Black Ops 2: Blowing The Corridor Shooter Wide Open – Treyarch Interview
Black Ops 2 has a real fight on its hands amid a slew of stunning new releases slated for a post-winter release. But as always, Treyarch and Activision are keeping its cards close to its chest.
We speak with Treyarch’s director of communications John Rafacz and manage to tease new information on why Black Ops 2 is the biggest Call of Duty experience to date.
From Zombies and multiple endings, to campaign length and that ever-important multiplayer reveal, read on to learn more about 2012’s biggest shooter.
E3 2012 has come and gone now. What sort of feedback has Black Ops 2 received now that it’s been in the public eye?
John Rafacz: Everything that we’ve heard has been very positive. I think people are stoked about the new setting, and the way that the gameplay has opened up.
At the pre-E3 2012 Microsoft conference, Treyarch stressed that this will be the most generous ‘on disc’ package that the series has seen in terms of content. Will you be stretching this content to two discs on Xbox like many games seem to be doing?
JR: Right now we’re looking at a one disc solution (laughs).
Since the gameplay reveal, what sort of things have fans been asking you for in response to what they saw?
JR: You know, it’s interesting, because there are two sides to the coin. First is our Strike Force levels, because they are so new to the single player experience. People are both intrigued by them, but have questions about how they work.
So, Strike Force levels introduce non-linearity to the experience for the first time. We will all share a common single-player experience. Similar to the single player experiences before it, you’ll play, go through checkpoints and advance as you would in previous Call of Duty experiences.
But thrown in the mix, at several points in the campaign, the head of Special Forces will present himself to you, and will talk about these conflicts that are happening in parallel to the single player campaign, these ‘proxy wars’.
So far, Treyarch has revealed screens for Strike Force Operations in Singapore and Yemen.
You’ll pick one, then be thrown into it sandbox-style with objectives within. Within that level you will be able to choose any weapon you need, or any point of view you want. You can play straight ahead, Call of Duty style, boots on the ground with gun in hand.
You can assume one of the drones, or quadrotors, and go into Overwatch mode to set waypoints and issue commands – whatever you need to advance the action. But you can also succeed or fail at these levels.
Those success and failures are catalogued so that – at the conclusion of your single player experience – if you have succeeded at all your Strike Force levels, you will have a different geo-political ‘wrapper’ around the conclusion of your game.
This wrapper would be different than the one I would have seen if I played through and failed all of my Strike Force missions. Now, succeed or fail, if you want to go back and replay them, or choose different Strike Force missions, you can do that.
When you say ‘geo-political wrapper’, that’s different to ‘ending’ right? How many variants are we looking at?
JR: Well, you know, it’s still in development. So it’s too early to kind of talk about how many endings there are, but it’s safe to say that throughout the course of the campaign, you will have the opportunity to play a handful of Strike Force levels.
I think the important thing here – and you touched on this – is that it’s the geo-political wrapper. We will all share that same story, we are playing that same gift, we just get different colour wrapping paper.
If you had to guess, how long would you say the campaign is?
JR: Again, it’s still in development and we don’t have a final run time, but I think it’s safe to say that it will be similar to what Call of Duty fans have enjoyed before. The new element – our Strike Force levels – is a brand new element that drives replayability, so it could go on for quite some time.
Do you feel that now, gaming technology is such that developers should be expanding their single player campaigns, rather than having players walk down a corridor?
JR: I think it has more to do with a logical step forward in the Call of Duty universe, listening to fans to see what they want introduced, and so now there’s this element of non-linearity. We kind of live in this crazy world where – on one hand – people expect the ‘linear’, epic, cinematically intense story experience.
But at the same time it’s like, “where’s my non-linear experience?” Now, whether that is giving people freedom to play with the FA38 Strike Fighter and fly around downtown Los Angeles, or on a much broader level that Strike Force levels bring, we’re now looking at catering to a couple of different play styles.
One of the odd things we saw after E3 2012, was a level of amazement from gamers that you included a female president in your demo. Is it a shame that inclusions like this still garner that kind of a reaction?
JR: I think that by 2025 a female president would be the least surprising thing of the near future.
We just touched on the fact that you now have to cater to people who want different things from their shooter experience in single player, but how to you cater for them all in multiplayer?
JR: We haven’t gotten deep into multiplayer, but there are two things shaping the team’s thinking as we approach it. First is the notion of challenging assumption, but we also have to keep the core of the Call of Duty – that fast-paced, gun on gun, 60FPS experience. That doesn’t change.
