AusGamers Call of Duty: Black Ops II Developer Interview with Mark Lamia
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 01:34pm 02/05/12 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to catch up with Treyarch studio head aco-founder, Mark Lamia, about their recently unveiled Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Read on or watch for what he had to say...
Watch the full (and extensive) video interview above, or click here for a direct link.
My first question, before we even got to see the demo, was I was going to nail you guys about “franchise fatigue” and the modern conflict thing -- and you guys seemed to be heading toward the modern era, because you came from World War II, then to Black Ops -- and surely [Black Ops II was] going to nestle around there. And then you go and one-up me be going into the future.
So let’s start there, the genesis. Why did you guys decide to take it to the 80s and then another... 45 years into the future?
Mark Lamia: Well the team had a couple of objectives. Dave Anthony, the Creative Director, working with David Goyer, they really, really, really enjoyed the characters that we created with Black ops. We think the players enjoyed playing as Mason and they liked Woods and Hudson and there’s a lot of things that were left unanswered at the end of Black Ops and we wanted to finish telling those stories.
So there was definitely a continuation part of that. But we also wanted to take on the challenge of a new era, so with Call of Duty: Black Ops -- as you know -- it doesn’t talk about an era. That last game happened to take place mostly in that late 60s time-frame. There were some missions in the early 60s and there was one in the post-World War II era.
So this particular Black Ops tale, we wanted to tell happens to take place in that first Cold War, but also the challenge of creating what a future world would look like, about a decade out -- thirteen years out from now in the year 2025 -- and creating a second cold war conflict and having the juxtaposition of those two things and being about to tell a generation-spanning story, an entirely new time-frame, and creating that fiction was just an awesome challenge we wanted to take on that opened up all kinds of new gameplay possibilities and storytelling.
Being able to tell the story of a multi-dimensional villain so that we could see the genesis of how our villain... his motivations, what was going on there in that first cold war and then creating that setup for the future and seeing just what this villain is capable of in this year 2025, while the second cold war is taking place.
And what’s going on there is he’s sort of stoking the fires of the second cold war. He is behind all of this and cares for neither of the super-powers at that point. He’s more just behind-the-scenes puppeteering things.
AusGamers: Now there was talk a little while ago of when Sledgehammer came on board with Activision that they were going to handle a futuristic Call of Duty, and I know Glenn Schofield suggested that a couple of times -- even specifically to me in an interview. Is there a crossover there? Are you aware that this is what they were doing or was it always, this is what you’re going to do and the other teams just do what they’re going to do?
Mark: Yeah. Black Ops is its own thing. It’s inside the Call of Duty franchise, but it’s its own fiction. It’s sort of its own brand of fiction as well; it’s this historical fiction where we root things in a historical setting and context and we weave our fiction through it.
And as I’m saying that, I’ve just told you we’re going to the future, which hasn’t happened yet. So we have to create this sort of plausible future history, which was one of the challenges we took on. So we approached it much like we do our past historical stuff, and that is... obviously there are books written on where things are headed and technology, but we really worked with some -- we were fortunate to work with some -- experts and one of those experts was Peter Singer, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, and we approached him because he has written a book about advanced robotics and drones and future warfare, which is really important.
We wanted to make sure that this is Call of Duty, it can’t be too sci-fi, it’s gotta feel like this is plausible. It’s part of the DNA of Black Ops where we set up these plausible scenarios and then we have our fiction going through it and our story.
So we started there, but he offered us so much more. He provided us with a lot of context from which to create conflict in this future world and even the flipside of major advances in robotics and technology is that sort of -- on the flipside -- is the dependencies on that and things that might be happening in cyber-warfare in the future. Things that used to be the domain of great science-fiction books is no longer, it’s reality; it’s happening; starting to play out in the headlines today, but certainly in the coming decade.
AusGamers: In regards to that cadence, in terms of delivering the player that story, everything you told us today is really dense, and there’s a lot of back-history there. But as you pointed out, history is already beginning to play out. The future-history you’ve created is already playing out as we speak.
Headlines around the world are reflecting this great narrative that you guys have chosen to undertake. So I’m curious to know: for you guys, in terms of educating the player without being too heavy-handed in your delivery of narrative -- how are you handling that?
Mark: Obviously we’re not out to teach you guys a history lesson, and we weren’t in Black Ops, but I think through our storytelling style, the motion-graphics, the information and intelligence that you get in between missions, we’re able to -- in a very entertaining and sort of, inside the context of our story -- we’re able to provide context for the player, so they can root themselves in that fiction.
