Heading back to the Second World War, an Interview With Sledgehammer Games

Heading back to the Second World War, an Interview With Sledgehammer Games

It’s been 11 years since the Call of Duty franchise was set in the Second World War. The franchise began with this conflict but over the last decade has tackled settings ranging from modern conflict to near-future warfare. However, with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus dropping recently to the praise of critics and fans, it seems that players are ready to once again strap on their boots and kick some Nazi ass. CGMagazine was lucky enough to snag an interview with Michael Condrey, the Chief Operating and Development Officer and co-founder of Sledgehammer games, to ask him why the company decided to return to European Theatre after so many years, what it means to make a game based off a real conflict, and the research that went into ensuring the game paid proper tribute to the men and women who fought and died during those years.


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Call of Duty: WWII – gameplay image via Activision and Sledgehammer Games

CGMagazine: Why the decision to go back to the Second World War?

Michael Condrey: It’s interesting we had these really intense three year dev cycles and through the course of it you really try to respond to what the fans are saying to the studio and the franchise about what they want and what they’re interested in trying to be predictive about trends. It’s a really interesting exercise creatively to try and figure out what is going to excite fans three years down the road. Coming out of Advanced Warfare, that game was really positioned at a time when near-future technology had become the pop-culture zeitgeist. There were films like Edge of Tomorrow and Elysium and Oblivion. We didn’t know that when we first started we just wanted to tell this story and bring new exciting ways to play Call of Duty and that’s what was represented. At the end of that game the creative exercise followed that process, we started thinking about stories that were meaningful, stories that hadn’t been told in a while, new ways to have player play in the franchise that they love and we saw then this opportunity to use the greatest conflict in human history as a backdrop to go back to the Second World War where great stories hadn’t been told in at least a decade, and fast forward to today and I think we’re seeing again. We recently had Dunkirk as an example. That’s exciting to us because for many of us, myself included, it’s been 10–20 years since we’ve had a great piece of the Second World War entertainment and ten years for Call of Duty. In response to fans wanting to go back to more grounded, authentic boots-on-the-ground experience and for Sledgehammer games to get a chance to reboot the franchise and take it back to its beloved roots. We’re excited because right now it feels like absolutely the right game for Call of Duty at the right time for fans.

CGMagazine: Following that, what are the major differences from a development standpoint between a real historical setting and a fictional one where you have creative freedom to do whatever you like?

Michael Condrey: The creative opportunities for this were very, very different. Advanced Warfare, for the longest time we were really trying to paint this canvas of a believable near-future conflict and world, and I remember we engaged with some futurists. These are academics who spend their careers trying to predict where the future is going. We brought in a series of futurists, very famous ones for a speaker series for the studio to get this studio creatively immersed in near-future challenges. We had two speakers, one right after the other, in the course of a week. The first one described the singularity, the moment when man and machine come together to become one. The next speaker described how modern conflict at scale was going to essentially take us back 50–60 years because all the tech we rely on today was going to get destroyed in the course of these large-scale global conflicts. We were going to go back in time 50 years to a more analog society because satellites with EMPS were going to happen and set us back decades. Even within a very academically informed perspective at the time, these two experts couldn’t agree on what 40 years down the road meant. So we had to paint that, we had to paint it to the studio, to each other, and to the fans. A lot of creative time was spent trying to have people understand the world, the protagonists, the antagonists, the geopolitics, and the technologies. We researched a ton of what was coming but even then it was hard to get people to fully believe that these things could happen.

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Call of Duty: WWII – gameplay image via Activision and Sledgehammer Games

in contrast was just the opposite, obviously, this is a clear moment in human history of true good vs. evil, it’s well documented, the iconic battles, the technology, the geopolitics, the state of racial tension. That all existed, so this creative opportunity was very different. We had to really capture the spirit and recreate an authentic depiction of this very well important time in human history. We commanded ourselves to very different creative challenges; in this we made sure we honoured the sacrifice, the bravery, and the camaraderie of the greatest generation. That became about researching these battles in a profound way that we had never really done before, at least I hadn’t in my 20-year career. We went to every battle site that’s represented in the game, we took tens of thousands of photos, we went out with veterans, we went to incredible Second World War history museums in Luxembourg and Berlin and New Orleans. This was about really sinking into the stories, the artifacts, the factual recreation of what was happening in the Second World War and finding a way to deliver that in a piece of entertainment that honoured the cause.

