Recently, Tamer Asfahani was fortunate enough to be asked to go and see Treyarch’s forthcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops. While there, he managed to corner studio head Mark Lamia and community manager Josh Olin, and – never one to pass up an opportunity – he whipped out the camera and began a lengthy interrogation about the game.This is my first arsehole question: how long have you been waiting to make a game like this?Mark Lamia: [Outraged] What an asshole! [Grins] No, I’m joking. You can edit that, right? I’m not editing it.ML: Perfect! Obviously, you guys have been stuck in this World War 2 trough for awhile. Presumably, this is a game that you’ve been wanting to make for quite a while?ML: You know, the opportunity to create a game in a totally new space, something that’s ownable by Treyarch, is a fantastic opportunity, and it really opened up all kinds of creative avenues for us, and ways for us to express ourselves. We’ve been making World War 2 games for quite some time and while we enjoyed that, being able to do something new allowed us to focus on new kinds of gameplay and bringing fresh new experiences to people who’ve had a lot of great experiences playing Call of Duty. That’s exemplified by the variety of things you get to do in the game, the variety of weaponry, the variety of locales, the settings, this time period, and just being able to play as black ops, who basically had their own freedom and license to take on their missions how they saw fit. So it fit perfectly, and aligned really nicely with what we wanted to do. It looks amazing, and of course it’s Call of Duty – it’s going to be beautiful no matter who’s developing. The question is, is it a bit late for this now? With things like Medal of Honor coming out, and Six Days in Fallujah, and other black ops-type games being thought about and discussed, is this going to really offer something different, or is it just Call of Duty in a different skin?ML: I am sure that this Call of Duty will be different than the other experiences out there, and the other Call of Duties. I think what’s important to us when we’re creating a Call of Duty game is to ensure we retain the essence of Call of Duty, and why people love to play Call of Duty. That cinematic intensity that only Call of Duty delivers, and that people expect, but with this game, we’re introducing new gameplay mechanics, new weapons, new things to do – in the mission that we shared with you, we shared with you just a part of the mission but we open it up with you approaching the SR-71, taking off in it, taking control of the troops on the ground, providing them with the intel they need, then transitioning, within the same level, down to the ground operations where the black ops forces are.Introducing rappel gameplay, doing a rappel breach, approaching a situation where you could either approach it in an action fashion or in a stealth fashion. In the example that we showed you, we started out stealth and then we ran hot for you. And high-altitude jumping! And that was just a portion of one level. All the new gameplay and all of the new gameplay mechanics that were introduced in that one level, that’s a good example of what we wanted to do in terms of variety of gameplay, and keeping it fresh. While I haven’t seen the other games coming out this year I do know that we’re doing our own thing, and it’s certainly new and fresh for Call of Duty, and we believe that we’re going to provide a lot of new gameplay for people and a lot of new places to go.{PAGE TITLE=Call of Duty: Black Ops Interview Page 2}Josh Olin: I would like to elaborate on that. When you’re talking about how we’re ratcheting that bar up with Call of Duty: Black Ops, we’re making a strong focus on deep narrative and compelling storyline, and with that comes complicated characters and character arcs, so they’re going to progress through the game as you play them. For the first time in a Call of Duty you have a character voice. You are a player, you have your own recognisable voice. What you heard today was just temp VO, but in the final version you’re going to have your own identity, and you are the one who’s taking control of the battlefield and you’re the one who can really effect change and tip the tides of the battle one way or the other. So that’s something that none of the Call of Duty players have experienced before.Then, looking at the bigger picture of the whole product, it’s more than just a compelling single-player campaign. Of course we want to tell this great story, this great narrative, but we have a dedicated co-op mode – four-player online, two-player split-screen, which is going to be… And that’s the story mode?JO: No, it’s not the story mode. It’s a complete stand-alone.Why not? What is it with everybody that’s doing these bloody games where you’ve got a squad but you can’t go in and play the whole campaign with friends?ML: With Call of Duty: World at War, we’ve done that.JO: That’s right.ML: But what our goal was with this one was to tell a deep, compelling story. With the sort of work we’re doing with the character, the moments are fairly intimate, and they are one-on-one moments, some of them, that would not make sense in the state of co-op gameplay. However, we’ve created dedicated co-op modes at Treyarch. We’ve also allowed you to play through story modes as co-op.It was a creative choice, on this game, to focus on character and story and drive that as deep as we can with the single-player, including giving