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How do you reinvent Call of Duty all over again? Exclusive
How do you reinvent  Call of Duty  all over again?
August 21, 2014 | By Mike Rose

August 21, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Sledgehammer Games has a tall order on its hands.

With Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, due for release this November, this Californian team is not only looking to reinvent the behemoth Activision franchise in the same way that Modern Warfare did all those years ago -- it's also the studio's very first go at building its own Call of Duty, having previously worked alongside Infinity Ward on Modern Warfare 3.

"We asked ourselves, what is the core?" says Greg Reisdorf, lead multiplayer designer on Advanced Warfare. "What makes Call of Duty what it is? And we realized the gunplay engagement is where the game is. If we can make those engagements more interesting, and be able to add more skill to those engagements without breaking it..."

But how do you even alter a franchise like Call of Duty without breaking that core? Surely it's an impossible and thankless task.

"It's very hard, and it involved a lot of arguing with people, and a lot of debate," he adds. "It may seem simple to people, but there's huge implications to anybody who has spent hundreds of hours playing the previous games, and then having to switch to a new game. It's a big deal."

"If they have new things crop up and they think, 'Well this worked this way before, and now it only works this way.' Those are issues," says the dev. "But at the same time, we are making the game we want to make, and if we try to please everybody, we'll please no-one. So a lot of those decisions are made knowing that all those other things exist out there, and knowing that the previous games had it certain ways."

As you'd expect, even when the Sledgehammer team was working alongside Infinity Ward, the new team was thinking about what they would do to Modern Warfare 3 to make their own.

"From the very beginning, we were just figuring out 'Well, what else could happen here?'" Reisdorf says of Modern Warfare 3 development. "Because there's the next game that's going to come up, so you're thinking, well what else can we do? What did we leave on the cutting room floor that we could do now with more time or resources?"

"We asked ourselves, what is the core? What makes Call of Duty what it is?"
"There's always that kind of stuff, and it's constantly being thought of. That's right out of the gate, two months into development, we said hey, let's try some crazy jump stuff. And now it's a full feature within the game. Normally the first couple of months after a project's over are kind of experimentation time, and people just go crazy to find something that works in there, and that we were able to take and really iterate on."

Sledgehammer is hoping that the new Exoskeleton abilities, which allow players to jump, dive and slide all over the place, will successfully find that balance between new angles for Call of Duty, and keeping that familiar feel intact.

Advanced Warfare is also one of the first Call of Duty games really being built with eSports in mind, leaving a question of how exactly you take this already teetering gameplay balance and throw specific competitive play elements into the mix.

"A lot of it is making sure we know what the eSports community is interested in, so we can build features to help them," answers Reisdorf. "We listen to their feedback and want to provide them with support, but just as much as anybody else."

"Casual gamers are the majority of our audience, and the game is built for them," he notes. "But the game is also built for eSports, because at the end of the day, it has to be a competitive game - if it's not competitive, that means it's not balanced. That means no-one's having fun, and it's not going to be around for very long."

In other words, Sledgehammer believes that working the competitive side of Call of Duty more firmly into the core of the franchise will benefit every style of player.

"The more we can look at it from a competitive side and engage those guys and say hey, exploit this, break this, show us what's happening. Then we go and fix that, and make sure we're accommodating that and we know that we have solutions to these problems," he adds. "To really help everyone to make the game more competitive for everybody, and make every weapon and combination viable to use."

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Nick Harris
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The more they make this like Halo the more I like it. I worry Jump will be on (A) not [LB].

Adam O'Donoghue
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I was thinking the same thing; especially after hearing dodges require you to double-click the thumb-stick while tilting it in a sideways direction.

Eric Gilbert
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Where's my Rainbow Six game?

scott anderson
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Official Ubisoft Rainbow Six game:

Recently indie funded tactical game:

Ron Dippold
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That's the multiplayer gameplay core - can you also do something to fix the awful story core?

I'm not just being snarky here. The incomprehensible quick cut technobabble macguffin goulash is at this point a running gag and laughingstock, where the best thing about your single player game is briefly being able to play a dog. This is your best chance to do something about this since Modern Warfare 1 amazed everyone (and doomed the sequels to ).

