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Interview: Declassifying Blackout, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's PUBG
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:49pm 21/05/18 | Comments
Our very own Adam "Griz" Mathew was on-hand at the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal event and went all in on questioning the new ROYALE treatment the game is getting instead of story. And nope, there's no Harry involved here...

While sitting in that LA auditorium for the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal event, I could feel a rollercoaster of emotions going on around me. About a 100 fellow attendees were grumbling when Treyarch announced it would be jettisoning single-player, even though the same folks were abuzz moments earlier over MP and zombies. That said, Treyarch had its sleight of hand perk well equipped that day – just as one important pillar was being vanished, all eyes were misdirected towards something shinier...

Watch Giz's captured gameplay footage embedded above

Blackout”, Treyarch's PUBG-inspired take on battle royale, looks like a damn solid pillar already, even though much of its nature still exists in the shadows. In an effort to un-redact a few things, I sat down for a post-show debrief with Game Designer Matt Scronce and Yale Miller Senior Producer.

AusGamers: So what's been the hardest challenge when designing Black Ops IIII for esports?

Matt Scronce: Well we took a good long look at how the pro players play and kind of broke their styles down by roles. So I guess the biggest challenge was to then put those roles back into the game as specialists.

For an example: typically in Hardpoint mode you've got an anchor player who sort of unifies the spawns for capturing a Hardpoint zone. So we took that and said, well how do we put that better into the game? And that's how we got the specialist Seraph with her Tac-deploy that can be placed onto the objective and that becomes her anchor with which to pull the rest of her teammates in.

AusGamers: Obviously the story pillar disappearing came as a shock, but then we heard the phrase “we're weaving some narrative into the other modes”. Could you elaborate a little more on that?

Yale Miller: Sure. Well with narrative, when we set out to make this game our goal from the get-go was to never have what people would consider to be a traditional campaign. We deliberately tried to go away from a traditional campaign in Black Ops III, too – [that was] full co-op, you could play everything out of order, it was more social experiences designed to sort of bridge the gap.

In its place we've worked hard to make zombies mode more accessible than before for a solo player. I mean, I'm one of those players who can only get to round 10 by myself and it takes me three friends to actually get through and see the whole narrative. Now, being able to adjust difficulties and bring in bots is a huge benefit for me to actually see the entirety of what is an awesome narrative. You no longer have to be a very skilled player to learn that story.

We also have specialist missions – one for each of the ten initially available. You'll learn a lot more about those characters, and that level is going to be both unique to the specialist but will also weave together to make a larger tale. And then this will all tie back into the multiplayer mode and how these characters will interact with one another. This in turn will tie in to Blackout mode and what we've been working on in terms of narrative for that.

AusGamers: So what made the company decide to take a different approach in this regards to Blackout?

Yale: I think it's just the game we wanted to make. We were always wanting to create something with a non-traditional narrative, because we didn't want something where you just get the experience and go “ok, now I know the story and now I'm done”. We wanted something that would live on, that was more organic, where the story will grow with what the player does and the interactions they have. Like I said, we were going down that non-traditional path [with Black Ops III], but that didn't necessarily hit the level of quality that we wanted.

We made the tough decision to scrap that and we'd already been thinking about battle royale and the things that we wanted to do there, but couldn't. Since then we've made a lot of technical advances that came from all the [Black Ops III] work we'd done that we were able to leverage in order to make a battle royale that's truly Black Ops.

Matt here loves to talk about the fluidity, the gun feel, the visual fidelity and all those things – being able to bring all of those things to make Blackout, an offering that will fit nicely between those other things that are out there [like Fortnite and PUBG].

AusGamers: But what does it mean for solo campaigns? Will we ever see another Black Ops single-player campaign again?

Yale: Honestly, as of today I don't know the answer to that. It all depends on how fun this thing is that we're about to create. We think we've “found the fun” – a studio principle that we always search for. For now we're absolutely focussed on Black Ops 4. What happens in the future with our games, or other games in the Call of Duty franchise, I honestly don't know.

AusGamers: You mentioned earlier that you're launching with 10 specialists, but I got the sense that there'll be more over time as support continues after release...

Matt: Oh, yeah. I mean we're still supporting Black Ops III, we just shipped a new game mode for that called Prop Hunt. So we're definitely going to be doing more [post-launch] content than we've ever delivered for Black Ops 4. People expect that from Treyarch, whether it's specialists, weapons, new game modes, or new maps. You can be guaranteed of support for years after release.

AusGamers: Clearly you guys would have looked over the fence to see the popularity of the battle royale sub-genre right now. But have you also noticed that the fanbases of both PUBG and Fortnite seem to be at each others throats a lot of the time? To use a military metaphor, with Blackout you're about to parachute into an incredibly hot LZ. What are your thoughts there?

Matt: [Laughs] Oh, that's how we like it. We wouldn't do this if we didn't think we could do it best and better than everybody else. We've got a huge library of content, ten years of history, we've got the best gunplay out there, we've got the best movement, so we're not too worried about it. Honestly we're just worried about making this damn thing as fun as possible.

Yale: And look, we're in a world where there's plenty of room for multiple titles. We've seen that in first-person shooters as a whole. Y'know, people would sometimes ask “how is Battlefield and CoD going exist in the same industry?” – we do. What we're doing is going to be different. Some players will gravitate to us and people may gravitate towards other games. We're making something that, when we play it, we have a whole lotta fun and I think we can grow out from that.
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