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AusGamers Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Developer Interview with Michael Condrey
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 09:41am 20/08/14 | Comments
AusGamers caught with Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey to discuss all things Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Read on or wtach for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome to AusGamers. Once again, you are here with Stephen Farrelly. I’ve come all the way out to San Francisco, and I’m here to talk about a game where... a studio is going destroy San Francisco, for your benefit.

Michael, you’re one of the creators of Sledgehammer Games; you guys have been working on this for a really long time, and it’s kind of been whispered about. You helped IW with some of their projects, and this is your time to shine -- this is where you guys get to kind of get up on centre stage, and there’s no bigger centre stage in games currently, than Call of Duty.

So let’s talk about you guys as a studio -- a fledgling studio -- the beginning, the middle and the now.

Michael Condry: It’s a great story, thank you for asking. Sledgehammer Games turns five this month actually, it’s our fifth year anniversary, and we think about the journey…

AusGamers: ...and no game; technically, no game.

Michael: No game in what way?

AusGamers: No game to retail yet.

Michael: Oh, well that’s true [laughs]. You’re right; we’re almost there! We’re so close. Tonight is special for us, to finally be able to put it in the hands of players like yourself, because as entertainers -- people who want to entertain people -- it’s been three full years building this game, and that’s been great. Glen and I started this studio back in 2009 when we had just finished the action game of the year Dead Space, and came across to really have our chance to put our mark on Call of Duty, and the 100+ million fans out there of this franchise. Like you say, it’s a big stage.

We had the opportunity to co-develop Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward, and that was a great experience. And I think, between all the learnings that we had from Dead Space previously, and the learnings that we’ve been working with Infinity Ward, bringing that to our own Call of Duty with Advanced Warfare… being asked from Activision as the first lead studio in a decade, and the first studio ever to get three full years, and the first studio that was given the charter of just focusing on next gen, is really special.

To have tonight to bring that all together and share with fans, it’s really a very special night for us.

AusGamers: Let’s talk about that, that three year thing. Because for a really long time, you had Treyarch and IW working off each other, and people kind of felt like there were a couple of missteps here and there along the way. What has the three years brought you guys? What has that allowed a fledgeling studio to bring to the game, as a lead studio again?

Michael: Yeah that three year development cycle was really a gift, and I think for us, it gave us the opportunity to take some risks. As a new studio coming in to lead the effort, that alone brought some new ideas -- it brought us a blank canvas if you will, because we had been fans for ever. I had been playing Call of Duty games since there has been Call of Duty games, as a fan. But as a developer, we had some ideas we wanted to try, and some successes on other projects, and we thought hey, here’s our chance to do it our way, based off the amazing games that were built before us at Treyarch and Infinity Ward.

So mostly it allowed us to take some chances, and have an extra year to really push it and take some risks,and if we go too far, Activision would tell us. And we did in a couple of cases, we pushed a little further than maybe was right for us and what we wanted, but through that process we learned and we failed fast, and we turned those learnings into successes and catalysed around this idea of the exo advanced soldier, which led to all of these great movement sets you’re seeing tonight, and focused that time on new tech for the next gen.

So it’s been quite a journey. Three years is a long time for a development studio to be heads down, and like you say, for the first two and a half, not even able to share with fans. But I couldn’t be more proud of where we are tonight, having used that time for Advanced Warfare.

AusGamers: I’m going to get to multiplayer in a minute, just in case you’re wondering, but you mentioned that you guys worked on an action game of the year, it’s actually one of my favourites, Dead Space -- I just recently finished up a retrospective on Resident Evil 4 which was a genesis for the game that you guys worked on -- so you guys had all of this lateral flexibility, because it’s a new IP and everything else, but now you’re coming into a series that has tenets and expectations and a fanbase that is really looking forward to specifics.

How do you come into a project like that and maintain a sense of creative flexibility while also maintaining a certain sense of expectation?

Michael: Great question, and thanks for the comments on Dead Space. Glen and I were the first two… we founded Dead Space with a goal to deliver our vision and quality, and we just pushed really hard on this concept of if we’re going to do anything to this game for the fans, it’s got to be about quality.

So coming into Call of Duty where there are more fans than anywhere was really exciting. It is a bit of threading a needle. We talk about how we came here to innovate the franchise, but you can’t innovate and alienate, you have to stay true to what makes Call of Duty great, and there are some tenets like you say, that do make Call of Duty best in class.

The feel, that sixty frames a second, low latency control, that gun on game gameplay in MP is best and we love it. We’ve got years of amazing work from studios ahead of us to stand on. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, truly, but we wanted to put our mark on it, and take some chances, and really say here’s a chance to almost take a new IP approach to Call of Duty. So within the values of Call of Duty: about it being a hero’s war, and about the journey of a noble cause, and being about your squads, and being about grounded and believable, relatable, ripped from the headlines sort of fictions, where do we go with that? How do we make that our own, and how do we put our stamp on that?