What are your core values here?
- Guns!
- Spectacle!
- Full bore, unashamed, unreflective, 'America F*** Yeah!'
- Squad based - you might have the occasional solo bit, but mostly you've got AI companions.
- Some threat that is somehow dire enough to make the US the victim it loves to be (this has really gotten to be ridiculous in the MW line).
- Wide variety of gameplay (and lots of gadgetry). This can be hit or miss gimmickry, but it does break things up and it does seem like a staple.

Some things I think could be improved without losing those (pardon if Ghosts does any of this, I haven't played it yet):
- Make the plot as unconvoluted and believable as possible and communicate it as clearly as possible. It's obviously just there to hang your levels off of, so why put it in the blender?
- Make the player actually care about it - I'm sure I could follow Codblops's plot if I wanted to (I love Gene Wolfe), but it never made me want to. This is related to the first point.
- Stick to one or two protagonists and don't jump all over the place. Again, related to the first point.
- Enough with the story nukes and player story deaths. They're just cliche and self-parody now.
- This might not go well with the budget and Spectacle, but CoD has some great multiplayer maps that do it well, so why not have some single player levels where the player has to get across a map that has multiple routes by any means they care to? I'm sure for much of the player base this would now be mind-blowing and a huge innovation. I don't think 'corridor shooter' is one of your core values, it's just a time/budget issue.

Anyhow, this is getting way too long, but it seems like you can ditch the baggage while retaining your core values and still delight everyone as much as the first Modern Warfare did.

Adam O'Donoghue
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I agree with some points, but I admit that the success of MW's story was its application of established action military film techniques to the FPS form. All of COD's game-play can be distilled into the "Here's a Gun now take that hill, Private!" fantasy as popularized by American 'heroic' military films such as saving private Ryan and Platoon.

So linearity is COD's best friend because it is the perfect setup for this siege game-play: the player must take that hill, and quickly. By doing this, the player is constantly in a state of stress due to the speed of gun-play, and this reinforces player engagement and reinforces the siege fantasy. In sandbox or alternate path environments, players lack this constant drive as it shifts them from a reactive to a proactive mind set; thus they are distracted from the stress needed to make the gun-play exciting and engaging. In this regard the AI buddies in COD only have two purposes: communicate player objectives, and keep players in constant stress by shouting, screaming, swearing, and whispering dialogue that emphasizes the stakes of achieving their objective.

Andreas Ahlborn
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No reinvention needed. The COD audience just wants more of the same.
Basically you have a fool-proof formula here, any major change of course would only threaten your business.

Activision can learn sth. from the PS4 -success: The majority of Gamers is more intersted in Polish than in Innovation. That means: you can really only f**k it up if you introduce some techincal problems in your product (which Ghosts did) and even if you make the worst Game in your whole series (which Ghosts was) it will only marginally affect your sales numbers, because you have a easily gullible audience.

I saw that pheonmenon on my 15 year old son (who is a rabid COD-Fan): he clearly understood that Ghosts was an inferior game to Black Ops, Modern Warfare etc. and abandoned it rather quickly, but it took only the "Predator" DLC to convince him to throw his pocket money at Ghosts again: he bought the PS3 version of the game and the DLC after he had already sold his 360-Version.

So this imo the main ingredient of CODs succes: Know thy customer and deliver what they expect from you.

Seems easy enough, but there are not many companys that can pull that off reliably. Look at Epic: they practically ruined their "Gears" IP, which was once a money printing merchandise for xbox single-handeldy with the awful "judgement" because they tried to be innovative.

Kai Boernert
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I hope a normal client server system is also considerd innovative nowadays, in MW2 it was impossible to actually play multiplayer on Pc with a few friends, making it the last I ever bought.

But some core values that demished over the years are also:
Great moddability and custom Map support (you back when Cod 1-2 was around), at least the second could also work on consoles without to much hassle. After all that is one of the main reasons CS and similar games are still around and active.

Kevin Fishburne
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Go flip mode. You play a civilian whose family is killed by foreign air strikes and decide to become a "terrorist" to avenge their deaths. That would be SUPER popular.

Back to the real world...maybe make a CoD MMO? I'm not sure that "reinventing" the game would really serve any purpose. Some games aren't meant for reinvention (ahem, Castlevania anybody?).