With Call of Duty: Black Ops II set for release tomorrow (check out our Black Ops II launch roundup), Activision is set to once again break entertainment records while gamers are preparing to again immerse themselves in the online multiplayer experience that has come to be synonymous with the franchise, and has helped to define this generation of consoles.
As the budgets, pressures, and scrutiny have all mounted on the annual Call of Duty offerings, Treyarch’s game design director, David Vonderhaar, is the man behind the competitive multiplayer experience for Black Ops II. In this exclusive interview he explains how the sequel was designed from the ground up with a separate multiplayer team that had its sights set on advancing the online competitive play experience beyond any previous Call of Duty game.
Check back with us tomorrow for our full review on Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
What are the challenges of trying to advance multiplayer beyond Call of Duty: Black Ops 1?
Black Ops was a very successful game for us, but really it was just the start of everything that we have been thinking about for many years. With Black Ops II, it was really important for us to challenge all the fundamental assumptions about all of the core gameplay systems.
We asked ourselves some really important questions. Why does the leveling system work the way that it does; why do you unlock content this way; what should really happen when you Prestige; how do we fit a competitive agenda into this game in a way that makes sense? It was very critical for us not just to assume that because it worked the way that it did the last game, that it had to work that way in Black Ops II. It may be a sequel, but it’s a sequel only in name in that way.
What role did fan feedback play in developing this game?
We wanted to have the absolute best gameplay systems for this game, regardless of what they were in Black Ops. Fan feedback for us in an important part of the entire development process. I’m sure our fans will know that we’re pretty engaged with the community at large, socially and through our own forums on CallofDuty.com. There’s actually entire game features that have been inspired by that interaction and that level of direct contact with the fans of the game feeding back into what we’re doing.
Call of Duty has been extremely popular with the mainstream audience. How have you kept them on target with Black Ops II?
Mainstream fans are going to find all the mechanics changes just as accessible as they would expect. It still has to be a game where you can get in there and press A and start playing and that’s all you need to worry about. What I think they’re going to find really accessible is the tremendous amount of work we did when you’re configuring or setting up your load out gear in the create-a-class system, how visceral that presentation is. You don’t have to overly think about these things. Everything is presented in this nice visual way. They have great pictures and all the key stats. You can just go through and quickly set up 10 things for your class and you’ll be off and running in a heartbeat.
When we talk about balancing Call of Duty: Black Ops II multiplayer, there’s really a couple of things that are super important to us. The first starts with what we call the data instrumentation. We actually do a tremendous amount of data logging about how the game is planned. I can tell you exactly for any weapon, any combination of weapon, any combination of weapon and attachment, equipment and perk and that kit or load out, how well that kit is performing compared to the averages of other types of equipment combinations. This actually lets us balance the gun for the competitive level, making sure everything is classed up appropriately.
We know from a math point of view how well stuff is performing and how well it’s trending and we know that even the slightest tweak in one direction or another and what kind of impact that has. You take that data — it’s math and therefore a mathematical fact – and you combine it with your experience using it. How fun is it to use? How does it feel? Does it seem appropriate and these two things are combined together? That’s how you give the perfect scenario for creating a game that can stay competitive, but also be really accessible and fun for everybody.
If you’re brand new to the game, there are all sorts of really great stuff that go right into the game to make it accessible for a new player. There are two very important things. The first is combat training. Combat training is a set of modes where it’s human players and AI-controlled players on the same team together, playing against another group of inexperienced — meaning under Level 11 players — that are humans and AI controlled opponents. That gives you this battle space where you can be successful and have some successes, and you’re actually ranking up along the way and getting the full multiplayer experience. But just as important is League Play.
That feature means that you’re being ranked with players of an equal skill. Competition is fun for everybody. It’s just fun to compete. It’s actually a really important part of this that just because it’s an eSport doesn’t mean it’s just for the hardcore. Somebody who is totally new to the game could go and enjoy League Play right off the bat because he’s going to be with other people who are also new to the game, or at his skill level because that’s when the game is most fun, when you win or almost win. It’s just not much fun when you’re getting your butt kicked all the time, and it can even not be very much fun if you’re so good that you just kick everybody else’s butt all the time. Putting players of equal skill together is a super important part of the initiative, and that’s why it’s also good for people who are new to the game.