If you ever played World of Warcraft, you'll be familiar with its cities. For me it was Stormwind and Ironforge, both huge virtual spaces packed with buildings, NPCs and, crucially, players. I'd go there to meet up with my friends, show off my cool new gear and of course check the mail.
Well, Call of Duty: WW2's new social space is not only inspired by the cities of World of Warcraft, it sounds like it'll feel quite like them, too.
Sledgehammer co-founder Michael Condrey namechecks one World of Warcraft city as he discusses Call of Duty: WW2's new 48-player social space, dubbed Headquarters, during our E3 interview: Orgrimmar.
Condrey, a World of Warcraft Horde player himself, knows Orgrimmar well. The bustling cacophony of troll, undead and tauren is the seat of power for the Horde and the capital city of the orcs. It is the place Horde players go to pick up quests, to chat with other players and to dance on top of huts.
As Condrey speaks about Call of Duty: WW2's Headquarters, revealing more and more about how it works and what you can do in it, it starts to sound more and more like one of World of Warcraft's cities.
"Remember the first time you went to Orgrimmar in World of Warcraft?" Condrey says. "Remember that first time experience when you did your quest and you levelled up and you earned all these great rewards and then you walked into Orgrimmar and it was a bustling city of people with all these activities that made it a community, whether it was the guy who was just showing off his max rank, all purple mounts or people going to mail, or people gifting each other things? That sense of community was something we felt Call of Duty hadn't capitalised on yet. That's what our attempt with Headquarters is."
Here's how it works: when you first start Call of Duty: WW2 multiplayer, you'll be thrust into Headquarters, which is set on Normandy beach D-Day + 3. "This is the moment where the Allied forces had established a true operational rear base on Normandy beach," Condrey explains.
"They had turned it into where soldiers landed in Normandy. They would go and pick up their gear, they would go to the mess hall, the soldiers had a recreational theatre, they would go to the firing range and train and compete and be social."
At Headquarters you can pick up quests, although Call of Duty calls them mission challenges. You can visit your recruitment officer, your challenge officer and your divisions officer to load up on dailies and more.
"Your divisions officer may say, hey, it's time for you to head into battle," Condrey says. "Go compete in War and be successful, bring back that success and we'll give you a reward.
"Some will be social quests. It might be a quest that sends you to the Nazi zombies experience, or compete in the 1v1 or create your first emblem."
There are also things to do in Headquarters. You can get stuck into the firing range (all 48 players can play this at once, if they fancy it), or try the 1v1 pit, which rekindles memories of dueling in World of Warcraft. Or you could check out the leaderboards. There's a leaderboard for everything in Headquarters, it seems. There's one just for the 48 players in one lobby, one for the 1v1, one for the firing range. It sounds like there will be quite a lot of showing off.
While in Headquarters you can interact with other players via voice chat, as you'd expect, or use quick chat. There are even "era-appropriate" emotes, such as performing a salute. Sledgehammer wants to create a positive social experience for players, and that's where the new commending system comes into play.
Commending other players for their actions drives your social score. Here's the premise: "We took a look at the behaviours of the Call of Duty multiplayer community and we recognised there are plenty of incentives to be proficient when you're competing, when you're fighting," Condrey says. "But there wasn't enough incentive for you to be a great member of the community, to be a social advocate."
So, you can commend other Call of Duty players, perhaps for being skilled at the game, perhaps for emblem creation, perhaps for just being nice. "It's trying to build this camaraderie that was a part of the squads of WW2," Condrey says, "men and women coming together for the greater good."
The higher your social score, the more recognition you'll get from the game for being a positive member of the community. And you'll get rewards. It could be a new piece of gear to wear, or a title card, or maybe a medal. The point is Sledgehammer is trying to give players a reason to commend each other, a reason to play nice, a reason to play Call of Duty multiplayer even if your k/d ratio isn't up to much.
"People don't want to feel like their entire identity is tied to a low k/d, right?" Condrey says. "It seems like there's an opportunity for us to do better there."
MMO-style features such as an in-game mail system and looking for group mechanic are also in Headquarters. The mail system is still in development, but Condrey has a clear idea for what it's trying to do.
"In World of Warcraft, mail was a great vehicle to send me to this social space," he says. "In Call of Duty: WW2, you might get mail from Sledgehammer Games. You're playing a match of Domination or maybe the new War mode, and you get a little notification, hey, I've got mail. And you go to Headquarters to get your mail, and it's a thank you from us, maybe some reward. And now you're in the Headquarters and you see your friends and now you're contributing to the social community. Then you go pick up your daily mission and it says, hey, jump into War mode. Now you jump back in."
The same goes for the looking for group mechanic: "Grouping up will be a part of the Headquarters experience, which is a great way to find like-minded people in the community," Condrey says.
"Frankly, we haven't always exposed that to the community in the way we should. You and I might be in, hanging out having fun, and then say, let's go play some Zombies. We'll be able to notify the lobby: 'looking for zombies group'. We think that'll be a fun way to get people to play together."
Headquarters is also the place where you'll Prestige (an option available to players after reaching the highest rank in multiplayer). Rather than press a button in an in-game menu, you'll have your soldier go to a special place in Headquarters so that all the other players in the social space can see you Prestige. It sounds cool!
"We haven't got the name quite right yet, but here's the concept," Condrey explains. "I think about the process of Prestige in Call of Duty. I've worked my butt off to Prestige. And I get to Prestige and I'm sitting on my couch by myself and I press a button and I get a little bit of fanfare - not a whole lot - and then I'm done.
"You get to go to Headquarters and you get to meet the General, and you get to go up on the bluff overlooking on the beach, and you get to Prestige in front of all your friends with great fanfare. Prestige should have that level of fanfare. Imagine that moment! Nobody wants to go to a party alone. Let's make that meaningful because you earned it."
There's even scope for seasonal events in Headquarters, which Condrey says Sledgehammer plans to be a constantly evolving virtual environment. Here, Sledgehammer is once again taking inspiration from World of Warcraft.
"Do you remember the holiday celebrations, and you wanted to come together for those moments?" Condrey says. "Imagine what we can do to bring the community together. Maybe it's VE Day and we celebrate VE Day in the live lobby with some recognition."
As an ex-World of Warcraft player, Headquarters sounds like a cool new addition to Call of Duty, and certainly a play space I can see myself spending time in. I'm not the best at competitive multiplayer, so it'll be nice to have other ways to play - and show off - in the game. I imagine Call of Duty players will also have some fun with it. I expect 30-player conga lines, griefing and all the other shenanigans you get with a big video game social space. But I have to praise Sledgehammer for trying to create - and encourage - Call of Duty players to be nicer to each other. Let's be honest, its community doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to online chat.
If there's a potential downside to Headquarters, it's that players may find it an unnecessary distraction, a step between them and the competitive multiplayer experience they crave. For some Call of Duty players, the campaign and social spaces and anything that's not shooting other players in the face can do one. Sledgehammer games is rightly proud of what it's doing with Headquarters, and on more than one occasion Condrey reminds me it's a "franchise first", but if it proves a tad too intrusive the Call of Duty core will be quick to kick off.
For me, though, Headquarters sounds like that rare thing: a genuinely new and interesting feature for the long-running Call of Duty series. I'm looking forward to giving it a shot.