CGMagazine: How do you draw the line between an accurate simulation of battle and making a fun video game?

Michael Condrey: That’s something that we were wrestling with throughout the course of development. It is a piece of entertainment, and yet because the subject matter is so profound and personal and represents such a loss of life. Along with the conflict, the holocaust, the genocide, famine and things that happened because of the war. We had to find a way to balance being respectful and honouring what happened without glorifying it and still recognizing that we were delivering a piece of entertainment. Each mode of the game had slightly different guardrails when it came to that. As you can imagine the campaign was really centred on delivering this powerful emotional journey of the squad on a human level, but Nazi Zombies as you can imagine was able to break free from all of that and was very entertaining and twisted. And multiplayer was in the middle, social and competitive but we wanted to make you feel like you were in this gritty Second World War conflict with real weapons and real iconic locations. The one thing through all this research, we found story after story after story of amazing examples of bravery and heroics and massive scale war, as you know. Like D-Day where 5,000 men died on the beach just trying to land. There are these big moments that we were able to depict and then we were able to have those quiet intense moments and were able to touch on the challenges. One of our allied soldiers is a Jewish American and you can imagine the challenges he faced. We had plenty of stories to draw from because the war itself was truly a world at war.

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Call of Duty: WWII – gameplay image via Activision and Sledgehammer Games

CGMagazine: Are the characters in the game fictional or based on real people? Or are they an amalgamation of the two?

Michael Condrey: We describe this as being based on true events, and it is. We follow the Allied invasion of Europe through the beaches of Normandy into France; we follow a squad within the 1st Infantry. In the war itself, in real life, that’s a group of 15,000 men. Our story follows a small squad and the journey they’re on is an original story for us. It’s based off real stories that we uncovered through all this research, some new ones we didn’t know a decade ago and the battles of course the backdrop, Normandy, Operation Cobra, one of the largest bombing battles in the history of man, the fight for Northern Germany—all of these things really took place. Amidst true events we crafted this original story.

CGMagazine: How do you translate the mechanics of real weapons used in the war into a video game?

Michael Condrey: One of the things that we were really excited about, and it goes back to your original question about the creative differences between entries, these weapons exist today and they’ve been depicted in other forms of entertainment for years and years so we wanted to capture the authenticity of this gear, the uniforms, the weapons, the locations, so it really came down to research, going to these sites and in the case of the weapons and the gear, getting access. We engaged with one of the premiere military historians, we met him through the World War 2 history museum in New Orleans. He transcribed all of the interviews from the 101st for Stephen Ambrose who wrote Band of Brothers, and he got us access to everything that we needed to see. We took these weapons to firing ranges, we felt them, we fired them, we reloaded them, we captured their sound, and we captured their muzzle flashes. We went to armouries and drove half-tracks; he dragged us all over Europe to all the battle sites. That was really remarkable for us to bring all those assets to life in the game, and do it authentically.

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Call of Duty: WWII – gameplay image via Activision and Sledgehammer Games

CGMagazine: I got to review the game on the Xbox One X and it looks just ridiculous, I was pretty impressed by that. Is it fun for you guys having access to that kind of power for console players? Did you get to go a bit farther with things that you couldn’t do before?

Michael Condrey: Thinking about what we were able to do ten years ago when the franchise was in the Second World War and what we can do today and it’s remarkable. The power of the latest consoles, like the Pro and Xbox One X, and you think about 4K and HDR and the graphic fidelity of what we can pull off. We actually captured using the exact techniques and technology that James Cameron uses for his Avatar 2 facial performances. We are there using exactly what the best of Hollywood is doing today to bring that fidelity to life that these consoles can allow. When you’re telling this very personal story, when you’re really trying to capture the nuances of the facial expression of the terror of war to a 19-year-old kid in the Battle of the Bulge, you need to be able to get those very nuanced features in the eyes and the mouth and the reaction. We certainly couldn’t have done that ten years ago; these consoles are amazing.

