Call of Duty has returned to its roots with the recent launch of Call Of Duty: WWII. We sat down with Dave Swenson, Audio Director at Sledgehammer Games, at the launch in Dubai and had a chat about what went into developing the game, its new advanced AI mechanics and Second World War guns.
What would you say to someone who’s never played a Call Of Duty game in their life? Would they be able to jump straight into COD WWII?
COD WWII was created as a very diverse game with multiple modes. You have the single-player mode — a very cinematic, epic narrative where you get put in the boots of this squad of soldiers.
The story-telling is very exciting and with the multiplayer mode, you have the competitive parts of the game. For example, there are a lot of professional players who are very high-skilled. Even though I’m a developer I feel like I’m more of a noob when it comes to playing the game compared to the professionals.
Finally you have the zombies mode, which is awesome, and terrifying and twisted. There’s a huge fan base of people who enjoy the zombies mode. We worked very hard to make it interesting and difficult for everyone, and worked very hard in this mode to make it accessible. We wanted new players who have never played before to jump in. Before working on this game I haven’t played zombies as a mode. So this was the first time actually playing it. I came into this mode as a new consumer and I love it.
How important do you think are the single player missions and the story mode? COD gamers usually blast through these and then spend their time in multiplayer modes. Thoughts?
The wonderful thing about COD and this game is that there’s something for everyone. Some fans love zombies, for example, and that’s what they play, and some love multiplayer and some really enjoy the narrative storytelling of single-player modes. All modes are important to us because there are fans who love them all.
I think the story mode in the single player campaign is this beautiful cinematic experience and you really get to know these characters and that’s something multiplayer doesn’t have in the same way. You get emotionally attached to the characters, and with the animation and the graphics you have this amazing opportunity to get to know this cast of characters.
How well do you think the new ‘War Mode’ will be received by COD fanatics?
The war mode is a new game mode for multiplayer. Something important to us is fan feedback. We put war mode out there with the public beta and we said try it, tell us what you think.
We got overwhelming feedback on the mode. During the whole beta process we were constantly talking to and interacting with the community. So far the war mode has been really well received.
How important was it to recreate the events of the Second World War historically? Did you guys face any challenges with this along the way?
It’s a three-year developmental process. So three years ago when we finished Advanced Warfare as a studio, we made the decision that we wanted to tackle the Second World War and go back to the roots of the franchise. I was very excited about that prospect. I felt that it was an honour for Sledgehammer Games to get this opportunity so the entire team got into it.
Initially we all were not Second World War experts but we knew we had to become experts. We hired a gentleman by the name of Martin Morgan who is our military historical advisor. He’s an expert and guided us on everything from the battles and what countries are doing what and when, to what weapons and what types of planes were used. So he would come to our offices and talk to us, teach us and educate us.
I remember sitting down with him and we were watching the first Normandy invasion mission, and he was telling us, ‘Nope that’s not right, that’s not right, change that,’ and we were fiercely taking notes since we wanted it to be accurate. We wanted to tell this epic story based on real events and these are things that really happened. We wanted to pay homage to these amazing men and women who served. That was very important to us.
And now touching on your speciality. One of the coolest parts of your job was to get out on choppers and fighter jets to record audio, how did you manage it for this game? I’m guessing Second World War planes, tanks and weapons were not as easily accessible to you?
They weren’t accessible, you’re right! For Advanced Warfare we looked at a more modern-day scenario and I was able to go to a military base and ride helicopters. So that made it easier. With this it was important to get everything right and accurate. Fortunately a lot of the vehicles and weapons still exist. There isn’t a lot of them and not all are working, not all the tanks and planes and jeeps are still driveable so it took some work and some effort to dig out and find where they were.
Fortunately Martin Morgan knows people and in addition, he actually owns a lot of the weapons himself. So we went to his home in Louisiana with my whole audio team, set up all our mics and I actually got to fire every Second World War weapon with the microphones recording it.
Our visual and art departments were there as well taking pictures of it to make sure it’s all perfectly accurate. I know how it’s like to fire the German MG-42 — I know what it’s like to experience that, so we took that experience and those recordings and tried to do everything we could to recreate that for the end-user. We want all our consumers to have the same experience when they fire the MG-42 in the game. We fired every gun in the game, and that’s the same with using the tanks, the planes and the jeeps. We made it at accurate as possible.
What is your favourite part of the game from an audio point of view? What are you the most proud of?
I love the music of our games. Our composer Wilbert Roget is fantastic. He’s a video game composer. Historically our composers have been really great film composers but video games is a different type of entertainment and so it was really important to me to find a composer this time who knew video games and to create interactive music.
And he’s created a beautiful score, we went to Nashville, Tennessee, with a full orchestra and recorded the entire score. We have just over two hours of music in total over the game. I love the score and I love the sound effects.
Early reviews and interviews claim the advanced AI mechanics promotes morale and working together as a team. How different is this from past renditions? How have you guys managed to make science play an active part in emotional connections within a squad?
With the single player campaign, we wanted to have the player feel like a part of the squad. In our research we learnt that a lot of the experience of the soldiers who fought in Second World War were about camaraderie, brotherhood and fighting for the guy next to you in the trench.
So we spent a lot of time thinking about how we would make the player feel that instead of just shooting bad guys. We wanted to promote a sense of brotherhood with the squad and the experience. So we introduced this ‘morale system’. For the player to be successful in the game the player needs to utilise, protect and be with his squad.
So as you’re playing, your squad will be able to provide assistance and help you in ways that is entirely different and new from any COD in the past. It doesn’t only make a new gameplay experience but also drives that compelling emotional experience of the Second World War.
Call of Duty: WWII is out Friday in the UAE.