Treyarch’s community manager Josh Olin recently sat down with IncGamers to discuss the upcoming Call of Duty title Black Ops. He talks about the back story of Black Ops, returning characters from the COD franchise and talks about the mammoth team working on the game.
Bobby Kotick recently confirmed the Black Ops launch will be the biggest Activision has ever invested in. Do you feel the pressure of having to deliver a game worthy of that amount of marketing?
If the boss says it has to be, It had better be, right? (he laughs) My interpretation of that was that they’re going to put the biggest amount of support behind it than any other title they’re put behind so far. That’s the way I’d word that. If that happens, great, I really hope it does. I hope we can set new records, that would be wonderful. At Treyarch we’re just focussing on making the best game possible, and hopefully if we succeed in that, then we’ll make the best game we’ve ever made, and good things will come of it.
Will some familiar faces be returning to Call of Duty: Black Ops?
Yes, Reznov, one of the Russian characters you saw in the Level Victor Charlie, he makes an appearance in our game. He’s a call-back character from World at War. He was Sergeant Reznov there and he was a protagonist in that game, he fought alongside you. He makes an appearance in our game, I don’t want to say anything more than that because it’ll spoil the story. We’ve put a lot of energy and effort behind crafting a really great single player experience, so we don’t want to spoil it. We want people to discover all the awesomeness that’s in single player as they play the game.
Can you give us a summary of what of what Black Ops is all about?
Black Ops takes place during the Cold War. It’s not about the Cold War, or any of those conflicts. We have a Vietnam sequence as you saw, but it’s not about the Vietnam war. You’re really just there on our specific missions that have to do with our original fictional story that we’ve created. So we’ve put a lot of effort into making a really very detailed and deep story with a complex story arc, strong character development, everything that makes a great narrative and plot, is what we’re doing.
The Cold War era offered a variety of everything. It’s a variety of locales; the Cold War entailed global conflict, there were hot zones all over the globe, so a lot of different areas and environments we can bring the player to. The era offered a variety of weaponry. It’s a long era and lots of many current day weapons were birthed right during that era.
Once you dive deeper into the whole Black Ops theme, these special operatives, covert missions, deniable operations, you’re talking about a variety of different mission types. The missions these guys were on were routinely behind enemy lines. Every single encounter was something new, everything had its own unique flair to it. We brought in veterans from these groups; the Studies and Observation Group, SOG, Major Don Slater who was in the group during Vietnam. He was telling us stories about missions he went on and it was incredible to hear the stuff they actually did in real life, and the fact that we would be able to make really compelling gameplay out of it, that was really cool.
Clearly Black Ops has a grittier feel, do you feel the subject matter allowed you to go in a darker direction?
It is grittier and moreover these guys were the most lethal fighting force there was in Black Ops. In SOG, they were the most leading fighting force period in the world at that time. You know the term is Jack of all trades, master of none? Well these guys were masters of all trades; they were explosives experts, weapons experts, flight experts. They did everything. They were very exact, very lethal. You saw that in the stealth sequences, getting those stealth kills. They were proficient with every type of weapon on the battlefield. Flying helicopters when they needed to… it’s definitely a creative game. It’s a mature game designed for mature audiences and we’re not trying to shy away from that.
Do you get to play as different characters throughout the single player campaign, and if so do the stories become connected?
Our characters will know each other, meet each other. You’ll primarily play as just Mason and Hudson, but you’ll play as others as well. There will be multiple threads to the story for sure, but they’re all going to come back together to give one main final conclusion.
How about the length of the campaign? There’s been negative feedback on this before in past games, how long will gamers spend on the single player?
It’s definitely similar to them (in length), each Call of Duty game has been various length World at War 2 was pretty short, World at War was longer and Call of Duty 3 was pretty long actually, so its somewhere in there, we don’t know for sure ‘cos we’re not done with the game yet. But the game is going to be however long it takes to tell a good story. We don’t want to inflate the length just for the hell of it, every level has to progress the story so whatever the story takes is the length is going to wind up at. But we know there is a sweet spot, we know that too short or too long is bad so we have to find that nice middle spot. But at the end of the day if we can leave the players wanting more, then I think that’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. If the campaign ends and they don’t think it was too short and don’t feel exhausted then that means we’re doing something right.
Sometimes people think we’re more focused on multiplayer but this time, and this is the first time in Treyarch’s history, we have a dedicated separate team for each mode. We have over 250 developers working on this game so that’s a LOT of people. Studios with less than 100 people make blockbuster games and we have 250 so we’ve got a dedicated single player team focused on this and not distracted with the other modes, a dedicated multiplayer team, a co-op team etc. No one component is taking the side or backseat to multiplayer, its like you’re getting three whole games.
Again with the subject matter has this given you more freedom as you can focus more on fiction than fact?
We call it plausible fiction so its fiction but we use authenticity to reinforce the plausibility of that fiction. Because we’re not telling the Cold War historically – in past games we weren’t telling you the WWII story we still had fictional stories there as well but perhaps it felt a little bit more historical because it was such an iconic battle – because it was the Cold War and more specifically within the Cold War we’re covering these deniable classified missions, people haven’t heard about them anyway so they wouldn’t know if its fiction or truth. So that does offer more creative rope, creative freedom for us to take some liberties with. At the end of the day everything you see will seem like it could have happened.
How about technology, has there been technological advances that have allowed you to do more/new things with this title?
Major things, yes. A tremendous amount of technological advancement has gone into the Black Ops engine. At the end of World at War we itemised a list of everything we wanted to further develop with the game. One of them was that we built texture streaming that allowed us to build the ridiculously large landscapes you saw in the Payback level. We completely re-engineered from the ground up our lighting system, so (in the preview/demo) you saw that reflected in the water and also in flashlight sequence in the tunnel the big bright bloom effect when Payback opened up and you’re looking through the canopy, the god rays coming down through the water when you’re swimming… All that stuff was made possible by the enhancements we made.
But there’s a lot more, there’s a big list additionally to the engine enhancements. There’s a lot of stuff that are simply art enhancements our artists have made. They’re getting better and better at making visuals. They understand how the rendering engine works, how the effects work and how best to use them so they’re able to really step their game up. For example check out the billowing fire, the black oily smoke, stuff like this wasn’t really an engine upgrade that made that stuff possible, that was all down to our great team of artists.