Black Ops 2 multiplayer throws out the rulebook by scrapping the series's biggest features. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with Treyarch's Jay Puryear to find out if the studio's gambling wisely.
"We looked at a lot of the assumptions that gamers had about Call of Duty multiplayer. So, the assumption here was that we've always done a slot-based class system. We've always had a primary and a secondary weapon. Why?"
There will always be gamers eager to slam the efforts of Treyarch from their online soapbox until their typing fingers have worn down to bloody stumps. That will never change, and yes, to the eye Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 does look like just another Call of Duty game.
But to actually sit down and play the game for a few hours is to understand that while Black Ops 2 may look like another yearly entry with little new to offer, it actually feels like a leap forward for the series. You still don't believe us do you?
VG247 caught up with Treyarch's director of brand development to find to get inside the studio's mindset, and learn why it has scrapped at least two of Call of Duty's grandest innovations in favour of something completely different - Something, better.
VG247: Your first major change in Black Ops 2 is in your overhauled create-a-class system. Can you tell us why you decided to take a risk with something so vital to the series DNA?
Jay Puryear: Well this year we decided to say, 'Hey, let's change it up on you', and that's where our new create-a-class comes from. It started with the name 'Pick Ten' internally because now we say, 'Here's 100 pieces of kit in the game. Have whatever ten you want.'
I think our fans are really going to enjoy the freshness that brings and all the different combinations you can do.
We caught a glimpse of how Pick Ten started at Treyarch during your multiplayer reveal. Can you tell us a little more about how it evolved into its final state?
We looked at a lot of the assumptions that gamers had about Call of Duty multiplayer. So, the assumption here was that we've always done a slot-based class system. We've always had a primary and a secondary weapon. Why?
Well that in itself is a big gamble, especially when you're changing something that so many players feel familiar with.
Well we were just like 'why?' We really started questioning the systems that were always there - what worked, what didn't work, why didn't it work, why was it bad? We looked at it and thought, 'Just because we keep on doing it this way doesn't mean it's right.'
So then we started to think about what we could really do better. We began looking at different systems and started making prototype alternatives as board games. David Vonderhaar even made a 'Pick Ten' board game.
I mean, here we are working with interactive entertainment and all this tech. We made a board game. I think it was really a combination of just looking at create-a-class from a pure functionality standpoint.
Why are we forcing players to stick to our rules? How can we empower them to make their own rules? We have the Wildcards to let people bend those rules slightly, and those are for people who say, 'You know, if I could just have two slots for my first perks instead of only one... Oh what I could do.' [Laughs]
Now, of course, they absolutely can do that.
Right, so now if people say, 'I'm willing to give up a piece of my kit to try something new', now they can or maybe I might want three attachments and I can give up a something like extended mags or reflex sight for a suppressor instead.
There are combinations that allow players to have a unique load-out and give them a chance to define what kind of player they are. We saw someone in our multiplayer reveal trailer walking around with a knife as their primary - if you want to do that, we're empowering you to make it happen.
We're seeing new emerging gameplay styles and new mechanics thanks to things like the redesigned riot shield. You can take all those things and start to look at customisation that fits with your play style. It sounds like you enjoyed playing it yourself.
Yeah definitely. The new create-a-class really does let you play to your strengths, but one thing both myself and our readers were confused about was what happens to your unlocks once you Prestige. Will they reset again, or will you eventually unlock all 100 items.
The team's still working on that, and how many exact pieces of kit you will be presented with at certain levels.
Well it was said that each time you a player levels up they get an unlock token and will be presented with seven new pieces of kit. That they have to spend their token on just one of them. Can you ever have all 100 items at once?
They're still working on what you can unlock, at what levels, and what what that looks like. You're right in that at each level - there are 55 levels and 100 pieces of content - you get one unlock, so you're going to be short of something.
We're going to be talking about Prestige, levelling and what that's going to look like later. We'll have more information on it in coming weeks.
A lot of your returning unlocks have been tweaked, such as the Ghost perk, which only reveals enemies if they're standing still. How have you slightly tweaked other returning perks?
Well I think when listening to the guys and talking to the team, we started to look at gun performance, attachments and the way that they enhance your class - rather than just relying on perks to boost your character.
Like you said - Ghost - now works on a sliding scale. So if you're not moving-to-running, where does that slider need to be for the perk to have the most effect? When you start to look at all the different pieces we're providing, it just adds detail that we had been missing.
In fact, detail's not the right word. These sliding scale perks and items allows us to ensure nothing is overpowered, and instead Perks slightly enhance what you have now rather than making you too powerful.
This is going to sound like a weird question, but yesterday we played XCOM multiplayer. That game has a similar system to your new create-a-class mode, in that you have a point allowance to build an army. Firaxis told us that their team found no one army combination that is more powerful than the rest. How do you ensure that in Black Ops 2 multiplayer?
I think that's the beauty of our 'Pick Ten' system, and in not having Perks that affect your character's attributes across the board. By being able to pick attachments and tweak them for your guns with Perks gives us that balance we've been looking for.
It's also about presentation. Before there would be no way to know an opponent has added a laser sight to increase their fire, but we fix that by adding the attachment to the character model, showing the laser in the environment.
It's really hard when you show someone screens of a Call of Duty game, its difficult - because they share visual similarities - to get across how different each new game can feel. Black Ops 2 does feel more weighted than before. Why did you decide to slow things down a bit?