I’m proud of what the studio has done there with the advanced soldier, and the exoskeleton and our fiction that’s fifty years into the future, and our focus on narrative. As you saw in Dead Space, we’re a big narrative driven studio, and the introduction of Kevin Spacey. Man, there’s so much that we’re proud of, that we really do feel like this is our Call of Duty.

AusGamers: I want to touch on the exo stuff, because obviously one of the biggest differentiators you’ve got here -- apart from adding three more to the pick ten (which I’m so glad is back by the way) -- is you’ve got this really expansive movement system. I’ve been calling it a strafe-dash, and then you can go backwards, and you can go forwards, like you’re kind of ice skating for a moment.

It feels wonderful, but there’s something missing…

Michael: Wonderful! Let’s just stop there; great interview!

AusGamers: … no, no, no. I’m not asking for a wall run, but a wall bounce or at least something that… because there was so many times that it was like “oohhh”, then I’d slide down the bottom. I just feel like it’s not that far away, you can just slot it in there, surely.

Michael: I’ll go back write now and I’ll do a little coding, and a little typie-typie and I’ll get that in for you. Thanks for that; I like wonderful, that’s always complementary to hear from any fan, and I really do think that it’s transformational, it’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s really a pretty elegant extension of what you’ve used before. So when people pick it up, as you did, hopefully you felt like they were really intuitive controls, and it tactically changes how you play completely. Like you say, from dash, both mid-air and forward and on the ground; dodge, dodge is an awesome addition, tactically you get in and out of cover.

One of the favourite moves we like to lovingly call it the Top Gun move, where you’re sprinting and you do a jump and a dash back; you saw that in the trailer.

AusGamers: You fly right by!

Michael: You fly right by, exactly. Hit the brakes Goose! [laughs] It’s really advanced and elegant, but at the same time, when you pick it up it doesn’t take long before it feels natural. We love that. I love a big boost into and auto mantle, into a powerslide, and you start chaining these together.

So this isn’t a wall running game, that’s not part of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but as you’ve seen, it’s a pretty transformational change to how you play, and it makes it fast, and fun, and I think we’re pretty proud of it.

AusGamers: Ok, so now can I talk about a thing that I didn’t think worked very well?

Michael: No, no, you stay positive!

AusGamers: No, it’s all still good, but I was coming up on a guy and he’s crouched in a doorway, and I was like, it’s a perfect melee opportunity. In previous games, I could be from about here [gestures about two metres away], hit it, and you get a lunge, but it wasn’t there.

Every time I tried it, no lunge, I just swung into midair and he turned around and just sprayed me to death. Is that… can you say pre-alpha, or an alpha build?

Michael: We are post-alpha and on approach to final and it makes it really exciting and crazy times at the studio as you can imagine. But melee is interesting to us. Even more broadly, how do you introduce the exo and everything it gives you without making it overpowered?

So melee distance is something we fine-tune all of the time. You don’t want to make it so far out that people are just running all over the map griefing people. So maybe we’re not quite there yet, but I think we’re close; I’ll go back and take that back to the team.

Did you try the mid-air melee? The slam?

AusGamers: No.

Michael: Oh, there you go. Next time, what you do when see that guy: you boost above him, you power slam him, and you skull crush him. It’s awesome.

AusGamers: So that’s just in mid-air and trigger the melee in mid-air?

Michael: Yeah. Straight down; boom! We were calling it the slam move, and it’s pretty visceral. [laughs]

AusGamers: Ok, so we talked about you guys expanding on the pick ten and taking a lot of what Black Ops II did right, which was a lot.

Michael: They did a lot right. Absolutely.

AusGamers: One of the things they did in Black Ops and Black Ops II was the idea of things like Gun Game and things like that. Are you guys going down that route? Are you offering players the ability to create their own play modes, to build their own. Just a kind of: bring your friends in, and these are your rules, and away you go?

Michael: Not quite in the same recipe system, if you will, that maybe you’re referring to, but we have spent a lot of time looking at giving the most choices to players. So we call this the most customisable Call of Duty to date. Pick thirteen is more than just the addition of the three, it’s the full suite of being able to use every slot, including your score streaks, to really hone your playstyle, and we think that’s great.

With the addition of loot, and everything it brings with it, and exo abilities are brand new -- the ability to augment, or really put attachments on your exo -- tonnes of flexibility there. 12 games modes out of the box, and boost alone just changes all of those.

Fan favourites, as you heard tonight, we proud bring back hard point, and capture the flag, and search and destroy. New ones like uplink, and even really, we understand that some people are going to want to play more traditional ways. So there’s a playlist where you can go in, and you can play traditional Call of Duty style, where it’s team deathmatch and kill confirmed and dom, with no boost jump.