While we talk about history and “that already happened”, a lot of people don’t actually know what happened at The Bay of Pigs, or don’t know what even happened. Some of these settings in the Vietnam War -- some of the settings that we chose for Black Ops one -- and yet we were able to quickly get them up to speed, so that they could understand the world, whether or not that they came into it having knowledge of that world. And we’re going to do that exact same thing in the future.
Some of the stuff, we’re going to be overtly telling you about, but some of that’s going to be about the mystery that unravels as you experience this new world and I think that’s one of the exciting things about Black Ops for people, is that we had surprises for you along the way. Just as you thought you knew what was going on, we would turn the story on you, or you were trying to figure out what was going on.
So those surprises and those twists and those turns are part of what we want to preserve as part of the storytelling that we’re going to do in Black Ops II as well.
AusGamers: Now Black Ops had Alex Mason basically strapped to the chair for an interrogation and that was a really clever way to project the player back to these flashback sequences but to also bring him in and collate all the information that everybody had just been handed and I guess it was a means for us to be able to sink it in and digest it all.
Will you have something similar this time around that you can talk about?
Mark: Well I can tell you that there are different narrators depending on what is going on. So I think we talk about a story that is going to take place over multiple generations and I talked to you about being able to play the characters that you liked to play with in Black Ops one. So Woods for example: Woods is an old man in the year 2025, and he happens to be in this place called The Vault, which is a place where the CIA keeps its former operatives that are too sensitive to be somewhere else -- out and about.
And you’re playing David Mason -- the son of Alex Mason -- and as this opens up in 2025, you go to visit old man Woods and you’re trying to start to unravel what is going on with the villain (whose name is Raul Menendez) you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with Menendez.
I don’t want to give you the whole plot here, but the point is that: as you talk to Woods and you say “hey Woods, you never told me” it’s, like, “what’s going on with you and my father? You knew this man?”, and he says “yeah, it was a long time ago”. He starts to tell you that and then through Woods' eyes, you are able to play -- in that first cold war period -- some of those adventures and some of the story that we’re telling.
That’s just one way that we’re going to do that and you’re going to continue to move that story forward in the year 2025. The cold war fiction is going to be playing out around you; we’re going to convey that information to you; you’re going to be on the hunt for Menendez and unravelling that mystery, and then you’ll remember things that Woods has told you as part of his narrative And that’s how we’ll jump you back to the past and propel that story forward as well.
AusGamers: Something else that you touched on in our presentation was the cinematic scope and just how hard the cinematic team worked on delivering this great experience. One of the stand-out features for me in Black Ops was the sequence where, as Alex, you’re being led through The White House and you go and sit down with The President. And I thought that that bordered on some really great artistic endeavour -- and I thought that you guys reined it back a little bit after that -- but that whole sequence where he’s just imagining pulling out that gun, is just brilliant, and I’d love to see more of that.
Are you guys going to inject any of that sort of stuff in this game?
Mark: Well thank you, first off. That was a totally different kind of level for Call of Duty and that was specifically meant to be one of those... as a storytelling level, intentionally, that the player could experience. There will be scenes in this game where it’s just all about the storytelling and we are bringing you into the fiction and hopefully you feel that way artistically about how we’ve created the story and how we’re telling it to you in Black Ops II.
You’ll have experiences -- very cinematic experiences -- in Black Ops II, that I think will surprise you.
AusGamers: Now I know you kind of mentioned this downstairs, but I just wanted to -- for our Aussie viewers, who are probably champing at the bit to find out -- whether Mr [Voice Actor Sam] Worthington is going to return? But his son is [also] in the game. Are we at least going to get another Aussie to voice his son or something like that?
Mark: [Laughs] You know what, the team worked with Sam on Black Ops one and that was a great experience, but we’re not talking about talent right now. He did a great job; I thought his performance was incredible. The emotion that he brought to Alex Mason was incredibly real if you think about it. Those are some pretty intense circumstances that he was put in, and we think he did an amazing job.
AusGamers: Now intense circumstances, let’s use that as a great segue, because that 2025 battle for Downtown LA was intense as all hell. One of the questions I wanted to know was, that sequence where you get in, is it the FA 38?
Mark: Yeah, it’s a fictional vertical takeoff aircraft.
AusGamers: Now things start off a little slow as an escort mission, then all of a sudden it just ramps up to the nines. How much control does the player have over that flight sequence? Is it on-rails with a little bit of movement? Or are you totally free in that city?
