It feels like a well-armed Christmas morning at Sledgehammer Games.
Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, co-founders of the video game studio responsible for the next ''Call of Duty'' installment, are excitedly unwrapping virtual goodies in the chummy meeting room that connects their offices: A pistol with a polycarbonate grip! A rifle equipped with a ballistics computer! A leather captain's cap!
''You can end up with something like 22 billion combinations,'' Condrey told The Associated Press recently while zealously swapping the gear and guns on his on-screen avatar. ''It's kind of an outlandish number, but it's not really about the number. It's just that it's fun to you. You can be one of 22 billion. You can finally, really customize your character in `Call of Duty.'''
''It took him three weeks to calculate that,'' joked Schofield, the Oscar Madison to Condrey's Felix Unger.
As players snipe opponents and meet goals in multiplayer match-ups, they could end up with three different pieces of such loot each round. While virtual booty is hardly an original idea in gaming, Condrey and Schofield expect their new swag system to make a big impact on ''Call of Duty,'' where even subtle changes can shift how the game is played by millions online.
''We call it supply drop,'' said Condrey. ''It provides you with thousands of rewards for time played and accomplishments for your play style - more than 350 weapon variants, thousands of pieces of unique character gear and consumable one-off rewards like extra perks and score-streaks. This will really be the most reward-based `Call of Duty' experience to date.''
The more customizable virtual army is one of several updates coming to the multiplayer mode of ''Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,'' the latest installment of Activision Blizzard's wildly successful shoot-'em-up franchise. ''Advanced Warfare,'' scheduled for release Nov. 4, is setting the 10-year-old military series' sights squarely on the future.
The single-player campaign kicks off in 2054 with a global terrorist attack on several nuclear reactors. The raid leads to the rise of massive private military companies, such as Atlas Corp., a fictional outfit armed with futuristic war toys like walking tanks that's led by the power-hungry Jonathan Irons. He's portrayed in a voice- and motion-capture performance by Kevin Spacey.
The high-tech elements extend to the game's multiplayer matches, the addictive mode where ''Call of Duty'' players spend most of their time. ''Advanced Warfare'' gamers will each