Call of Duty: Black Ops

Gamescom 2010: Call of Duty: Black Ops Interview - Josh Olin, Treyarch Community Manager

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Following the launch of Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which smashed every sales record known to man and went on to earn the title of “biggest entertainment launch of all time”, Treyarch is taking the reins of the CoD franchise once more having returned to World War II for World at War back in 2008.

This time though, the weight of expectation on the development studio is unprecedented, prompting Treyarch to shift the action to a new location and era in Vietnam, presenting the opportunity for a host of fresh deniable ops, an arsenal of new weaponryand more.

We caught up with Treyarch Community Manager, Josh Olin, at Gamescom last week to ask a few questions about Call of Duty: Black Ops and how the shadow of MW2 has influenced development. Find out what measures Treyarch is taking for Black Ops' multiplayer, the advantages of adopting a Hollywood approach for single-player, the game's new RC cars, zombies and much, much more.

First off, is there going to be a multiplayer beta for Black Ops?

It's possible. We're just not sure. We've had betas in the past, we know the value of a beta, we know the risks of a beta and we also know it's popular and that people like that, so if we do decide to do it and you want to be the first to know, follow the game on Twitter or via the Facebook page. Those are the best ways to get that information.

Do you think that betas are becoming more essential in this day and age? Modern Warfare 2 was criticised for its glitches and people exploiting the system, for instance.

I don't think they're critical. You're never going to get enough beta testing in-house and once the game is released, if a million people play one hour each game, the game's already got more testing than any QA (quality assurance) department can ever do and so some people might say that's a reason to have a beta. A lot of the hacks, glitches and exploits that were found with MW 2 weren't necessarily because it was a bad product or because it didn't have a beta. It was just because that's when all the console modding happened about a year, a year and a half ago. So, World at War was as vulnerable to those things, it just didn't seem nearly as prolific because Modern Warfare 2 was the game to play in 2009, right?

Console modding – and I don't want to get too into techno speak here – is basically hacking the system and then gaining access to system-level variables that developers never intended for people to have access to, and we always assumed we were safe because the platform was safe and secure, but it got cracked. With Black Ops, that's all behind us. We know how they did that, so we have worked in preventative measures for all the current-day modding geeks were using to exploit the Call of Duty games. Then moving forward of course, they're very intuitive, they're very creative, smart people, these hackers, so they'll probably find some way around the blocks and if they do we've built-in security tools to allow us to enforce our policies and moderate our leaderboards and lobbies, so it shouldn't be as big an issue with Black Ops.

Can you tell us roughly how many hours of gameplay the single-player campaign will have?

No, because it's just not done yet, but there is a sweet spot. We don't want the game to be too long, because then people lose their attention span and then they just never finish it. They put it down or by the time they get round to it, they can't remember how it started. So there's problems in having a game that's too long and of course the problem with having a game that's too short, is people will feel like they didn't get enough, but there is a sweet spot where you want people to feel like they want more, but they also feel like they experienced a great story. That's the sweet spot we're going to try to hit and whatever the length ends up as, we're going to try to tell the perfect story that we want to tell, with all the right pacing. Pacing a story is critical and that influences and is influenced by the length of the game.

The RC cars seem to detract slightly from the traditional Treyarch Call of Duty game, so how did they come about conceptually?

There are a lot of these really unique weapons that were made available to these Black Ops teams, so you see that in movies all the time where it's a camera attached to a car and it blows up, right? It's in Bad Boys 2 and plenty of movies do that sort of thing, and that does really happen. They do attach explosives to remote-controlled cars and that happens in war. They attach explosives to much worse things than RC cars, believe me. So, it was a fun way to do some vehicle elements in multiplayer and of course the Prestige Edition item that we made out of that - announced just last week – has a fully-functioning RC car - minus the explosives - that you'll be able to drive around and it has a 200-foot range and it wirelessly transmits video and audio back to the receiver, so it's the true surveillance vehicle.

Activision came to us and said that we're doing another Prestige Edition for Black Ops and we need to find something in the game that's cool, that people would want, so we toyed around with a lot of things. We were going to go with one of those little remote-controlled helicopters at one point, as there's a helicopter in the game, but it just wasn't as cool and we looked at the modified RC car we had in the game and thought this would be a cool toy. How many people would like to drive the car into another room and... Who knows the kind of nefarious purposes we're going to find for this car, but it should be interesting because it's got video. People can create all sorts of different viral videos with all that stuff.

