Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Interview with Mark Lamia -- On Creating the "Complete Package"By Eric Eckstein - Posted May 01, 2012
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is officially out of the bag, and in case you hadn’t noticed, quite a bit of info on Treyarch’s long rumored follow up to its smash hit COD: Black Ops has dropped. Not the least of which is this little discussion we had with Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia about what additions and improvements the team is bringing to Black Ops 2 to make this installment a truly “complete package.”
Black Ops 2. Is this a direct sequel? Set the stage for what Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will be.
Mark Lamia: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a direct sequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops, which means you are going to find out and play with those characters that you played with from Call of Duty: Black Ops, from that first cold war.
But it is an epic game that spans generations. In fact, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 takes place a little more than a decade out in the year 2025. And that’s a time when we’ve seen prolific advancements in robotics and technology that will change the battlefield forever.
You’re going to experience this game playing as David Mason, son of Alex Mason from Black Ops 1. You’re going to be experiencing a fictional Cold War 2 that we’ve crafted, much in the same way that we’ve approached it when crafting our past. We do a lot of work to create a very authentic past setting and, then we weave our fiction right through it.
So we’ve done that very same thing when we set up our future scenario. We’ve worked with experts who helped us set up a plausible Cold War scenario for the future, and have inspired us to come up with some very compelling story hooks that are going to keep the player engrossed in what our future fiction is.
So not only are you going to have all the new tools of warfare in the battlefield that you’re going to both be able to play with but have to deal with, you’re also going to be having to go back in time to the first Cold War as we play as those original characters from Call of Duty: Black Ops 1, and that is where you’re going to meet our villain, who spans this entire timeframe. And you’re going to see how this three-dimensional villain’s motivations are created, and you’re going to see just exactly what he’s capable of in the future.
What lengths did you go to create an authentic future for Black Ops 2?
ML: So we go to really great lengths to make sure that our settings are plausible. This is Call of Duty, and when you say you’re going to the future, that can conjure up all kinds of images. But it’s Call of Duty, which means it has to be grounded and plausible. And it’s Black Ops 2, and with Black Ops, we really wanted to make sure that the historical fiction was plausible so we could just set you in that, and then we tell our story and let you play through our fiction.
We took that exact same approach with Black Ops 2. To do that, we enlisted some experts, the kind of experts that advise world leaders right now on what they should be concerned about in the next decade. So, yes, we’re focused on what is going on in warfare in the future, and what’s going on in advancements in robotics and technology, but we’re also concerned with, 'How is the world? What is the tension in the world?'
And to do this, we worked with a senior fellow from the Brookings Institute. His name is Peter Singer. He advises on not only drone warfare, but what the implications are of the reliance on that technology. He opened our eyes to the issues of cyber warfare and how that’s going to affect the battlefield of the future, and how that can affect the fiction that we’re creating.
He also helped us come up with a fiction about an entirely new rare resource in the world that there’s going to be conflict over, whereas today we sit in 2012, and we know how significant the role that something like petroleum oil plays in terms of geo-political conflict and the conflicts that occur around the world and the tension that it creates when there are issues around that.
He enlightened us to something called rare earth elements. Now these things are at the core of everything from your smart phone and your tablet and your computer and some of your advanced electronics that you depend on not only for business but for your pleasure and the things that you do and consume in your leisure time. But they’re also, ironically, at the very heart of the technologies that we’re looking to wean our dependence off of oil from. So hybrid car cell batteries, turbine technologies, solar technologies; they all use this.
And then interestingly enough, they’re also necessary for a lot of our advanced military technology. So advance laser guided systems, stealth, night vision, drone technologies that are going to be advancing and proliferating.
He’s helped us create this very rich, plausible future fiction. It just so happens that in the year 2012, one country controls about 95% or more of these rare earth elements production, and that’s China, who will have its needs as its population grows into the future. What its done is really provided us with this wealth of real life information to be able to create this plausible scenario ten years out, and in fact set up what our second Cold War will be.
How does that type of future imagining affect the types of gameplay that you are going to create for Black Ops 2?
ML: There’s a very interesting and dynamic future. On one level, it’s pretty obvious where you can see when you take a future scenario what that can mean for all kinds of new gameplay and technology on the battlefield. Everything from the new robotics and drone technologies, which means that if you’re fighting those on the battlefield, in Call of Duty terms, that simply means that we’ve been developing entirely new AI for you to play against that you haven’t experienced. If you’re using them, it means entirely new gameplay mechanics that you haven’t experienced, whether you’re controlling them, or driving them, or flying them in the case of our quads.
So it’s entirely new forms of gameplay, but having this very rich fiction has also inspired us to include things like branching story lines in the game that are gonna allow players to play this game on a very fundamental level and make choices that could affect the story’s outcome.
