The lights are on
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the first game being created entirely by Activision’s newest studio in the development rotation, Sledgehammer Games. Prior to Advanced Warfare, Sledgehammer helped Infinity Ward complete Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 during the sibling studio’s public turmoil. But even before Modern Warfare 3, Sledgehammer was working within the franchise with a spin-off third-person action-adventure set in the Vietnam War. During our trip to Sledgehammer Games, studio founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey opened up about the canceled project.
Schofield and Condrey joined Activision and founded Sledgehammer in 2009 after successfully launching the Dead Space series at Visceral Games. More Visceral developers gradually migrated to Sledgehammer, and the team began work on a new entry in the Call of Duty franchise that would shake up the tried and true first-person formula.
“We had spent at least six to eight months on it,” Schofield says. “I was really getting into the story. We had some really cool mechanics.”
Schofield says that the third-person view not only offered players a new way to fight enemy soldiers, but set up unique moments that can’t be replicated in first-person. Sledgehammer’s third-person Call of Duty took place during the Vietnam War, specifically in Cambodia. The dense jungles, treacherous environment, and tense guerilla warfare appeared to be a natural fit given the developers’ legacy.
“We had the underground tunnels,” Schofield says. “We were definitely getting some Dead Space moments. I don’t mean that from sci-fi, I mean that was a war that was scary for the [American soldiers]. They didn’t know if in the jungle there was a booby trap, or what was in those tunnels. And there were thousands of miles of tunnel underground. It was a hidden war, right? Everybody thought the war was in Vietnam, but it was in Cambodia and Laos. So we were telling a cool story. “
Fans of Dead Space shouldn’t have to try too hard imagining what Isaac Clarke’s dark, corridor crawling nightmare might feel like in a claustrophobic, subterranean enemy tunnel. Sledgehammer completed a playable 10-15 minute slice of the game in the short development period. The proof of concept got Activision’s attention when the publisher was looking to find help for Infinity Ward during the talent exodus sparked by departing Modern Warfare creators Vince Zampella and Jason West.
“When [Activision] needed help on Modern Warfare 3 we were the first ones to get it because we had already proven ourselves within six months that we could dive in, learn the lore of the game, understand the rules, and build something that was different,” Schofield says.
“Let’s be frank, Infinity Ward was going through some transition,” Condrey says. “We were growing with a triple-A team here, and the chance to work on the biggest game at that time and this fiction and space was super exciting for us. We would’ve loved to have made [the third-person Call of Duty]. It was in a space that we enjoyed, but how does anything compare to the first-person blockbuster release of 2011?”
Schofield, Condrey, and the rest of the team at Sledgehammer mulled over their options together. Would they push to continue working on an unconventional third-person project in the Call of Duty space, or accept the opportunity to create a sequel in one of the industry’s biggest franchises? Sledgehammer decided to co-develop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward. Based on Condrey and Schofield’s accounts, they’re overjoyed with the acclaim the game brought them (read our review).
“We had just come from Dead Space,” Schofield says. “You know all the awards and everything. I don’t know how many [magazine] covers we had and all that. That was a big surprise. It really was. We had no idea that was coming. It was just a great feeling. Modern Warfare 3? Oh my god. It was bigger. It was so much bigger. It was such a thrill ride.”
A screenshot from the thrilling conclusion of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Modern Warfare 3 was an exciting, defining time in the history of Sledgehammer. The success of the blockbuster FPS was enough to cause the developer to keep the third-person title on the shelf while heading straight on into Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
“If you added up all the fans of every game we made prior to Call of Duty, it doesn’t add up to one release in this space,” Condrey says. “There are 40 million people. That was amazing. So to be able to take the baton and take all that learning in that space with all these fans and the amazing year that 2011 was for the studio and use that to launch into a new era of Call of Duty on next-generation. For me, I didn’t think for a second about going back to the third-person game.”
Another factor weighing into Sledgehammer’s decision to not revisit the third-person game set in Cambodia involves historical sensitivity surrounding the Vietnam War.
“We found out as we were researching it as well, all around the world it’s actually known as America’s war. Not Vietnam’s,” Schofield says. “We were the only ones that called it the Vietnam War. It’s kind of unpopular. And we didn’t really understand the marketing aspect of that.”
Even though Sledgehammer acknowledges of the potential marketing issues and greener pastures of the first-person space, Schofield’s attachment to the canceled third-person project is obvious. “If they ever asked us to a make a third-person Call of Duty game I’d go back to what we were doing,” he says.
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