Mark: You’re flying. When you take off, initially you’re using your vertical take-off jets. As you’re moving through the city what you’re doing is you’re providing cover for the escort for the President. You’re trying to clear a path so that they can get through. There is a point at which the drones are coming in to attack and then we lift up and let you take off out into the sky, and you’re flying and you’re controlling your weaponry -- your missiles and everything -- and you are flying that.
You also saw that there was sort of a burst mode in there with the effects and it’s really, really intense. You’re moving, you can actually choose how you’re flying around there -- weaving in and out of buildings and everything else. But it’s done Call of Duty style. This is not a simulator. If you don’t play Call of Duty, you will be able to pick this up, and it’s a very powerful feeling -- it’s really intense though, obviously you saw how fast-paced and intense that can be.
AusGamers: We were speaking to the audio guys downstairs and they didn’t reveal anything -- so don’t worry, you don’t have to scald them -- but everybody pressed them on this concept of... everyone pressed them on the soundtrack component, which is something that was quite big in Black Ops.
I’m just wondering, we were spitballing some 80s music that we could throw at you: so any Kenny Loggins would be fantastic during some of those sequences.
Mark: A little Top Gun.
AusGamers: A little Top Gun. Maybe some Tears For Fears for a bit of Hughes... [John Hughes]
Mark: Everybody Wants to Rule the World?
AusGamers: Yeah! Something like that when the credits role. But in all seriousness, will you guys be going with some licensed music this time around to continue with that narrative that you’ve already set in stone with Black Ops?
Mark: While we haven’t told you about the music, I think that when we brought in that licensed music, when you’re on the river in Vietnam and we choose to play Sympathy For The Devil, it’s because we feel like, in that setting... and you notice that it wasn’t just music playing, it was that was what they blared on the radio as they were rolling through right? Or Fortunate Son comes out on the radio when you’re in the camp base when you come out in Khe San.
Because we try to put it in context of the world and it’s all part of that fiction. So depending upon the circumstances in the 80s of where you are, if there was a radio or a situation, you would expect that there would be music from that era, if that was the case.
AusGamers: Provided that you don’t assume that at this point in 2025, that dubstep is still scientific and futuristic music and maybe that music has come full circle so that The Rolling Stones will still be around and you’ll have some other songs that you can play.
Mark: [Laughs] Well The Rolling Stones, maybe they’ll still be making music then! But we haven’t talked about what we’ll be doing in the year 2025. Here’s what I will say: that score and music are incredibly important. Music is often at times... that’s the emotion, that we can make you feel a certain way through music. It’s such an important aspect of the experience.
So we are doing some really interesting work on the music front, in terms of using that to help us with our storytelling and the emotions that the characters are having and perhaps even recognising what’s even going on in the world at times, or characters and things like that. If you think about how music has been used in maybe some of your favourite movies. There’s different themes and things like that that you can use to actually... while it may not be overt, you can use a thread and it might subconsciously trigger things for a player -- not just emotion, but also character.
We’re doing some exciting stuff there. I’m looking forward to telling you a little more about the music later.
AusGamers: I’m super, super psyched about the single-player, I think you guys have ramped it up to the nines -- as I mentioned earlier -- but obviously, a lot of other people out there are wanting to know a lot about multiplayer. This new mode that you revealed today, Strike Force -- which looks really, really cool -- and obviously Zombies is coming back, because it’s a fan favourite...
Mark: Yeah, absolutely.
AusGamers: ...and it’s a Treyarch favourite, so I’m glad to hear that as well. So I know that you can’t really reveal too much, but I understand that some information has already been let loose on The Interwebz. I didn’t actually get a chance to read it...
Mark: Well since I was with you, I wouldn’t even know...
AusGamers: So you couldn’t have been the leak...
Mark: Maybe after we’re done here I can go read about it.
Here’s what I can say: a lot of people say... a lot of stuff is rumoured; a lot of stuff isn’t real. So be careful what you read online.
But I’ll tell you, the multiplayer guys are pushing it. They are really pushing hard. You’re going to see a lot of new ways to play this game. They’re really looking at each of the systems and really want to create and have a very balanced approach, but allow for a lot of great flexibility in the campaign.
They realise that we have very advanced players who have invested a lot of time into this game and are looking for new ways to experience and enjoy it, but also retain that core essence that they’re used to and familiar with -- and that’s a fine balance to strike in your design.
