Call of Duty: Vanguard hits this week, taking us back to WWII for a whole new battle experience – one which was partially developed in Australia. We had a chat with Greg Palstra, the studio GM at Sledgehammer Games in Melbourne.
Despite Melbourne being a relatively new outpost for the California-centred Sledgehammer, Vanguard isn’t the first Call of Duty that the local team have worked on.
“A small number of the team have been working for Sledgehammer remotely for several years,” says Palstra. “So, this isn’t the first Call of Duty that they’ve worked on. But for the vast majority of the Melbourne team, this is their first Call of Duty game.”
Being one of the most successful game series in the history of games series, we can’t help wondering what it’s like to work on Call of Duty.
“I love working on Call of Duty,” enthuses Palstra. “I think having the opportunity to work on a franchise of this magnitude has been an incredibly strong drawcard for the studio. So, growing the Melbourne studio to 150-plus in the past two years has been possible because of the allure of working on such a great title. This is the biggest game that a lot of the team has ever worked on, and we all feel excited and proud of the work we’ve done and can’t wait for everyone to see the full extent of the game that we’ve helped create.”
“I love working on Call of Duty.”
Of course, working on a triple-A title with such a fervent fanbase does mean that there’s pressure to deliver.
“Yes, absolutely,” Palstra confides. “We’re aiming to deliver an amazing experience, so our goals are to exceed those high expectations. Ultimately, it makes us create a better game, and in the end that’s why we’re all here. We love creating things and that pressure drives us to excel, and I think it drives the best out of the team. I’m certain we’ll all look back and be really proud of what we’ve built.”
Since the arrival of COVID-19, most of us have had to change the way that we work, and it’s been no different for the team at Sledgehammer. Not only have they been working from home, but also half a world away from their head office. Naturally there have been challenges.
“I only started a couple of months before the pandemic hit properly in Melbourne,” Palstra tells STACK. “I was actually standing in the office smelling the bushfires that were ravaging the east coast and thinking that would be the biggest event that would happen through the year… I was very wrong about that! Normally when we build out a studio or a team, we spend time building relationships and the bonds within the group before they’re tested like this. So, the fact that we’ve been able to grow at the rate we have, bond, and deliver during COVID, I think that really says something about the capability and resilience of this team. Due to the global nature of the pandemic, everyone was in the same boat and we’re all working from home, so it levelled the playing field a lot in terms of communications with Sledgehammer HQ in the US.”
As Call of Duty: Vanguard is based around actual historic events, a lot of research has to go into recreating reality, and Sledgehammer have gone to great lengths to get it right.
“We have team members who are incredibly familiar with that part of history, the locations, weapons, equipment of the era, and the team also consulted with a World War II historical advisor,” explains Palstra. “There’s a drive to bring a sense of authenticity to the game, but also in making sure that it’s balanced with gameplay and fits within our narrative goals. While we’re inspired by history, we do create our own fictional story with Vanguard. So, I think it really motivates and excites people to bring pieces that they’re excited about from era to the game.”
It’s been a challenging project, but Sledgehammer are confident that Vanguard will have players eager for what they work on next.
“I’ve worked on a few big franchises,” Palstra tells us, “And my honest hope is that the take away from Call of Duty: Vanguard is that players engage with it passionately. I hope it leaves them wanting more, anticipating our ongoing seasonal content and then eagerly awaiting what Sledgehammer is going to do next.”
Call of Duty: Vanguard releases on PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4 and Xbox One on November 5.