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AusGamers Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Developer Interview with John Rafacz
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:39am 11/10/12 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to catch up with Treyarch's John Rafacz to talk all things Black Ops II: Zombies, eSports, Strikeforce and more. Watch or read on for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview above, or click here for a direct link

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly, out the Australian EB Games Expo. Prior to the shenanigans that’s going to happen over the next couple of days, I’ve got John, who I’ve known for a few years now -- he came out of Activision pedigree, then decided “You know what? The building next door, Treyarch, was so much better to work at”. So he’s working directly with the guys on Black Ops II.

Now let’s get into the sore area; the sore area is: there’s a lot of haters out there now. And the haters are gonna hate; it’s kind of hard to derail that. But you guys have done so much to just change the entire dynamic of Call of Duty, even Black Ops: giving the main character a voice was a huge jump.

So let’s talk about... from a direction point of view -- and don’t run through all the dot points for me -- let’s talk about: what was the most important thing for you guys, to cull the naysayers out there, to maintain the brand, and to push it forward in a very Treyarch way, with Black Ops II?

John Rafacz: I think the easy answer to that is: I think the guys took a really hard look at: what could we bring people that they hadn’t seen in a Call of Duty game before? I think it’s... when you look at things like Strikeforce levels, it’s a way to introduce a sort of sense of nonlinearity, that has an impact on the end of the game; takes you out of that linear path for a while.

It does a couple of things: you’ve never seen that in a Call of Duty game before, but for those who might be hatin’, that’s one of the things that we’ve heard, is the linear storytelling style. So we’re mixing it up and throwing something new into the mix.

AusGamers: So let’s go there; let’s go with Strikeforce, because it is this kind of sandbox component with all of the basic Call of Duty systems, but now you’re not kind of running through a corridor, the AI’s not accidentally falling behind you, and all of these kind of things.

Is that a testbed for the next evolution, where maybe levels are less confined overall; the game is kind of bigger in scope as a result, and more sandbox? Was it tested at all in the single-player narrative? Is it in there? I don’t even know.

John: Strikeforce levels are in the single-player, for sure. And they pop up at a few points through the course of the story. The head of Special Forces comes to you and explains that there’s a flashpoint, a conflict, in some corner of the world, and you’ve got to be inserted in the action.

In terms of where it’s going, I think that remains to be seen. For right now, we are happy with the idea of it adding a sort of new dimension to the way a story is told. Because really, you’ve got to achieve certain objectives within the Strikeforce levels, and you either succeed at them, or you fail at them -- there’s no going back to a checkpoint -- and that will ultimately help shape the fiction that wraps the ending of your game. So conceivably, we could be talking about a game for you, that ends a little differently than it does for me. So again, there’s something that is new, and we’ll kind of see where that takes us in the future, for sure.

AusGamers: Now something that was new to me as well, when you gave us a little presentation before, was this idea of a create-a-class for single-player. That seems like a genius idea to me. Can you run us through what’s involved with that?

John: Sure. It arises from a very simple concept: that in a game like Call of Duty, you spend all this time with your gun. And if you look at some of the things with weapon customisation that we did in Black Ops, it’s this idea that sort of translated into allowing you to gain a deeper sense of identity with your weapon.

So from camos to even the perks you choose, the create-a-class menu is there for you. And it’s a way to kind of rig yourself out, and approach a mission the way that you would want to. But what’s nice, is that there’s sort of a stat-tracking element to it as well, that you can kind of chart your progress against your friend’s progress.

So even if you’re more of a single-player guy, and you’re not a multiplayer kind of guy, it still adds a nice sense of friendly competition to what you’re doing.

AusGamers: It seems crazy that it’s never been in the game before, really.

John: Does it? [laughs] We’re excited to give it to fans, for sure.

AusGamers: So let’s talk about eSports, but I want to immediately flip the script, and see if I can throw out this one: zSports -- we’d say zed sports in Australia, but just for your benefit: zee sports -- anything going on there at all?

John: Well... nothing yet. When you talk about eSports, there’s nothing to announce now, but what we do have in zombies, is leaderboards and stat-tracking matchmaking, so that you can track your progress again. So I guess you could look at that and see it as dipping our toes into those waters.

AusGamers: Well, I mean, now you’ve got the human-versus-human-versus-zombie thing as well, which kind of adds a bit more of a competitive component too.

John: Sure. So zombies is made up of a few different dimensions. There’s a story mode called Transit, there’s Classic Survival, but there’s also a Grief mode that you reference, and the idea here is, that there are two human teams, and both teams of humans can’t shoot one another, but they both must repel an oncoming zombie horde.

Now the name of this game is last man standing and your team wins, but how do you do that if you can’t shoot the other team? We give you a griefing mechanic, that allows you to sort of cast the zombie’s attention toward the other team, and if you do that effectively, they will be overwhelmed, and you’ll be the last man standing.

