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Interview: Call of Duty: World at War

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After spending some time with Call of Duty: World at War, we sat down with Noah Heller, Senior Producer at Treyarch, ready to talk business about the team’s latest World War Two creation:

Do you feel Infinity Ward has raised the bar for the Call of Duty series?

Oh definitely, I mean how do you follow up on game of the year, right? Or game of the year for most people definitely.

Does that put pressure on you to perform?

Absolutely, there’s pressure from a couple of different things. I mean, on one hand you’ve got Call of Duty 4 and on the other hand we have Call of Duty 3; it was a good game but it’s what we made in nine months of development. One of the things I’ve tried to understand is why, you know, what would it take for people to give us a chance. We don’t ask to be forgiven for Call of Duty 3, it was a good game and can stand on its own. Frankly, the gaming public should never forgive game companies for forcing development like this to be short, but what we would like to say is that now we’ve had two years, and now we’ve had a chance to show people what we are made of, that they give us a chance and let us stand on our own.

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Do you think the Call of Duty 4 fan base will make the shift to World at War?

Oh I think a lot of them will, I think, you know, any time you want to fire an M16, or my favourite was the T90, you’re going to fire up some Modern Warfare. Anytime you want to get that flamethrower or set up some Bouncing Bettys you’re going to be firing up World at War. And because it’s co-op, I think people are going to have the opportunity to play with their friends that normally wouldn’t play competitive multiplayer, so I think there’s going to be a new experience for a lot of people.

Was there a reason for going back to the World War 2 setting?

Well, the game has been under development for two years so we were working on it long before Modern Warfare shipped, so at the time doing a Call of Duty World War Two title seemed natural. Once Modern Warfare shipped we realised a couple of things very quickly. First is that the essence of Call of Duty is a soldier story, not a World War Two story, and that the public wants something more realistic and they want something more contemporary. We quickly did away with trumpets and fanfares and fighting for king and country. We also said we need to tell a very personal and brutal story, and then finally if we were going to do World War Two we wanted to do the end of the war; we’re ending the war. In both campaigns you see the end.

What have you added or removed that you believe has improved the overall gameplay?

Co-op is obviously the big story; there are many aspects to that. The flamethrower is big because it’s difficult to build good dynamic fire; our fire can spread through the environment. You can light the grass on fire and it will spread based on the wind and maybe hurl up a tree. Then beyond that, honestly you’ve probably seen the grittiness and violence. Some of the shot guns can damage someone the way a shotgun would actually work in real life, at some point it became very clear to us that if we were going to create a realistic war experience it would almost be dishonest not to show war the way it really was. And then from the flamethrowers perspective we had to build an enemy that justified use of a flamethrower. The Japanese Army is fearless and much more aggressive than the standard Call of Duty foe. They’ll Bonsai charge, will wait for the moment where they could do the most damage then spring up out of the grass, and you know, what’s the point of having a weapon like the flamethrower if you don’t have an enemy that justifies its use? Frankly, the Imperial Japanese Army was the reason why flamethrowers saw use in the Pacific and not so much in Europe, because you would need an army that would never ever surrender. That was the Japanese code.

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Do you think this will stand out amongst the overcrowded shooter genre?

I certainly hope so; I feel we are making the best shooter of the year. We certainly are trying to make the best game of our lives, and I think the difference between us and anyone else is that we’re realistic and more like something you haven’t experienced before.

Coming here today it was difficult to know what to expect from the game. Initially, it seems similar to Call of Duty 3, but after digging deeper into it you see how gritty and realistic it is. Is that something you were trying to pull off?

It is. War is not to be glossed over; it’s really disrespectful when that happens. A lot of people, you’ll notice, especially if they are playing the flamethrower levels, after they’re done with it they might stand up and walk around a little bit and let it sink in. From a creative stand point it’s great that we can evoke that kind of reaction; that means we are connecting with the player. If you’ve finished the game and you have an understanding of what it was like for our grandparents and their grandparents, than we’ve done our job. If you’ve finished the game and think, “war is easy”, instead of “war is hell”, then we haven’t done our job.

Do you feel Treyarch have produced under the pressure of having Bond and Call of Duty?

It’s tough, it’s always tough, and keep in mind we are producing Spiderman as well. It’s a big studio, but the teams are separate. I’m a big fan of the Call of Duty team, a lot of the guys come from Grey Matter and, you know, they live and they breathe and they eat Call of Duty. The Bond team was definitely able to go pretty far separately and are really great designers as well, but at the end of the day whether you can make a great game is based on your passion. The Call of Duty team definitely has that.

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How have you enjoyed your experience working on Call of Duty: World at War?

Oh I’ve loved it. It’s great working with the team, and it’s great working for a team that has a lot to prove.

Are you looking to develop any more World War Two based Call of Duty games?

I can’t comment about any future projects, but I will say we’re thrilled that we are doing the end of the war. I’m sure game companies will be making World War Two games for years to come; it’s a very strong story and the stories that are unfolded. For us personally, we’re happy that we are ending the war.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Noah, who was infectiously excited about the prospect of discussing the new game. Be sure to check back here for the exclusive hands on soon. Call of Duty: World at War is released on November 14th.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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