But there’s also a lot of people -- there’s also a large middle there -- that wants to enjoy the game and to compete, and so we’re going to be working to try and make sure that they’re taken care of as well and there’re a lot of things that they are working on that they’re going to be pushing forward with this.
On the multiplayer front, we’re going to give you guys a tonne of information at a later date. But suffice it to say that Black Ops was a great multiplayer experience -- not just making it, but actually supporting it with the community online, we were watching what was going on and hearing the things that people enjoyed and that they wanted to do more of that they wished they could do. And those sorts of things, we think about as we’re coming up with our new game; as well as, we have our own ambitions for what we want to create.
If you love Call of Duty multiplayer, you’re going to love Black Ops 2, but we’re going to be bringing new stuff to the table for you to love as well. And that’s not just that new future setting that we talked about, you just imagine what that’s going to mean for weapons and optics and attachments and technology on the battlefield, but there’s just new gameplay to bring to it, now that we have some new fiction that we can work with.
And much like we did within that 60s era -- we brought some great new, fun gameplay components that you hadn't played inside of Call of Duty. You can bet that we’re working on that stuff inside the future setting as well.
You talked about something else real quick, you mentioned Strike Force.
AusGamers: I did mention Strike Force, but before we get onto it: I know you can’t answer it, but I’ll suggest that one of my favourite components of World at War...
Mark: Are you making a request?
AusGamers: I am. I just think that you guys handled a limited vehicular addition really well with World at War and I think it was something that was missing from Black Ops. So the FA-38 would be awesome in multiplayer, as would horses -- because we saw that there were horses.
Mark: Yeah, well there’s just all kinds of new gameplay mechanics in the game and we showed you a little bit of Afghanistan in the 80s and the horse-riders there, so we have a new game mechanic where you’re going to be doing that. So, noted -- I’ll note that.
All of the game in the multiplayer game, will be taking place in that futuristic setting, in 2025.
AusGamers: Now I think we have to wrap it up really quickly, so if you want to throw something about Strike Force out there, and can you confirm or deny co-op in that mode in any way, shape or form? I don’t think it would work, but I just thought we’d ask.
Mark: Yeah, that’s a good question. Our co-op mode, at Treyarch, is Zombies. We are putting everything we’ve got into that. If you’re a Zombies fan, this is by far the most ambitious Zombie initiative -- it’s its own game. It has a world, characters, there are new game-modes we’re bringing to the table. We moved it to the multiplayer engine, which allows us or, affords us, all new kinds of opportunities.
Think about what we’re able to do in multiplayer in terms of the sort of extended abilities you get inside that engine. If you can think about all the different kinds of things you can do in multiplayer, you might be able to think about some of the new things we can bring to a Zombies mode in that technology.
Strike Force mode. Strike Force mode is part of the campaign. It is a part of the campaign that affects the branching storylines that you get inside the campaign.
AusGamers: It’s like a meta-game right?
Mark: But it is actually... there are these... you know the cold war’s going on while you’re playing the narrative and occasionally what will happen is, as that narrative is playing out, you’re going to be presented with some of the hot-spots around the world and you’re going to have a choice of which one of these Strike Force missions you can take. And that will affect the narrative of the cold war and what’s going on in the world and the tensions based on your actions on the ground.
And I think the unique thing about Strike Force mode is, while it introduces non-linear campaign structure into Call of Duty -- because you’ll make a choice and then the narrative will continue and if you want to make the choice for the other one, of course you can go back and replay it -- but when you’re playing that mode, it’s a sandbox experience, it’s a non-linear experience. Even as you’re playing it, you can play as any member of your squad; you can move around and play the different weapons. You can play as any of your technology on the battlefield.
So if you have quad-rotors, if you have ground-drones, you can drive them or fly them and you can also even just take a pure tactical approach to the level and you can play it in what we call Overwatch mode. You can play the whole level in Overwatch mode, or you can play the whole level as one of your Black Ops squad there -- one of the seal-team members -- just like you would any kind of Call of Duty level.
Or you can move between any one of those modes, and I think it’s an entirely new way just to experience the campaign. One of our objectives was, “hey, let’s introduce new ways to play inside the campaign” and of course we want to allow people to have a lot of fun with all the new technology that you get in the year 2025.
AusGamers: Ok, awesome. Well we’ll wrap it up there. Mark, thank you so much. I’m glad that you guys are shaking things up and it looks like it’s baking quite well -- a bit of shake and bake in there.
You guys heard it here first -- Stephen Farrelly with Mark Lamia -- thank you so much.
Mark: Thanks Australia.
AusGamers: No worries. Cheers.