AusGamers: You mentioned that Black Ops 2 was both the worst-kept secret and the best-kept secret. Can you elaborate on that and how long was that the case?
Mark Lamia: Gosh, I guess it’s been over a year and a half now. As we were wrapping up Black Ops 1, the team was really firing on all cylinders. And while we really gave everything we had to that, and we were really happy with it, we kind of felt like, as a team, that was the first time that the entire studio had just focused on one game.
So we were really proud of what we’d created, but we felt like that was kind of like the base-level. We felt like we could push it so much more. So that’s why you’re seeing so many new things go into Black Ops 2.
We felt like we created something as a great foundation, we felt like we had just scratched the surface with the fiction, we loved the storytelling -- this is the history that you didn’t know about and these are the black operations.. We liked the tone of it -- dark things and dark places and everything that’s going on in that world. The multiplayer team was excited about what we’d created; the zombies team was excited about what we’d created.
The fiction itself, to take it to the near future, we can trace that back to while we were in submission with Black Ops 1. The game is basically done, it’s submitted to first-parties -- which as it’s being manufactured; before it hits the shelves. In the past, sometimes we’ve felt like we need a little bit of a break, but we were just super-excited about what we had created, so we started spinning on “hey, with this one, we can take it to the near future. But we want it to be a sequel to the characters; and we can do this generation spinning”. Just all of these different ideas started coming to the surface.
So, while -- like I said -- probably the worst kept secret in gaming is that “Treyarch are making Call of Duty: Black Ops II”, exactly what Call of Duty: Black Ops II is, is probably the best kept secret in gaming.
AusGamers: The weapons and equipment in Call of Duty games have always been very authentic. How does that translate when you’re going into the future? How much is historical projection and how much is pure fiction?
Mark Lamia: We try to look at the future in the same way we look at the past. The past has to be as authentic and plausible enough to be able to set you into our fiction, and we look at that when we’re doing out future.
We did a bunch of research; we met with experts like Peter Singer who talked to us about advanced-robotics and drone-warfare -- since that’s going to play a significant role in the next decade of warfare.
But you asked a specific question about weaponry. On one level, I think you can expect... if you look at the past -- which is where often-times we’ll look for how things have evolved in the past -- you know that there’s weaponry that’s been around for a long time. So you might have that also -- there might be some weaponry that will be around for a long time.
But for gameplay and also because it will exist and there’ll be all these new technological advancements, there’s going to be a tonne of new weaponry.
So we literally have to come up with -- and it was very difficult, but we got through a lot of iteration -- we literally come up with a justification and storyline for every piece of weaponry and technology that we come up with.
Let me give you a more in-depth example: in the demonstration of LA, we showed you a sniper weapon, but it was not a sniper weapon like anything you’ve ever played with in Call of Duty -- and in fact, if you just stopped right there and looked at it, there’s this weapon that you can see through walls and shoot people through. Right?
Is that realistic or is that not realistic? Well I’ll tell you how we think about it, and how we have to justify it to ourselves before it makes it into the game: is we go “ok, in the future, what would a sniper rifle be, and what would be a really amazing optic for that sniper rifle?”. Well you flew here from Australia and you probably had to go through those TSA scanners right? Where they put your hands up here and they can see through everything, well there’s that millimetre wave technology, it exists in large form-factor right now.
And you know that every 18-24 months, there’s this thing called Moore’s Law, where processing power is going to double. Right? It’s going to double. That is very hard to conceptualise. In fact, you almost have to look to the past to even get an idea of what that actually means.
Because it’s hard to look out that way and go “so what does that actually look like?”. Well look thirteen years back. The PS3 or the 360 that you can go buy, is the same processing power as a multi-million dollar... the most advanced piece of processing power that the military would have running -- the military. So servers, whole huge computer systems -- multi-million dollars -- thirteen years ago is the same processing power as a PS3 or a 360. Which by the way, we also know is technology that has been around for a while right?
So you project that out. Go back to the millimeter wave technology; processing power continues. We also know that as time advances, form factors get smaller. We know that from our own personal consumer electronics devices -- they’re all smaller, things get more efficient.
Now you have an optic, that would be a pretty impressive optic to have as opposed to being on a vehicle -- mounted on a vehicle moving through a city -- it’s actually on a weapon. Now what do you do? You can see through it, now you want to be able to -- from a gameplay point of you -- you want to be able to do something about that. How do you justify that?
That’s a pillar, that thing is four feet worth of concrete or whatever it is! Well I don’t know if you’ve seen a thing called (and this is not a technology that we’re using, but it exists today), there’s something called Metal Storm technology that we saw that inspired us.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but it’s an electronic charge as opposed to a gunpowder charge. it fires a million rounds every 60 seconds. That’s today! Now it’s in big form-factor, again we’re talking thirteen years out.
So now, from a gameplay point of view -- because you have to balance that, because that’s a pretty powerful weapon suddenly -- if you’re putting this technology on a sniper weapon, how do you balance that? Well, it’s a charge-shot mechanic you have to hold down. The longer you charge up, the more you can penetrate. If you don’t charge up enough, you’re not going to be able to penetrate the surface material.
