The Santa Monica-based Treyarch is once again taking advantage of its Hollywood backyard to bring the new campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops II to life. The game developer, backed by Activision’s huge coffers, enlisted The Dark Knight Rises scribe David S. Goyer to write the game’s story and dialogue.
Actor James C. Burns (Criminal Minds, Make It or Break It), who returns as Sergeant Frank Woods, said having Goyer on board shows how far the art form of interactive entertainment has come in a relatively short period of time.
“The writing of a narrative for a game is important, and it’s also an avenue for writers like Goyer to really tell a story in a different way, in a much broader way, than in film,” said Burns. “In a game like this you have multiple opportunities to change the story. You can follow storylines to different places. It’s more like doing a mini-series with a lot of characters, but it’s all done in one big swoop. For a writer it’s an opportunity to really stretch the legs and do a very multiple tasked story.”
Activision also brought actor Sam Worthington (Wrath of the Titans, Man on A Ledge) back as Alex Mason and enlisted a huge cast of notable talent to breathe life into the game’s many virtual characters, including Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Slither). In a first for the franchise, Goyer, who came on late in the development of the first Black Ops, decided to focus the story on the villain, Raul Menendez.
“The most important thing is to create someone that the player can empathize with,” said Kamar de los Reyes (Read Between the Lines, Salt), who plays Menendez. “You can play a one-dimensional villain, that’s easy. But you want to create someone that the player will at one moment might love and empathize with, and another moment he will hate and not understand or relate to at all. That’s where it becomes really difficult, and fun, fun as the actor.”
In another move towards a Hollywood scale production, Black Ops II features full performance capture. The actors donned the increasingly familiar skintight motion-capture suits and read their dialogue while acting on set at the House of Moves in Los Angeles.
“This is the first game where actors like myself, James Burns and Rich McDonald are actually actors playing the roles,” said de los Reyes. “We are the guys in the video game. In the past, you always had stuntmen playing the roles and doing the motion capture and then having someone come in the voice like Keifer Sutherland or Gary Oldman to do the voice. It’s a lot of fun for the actors. I personally thought it was a hell of a lot more fun doing it all, and I think that’s what sets this game apart from all the others.”
“Between the ‘80s flashbacks, the future setting, the holograms, and the current situation on the Battleship Barack Obama; it’s just going to be mind-bending,” said Todd in a previous interview for Digital Trends, who had over 50 pages of script to perform in the game.
Getting actors to come back for more Call of Duty isn’t that much of a chore for Treyarch. Everyone involved had nothing but accolades for director Dave Anthony, who helmed the game’s epic story once again.
“I loved working on Black Ops I,” said Burns. “Treyarch is a dream job and Woods is a fun character to play. Come on, I play army for a living for God sakes. And the story progression is phenomenal. I’m a big fan of the game itself, and Black Ops II is such a great, inventive idea of how to take it to the next level. I’m very proud to be part of it.”
With the sequel being set in 2025, the returning characters are a lot older in this game – although the story does jump back in time to the ‘80s for some missions. Burns said Woods has evolved from a “badass weapon” into an “elder oracle” in the new game.
“Woods is the guy that has all this information and his function in the game is to illuminate the player as to the nature of the events, why things happened, and what’s happening,” said Burns. “He’s evolved into this still highly wired, pretty powerful – even though he’s in a wheelchair – character. He has his mental acuity is there. He’s smart. He’s incisive. He’s a smartass. He’s just that old guy in a chair that knows sh*t before you even think that you need to know it. He’s already got you pegged before you walk in the room. He’s evolved from this warrior with a knife to a warrior with an intellect. He’s this rugged badass in a wheelchair.”
The characters in the game are now old enough to have sons that become involved in the plot. Rich McDonald (Heart of Dixie, God Bless America) plays Commander David Mason, son of Alex Mason. He commands an elite team of Navy SEALs, which ends up going after Menendez. The actor loves the futuristic setting, which introduces new weapons, drones and vehicles to the story and gameplay.
“That’s a very intelligent choice to make as far as a time period to pick; not going too far into the future, but just far enough to where they can bring in certain aspects that are being explored right now in the technology fields,” said McDonald. “It’s all too realistic in that time frame. You also have elements from the present that are still going to be applicable in that timeframe, as well.”
Thanks to Goyer, the game’s script challenged actors to cope with major plot twists, as well as serious choices.
“My character is Javier Salazar, who is a military man whose spirit is torn between a way of life that he’s been taught and trained to do, and then something that moves him in a very internal level,” said actor Celestin Cornielle (The Finder, The Mentalist). “He’s forced to choose between two roads. One leads to light, one leads to darkness. To him, it truly leads to an awakening, a new consciousness, and a revelation that we all must be aware of. That’s all I can tell you without killing you.”
The campaign mode in Black Ops II is about much more than killing, although there’s plenty of that. With the success of the Call of Duty game franchises, developers have been able to work with larger budgets. And the growing fan base of gamers includes many Hollywood “names” both in front of, and behind, the camera. Goyer’s involvement has helped assemble a great cast of actors, who in turn deliver performances that Treyarch hopes will connect with gamers.