can join a game based off of fans who share similar likes as me,” said Condrey. “It’s really a way to add social networking to the franchise. In the past I played against my friends, but now I can target players who live in the Bay area and are fans of the San Francisco 49ers. Modern Warfare 3 is going to be fully integrated with Elite in a pretty innovative way.”

Condrey thinks fans will also like the Elite options that allows players to study in minute detail how others play the game and learn from them. A full array of stat tracking will allow the best gamers in the world to share their knowledge through statistics.

The pressure’s on as Activision and EA face off in a battle between two huge shooter franchises. All eyes are focused on Modern Warfare 3, especially after the very public divorce with Infinity Ward’s founders.

“There are going to be a lot of expectations around this game and we’re really excited to show the world what we have on November 8th,” said Condrey. “We understand that the bar is high and we have to really give it 110 percent effort.”

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