CGMagazine: How did you guys approach the lootbox system? It’s a rather contentious issue in the gaming community right now.

Michael Condrey: It’s really interesting for us because we are on the creative side, while Activision handles the business and financial side. But for us, six years ago on Advanced Warfare we started that game and saw a need to really have players feel like they were invested in crafting their character, to be rewarded and customized and really make it feel like an extension of you. We’ve always said that Call of Duty multiplayer is about putting you in the conflict and whether it’s you or me, we’re all going to take a slightly different look on our uniform, our weapon, and we really wanted to bring that to life. In Advanced Warfare, that’s the first time you had a character that you could customize. Loot was really just a creative evolution of trying to give more rewards and customization options to players to really feel customized. Coming out of Advanced Warfare, the things we heard loud and clear were that players wanted it to feel like it was balanced, so all of our loot is cosmetic only. There’s no stat variance to our loot in a way that would make people like somebody else has an advantage in combat, which is super important for the community. They don’t to feel like “I lost to a guy because he had a better loot variant than I did” so we capped off weapons completely and I think that was a big step for us…Between taking off any stat, so there’s no perceived advantage for loot, and making it all cosmetic while also ensuring that players could earn their way to all the things they wanted, it feels in our opinion a much better fan experience.

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Call of Duty: WWII – gameplay image via Activision and Sledgehammer Games

CGMagazine: Was it important for you to remind people that the Nazis were the bad guys, especially given the last several months with the rise of the alt-right and the events in Charlottesville? It seems that a lot of people in this generation have kind of forgotten what happened. Was that important for you guys to present that?

Michael Condrey: One of the early research trips we did to New Orleans with our Military Historian…he took me out to this square and there was this statue with its back to the square, kind of a bit overgrown, a little out of sight, nobody was around. It was a monument to the Spanish American War, and he said, “What can you tell me about the Spanish American War?” I couldn’t tell him anything. He then said, “Look, Second World War to the fans of games today is as far from them as this war is from you.” These are stories that are lost. This is a cause and a time that is largely outside of the reference of pop culture. In fact, when he was transcribing Band of Brothers, he met Captain Winters and the 101st. Those were all heroic veterans who he could interview. They’ve all passed, so when we started three years ago it was about telling this story because it’s an important story in human history to ensure we don’t allow it to happen again. It became even more profound to us because we were also telling the story on behalf of these brave men and women who are no longer here to tell it themselves. That sentiment made this a very powerful game for all of us here at Sledgehammer. A really profound story to tell and certainly the most personal story we’ve ever told in games.

CGMagazine: That’s all I have Michael, thanks so much.

Michael Condrey: Great talking with you and I hope you enjoy the game.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Quinn’s work such as his look at the relationship between comics and Hip-Hop, why the Witcher 3 was not as great as everyone thinks, and or which historical stories he thinks should be made into videogames!

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Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) Review – No jetpacks, but plenty of Nazis

Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) Review - No jetpacks, but plenty of Nazis

Boy, it feels good to be back. I haven’t played a Call of Duty game since I briefly dipped into the first Black Ops seven years ago. I was fatigued as hell by the series and did not care for the setting or the campaign and the multiplayer was getting increasingly ridiculous. I more or less dropped playing shooters for quite some time as well. Then DOOM 2016 came around, and Wolfenstein: The New Order, and I realized how much fun a first-person shooter can be when the campaign is engaging and you actually like the setting. If you’ve read any of my stuff before, you know I’m kind of a history buff. The First and Second World Wars in particular are of great interest to me, so when I heard that the Call of Duty franchise was heading back to the 40s, I knew I was probably going to play it one way or the other. Then CGM got our hands on an Xbox One X, and from that point, it was settled that for the first time in nearly a decade, I was going to sit down and play Call of Duty: WWII.