I think when you start to look at pacing and map development, both thing feed in together. So your point - in some cases - we focus more on those gun engagement areas. But there's a lot more that contributes to pacing, such as attachments and killstreaks - now Score Streaks.
We have to ask ourselves questions like, 'Is this enough attachments versus amount of Score Streaks?' We don't you to feel like there's too much activity going on, as it becomes a burden, and what we want is for players at all levels to feel like they can be successful - not just jumping into a match and finding tons of things in the sky.
If that happens then you run around in a panic, you're not sure where to go, or you're getting shot and you don't know where the other team is attacking from. So we really consciously looked at how all of those pieces played together to make sure you're getting a fair experience.
Call of Duty is a fast-paced game, but at least here you will be able to breath, and to know what is going on, instead of being thrown straight into the grinder.
On the subject of Score Streaks, what is the sliding scale in terms of - kills contribute to your score, but objective goals seem to add more - does this point to an increased focus on objectives in multiplayer?
The team is still working on that, but you saw the presentation earlier that focused on Capture the Flag as an example?
When capturing the flag you get 200 points, a flag carry kill gets you more points and then returning the flag gets you even more. So really it's based on what you are doing to help your team score points.
Such as calling in a UAV. Once it's up anyone killed by your team while it's active gets you assist points. When you get a Guardian suppression, you're getting points for that. So again it's that balance between what you're doing to help your team win, versus straight kills.
I don't know exactly what that balance is been - as in 'your UAV assist will get you 10 or 15 points, while your suppression will get you 100' - but it's really about reward. If you play well and you capture a couple of flags, you should be rewarded with a base line of points.
But where does that slider fit when it comes to certain Score Streaks and so on? But supporting your team helps boost that meter, and so during team deathmatch mode you're now getting lots of points for calling in a UAV, putting up a sentry gun, placing your Guardian at choke points.
It's not so much one particular thing you do to earn Score Streak rewards, and it's more about all of the things you do collectively. It's not just one individual getting rewards for scoring kills.
This can actually make lone wolf players more like team players then can't it? There won't be that one guy running around on his own doing little to contribute, as his Score Streaks benefit the team and he can be rewarded for that participation.
I think the other thing is that...well, yes, but let's take a game of Domination as an example. Say everyone is running around and I can't get to B because I'm either not good enough, it's too well defended or whatever.
"We really consciously looked at how all of those pieces played together to make sure you're getting a fair experience. Call of Duty is a fast-paced game, but at least here you will be able to breath, and to know what is going on, instead of being thrown straight into the grinder."
I could say, 'I'm happy with A', or 'I'm happy with C', but yet I'm still contributing to the team as I'm getting flag defender rewards, and earning more Score Streak. Soon I have my UAV and that goes up, I score tons of assists and then pretty quickly I have my care package.
So you don't necessarily have to be a slayer - the type of player who runs around getting 25-30 kills a match - but to contribute just as much by playing your own part is a great experience for players.
The player feels like he's contributed to the win, and what a great feeling for him to sit back and say, you know what? I'm helping.' That's a great way for - regardless of the level you're playing at - to get positive feedback and enjoyment out of the game. What's better than that?
One thing that does feel good is earning two Score Streak rewards at once.
Yeah and it's not that tricky to combo two rewards by chaining your objective points or kills with your lower Score Streak rewards. Suddenly a player might be like, Oh my god, I've never had two of these at once before. This is awesome.'
I think that's the kind of thing players are really going to enjoy based on their skill level and hat they want out of the game. It'll feel good, but before you know it, here comes the drone swarm. [Laughs]
Yeah the Drone Swarm is rather brutal [Laughs]. Well, you have Score Streaks and new create-a-class in this game - two fundamental changes. Did you have to really pitch these to Activision?
Well on the pitching part, when we saw create-a-class working, you kind of look at it and think 'ah-haaaa.' I think you start to see the power of what that can do, and the big thing for us was to actually make sure we got that system right.
David Vanderhaar and his team worked on it for some time to make sure it worked properly, that it made sense, were able to say why it made sense, and how that conversation exists. You know, pitching it like, 'Here's what we're going to do.'
It made sense so we tried it, and I think we were very fortunate that when everyone sees the new format they go 'perfect!'
And the paper board game must have helped?
Oh yeah. There were many iterations, the board game and other things that didn't quite take up. But you know, these are guys who love playing Call of Duty so we'd been able to get them to work on this board game. At first it felt a little odd to them, but it worked.
Let's finish by talking about eSports. Why has Activision - only now - attempted to crack this audience? How long-term do you see this becoming and would you ever considering a travelling tournament or expo like DotA 2 and other games that are big on the pro circuit?
I think for us it's been about us looking at fans and the eSports space itself. Those guys love playing Call of Duty, they just love it. Even in the first Black Ops we did some things to support that and I think Black Ops 2 is the next evolution of that.
Looking at that environment, we created League Play and CoDCasting. By introducing those eSports tools to our fans, it enables them to take advantage of the skill-based matchmaking we will be doing. You could even start a small tournament with your friends and say 'hey, whoever wins...they're buying dinner.'
The minute we start to bring in League Play, and that it's about the competition and not just fun - it brings such an adrenaline rush where you're playing smart. You're checking corners more, talking to your team more, and it just brings a whole new layer of competitive play to Call of Duty that I think a lot of our fans are going to love.
But it's not just for top echelon player. You're going to play League Play and qualify for one of the divisions, and you'll be playing with people within your skill level. Because there's nothing worse than going into a match and being destroyed by a team of professionals or who all have voice chat.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is out 13 November on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360