What could evolve are some of the elements around that, and taking a look at what makes it fun, as well as the opportunity to grow and expand.
The second area is, the emergence of the competitive gaming scene, and looking a what E-sports has done to evolve the way we look at watching people play online. Those are two things that factor into our thinking when we talk about multiplayer in a few months.
As a prevalent feature over the whole series, is E-Sports now something you have massive interest in incorporating into the series from now on?
JR: I think ‘massive interest’ is an understatement.
We spoke with Mark Lamia before E3 about villain Raul Menendez and how players will see his character evolve over time. How closely will we see that transformation first-hand?
JR: We haven’t gotten too deep into Raul Menendez just yet. But really embodies why we’ve come to a near-future setting, because as developers and as gamers, we come to a new Call of Duty experience and we say “what have we done before?” and, “what is going to keep people coming back?”
As we answer these questions, one of the creative challenges we wanted to take on was this idea of a time-spanning narrative, but also one that allows us to see how a character arc grows over time.
That’s really where Menendez shines, because about two-thirds of the game takes place in 2025, but you also meet your old friend Woods who is able to kind of wax poetic about ‘Cold War I’ and take you back there.’ When he takes you back he’s able to lay the foundation for what is to come.
Now, when you take a character like Menendez who is collateral damage of the first Cold War – you’ll learn more about what that means – you will see more about who he is and what he means to 2025.
So you want people to feel sympathetic towards him and to say, “Hey, this guy has had a rough ride”?
JR: Yeah, and for Black Ops 2 we teamed up with David Goyer of Dark Knight fame. One of the big reasons was that we had a good working relationship with him from the first Black Ops.
But also if you look at his influence on a villain like The Joker, I mean that is a wholly re-imagined bad guy. You kind of look at bad guys a little differently because of him, and I think that’s a good way to think about how we ‘may’ be approaching Menendez.
There was so much stuff going on during the Los Angeles 2025 demo, and it seems like you are pushing tech to the limit. Did you ever feel that you wanted more from the hardware, and think about what you’d like from next-gen consoles?
JR: You know, what I think we’d like to see right now is Black Ops 2 come out in November first. But yeah, next-gen is a little over the horizon for us, as we’re very ‘heads-down’ on the current game.
I can tell you that the team has done a great deal of work on the Black Ops engine in the area of lighting, as they’ve really stripped it down to ensure they can make every improvement they need to get more processing power out of the boxes that we’re on.
Back at CoD XP we spoke with Rob Bowling about the notion of bringing back old content – such as maps from previous games – as free DLC, and he said that old content should never be paid-for. What’s your view on that stance for Black Ops 2?
JR: I’d like to talk to about that question later this summer.
Just picking up from something you said earlier – you mentioned that at the start of Strike Force Operations you will be able to choose your load out. Can you give us some insight into how you ready-up for one of these missions?
JR: That’s a tricky one to answer because I think that right now, because we’re still in the midst of developing how exactly you transition in, I’d hate to get too far ahead of myself. But we’re now looking at how exactly that handles.
Back to E3 2012, we saw Nintendo reveal Wii U for a second time. Does the hardware spark your imagination in any way as a developer?
JR: We’re always interested to see what the first-party is up to. Taking a step back from just the Wii U – whether it’s Wii U or SmartGlass or what have you, we are always interested in exploring anything that can enhance the Call of Duty experience.
When you talk about fan expectations, I think it’s fair to say that people come to the Call of Duty experience with those, so anything that furthers that experience and remains true to the Call of Duty universe, we’re open to considering.
Finally, I’d like to touch on zombies. Can you give us an idea of how big you’re taking it this year?
JR: Well, one of the big things that came out of E3 is, we went into LA with a huge chunk of campaign and Strike Force missions, but there was still this steady drum beat of, “We want more zombies.” This happened within the community as well, so we’re really looking forward to pulling back the curtain on zombies a little later.
Are you still amazed at how huge zombies mode has become since World at War?
JR: Yeah, it’s a big phenomenon, and a you say, it began as an unlock in World at War, became its own mode in Black Ops and now it’s a lifestyle. In Black Ops 2, it’s going to be the biggest and most ambitious zombies offering we’ve ever tackled.
It’s being built with the multiplayer engine. If you look at all of the stuff we can do within multiplayer, you can imagine how that’s being applied with the approach to zombies. The team has already talked about 4v4 and maybe other modes that expand on what players expect from that co-op experience.