Posted Sat Mar 28, 2015 at 07:00 PM PDT by Michael S. Palmer
Straight from the Call of Duty Championship.
Here we are at Day 2 of the Call of Duty 2015 Championship and everything I learned yesterday has gone out the window. The front runners have mostly been kicked to the lower bracket, so it's anybody's game. As we continue to watch the edge-of-our-seat action, I'm able sit down and talk with Greg Reisdorf, the Lead MP (Multiplayer) Designer for Sledgehammer Games' 'Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare'. He was kind enough to not only share his expertise and enthusiasm, but also give us key insights into how maps are designed during a process that can last for three to four years (and one that continues long after the game's initial release).
HDD: How did you get your start in gaming?
Greg Residorf: I'm the Lead Multiplayer Designer at Sledgehammer games. I started in the game industry way long ago. In 2001, I went to school for game design at a little tiny college back when game design wasn't at any university. And it's grown crazy since then. I started working at EA for a little while, working on 'The Godfather' games. Did some 'Knockout' games, some other games in there. And then came over to Sledgehammer with the crew from Visceral, starting Sledgehammer about five years ago. Did 'Modern Warfare 3' and now I'm the Lead Multiplayer Designer on 'Advanced Warfare'.
What does a Lead Multiplayer Designer do?
Pretty much everything that's happening within MP, I'm in charge of that. Pretty much anything that's going on with the game, I'm looking at it. I'm making sure it's up to our quality bar, that it's in the direction we want it to go. And then I'm giving designers feedback and really working with the designers and the rest of the team to make sure the game is what we want to make and where we want to be. It's also determining what that initial goal is, having the exoskeletons around the lute system, all that kind of stuff. Those are ultimately the decisions I'm involved with.
How is that different between Level Design, where you've worked before?
We still have Level Designers on Multiplayer. And they'll own a Map. That's their realm of ownership. Then they work with the artists to ensure that level meets the director's or the lead's vision.
There's a quote from the Pixar filmmakers, paraphrasing here, that their movies are never finished; they're just released. When do you feel like you're done with a game? When do you stop tinkering with it? In this case, when is 'Advanced Warfare' done?
We're constantly updating, especially now that all the consoles are online. It's easier to get title updates out to the audiences. So we're constantly updating. It seems like every two weeks we're releasing something out to the public that's increasing the game in some way and making the game better, or updating it based on the community feedback. We're really scouring Twitter and Reddit to look and see what the community wants. How can we make this game better? Really just keeping the community involved and making sure we're making the game that everybody wants to play and that everybody's having fun.
Is there anything on 'Modern Warfare 3' you didn't get to use, but saved for 'Advanced Warfare'?
There's tons of stuff, and there's stuff in 'Advanced Warfare' that we didn't get to that we're looking at and saying, "how do we add these in the title updates or how do we move it forward?" There's just a number of things. A lot of the time things just don't fit into the overall vision of what the game is, and by moving it a little in to the future with 'Advance Warfare', we got some exoskeletons out of it, we got exo-movement out of it. Theses are things that we prototyped early on in 'Advanced Warfare'. We had exo-movement, we had boost-jump, almost four years ago. So right out of the gate we had this cool new mechanic, and we just iterated on that for three years and made sure that it was fluid and it fit with all the other mechanics that we had. And that was huge just to have that right away.
That brings me right to another question. How does the game change from those early days to "hey, look, now we're in a Championship tournament"?
Just to compare and contrast where we started and what we have today, some of these levels, like 'Solar' that's being played, we see 'Detroit,' some of these other Maps, we see those in a block-world state for a year or two years where we're just pounding on these Maps. And then we art 'em up and make them pretty and move them out into the world. And now they're being played by the competitive community. To sit back at some of the previous COD Champs and thinking about, "oh, look at this competition, look at what's being played on these Maps, and then thinking of the Maps that we already had made. So next year when our Maps come out, what are our Maps gonna look like?" To finally see that come to fruition here, it's awesome to see.
What are the steps that a Map takes, the evolution from block-out? What does that look like?
A good example is the latest DLC pack. We're releasing a DLC pack next week. It's got four maps in it. Four brand new maps. We started with a goal statement of, "hey we want these maps to really push Boost-Movement to the next level. We really want players, who are used to moving around the Maps, who are used to these mechanics, let's challenge them a little bit. And let's give them something new and interesting to experience within those Maps." So that was our goal right away. A good example of that is 'Perplex.' The very first thing we said with 'Perplex' was, "well, we know our goal. Now let's go and take that and get a pitch statement together and get this theme." A modular apartment complex that's five stories tall. Cool. Great. Awesome. Let's go build that. Let's get a 2D map, draw it out on top-down just like I remember doing this in grade school, you get your graph paper out, you're drawing out maps. We still do that, a little more techie than that, but then we take that map and we go through an approval process within there and vet it a little bit and then take it into 3D. That's where we get the Block World, which is pretty much just grey textures. Nothing crazy. No real art in there. Nothing that tells us what it is.
