An interview with Black Ops 2’s David Vonderhaar – Next-gen,design and esports
While at the Call of Duty Championship last week, I got the chance to have a quick one on one with Black Ops 2 Game Design Director, David Vonderhaar. Maniacally enthusiastic about the game that Treyarch has worked on, here’s what Vonderhaar had to say about design, evolution, co-operation and next-gen ideas.
Lets talk about the multiplayer behind Black Ops 2 first. That saw a major shake-up in design, over the previous Black Ops game. What was the reasoning behind that big shift between games?
Well, it’s really quite simple actually. You have to look at every single you have to keep pushing gameplay systems and innovations inside the game. You’ve got to take things that people like about the game, and evolve on them.
Why not, you know? If you don’t do that, then you’re sort of never going anywhere. That makes the impetus behind that to still have better ideas than last time.
With Treyarch currently working on Black Ops 2, while Sledge Hammer and Infinity Ward work on the Modern Warfare series, what kind of experience does that give you when working on the multiplayer for Call of Duty?
Of course, the simple answer is that you’re always looking at the working relationships between those teams, which is quite important and understanding what is going on inside the bigger franchise, which is obviously important for Activision.
And it’s important for us as developers to learn from each other. Each developer works pretty much independently of each other in that regard, but there’s certainly a knowledge, information share that happens that is quite important.
Black Ops 2 stepped things up in multiplayer by incorporating more league elements, as well as shoutcasting for matches. That side of Black Ops 2 has really become tailored towards esports, hasn’t it?
It is now, right! In three very important ways, is it tailored. At the very fundamental, core gameplay way that it is tailored, is that you actually have to be able to do these custom game setups. Create the rules, structure the rules and save the rules so that you can load up the rules and play the game that way. That’s like the fundamental thing that you’ve got to have.
You’ve got to have system link, and system link lobbies, which allows you to set up the teams and classes in advance before you even start. System link lobbies didn’t even exist in Black Ops. They got added in Black Ops 2, and its largely because of the esports initiative.
That’s the fundamental, ground floor level for that kind of thing. But then above that, you have to make it kind of fun to compete for everybody. And that’s what the league play feature is about. Now, in a multiplayer game, you’re competing with everyone, but there’s a level of competition that gets down to the purity of wins and losses. That’s what the league play feature is for.
A significant part of development went into that part of it, making it, ranking people not on scores, not kill/death rations but on wins and losses. You win or you lose, it’s the purity of that that makes it very important.
That concept in a way, didn’t exist in Black Ops. But we added it to Black Ops 2. The third and final pillar of that strategy that we had, was to make it fun to watch, like with the [shout]casting feature. It’s actually super-important that there’s a way, for all the people that are communicating. 32 teams are here for the COD championship, the best players from around the world doing what they do.
But it’s just as about as much as everyone at home, who can watch it on the stream or on the dashboard with our partner, Xbox and Microsoft. Those things, are just as important to the strategy.
So core fundamental game stuff? Making it fun to compete with league play, and really in totality, making it fun to watch for everyone else.
The thing is with Black Ops 2, is that the multiplayer has become really massive. Is there a long-term plan for this game, will we still see it be more than just an annual extension of the brand and carry weight as the go-to FPS game for tournaments for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, far be it for me to pull up a crystal ball and look into it for you, we’re still focused on Black Ops 2. Just because the game has shipped, doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped working on it, as you well know. There’s still lots of initiative and effort going into that, and when we’re ready to talk about the next thing that is happening for us, I’m certain we’ll be doing a seperate thing to get together and talk about this.
There’s a new generation of consoles on the way this year, such as the Playstation 4 and whatever it is that Microsoft has planned. Can we expect to see some next-gen ideas in a next-gen Call of Duty?
Yeah, you’re correct, you’re not going to get anything out of me on that. Here’s what I will give you:. Those are going to be some really exciting platforms.
We’ve done some pretty crazy things with the 360 platform, say the live-streaming feature, so imagine what we can do when we get our hands on some new hardware.
Strike Force was an interesting gameplay addition for Call of Duty, that gave players a more tactical diversion instead of the usual gameplay. Could we see gameplay modes like that, or even aspects of it, feature more prominently in future tournaments or games?
Here’s what I’d say about that: Could you? Of course you could. Will you for Black Ops 2? We haven’t announced specifically for the relationship between Strike Force and multiplayer, beyond what you know and have experienced.
But you know, let me give you this point of view, something that you can relate to: We always have this section of the game, that is fairly self-contained, that doesn’t have a massive impact on things. We put that in and we learn from it. Are you going to be playing a top-down version of multiplayer in the future? The answer is no.
It’s going to be four on four multiplayer from a first-person perspective, not top-down four on four. But, think about the view that is the Strike Force missions, there was a lot of conversations, a lot of talk about will there be a camera tracking in the world so that you can view the teams and players moving.
Tune in tomorrow when we have a chat with MLG co-founder, Mike Sepso.