So you might jump on with your friends and say, hey guys, let’s just take a little break from the boost jump, it’s crazy and fast and we love it, but let’s try the traditional model and there’s a whole playlist there for you -- hardcore as well as the competitive playlist. So there’s a lot of options.

Now I’m guessing that you’re not going to play the traditional very much, because like me, once you get into the exo and everything it can bring for you, it’s hard to go back.

AusGamers: I think it’s a bit of a renaissance for movement in first person games in generally at the moment, across the board, and it’s really great to see. Because you just look back at games like Quake, and they kind of went by the wayside for some reason, and you go back and play that game, and you can do these wall skating and rocket jumps and it kind of good to see that coming back, but in a more player-driven manner, as opposed to it being discovered for the first time on its own.

It feels like you guys have all come up from that foundation, and this is the manifestation of all of that. So it’s really great to see that, but you danced around my question which is playlist style…

Michael: I think i said in sort of the recipe system of custom game modes that fans can create. Day one, we don’t have that. But in terms of breadth of game modes and play styles, I think we’ve got a lot to offer.

AusGamers: Is it safe to assume then, based on previous entries in this series, that you’ve got single-player, and you’ve got multiplayer, and there’s always something else…

Michael: Yeah that’s right, co-op; third mode if you will. I find it fascinating to me that this game offers so much to fans, that when we finally get to talking about a third mode it’s like “oh yeah, a third mode”. The third modes in these games are amazing right? They’re tonnes of fun.

So we have a single-player story mode that’s like the equivalent of four major films -- triple A quality, high production value films -- you’ve got hundreds of hours of multiplayer, and now with loot, if you’re truly a completionist and you want to collect every piece of supply-dropped loot in the game, you’re talking thousands of hours, and then there’s this co-op mode where you and friends can play together, that we haven’t shared much about, but it’s coming and I’m pretty proud of it.

AusGamers: Is it built off the single-player experience? Or are we talking about something completely different?

Michael: Yeah, it’s not based off co-op single-player, but it is based off of the exo and advanced soldier, so you can imagine what you’ve seen from the campaign, and what you’ve seen from MP now and all it can do, sort of plussed.

AusGamers: A big question for us, because we’re a multi-platform site, is that obviously Call of Duty, it’s genesis and foundation was on PC, and some of the PC community often feels like they’re a little bit left behind these days. The PC master race and that type of stuff. Can you talk about… is it parity across the board for you guys?

Obviously Xbox One is lead in terms of DLC and all that sort of stuff, but can you talk about any differentiators or even if you’re going down dedicated server routes? For Australians that’s really important for us, obviously.

Michael: Yeah. It’s interesting, because there’s all the weird business side stuff that the studios don’t deal with. So the relationship with Microsoft, great partners there, but all that is kind of outside; we’re just focused on the game. For us, what was awesome for Slegehammer really, was three years strictly focused on next-gen, unshackled from the constraints of next generation hardware.

So for us, we thought ok, that means PS4, Xbox One and PCs, that’s our target platforms. We want to really make something special, and a lot of work across the board to make those feel like we’ve taken every ounce of hardware, and sort of deliver on that. So I’m hoping that fans of all of those platforms will feel like this is a new era of Call of Duty.

AusGamers: Can you touch on the dedicated server stuff at all?

Michael: I can’t yet. I think there’s some announcements coming; I’m looking at Kyle off-screen, and he’s shaking his head ‘no, not yet’, but I’m coming to Australia in a couple of weeks; maybe I’ll swing by and I can update you on some more good news.

AusGamers: Ok, well finally I want to touch on audio, and the reason I want to touch on audio is because you’ve been saying best in class, best in class, and the one area of that class that Call of Duty has always been -- from an archaic awards system -- been trumped, is in the audio. But just from that theatre presentation at E3, the explosions, the weapon sounds, the recoil, it’s in your face.

Can you talk to me a little bit about that whole process for you guys, and how you came in and approached it?

Michael: Thank you for saying that. I feel the same, that Call of Duty does some things amazingly well, and we saw an opportunity to really go after the crown of best in class audio, and I think Don Veca, our audio director, and that team that we’ve assembled -- a lot of the ones from your favourite game that also sounded amazing in Dead Space -- came together, and just poured their hearts and souls into it.

So a new audio engine, a new approach to really say ‘how do we set the standard for next gen audio on these platforms?’. With the three years to really focus on it, I’m glad you felt that way. I think we have a chance at being the new gold standard, and I’m proud to be able to say that.

AusGamers: Ok awesome. Well Michael, we’ll leave it there. It’s not Michael Gondry, it’s Michael Condry, but maybe you might be a little more famous after the release of this game.

Michael: [laughs] Well let’s hope so. Thank you, it’s great talking to you.

AusGamers: I really appreciate it, it’s great. Thank you.
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