Like Soviet Video Games?
Like video games from the early '90s. Basically that. And we just run through the Maps and play them, constantly iterate on them every day, doing feedback sessions after we play with the teams. After we do that, when we get it to a level we like it, where we like how it's playing, where we make sure it's competitive, where we make sure it's balanced on each side...
What's something you would have to fix?
There's many things. In general, we talk a lot about three-lane Map Design. That is there to create head-on-head combat. Look, you could ultimately say that two teams start at the end of a line, and they run towards each other and fight. That would be a one-lane map, and it would be pretty boring because all you're doing is running and hitting the enemies and re-spawing back and hitting the enemies again. There's not a whole lot of strategy there. After that we say, "okay, let's add another lane." You still get some options [with a two-lane map], but you're still beating your head against a wall. As soon as you add a third lane, you have enough options, especially with a six-v-six match where you can now start to form a strategy on how you're moving through the Map, how you're utilizing those lanes, and how you're getting between them and using the flank routes. It adds a lot more strategy. So what were doing when we're looking at these 2D Maps is that we're looking for anything that's going to create those scenarios that we don't really want. Either somebody's beating their head against the wall, or their just constantly dying as soon as I run into this room because that's the only place I can go. Or, the opposite is also true where they're too many paths and "I can't tell where anybody's gonna be. I can't predict anything, and I just run around, and it's just random." We look for both of those things, and we'll say, "oh this is just a little too random, let's close up some of these doors and paths." "Oh this is too structured, there's too much here where we need to add some more routes." Those are two things we're gonna look for when we're vetting those kind of 2D maps. Once we do that, we go into our block world and actually test it. And iterate on it. And jump in on it. And play and play and play and play. An then take it into the art stage.
So, you've done all this work. 2D. Blocked it out. Balanced. Art Stage. Optomize. Released it to the world. And now the pros are playing it. What's it like seeing your Maps coming alive here today at the Call of Duty 2015 Championship?
It's awesome. It's so amazing. To see it here and to sit back and remember the COD Champs I was at before, thinking about "how are these Maps going to play? What are they gonna do?" Knowing that we already had it made, or in progress, and now coming and seeing these players play, and the level that they're playing at is just amazing. These have to know every inch of these maps. To have somebody put that much time into something that I've worked on for three years of my life, is just really exciting to see. It's very humbling to be like, "all that work that I did I know is going towards something." These guys are on it.
Do you have a favorite Map?
My favorite Map right now for 'Advanced Warfare' is 'Climate.' That's the one that's coming out in a couple days. That's really exciting to me. It's a pretty circular Map, but there's also a moat in the middle of it that you have to ultimately have to jump across. And halfway through the Map the water in the mote turns into toxic water and will kill you. So you have to use the Boost Movements across it. We also have Grapple now that comes with the new DLC pack, so you can Grapple across this area as well and just start to utilize these new mechanics that we're putting in the game. [Climate] is really exciting, but it's hard to pick because I've played all the Maps and love all the Maps -- they're all my baby at some level.
Is there anything you can talk about that's coming down the line?
We have a bunch more stuff that's coming, but nothing I can talk about.
No worries, totally get it.
I guess that takes care of things in terms of the COD Championships 2015 and 'Advanced Warfare'.
Last question.What was your favorite game growing up? What got you into gaming?
I was big time into space simulators, but 'XCOM', 'Fallout 2' , the early 'Call of Duty' games. There are just so many. I grew up with games, played all kinds of games. I think I was PC first, then moved over into consoles.
What about today's games? What do you play to relax after working all day on 'Call of Duty'?
I play all kinds of games. It's mixed. I actually play 'Call of Duty' a lot, just for relaxing with is crazy...
You love what you do.
Yeah, it's great. Besides ['COD'], 'Hearthstone' is awesome. That competitive nature of it, it's very different, very detached from first-person shooters.
Great. Thanks again to Greg and Sledgehammer games for inviting HDD to attend this year's Call of Duty Championship. The best matches have yet to come, but everything I expected yesterday has changed, so I can wait to see how today's matches finish up, and how the finals tomorrow plays out. Cheers.
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