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From Dead Space To Call Of Duty – Sledgehammer's Early Days

by Tim Turi on May 19, 2014 at 09:00 AM

In 2009, Sledgehammer co-founders Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield transitioned from Electronic Arts' Visceral Games (former EA Redwood Shores) to working for Activision with the understanding they would work on a third-person Call of Duty game (learn more about it here). While at EA, the pair created Dead Space and rebranded the studio to the skull-emblazoned Visceral Games. After the ink dried on a new contract with Activision, they went from managing 400 developers on the main campus of EA to sitting in a car planning their next move.

"We're sitting in the car going like, 'Wow, what do we do? Who is going to come with us? What's the name of the place? How are we going to get a facility?'" recalls Condrey.

"It was two of us with a vision for a different way to develop and the opportunity to start the studio we wanted with the culture and development methodologies and the design vision and marry that with Call of Duty," Condrey says.

The sudden career shift was exhilarating for Condrey and Schofield, but the venture was also new territory for Activision. The publisher is known for consolidating studios and trimming fat, so expanding to accommodate Schofield and Condrey and building a new developer from the ground up is an uncharacteristic move. According to Schofield, former Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and his peers were incredibly supportive.

"They couldn't have been better partners in the beginning," Schofield says. "They got us up and running."

Sledgehammer Games co-founders Michael Condrey (left) and Glen Schofield (right)

"Activision's independent studio model was, 'Build the team the way you want to build it. Use the practices that allow you to build great software,'" Condrey says. "It was such a great match, and I think now you're seeing the fruits of that labor. We're different than any other Call of Duty studio in terms of how we operate and the culture of our space."

In regards to space, the fledgling Sledgehammer's first big step in making its mark in the blockbuster shooter franchise would be securing an office larger than a car. The new team acquired a modest workspace before settling into the current, custom-built space in Foster City, CA.

"We were actually renting a really small office which was really weird to me," says senior development director Aaron Halon. "I didn't know you could just rent a boardroom. There was this really tiny whiteboard and probably at that time maybe 15-20 of us just crammed around a table talking about what it is that we want to do for Call of Duty. That was pretty exciting."

Sledgehammer's evolving studio space would steadily be filled by new developers, along with many former colleagues from Visceral Games. Don Veca, who won numerous awards for his work on Dead Space's moody, dynamic sound design, is just one of the former Visceral Games employees to follow Schofield and Condrey to Sledgehammer. Brett Robbins, formerly creative director at Visceral Games reprises the same role at Sledgehammer. Christopher Stone, animation director on Advanced Warfare, hand-keyed many of Dead Space's signature movements. Schofield and Condrey weren't legally allowed to recruit their former Visceral colleagues, but Sledgehammer's roster is proof of the duo's magnetic leadership qualities.

"It was very, very difficult leaving [Visceral] but this was a great opportunity," Veca says. "The thing about Glen and Condrey is that you know they're not going to fail. That's the way that I've felt when I worked with them on previous games. I saw that in those guys. These guys will take us to the finish line. I have total 100% trust in them."

Sledgehammer Games' current studio in Foster City, California is home to over 200 developers

That trust would lead Sledgehammer to create an impressive, playable slice of its vision for a third-person Call of Duty set during the Vietnam War. While that project would ultimately be shelved, it proved the team's ability to Activision, which opened the doors for co-development with Infinity Ward on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and eventually creating Advanced Warfare itself.

By all accounts, Schofield, Condrey, and other key Visceral developers' decision to leave behind an acclaimed studio they helped establish was a risky proposition. The leap is fitting, however, considering the team's obvious infatuation with treading new territory, whether it's the canceled third-person title or bringing the franchise into the near future with Advanced Warfare.

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