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Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) – gameplay image via Sledgehammer Games and Activision

The campaign itself was a major draw for me, and it follows the fairly well-tread territory of the Allied invasion of Europe from D-Day onwards. Set pieces range from the initial landing at Normandy, blown out farmsteads in France, and stealth missions in occupied Paris to the wintery forests of Germany and the Battle of the Bulge. Unfortunately, the game only follows the American side of the conflict, and my hopes for more Eastern Front action or maybe some artillery fun in North Africa were sadly unfulfilled. However, our protagonists hit several major battles in 1944-45 and anyone who enjoyed Band of Brothers will recognize most of the settings. The story and characters are fairly well-tread stereotypes, with the lead protagonist being a good ol’ boy from Texas—named Red, I mean come on—and his best buddy, a Jewish man from New York. The latter leads the story in an interesting and surprising direction for a video game, tackling—however briefly—the horrors of the Holocaust. While the German version of the game does not feature Swastikas, at least they didn’t completely skirt the issue like another recently released game that touches—or ignores, in the German version—on similar subjects. I’ve read several complaints that the game is unduly focused on the American side of things, but let’s be real here. It’s an American game made by American developers for a primarily American audience. If that’s a huge issue for you—and I say this as a Canadian with family members that served in both World Wars—then skip the campaign. It’s your loss. It’s not a long campaign, but for a series whose primary demographic is people who only play multiplayer, I came away really pleased with my experience.

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Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) – gameplay image via Sledgehammer Games and Activision

The CGM review copy was played on the Xbox One X, and while I wasn’t exactly playing the game simultaneously on a PS4 classic and a non-4K television for comparison purposes, I think I can still say with confidence that the game looks fantastic on the One X and a 4K screen. Character models look crisp and clean, with little to no aliasing issues or tearing. The lighting was the most impressive, the HDR and Dynamic Contrast certainly add to the immersive experience, and character models looked nearly realistic. However, the one seemingly ubiquitous issue of lip-syncing remains, and even though the faces of the characters featured insane detail and texturing, the illusion broke as soon as they started talking. Those of you with a surround sound system or a decent headset will experience truly booming sound effects, which is a good thing because explosions, gunfire, and screaming soldiers will be constant throughout your experience. The soundtrack itself is fairly standard. It does the job well but sounds like anything else in this genre, film, or game.

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Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) – gameplay image via Sledgehammer Games and Activision

Of course, most of you will be playing Call of Duty: WWII for the multiplayer, and this game has a fairly robust if overwhelming and complicated system of upgrades, unlocks, loot boxes, and customization options. It’s been a long road from the original Modern Warfare, and the multiplayer landscape in the franchise has changed considerably since then. Players can choose from five different classes—including the Canadian mountain division, stereotypical accent in the training video and everything—known in-game as divisions. They run the standard heavy weapons guy, sniper, fast-moving submachine gun type, close quarters, and regular infantry. Each of these classes has different special weapons and unlocks, however, any gun can be used with any class but you will lose out on class-specific XP and upgrade points. The match-types include everything from Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy, and Team Deathmatch to new ones like War and Gridiron, a bizarre football-esque game type that’s surprisingly fun and a nice break from the usual modes. Hitboxes seem a bit off, and there have been some severe server issues during launch, but patches are now rolling out and things should improve. Matchmaking is another issue I came across, but that could simply be my lack of skill and time away from the franchise rearing its head. I died, a lot. Loot boxes are, unfortunately, a staple of any modern game, but at least in Call of Duty: WWII, the fun goodies inside are cosmetic, and there is—at least as far as I could tell—no pay-to-win mechanics involved.

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Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) – gameplay image via Sledgehammer Games and Activision

Nazi Zombies also returns in Call of Duty: WWII, with a bit more…serious or “scary” bent to it than previous iterations. The zombies aren’t as goofy or campy, and the setting is certainly more eerie and evil than that space crap from other editions. It also features some stellar voice acting from the likes of Dr. Who himself, David Tenant, and Etobicoke local Viking Shieldmaiden Katheryn Winnick. If you like Nazi Zombies, it’s the best version in years.

Call of Duty: WWII is an excellent return to form for the franchise that unfortunately comes with a lot of hang-ups due to being a multiplayer shooter in 2017. However, the campaign is a blast, the shooting and combat mechanics feel tight, and it looks gorgeous on a 4K screen. It feels really good to be back in the setting that spawned the franchise, but even if WW2 isn’t your thing it’s still an enjoyable campaign with a deep—if a bit overly complex—multiplayer component to keep players engaged as well as a refreshingly spooky Nazi Zombies mode. If you like Call of Duty but have felt fatigued by the last few releases, this should scratch your itch while also feeling nostalgic enough to get older players into the action.

