Modern Warfare 3: Sledgehammer Games Interview

Ryan King

Modern Warfare 3

We speak to Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey about its input on MW3.

Published on Aug 25, 2011

We sit down with Michael Condrey, co-founder of Sledgehammer Games, to discuss all things Call Of Duty.

What is Sledgehammer Games’ role in Modern Warfare 3?

So Sledgehammer Games is working in co-development with Infinity Ward. Really, the two studios are fully integrated across the game to develop together the biggest, best Modern Warfare game to date. So both studios combine on every aspect of the game.
But how do the duties work out in terms of who does what? What does Sledgehammer Games do in comparison to what Infinity Ward do?

So it’s two separate studios and two separate studio cultures but we operate as one virtual studio, if you will. So it’s the best talent of both studios working on every aspect of the game together. So we have a character team of character artists, animators and riggers and they have their character team of the same individuals and we all work together on all the characters in the game, for example.

We work on single player campaign, they work on single player  campaign, we work on parts of the same single player campaign. Spec Ops, multiplayer, it all works that way. So it really is a fully collaborative environment. It’s exciting, right?

It provides some unique challenges, logistically, with having two separate teams but I think in the end, both teams are passionate, both teams are talented, the best ideas surface and that’s really the best for the fans in the game.

You said you’re working to develop the biggest and best Modern Warfare game to date. How do you go about doing that?

It’s quite a challenge, I tell you. We’re standing on the shoulders of greatness on Modern Warfare 2. It’s a fantastic game. Infinity Ward has been working in the franchise for a decade and they’re arguably the best first-person shooter development team out there.

They have a lot of legacy, history and knowledge with the franchise. They bring a lot of ideas of things they wanted to do in Modern Warfare 2 but didn’t get to just because of time. Sledgehammer Games came from Dead Space, which was action game of the year in 2008 and we bring a sort of fan perspective and fresh new energy.

So together, we push each other to look at every part of the game. The campaign, is it epic? What can we do to really push that forward? Spec Ops, how do we make sure it’s the best? So there’s a commitment to excellence, leave it all on the table, just push as hard as you can mentality.
So there’s no one answer, right? It’s just looking at every part of the game and committing to making sure it’s the best it can be. We took a very hard look at the campaign, we listened to feedback about the story, we wanted to really elevate the story-telling in this campaign experience.

The innovation in Spec Ops with Survival mode is pretty fun. Elite brings a whole new social platform that’s going to bring the fans together in a whole new and then multiplayer is going to be bigger and better than ever. We’re really critical on ourselves, we listen to our fans, we focus test all the time with the end goal of just making sure it’s the best we can possibly make it.

There’s obviously a lot of talk about the upcoming Modern Warfare 3 vs. Battlefield 3 contest, that’s the big fight everyone’s talking about. Does that help or hinder Modern Warfare 3?

Well I can tell you, I’m not sure if you caught Eric Hirshberg’s speech at keynote at GDC a couple of days ago where he talked about his view on competition which I share, I think there’s some people feel like only one person can win and only one person can lose. I don’t view it as a win-lose situation.

I think the industry is healthy and there are a ton of fans out there who love games and great content. And I’m a fan. At the root of my passion for games, I’m a fan. I think there’s fantastic stuff for everyone. Uncharted 3 looks great, right? I’m glad to see that.

I’m excited to see what Gears will do. So I don’t think it has to be a competition between any two titles. We compete with ourselves. We want to make sure the fans view this as a worthy successor to Modern Warfare 2. We all pour our hearts into this to make sure it’s the biggest, best game possible. So that’s where most of the drive comes from.
But for those viewing it within the context of that battle, what makes Modern Warfare 3 better than Battlefield 3?

What I can tell you is people decide. At the foundation of it, we're looking at doing an authentic story that's really emotionally involving for the player. We'll continue the journey on an epic world scale now. I think it's pretty interesting in that these are characters we all love.

I think that's unique to Modern Warfare. We're all invested in who these characters are. We've watched them for six years now, so continuing that journey will be great. I think Spec Ops and co-op is very compelling.

Multiplayer, we'll be talking about more at Call of Duty XP but when you pick up that controller, you can feel it. It's fun, it's fast, it's 60 frames per second. What 60 frames per second does means is it feels smooth, you're in the action right away. I think that’s what’s been bringing fans back time and time again to Call of Duty.

Looking beyond Modern Warfare 3, what’s the future of the Call of Duty series?

You know, it’s hard for us to stick our head up above Modern Warfare 3 right now. There’s so much emotional investment in it that we’re really just focused on getting everything we can to make November successful for our fans. It’s hard to predict anything beyond that.

I’m excited to see what Elite brings. It brings a sort of umbrella platform that will bring all of the efforts from all of the Call of Duty games together. Everything you did in Black Ops and you now do in Modern Warfare 3 will be in your stats, will be in Elite. So whatever that next Call of Duty game is will also be housed under Elite.

Fictionally there’s a lot of speculation out there, I haven’t had a chance to give it much thought. I’m excited about where we’re going. Once we’ve got this one wrapped up and great, we’ll have a little bit of time to think about the next one.
What has Sledgehammer Games learnt by working with Infinity Ward?

It’s been a great process for us. We’ve had a tremendous amount of experience in making triple A titles in the past and we’ve had a lot of experience in first-person shooters. I worked in first-person shooters myself and some of the team has for over a decade. Some of us on similar technology as iD put out a decade ago.

The fundamentals of great first person shooters, as a genre, has been around for a long time. But really, until you can work hand-in-hand with one of the best developers out there and you can pick up those tricks and nuances, you don’t know what you don’t know.

I’ve got a lot of appreciation for that team and what they’ve taught us. They’re very focused on making sure that, at the end of the day, their filter is, is it fun and is it fast? If it’s not 60 frames per second and it’s not fun, it doesn’t go into the game.

That focus on making sure your experience adheres to that rule so that when the player picks it up, they know there’s nothing distracting you from the core experience of being fun and fast. They’ve done fantastic moments in the past. I think we all remember the moment when you die in the back of the helicopter when the nuke goes off, in Modern Warfare 1, right?

You remember that, I remember that. Those impactful moments. Same thing for Modern Warfare 2. They’ve taught us about how to ensure the second-to-second gameplay is really fun and the epic moments really book in the emotional impact.

And then, of course, their multiplayer experience. The way they lay out the maps, their process for testing flow… I have a lot of respect, I’m really appreciative for what they’ve done to help us along the way.



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