AusGamers: Is there a... if you could slice the game up -- the retail copy -- into percentages, what sort of percentage are we looking at for the zombies experience?

John: That’s an impossible question to answer. The way we approach development for single-player, multiplayer, and zombies, is literally the idea of creating three games in one. When you look at just different modes, it’s really more about the experience that it provides. Because if you’re just solely a single-player guy, we wanted to give you an epic story; cinematic experience.

For multiplayer, we wanted something that catered to everyone, at every point of the spectrum. From someone who might be new to multiplayer, to a grizzled vet. And with zombies it’s like, if you just want to kick back on the couch -- whether it’s by yourself or in co-op -- you can do that too. Also there’s some custom game elements, so you can tweak and tune, and get even more of the zombies experience you want.

AusGamers: Now multiplayer takes place within 2025, with all of the futuristic weapons. You mentioned in the presentation, that some of those weapons will make their way into zombies, but I’m curious to know what era, or time-frame, the zombies exist in. And the second part to that: if it’s not just 2025, are we going to see some cool 80s backdrops, because part of the single-player takes part in the 80s, which is... I hope there’s some Tears for Fears or something in there.

John: [laughs] You definitely have some Songs From the Big Chair there Stephen. So with zombies, we’re very protective of the fiction: we want people to discover it and uncover it for themselves. What we can tell you, is that if you are a zombies fan, and joined us last with the adventures on The Moon, what we will say, is there are some choices -- some outcomes that have occurred in the past -- that have shaped this apocalyptic setting you find yourself in now.

But again, if you’re new to the zombies experience, things are just messed up. So you can just jump right into play.

AusGamers: Alright. Let’s switch gears back to single-player. You guys have been really forthcoming with multiplayer, so we kind of already know what’s going on there -- I’ve been smashing everyone in there since I sat down -- but, we saw squirrel suits; in Black Ops, we saw a helicopter -- a complete pilot mission. What level have you guys gone to in this one?

I was totally blown away by the squirrel suits, that’s a great idea that again, I can’t believe hasn’t been done before; the nano-gloves, that sort of stuff. How loose has the team been, in terms of this expanded concept of putting you in the most outlandish situations, that you don’t even know exist?

John: The team first decided that they wanted to do something near-future in 2025, then the process of becoming subject-matter experts, and figuring out how to create this fiction, so that it didn’t feel like laser-beams and aliens --that’s really where the team went. We worked with a couple of advisers, and we really kind of laid out the blueprints for weapons and tech that we thought would be in play, and often-times we were like “we’re going too far with this”, and these guys were going “you’re not going far enough”, which really kind of blew our minds.

I think that the big thing, is that there’s a really conscious effort to stay away from energy-projected weapons. There’s no lasers, and it’s all projectile-based, so it allows you to kind of retain that real core Call of Duty feel. Where we’d being to play is... a lot of this stuff, even the squirrel suits, those are out in the real world now. But one of my favourite examples is the optic, the millimetre wave-scanner optic that sends a pulse out in the world, and kind of lets you see things behind cover.

We both encounter that when we go to the airport, and walk through that same scanner. Well if you look at certain processing power...

AusGamers: Moore’s Law.

John: Moore’s Law! ...and apply a little creative license to Moore’s Law, there’s no reason to think that it can’t be in optics. So now all of a sudden, someone who uses a smoke grenade, there’s a balance to that. That’s actually something that’s really impacted my gameplay in multiplayer, but I’ll save that for another day.

It was very, very important to us to take advantage of the tech that near-future has to offer, but not go so far out that it wasn’t Call of Duty anymore.

AusGamers: Ok. So we’ve got probably one minute left. For the naysayers -- let’s go full circle with the interview -- look into the camera, and give them a one minute spiel on why they should give Black Ops II the chance that it deserves.

John: Bottom line: because Black Ops II offers a number of things that people just have never seen in a Call of Duty game before. Whether it’s the Strikeforce levels, or create-a-class in single-player. In multiplayer, the idea of the allocation system, with create-a-class; the wildcards, that break the rules, and let you do things like throw three attachments on your primary weapon, or even loadout all on perks and jump into a game with just a knife.

Then what we’re doing on the eSports front with CODcasts, and live-streaming, league play; then the ambitious fiction and world that is zombies. There is literally something here for everyone, and many of the new features are things that bring dynamics to Call of Duty that you just haven’t seen before.

AusGamers: Alright, we’ll wrap it up there. I’ve got to get back in there and continue smashing people. You should jump in with me, so I can beat you.

John: I’m in.

AusGamers: [laughs] Thanks again John, and thanks for coming out to Australia. I’m looking forward to the game -- I’ve always been a Call of Duty fan anyway -- so hopefully we can convince some of the other guys as well.

Johns: Awesome. Thanks.

AusGamers: Cheers.
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