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Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One X) – gameplay image via Sledgehammer Games and Activision

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Quinn’s work such as his look at the relationship between comics and Hip-Hop, why the Witcher 3 was not as great as everyone thinks, and or which historical stories he thinks should be made into videogames!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Super Mario Odyssey,  The Evil Within 2, and Cuphead!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

Never miss when new CGM articles go out by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Astro Gaming Launches Call of Duty WWII Themed Headset Sale

Astro Gaming Launches Call of Duty WWII Themed Headset Sale

Astro Gaming has announced a sale themed around Call of Duty: WWII. A collection of headsets are discounted, and most work not only on PC/Mac, but on console as well. Here are the offerings.

Astro Gaming Launches Call of Duty WWII Themed Headset Sale

The A40-TR Headset and MixAmp is 64$ CAD less than its regular price of 319$ CAD. The headset comes with the headset, a mic, a mixer, and speaker tags. You can also purchase the headset on its own for 152$ CAD if you have a mixer set up already, or the mixer by itself for 132$ CAD for vice versa. The mixer allows for stream output, daisy chaining, and Dolby surround sound. Only the solid black color is included in this sale.

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Astro Gaming Launches Call of Duty WWII Themed Headset Sale 2

Both the PS4 and Xbox One editions of the A20 headset are on sale in Call of Duty colors. They come in at 163$ CAD, and output at 5VDC, 400mA. Only the Call of Duty branded colors are included in the sale.

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Astro Gaming Launches Call of Duty WWII Themed Headset Sale 4

Finally, the A10 headset is 71$ CAD, down from 89$ CAD. This headset’s frequency runs at 20Hz – 20kHz, and is “Discord Certified”, for what that’s worth. Only the Call of Duty green color is included in the sale.

Astro Gaming Launches Call of Duty WWII Themed Headset Sale 5

As an added bonus, purchasing any of these items will earn you 1,100 Call of Duty Points for use in-game in CoD: WWII. There is also a site-wide free shipping offer of anything over 49$ USD, which includes everything on this list.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out some of our hardware reviews, such as the Xbox One X, and the SteelSeries Siberia 200 Headset!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Super Mario Odyssey,  The Evil Within 2, and Cuphead!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

Never miss when new CGM articles go out by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Call of Duty WWII PS4 Beta Key Giveaway!

Call of Duty WWII PS4 Beta Key Giveaway!

CGMagazine is teaming up with Sledgehammer Games to give away FIVE PS4 Call of Duty: WWII Beta Keys! Act quickly; once they’re gone, they’re gone!

Each code will give you access to the private multiplayer beta for Call of Duty: WWII on PlayStation 4. The beta begins this Friday, August 25th and includes at least three maps, War Mode, Progression, Divisions, and of course fan-favourite multiplayer modes. The beta will be available for the first time from August 25th to the 28th. It will also be available a second time between September 1st to the 4th.

Be one of the first to get your hands on Call of Duty: WWII multiplayer!

Call of Duty WWII PS4 Beta Key Giveaway!

Call of Duty: WW2 E3 Preview – Back to its Roots and a Step Forward

Call of Duty: WW2 E3 Preview - Back to its Roots and a Step Forward

There are three things video game players can count on, death, taxes, and a yearly Call of Duty instalment. It’s something that’s gotten so predictable that there’s hardly any surprise when the next entry is revealed.

Read moreCall of Duty: WW2 E3 Preview – Back to its Roots and a Step Forward

E3 2017 Canadian Deal Round-Up

E3 2017 Canadian Deal Round-Up

E3 2017 promises to bring with it a slew of new and exciting game announcements. Both the likes of big box retailers and online storefronts in recent years, have jumped on the E3 hype train and have offered up promotions and gaming deals during the E3 season and this year is no exception.

Read moreE3 2017 Canadian Deal Round-Up