What was the inspiration to go futuristic with the new storyline?
Dan Bunting: Well it was a lot of things coming together. Part of the inspiration comes from us always trying to push ourselves and challenge ourselves, and we wanted to do something different that was new territory for us, that is creatively interesting, and it opened up a new world for us as creative game makers to produce new and interesting things for our fans.
But aside from that, once we started digging into the stuff that was driving the technology of the future, that’s when we started seeing that there was a lot of really interesting stuff that’s going on right now, today, that people don’t even really know about. I mean, we talk about these rare earth elements that we’ve built into the storyline. That’s something that is going on right now in real life. You know, all the mobile devices that we have, all the drone technology, and everything that we have that is technology based out in the world right now is dependent on rare earth elements, and China has like 95 percent of it all. So when you start to see these real world realities, then you start to imagine how this fiction is going to develop in the future. You really can see how the Cold War of the past that we based the first Black Ops on can exist again in the future with these super powers coming to a head over these rare earth elements.
We are introduced to a new villain in this sequel, so how does he fit into the past and then also the future?
Bunting: Well, as I said we were really motivated by how to do cool and creative new things for our fans. Also, the story we wanted to tell – well, we set out to make one of the most memorable villains in video game history. It was a tall order, but it was one thing that was firmly held by our team, especially Dave Anthony and David Boyer working together, that was something that was so critical to telling the story. And in order to tell that story we wanted to be able to show a character that had a real history, we had to explain to players through going back to the 1980's where you could see how this character was formed, who he was, what motivates him, and what sort of things inspired to him to become who he is in the future. That goal, along with some of the research we were doing into modern-day and future developments in military power, kind of lead down this path of, what if someone like this who was a real person but sort of an evil mastermind, got control of all this technology.
Jay Purcell: It also makes for a great gaming storyline, right? Where you can see troops as they become more reliant on technology. What does that future look like? What does that open up for the campaign, and what kind of weapons does that give them the ability to control?
Like in our new Strike Force levels, where we’re able to introduce players to new technology, like the quadrotor drones and remote controlled assault units, we really thought this was a great way to really give that Call of Duty experience of boots on the ground, and really drive home how authentic the games have always been based on the stuff that we’re seeing today, but also start to look at the near future, where all that stuff is also plausible in reality.
Working through the storyline of Black Ops and Black Ops 2, we talked a lot about how we weave our fiction on what’s happened in the past, together with the information from our consultants on what the future looks like. We looked at where we are today, and then what that might look like five, ten, even fifteen years from now. What does that battlefield look like? Being able to incorporate all that, and being able to tell a story of this villain throughout the whole thing, is just a great sandbox for the guys back at the studio to come up with this really compelling story.
Eric Hirshberg, Activision’s CEO has called this the most ambitious Call of Duty ever. Is that something you'd agree with?
Bunting: [Laughs] You know, being so close to it as I am, it’s hard to objectively answer that question, but I think yeah it is. We always aim our sights really high in terms of what we set out to do. I think this is the complete package. It is three games in one really, when you talk about the zombies offering, competitive multiplayer, and the story campaign, and that’s not just a PR line.
Our studio is set up in a way that each part of the game is developed by its own team that is dedicated to that. From campaign, to multiplayer, to zombies. So everyone is focused on making the thing they are working on the biggest, most important thing for the game. There’s no question about it, this is the most ambitious thing that we’ve ever done at Treyarch.
The story is focused on the future, but you've revealed that it goes back to the eighties. How is the game split between the two time periods?
Purcell: Right now approximately a third of the game takes place in the eighties, and the other two thirds takes place in 2025. So again, it’s really helping set up that story. The villain, Raul Menendez, is sort of collateral damage from the first Cold War, so flashbacks will help tell that story, then you get some idea who this character is, how long he’s been around, what he's in to. So it really helps tell the story of what made the monster, by taking that whole timeframe and storyline, and being able to tell that from the end of the Cold War up to 2025.
Bunting: When you’re talking about a character like that, you can’t just say, oh this guy is a bad guy. If you really want to make him believable and memorable, and make players feel for him, you almost want them to sympathise with him to a certain degree. And in order to do that, you have to go back and show where he came from and what led to the guy that you see now as this super villain, because he wasn’t always like that. Some bad things have happened to him.
You mentioned using consultants for research on the future military aspects. Who did you use?
Purcell: One of the people we used is Dr Peter Singer, who wrote Wired for War, and who actually goes out and consults with world leaders and says, here’s where we are at today, here’s what’s going on, and here’s where we see the future going when it comes to technology. Here’s how people could use that technology. As time goes by, that technology gets stronger and stronger. So like some of those implications that Dan pointed out as an example earlier as we become reliant on the drone technology, our greatest strengths can become out our greatest weaknesses. They can be used against us. So it was really about Dr. Singer outlining where he sees technology going in the future, based on some of the technology today. So he has been very instrumental in helping us tell what that story is going to be, what that future looks like, and what some of the technologies our future soldiers will be actually using.
What is Treyarch’s secret to maintaining its own identity in such a crowded gaming genre?
[Dan] I think we’ve always had our own unique voice, as the Treyarch team. I’ve been there for 10 years, and there’s a small number of us that have worked there for that many years, but for at least the last six to seven years I’ve worked with the core of the team that’s making this game, and working with the same people for that long, I definitely think your voice starts to develop. I think from what you’ve seen in the past, we’ve always have a gritty, edgy story we like to tell. Even with zombies, it’s fiction in a different universe, but even with that, there’s this sort of greatness to it, and that I think, is unique to our team, and that collective voice comes through in our games.
You've revealed there will up to eight players in the zombies mode. Why has it taken so long to introduce this higher player count?
Bunting: Well primarily because zombies was originally developed in the single player engine, and during World at War development, we made that co-op enabled, which was kinda like taking your car apart and putting it back together with new technology, or at least that’s how I describe it. So it wasn’t originally co-op. Zombies actually came out of that as sort of a magical accident, and it just kept going in the single player engine.
For this game we made the decision early on that we were going to put it in the multiplayer engine because it gave us a lot more capabilities, since multiplayer has been developed as a native networked technology so you just get a lot more out of it. There's a lot more capability there.
Purcell: Plus it has evolved, if you look at where it started in World at War as a hidden Easter egg, then again in Black Ops with some of the extra map packs we did. So I think again, as Dan pointed out, you’ve got a full team dedicated to zombies that are actually focused purely on what they can do, how can we move it forward, and what are some of the things they can do, which all just seems like a natural progression.