That’s how we sort of... that’s a combination of fiction with game-balance with everything else. That weapon has gone through a lot of iteration, and it’s not just gameplay, it’s artistically. How does that sit in the world? The drones are the same thing, you saw the quadped, the CLAW -- the Cognitive Land Assault Weapon -- that’s the four-legged, tank-like thing with the huge mounted calibre thing. That went through a lot of revisions as well for the team to get that right -- to make that feel like “yeah, this feels plausible”.
Does that exist right now? No. Does the other weapon exist right now? No. But every single one of those things has a backstory. We know that there are quadrupeds that are basically mules; robotic mules, that can carry large amounts of gear and things like that. Well, how long before that sort of thing could potentially have a camera or a weapon mounted to it or something like that? So we go through that whole process for everything.
AusGamers: How are Strike Force levels integrated into the campaign and what can we expect in terms of vehicular interaction?
Mark: Good question. So Strike Force levels are part of the campaign and they’ll be introduced to the player as the story is unfolding and the cold war is playing out and there are these proxy wars. JSOCS is going to come before you as a player and say, there are these hotspots in the world, we need to send a Black Ops team in.
You’ll have a choice then as a player, which one of these hotspots you want to take on and then you’ll be inserted into it. At the highest level, we just introduce nonlinearity into the campaign -- choice and nonlinearity into the campaign structure -- before you’ve even started playing the map out.
Now when you get dropped into that the level, the goal was to have a nonlinear, sandbox gameplay experience that would be fun to replay, but also accessible. That’s a lot of goals. That’s a lot of goals that the team worked really hard on and took us a long time to get.
So you’ll be able to play as any of the members of your squad, who have different weaponry. You’ll be able to take over any of the equipment on the battlefield. So the vehicles, the flying vehicles. You want to fly that quad? You can do that. You want to take over that Cognitive Land Assault Weapon with the heavy machinery? You can do that. You want to take over the automated sentry-drone and roll through there with all kinds of rockets and heavy-calibre equipment? You can do that.
You want to play the general on the battlefield and get the overview and set it up before you move into the encounter? You can do that. You want to just play it like you play every single Call of Duty level (again, it has to accessible, but have depth)? You can do that. You can just go in with your weapon in hand and never move to any of those things. But for the player who wants to have an entirely new experience in Call of Duty, you’re absolutely going to get that with Strike Force levels.
AusGamers: Will we see vehicles like the quadcopter or the drones in the regular campaign?
Mark: The cool thing about our fiction that I think works really well -- just from a gameplay point of view, so let’s pull the fiction and help serve the gameplay in this point -- what happens is in our fiction is our villain, Raul Menendez, steals the keys to the US military infrastructure and turns our advantage -- which is this advancement in robotics and drones -- on us; turns our own weapons on us.
So what that means is, while you’re playing with them as allies, at some point in the fiction, you’re going to be fighting against them. What that means is now you’ve got entirely new AI that you’ve never fought against in a Call of Duty game. Flying AI or quad AI or the Cognitive Land Assault Weapon, and what that means is that these aren’t humanoids, which means they might require different strategies to take them out.
In this way the fiction, and our desire to create a compelling fiction, but also introduce new kinds of gameplay sort of serves each other really nicely.
AusGamers: Call of Duty has become very console-focused over the years. Will we see anything special for PC players this time around?
Mark: I’m happy to talk about the PC. We have a PC team that’s dedicated to the PC version of the game. We even message out and communicate through our Twitter channels to the PC community. There will be... we are optimising our engine for DX11. There’s a more efficient system we’re working on, a proprietary anti-cheat mechanism for the PC specifically.
We strongly believe in trying to maintain the integrity of that and we’re working very hard to try and maintain the integrity of that so that everyone can enjoy it -- of the multiplayer game.
We’re doing all kinds of advancements on the graphics engine that is going to, I think, yield great results if you’ve invested in a new rig. I think the flip side of that is, if you have a rig that’s been around for a couple of years, that’s fine too. Because we’re actually trying to make it play really great on a wide variety of systems.
I think while we haven’t settled on the minimum system spec, it will go up probably from where we are with Black Ops. We haven’t settled that, but still, the variety of systems that this is going to play on is really going to be great.
We certainly saw a lot of different configurations coming out of Black Ops and we have all that data and all that information. We can build upon that and learn about that and I think if you play... all these new modes, I think the inputs are going to be great. If you want to play at the tactical level on a Strike Force level with the mouse and keyboard? I think it’s pretty obvious that a strategic gameplay element inside the game is going to play really well on the PC.
Clearly it’s going to play really great at higher resolutions. Let’s see, what else can I tell you about PC?
AusGamers: Any support for the PC mod-community?
Mark: We haven’t discussed that. It’s very... we do have support for the PC mod community with our... really extensive support with World at War. There’s some other support of course with Black Ops. As this engine and the tools evolve and change, they’re not always set up for mass market systems.