It helped inspire a mode that we’re working on which is called “Strike Force” mode, and this is different from anything you’ve ever played in a Call of Duty game. It is a unique mode in the campaign structure that is all about what’s going on in this second Cold War, and the tensions that are going on in the world and these hot pockets that break out.
When you come across these in the campaign, you’ll have a choice. So at a very fundamental level, the structure of a campaign in Call of Duty is going to have choice., something that is entirely new in this particular sense. You’ll choose a conflict to go and take on with your black ops team. That means you’re making the choice to not take on those other conflicts. The story will progress. You can actually win or lose that mission and the story will progress.
Of course, you can go back and play the other missions that you didn’t play later, and that’s great news for a Call of Duty fan who loves the campaign, because now there are really great reasons to go back and replay them.
But that’s just really scratching the surface. The level itself is entirely nonlinear gameplay and is a sandbox. It really has all the tools of the future, and it’s all put into this one level called a “strike force” level. So you’ll be able to play as a boots on the ground soldier or a black ops solider. You’ll be able to move between which one of those you want to play with the weapons each one of them has. You can take over the drones on the battlefield at any time, whether they’re the flying drones or the quad or some of the ground assault drones.
Or you can play it in overwatch mode, tactically. So you can do your setups in overwatch mode and then zoom down to play and take over any part of that battlefield. You can mix and match that and play it in any combination that you want.
If you’re a beginner level, you can just play it like you’ve always played Call of Duty. There are objectives, you go in with your weapon and you play it. If you’re an advanced Call of Duty player or somebody who wants to dig deeper into this mode, you can play all kinds of different ways at different difficulty levels. It’s going to be a whole new experience for them.
And then for the multiplayer fans, how do you keep them happy?
ML: Keeping our multiplayer fans happy is one of the most important jobs we have. That fan base is incredibly vocal and incredibly active. It’s still active today. We’re fortunate enough that, even as I sit here talking to you, there are hundreds of thousands of fans, right this very second, playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. Today, there are millions of people uniquely logging in every day to play Black Ops. I think you have to please them on a number of levels.
There are a number of people who are coming into the franchise who are beginners. We need to give them ways to enjoy the game, where we know we have a really wide range of players, really great players who have been dedicated to the franchise and have put a lot of time into it. At the same time, we need to give those advanced players new great reasons to come back.
With Black Ops 2, we’re pushing the boundaries. You’re going to be able to play this game in ways that you’ve never played a Call of Duty multiplayer game. I can’t go into details today with you about it. We’re going to talk about this later in the campaign. Suffice it to say that we’re looking at the community and we’re looking at what’s going on in the world of social and in the world of esports. And we’re playing attention and we want to make sure that this game is competitive no matter what level you’re playing at.
Can you talk a little bit more about how you are looking to make Black Ops 2 more of a spectator sport?
ML: With Call of Duty; Black Ops 2, we are looking at the world of esports. And I think as important as it is to make sure the game is competitive for the esports crowd, it also has to be fun to watch.
We’re paying attention to the trends out there, and seeing how much enjoyment people are having. We’re going to the events, and not only talking to the pros who are playing, but we’re talking to the people. So many more people are going just to spectate and enjoy it. We have a desire to make that experience rich for everybody, so whether you’re playing or spectating, we want to do that in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for you.
We’re going to talk more about that later in the campaign.
To talk about story again, I know you’ve brought in David Goyer again to kind of craft a story. Talk a little about how you originated the process for that, and what we might be doing or where we might be going in the campaign.
ML: When we were in the submission process for Black Ops, and for those of you who don’t know, submission is kind of the final stage before the game goes to get replicated, Dave Anthony, who is our director, and David Goyer, who is working with us on our script and our story for Black Ops, started talking already about what they wanted. They were so excited and so energized about the characters and the story that we created and the fiction we created for Black Ops, and they wanted to kind of push it forward, and they wanted to work together again on sort of rewriting the book on how we tell stories in Call of Duty and Black Ops.
They had a number of goals. Probably one of the most significant and challenging goals that they took on was to create a three-dimensional villain character. That’s a unique challenge that we hadn’t taken on. Working with someone like David Goyer, who was the writer for Heath Ledger’s Joker character in The Dark Knight, and also who has a bit of a three-dimensional hero there with The Dark Knight, someone who really understands the art of storytelling and character development, and for us as storytellers and writers, to be able to collaborate with someone like David Goyer really influenced how we worked on our villain and our three dimensional character.