Every year these editions seem to be getting progressively crazier, so how are you going to one-up Black Ops' remote-controlled car next time you make a Call of Duty?

That's a good question. Maybe we'll package explosives with it, I don't know. A working crossbow.

There's a lot of new stuff for multiplayer...

Yeah, there's definitely a lot of new stuff for multiplayer. There's a huge, huge new multiplayer mode that I can't talk about, but we'll reveal it on September 1st. I think people are going to be very surprised with what we unveil. They're not going to be expecting this deep a multiplayer, because frankly we've never had a dedicated multiplayer team like we've had on this project.

In 2008 when we made World at War, we worked on three blockbuster games that we released that same fall - Quantum of Solace, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows and World at War - so we had about 250 developers at Treyarch working on three games. Now we have all of our developers working exclusively on Black Ops, so fundamentally from day one, we've had a dedicated single-player team, dedicated multiplayer team and dedicated co-op team each focusing on their own discipline. It's kind of like having three games in one. If any one of those teams can ship a blockbuster title in 2008 and it's just one of three components in Black Ops, it's like, how big is this game going to be?
Will Black Ops' co-op be similar to World at War's?

It's four-player online co-op or two-player local splitscreen. That's pretty much all I can say, but it's going to be a fan favourite.

Will the World at War zombie maps packaged with the Hardened and Prestige editions be available in Germany this time?

To my knowledge, yes they will, but you'll probably want to verify that with your local PR. It's not Nazi Zombies any more, and I think that was the problem last time – the Nazi portion of that. So, even for World at War, the second map pack released for it had Shi No Numa and those were Japanese zombies, so it just didn't make sense to call it Nazi Zombies any more. So in the PR for the Hardened and Prestige zombie maps, we just call it World at War 'Zombies'. Shi No Numa will be one of those maps, and that has Japanese zombies in it too. It's not just German zombies now.
Do you think there's more pressure than ever to deliver now, given the success of Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2?

Yeah. The biggest entertainment launch in history, right? With every Call of Duty game, the goal is to ratchet that up more and raise the bar one level higher, so that's a big ratchet, but we're in a good position to do just that. But I've got to defer to you guys though to let us know if we've made a great game and ratcheted the bar up a level.

Do you think it's fair to say that Black Op's single-player is more Hollywood, with more explosions and action?
It's very cinematic, so in that sense, yeah. We're using technology for performance capture, which is the same as what James Cameron used for Avatar. We went to the same motion capture studio called the House of Moves in Los Angeles. So, we used that stuff and it's really the first First-Person Shooter to implement all of that technology, because it's all so new – it only came out about a year or so ago – we have that in the game and it's allowed our character's performances to really breathe on-screen. So, in that sense, again yes it's kind of like Hollywood where we're casting actors that can perform their movements, their facial expressions and their voice, all in one take. We've gone for actors with theatre backgrounds so they can really read well to the people at the back of the theatre.

It's impressive. The quality of the performances you get is really unlike anything you'll have seen before. I think in 'Victor Charlie', you might have seen a little bit of that where they come up out of the water and kill those two VC and they're searching the bodies and talking, and you have the syntax and just before you go in and plant the C4, that whole dialogue exchange where they're reading off each other and giving each other subtle nods and hand motions, all of those things are perfectly in-sync with the voice and face. Previously, with World at War where we had to record the voice and face separately from the body, some things would fire off slightly too soon and those little things do kind of flatten the performance, but we don't have that problem any more.
With so many powerful weapons at your disposal and the ability to fly a tooled-up helicopter, are we going to see more destructible environments in Black Ops?
Yeah. I think in Victor Charlie you probably saw that you can shoot a rocket at one of the buildings and the building sort of erupted. If you shoot the M202 (rocket launcher) across and take out the anti-aircraft gun, you'll probably blow up the building too. Those are cinematic set-pieces. We're not making it fully-destructible, it's just not what Call of Duty is. But any set-pieces where things should be destructible, they will be. It has to have that immersion, but we're not making a game where a grenade blows a fist-sized hole into something. There are other games for that. In Payback though, with the helicopter, everything is destructible. Everything. Every hut, every house, every pipeline, every bridge, every tree, because like I said, it's fun and it made sense that everything in that level should blow up.

Does it get hard making these action set-pieces, because you don't want to be repeating the same scenarios over and over?