the player a voice inside the game. Once you start to make those decisions, there are a lot of other decisions you need to make about the game as well, once you make that a priority. But we also wanted to do co-op. We feel like what we wanted to do was create our own unique co-op mode that’s just a lot of fun to play, and while we’re not talking about what that is right now, we’re looking forward to revealing it to you guys later.JO: And of course, it’s Call of Duty, so there’s a deep and very, very replayable multiplayer aspect to it as well. We’re having a strong focus this time around on customisation and personalisation to the player, as well as socialisation, and extending the game beyond just the match that you’re playing in multiplayer. There’s going to be so much more you can do in Black Ops now, and of course the whole team is just bursting at the seams to tell you everything about multiplayer. For the first time, Treyarch’s had this dedicated MP team since day one of the project, and it’s part of that whole reshuffling of our own internal studio to focus everybody on one game. We’re not a multi-title studio anymore – we’re all focused on Call of Duty: Black Ops, so it’s allowed us to really make, honestly, the best game we’ve ever made.{PAGE TITLE=Call of Duty: Black Ops Interview Page 3}Probably a bit of another arsehole question, but has the breakdown of Infinity Ward afforded you this opportunity to go into a different era with your version of Call of Duty, or were you always looking to move away from the second World War?ML: From the very beginning, we were looking to move into a new era. This game has been in development for over a year and a half at this point, long before any of the recent events that have transpired. So those events have absolutely nothing to do with the creative, or the inspiration, or what we’re doing. We were already well into development and had been through pre-production on our entire game before any of that. This all comes from within Treyarch. We’re making the game that we want to make. We’re making it, covering an era that we feel is fertile ground for gaming and just hasn’t been covered, and we’re covering black ops, and doing that inside this era hasn’t been done. So this is our game, and we’re making it our way.On that note, talking about fertile ground, do you want to tell me something exclusive, interesting, and good about the game that you haven’t told anyone else? Think hard.JO: [Laughs]ML: I would, but our PR guy here would kill me! [Turns to PR] How about you tell him so that I can’t get in trouble? Let’s see, something that we haven’t told anybody that we’re allowed to reveal to you…JO: We could talk about payback.ML: We’ve talked about that a little today. He wants something that hasn’t been discussed.While Mark’s thinking, can you tell me a little bit more about how long the story campaign is, Josh? That’s one of the things that a lot of people get a little annoyed about, especially with the last game.JO: We just don’t know yet. It’s not done, and I would love to tell you, but we’re still very deep in development of the title. Until it’s packaged up and we’re completely sure of which gameplay mechanics are going to stay and which ones we’re going to develop out further, we just wouldn’t be able to tell you an honest answer.ML: What I’d like to say about that is that we look at this game as like three games in one. It’s going to have a tonne of gameplay between the single-player experience, the multiplayer, and the co-op. There’s tonnes of replayability, there’s tonnes of depth, and there’s a lot of game to be played there. We’re confident that players are going to feel very satisfied, and I think that’s part of what made Call of Duties in the past so successful. It’s the quality of the game, and they get a lot of replayability out of all those different modes. We’re aiming for nothing less, and we’re trying to create the most robust experience we can at the highest quality level we possibly can.JO: Even the single-player has new aspects of replayability that maybe weren’t in other Call of Duties. If you take the WMD sequence, for example, we played that both ways in the demo today. We started off stealthily, and then we switched to the explosive tips on the crossbow and just blew the whole level to hell, but if you wanted to play that through entirely stealthy, you could. However, if you wanted to play it through entirely action you could as well, so players might want to go back and play that through a different way, and see how the game feels.Have you got that exclusive thing? We’re running out of time.ML: The problem is that I’ve had about 300 interviews and I probably don’t have anything entirely exclusive to tell you, but why don’t I tell you about… [pauses] No, I don’t have anything exclusive to tell you. Sorry! I think, for us, it’s all about variety and keeping it fresh. You’re going to have everything from variety of weapons and different vehicles than you’ve had to use in a game, the way we’re going to tell our story, what we’re going to do, the way your character is, and the way the characters around you progress, is going to be different, and something that you haven’t experienced yet in Call of Duty. It’s something that we truly wanted to do – to bring you guys some new experiences, while retaining and building off of the core essence that is Call of Duty.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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