‘Call of Duty’ designer says even if you made game, you can get crushed online

TORONTO — MacKenzie Bates helped create the multiplayer mode of “Call of Duty: WWII,” so he knows how to wield a weapon in the latest instalment of the hit video game franchise.

But the 24-year-old Sledgehammer Games developer says he was quickly humbled when he went online after the game was released Nov. 3.

“It’s always kind of sad when you’ve worked on a game so long and all of a sudden you release it and within a few hours you’re getting stomped by other players,” he said with a smile.

“And you’re like, ‘I should have every edge. I built this system, I know how the spawns work.’ You felt so good about yourself and then all of a sudden you just get crushed. They just picked it up and they’re just so much better at it.”

Gamers find “things on the maps that you couldn’t have imagined,” he added.

Bates was in town Friday for a Cineplex “Call of Duty: WWII” event. Cineplex will be hosting the “Call of Duty: WWII” WorldGaming Canadian Championship on March 3-4.

Registration is now open and online qualifying begins Jan. 6. The top eight teams will come to Toronto for the March finals with $60,000 in prizes on the line. The winning team will also earn a berth in an upcoming “Call of Duty” World League event.

Wim Stocks, general manager of WorldGaming, expects to see at least double the more than 200 teams that entered last year’s event.

The tournament, WorldGaming’s third “Call of Duty” event in Canada, will use the new version of the game. Set in the Second World War, it represents a return to the “boots on the ground” roots of the game after several recent more futuristic versions.

Gamers have responded. Activision, which publishes the title, reported that worldwide sales of the new title exceeded more than US$500 million in the first three days of its release.

For Bates, part of the new game’s success is its accessibility, with more predictable game play.

“You don’t have to be always looking up in the sky, rotating around,” he said. “You can usually reliably say they’re going to be attacking me from the front or this direction. I think that makes it a lot more engaging for players, that they feel like, ‘Hey if I mess up, I can learn from it.”’

“You can just pick (the game) up, like people could years ago when the franchise really grew,” he added.

“Call of Duty” has been around since 2003.

Bates helped create the multiplayer framework in the game, from loadout to respawning. He describes it as creating the building blocks you can play with, before handing it off to level designers who come up with the maps.

While the game is out, Bates’s work is not done.

“It’s a live product. And you have to keep on feeding the beast,” he said.

He is monitoring how the game is being played online, with Sledgehammer adjusting as needed.

“We’ll tune weapons,” he explained, “If one gun is what everyone is using, we’ll bring it down a little bit. We’re always looking to balance. We don’t want it just to become everyone using this one thing because it’s the best. That’s not interesting, that’s not fun. We want you to have creativity in how you play.”

A native of Avon Lake, Ohio, some 40 minutes outside of Cleveland, Bates was in fifth grade when he saw his cousins playing “Halo: Combat Evolved” on the original Xbox.

“I had no idea what an Xbox was or what ‘Halo’ was. And I just knew that I wanted to do whatever that thing was.”

An advanced student, he took his first video game course at a community college while still in high school. He earned a degree in computer science and arts with a minor in human computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, where he served as president of the university’s Game Creation Society.

He worked on “The Sims 4” at Maxis and “Halo 5: Guardians” at 343 Industries before moving to Sledgehammer, located in the San Francisco Bay area, some 20 months ago.

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