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That’s going to manifest itself in the game in a very significant way. As I was telling you earlier, when you’re playing this game, the first part of the Cold War that you’re going to experience, which is in the 1980’s, is all about playing as those characters from Black Ops 1. Through their eyes, you’re going to see how that villain’s motivations were manifested, how that monster was created.
And then in the year 2025, where most of our game takes place, you’re going to see just what that villain is capable of. More interestingly, you’re going to have the background for this villain. In a very intimate way, you’re going to understand what his motivations are. I think there’s some conflict in there, and it was a challenge that Dave Anthony really wanted to take on in terms of character development and storytelling in a Call of Duty game.
You talked about how there’s replayability through these branching storylines. Are there some of these strong moral choices that you’ll make as a part of the game?
ML: With Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, we are going to have this element of branching storylines. We talked about how our new strike force mode is going to affect the story. There’s also going to be meaningful choice along the way in the game.
It’s going to be done Call of Duty style. It’s not going to come up at you in the middle of the game at a juncture and you choose A or B. That’s not how we do it in Call of Duty. You’re going to be right in the middle of the action. There will be some very difficult choices to make. You’ll be at a fork in the road.
You’ll have to make a choice. Of course, if you don’t make a choice, the game is going to play and effectively you have made your choice. There are going to be some very meaningful choices that you’ll make that will have an effect potentially on whether certain characters might live or die or on the story arcs of the game.
What does the future mean for the types of weapons you’ll be using in the game?
ML: I think what was really interesting as part of the creative process for the team in coming up with future weaponry was, as we were researching it, how much technology actually exists even today, even if it’s just in large form factor, or it’s being researched, or DARPA is working on it, or it’s easily imaginable.
I think it’s very important if you’re going to create a game that’s set in the next decade that it’s grounded and plausible. We had that as sort of a court tenet as we were coming up with our technology.
It allows us all kinds of freedom to come up with all kinds of gameplay mechanics and new weapons, to imagine the futurisation of weapons, to see where that’s going, to see where attachments can go, for example optics. Many people who come to visit us, I give them the example where you’re in the airport right now and you put your hands over your head and the TSA scans you and sees everything with all these sorts of technologies that allow them to see.
Imagine if, in the future, as we have computational power continuing to double over the next 18-24 months, every 18-24 months, just as Moore’s law has put out there, you can see the processing power increase and you can see these form factors shrinking. Imagine as a game designer being able to put that as an optic on a weapon, so that from a gameplay point of view, you can have that as a tactical advantage.
If you choose that in your gameplay, being able to see players behind structures and so forth, campers beware if you’re in multiplayer.
That, complimented with electronic charged bullets. Right now, there’s this metal storm technology out in the world where it fires like a million rounds every 60 seconds. That is incomprehensible, that’s not something that gunpowder does. Well imagine if you had a charge-shot mechanic, where the longer you held you’re your controller, it cued up additional firepower so that you could actually penetrate the surfaces you can now see behind, so there’s gameplay associated with that too.
So let’s talk also about the drones and the vehicles that you’ll be able to play. There are flying drones, so not only will that create a new threat in the world for you that’s flying when you’re fighting against them, but when you’re playing with them, that’s a lot of fun for players right now.
In strike force mode, you’ll be able to take over the drones and play them, but if you’re on the battlefield during the campaign, you’ll be able to use them as squad mates. You’ll be able to control them on the battlefield, because those are the tools of the future that these soldiers will have. And they can actually provide cover and do things for them.
It’s done in a very accessible way, as you’d expect from Call of Duty. There’s all kinds of new opportunities that it opens up for weaponry and for drones and advanced robotics on the battlefield.
You presented Black Ops 2 as the complete package. Why?
ML: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, is the complete package. We’re going to deliver and we’re going to push the boundaries on the campaign in all the ways that we talked about. That’s that epic and cinematic experience. When you sit down, you expect us to blow you away.
That is absolutely what this team is working hard to make sure happens. You’re going to have that epic and cinematic Call of Duty experience when you’re playing that campaign.
But it’s absolutely a different mindset, and it’s absolutely a different game from the multiplayer game which is it’s own game with a ton of new gameplay that people haven’t head about that we’re excited to tell you about. It’s a whole different experience. It’s that competitive mindset, it’s that social mindset. It’s a whole different game, and it’s full and robust, and I think players are going to love what we’re doing with it and how we’re pushing on it.
And then there’s zombies, the return of a co-op mode that we created here at Treyarch for Call of Duty. That’s going to come back in a big way. If you’re a zombies fan, you’re going to be happy with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It’s the most ambitious zombies offering we’ve done. It’s a completely different mindset when you’re sitting down to play zombies than when you’re sitting down to play the multiplayer or the campaign. It’s its own game mode, and there’s a new world that we’re creating just for zombies players with all kinds of new gameplay.