Yeah, it does. That's part of why it was important to pick a genre and an era that was fresh and new, because we need to have these new things that we can do. And it's also really hard from a technical standpoint to keep making it bigger and badder, because the hardware isn't necessarily expanding when you look at the consoles. It takes a lot of mathematics back at Treyarch to re-factor all their engine technologies and processes to make those huge vistas and huge explosions that you saw in Payback. That was not an easy engineering feat.
So has the era freed you up a bit to take a few more liberties and go crazy?

Definitely. Purely from a black ops standpoint where those guys are CIA and all of those things that we're showing you were all deniable operations, so they're things you don't even know about, they were all classified. It gave us a lot more creative liberties. If you're creating a World War II game, you can't rewrite history and with World War II, most people know what did and didn't happen. With this one, not a lot of people know the stories, so it allowed us a lot more creative freedom.
Do you think that there's more of a need for authentic character performances, as people now seem to increasingly pick up on the most minor of details?
Yes. Especially in a game like Call of Duty where it's cinematic and it's not like a sandbox shooter. It's definitely a scripted game from start to finish, but people come to expect that from CoD. There are a lot of other story-driven games out there like Uncharted 2 that are really big, cinematic experiences as well, but I think it all depends on the kind of game you're looking at.

Can you tell us more about Black Ops' video editor, or is that another thing we'll see more of on September 1st?

That falls under the September 1st thing, but of course the teaser trailer has been ripped apart and dissected and right at the end, you guys accurately picked up that there's some sort of recording stuff in the game and I can just tell you that it's a big feature and you're going to learn a lot more about it on September 1st.

Were the Call of Duty subscription rumours frustrating for you guys?

That's why I diffused it when those rumours really started to get out of control and everybody started clamouring onto it, I just had to get a tweet out about it. So, I talked to our PR guys and they were like, “No. No no no no no. You do not have to pay to play Black Ops multiplayer. You buy the game, you put in the disc and you can play multiplayer all you want.”

Have you planned any downloadable content yet?

No, we're not planning it. We're going to support the game aggressively post-release and it's Call of Duty. I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we're going to do DLC, but there are no plans, nothing is confirmed yet, we don't know what's going to be in it. What we're doing right now is just heads-down, focusing on our number one priority to make sure what's in the box is the best possible thing we can make. The whole team is dedicated to that right now.

Is it at all possible that Black Ops will support DLC for the game's other modes outside multiplayer?

Anything is possible. With World at War we did co-op stuff as well, so that's another possibility. There's a lot of stuff we could do through DLC, but who knows what the future holds with that.

Going back to the subscription stuff for a minute, a lot of analysts are saying that it might be a viable business option to charge for multiplayer in the future. Do you see that happening in the future from a personal standpoint?

I think it's happening already. I mean, you look at Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus, that's what you do, you've got to subscribe to that service in order to play the game online. It works differently for the PC of course, but that stuff already exists and I think at the end of the day, where the corporate guys decide where that money is going to go doesn't matter. We're here to make a great game at Treyarch, and at the end of the day, the consumer ultimately isn't going to care who is getting what cut of the money, the point is they have to subscribe. Subscribing to use a service, to get a service is nothing new and is something that exists right now.

What's your personal opinion on EA's 'Project Ten Dollar' initiative to combat sales of used games?

It'll be interesting to see how it works. Used games do pose a problem to the development community. As we become more and more prolific and our industry grows, I think we need to have more standards and policies in place to ensure that the creative authors of that content are paid their dues.

Do you think that Activision and Treyarch will ever introduce something similar?

Not for Black Ops. I'm sure somebody at Activision is looking into that. It's a big business decision, but we're just looking to make games. It's a very compartmentalised process to be honest. Activision does their thing and they do their thing really well - the publishing and marketing stuff – but I like to think that we do our thing pretty well too, which is just making games.

How are pre-orders for Call of Duty: Black Ops?
They're really strong actually. They're outpacing Modern Warfare 2's pre-orders. We're outpacing every other Call of Duty's pre-orders to date. There's still months to go before release, so of course the total number is going to get bigger. At this point in every Call of Duty's release cycle we're ahead in pre-orders though.
That must be pretty exciting...

It is. Yes, it is. We really like to see that!
Call of Duty: Black Ops is due for release on November 9th, 2010.


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Game Info


US November 09, 2010

HDD Space Required : 6.82 GB
Backward compatible on Xbox One: Yes
Price: $39.99USD
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