When the co-founder of Sledgehammer Games, Michael Condrey, visited Sydney to help promote the release of his studio's latest game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, he left with two thoughts in mind. First — after a whirlwhind trip that featured a trip the Opera House, a Harbour Bridge Walk and an afternoon sunning himself on Bondi Beach — he loved Sydney.
Secondly: he had to find a way to get the city into Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
His solution? 'Perplex'. A DLC map that releases today as part of the Ascendance DLC pack. A small, tightly designed map that just so happens to use Sydney as its backdrop.
"I was just so impressed with the city and the people," explains Michael. "I was so impressed with the city that I came back and I wanted players to experience it."
But Perplex is more than simple digital tourism: placing the player in a location they instantly recognise is a deliberate strategy on Condrey's part. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a game set in the future, 2054 to be precise — a largely unrelatable future. Sledgehammer has been proactive in setting its game in areas that are iconic as a way of grounding its largely sci-fi story in reality.
The word Condrey likes to use is "anchor". The Opera House is an 'anchor', the Harbour Bridge is an 'anchor'. Advanced Warfare also has a map set in Mount Rushmore — that's another anchor.
"Advanced Warfare is really meant to be a grounded conflict that takes place in the year 2054," explains Condrey. "Some of the maps are more science fiction than you might expect from the game, but Sydney would actually have fit right into the main game as a metropolitan city in 2054. In this particular case we anchor iconic structures and then we add the near-future fiction."
Being able to instantly identify sections of the map also works in tandem with way Call of Duty players tend to talk about maps. Always and forever the map 'Perplex' will most likely be discussed and talked about as the 'Sydney' map.
But first and foremost: the map has to be good.
"We always talk about the fact that it has to play well, it has to be fun, it has to flow well," says Condrey. "Call of Duty maps won’t necessarily play on these iconic structures, because you have no control over whether they play well!. You need to craft a map. In this case it’s a small engagement driven map with a lot of verticality, it works well with all of the games new abilities. It works well in objective modes. The map itself was crafted for gameplay first and the setting around it really anchors it in the mind of the player."
Kotaku Australia's office is in Circular Quay. I see the Harbour Bridge each and every single day. I take it for granted — it's just another bridge — but for Call of Duty players around the world, this is a chance to experience Sydney. You'll just be blasting your friends in the face while doing do.
"You rarely accurate depict these places but you are exposing people to these iconic locations and that’s kinda interesting," says Condrey. "It’s fun. Some of my favourite Call of Duty moments have been set in cities that are meaningful. We've taken people to Paris and London and Berlin. We've taken people to New York and San Francisco. We've taken people all over the world."