Call of Duty: Black Ops II was officially released at midnight last night. You probably heard about it. We certainly wrote about it. And developer Treyarch was certainly going to take the time to enjoy the launch party. Communications director John Rafacz was present at HMV’s flagship store on Oxford Street to meet and greet with fans eager to get their hands on the latest instalment of the popular shooter.
I had five minutes to chat with him about the development experience now that the game is all done, and what he thinks about the current strength of the Call of Duty
brand. He also had a few choice words to say to the fans, including first-in-line Taylor Pelling. Read on...
SPOnG: Looking back, was there any initial resistance to using a near-future storyline, either from the team or from fans?
Quite the contrary. In fact, near-future was quite embraced, for a couple of reasons. It all stems back to what we did when we jumped from World at War
to the first Black Ops
The team had been making World War II games for a while, and the move to the Cold War really came down to two big things. One was the ability to tell a story in a new way - the history that you know, versus the secret deniable operations that you play. The other aspect was new technology, gadgets and, ultimately, gameplay.
It was that sort of approach that inspired the team to move to the near-future. In fact, we had already begun making that decision while Black Ops 1
was still being put into a box! There was a really strong desire to create a memorable villain, in this time-spanning narrative where you could get a deeper look into a Call of Duty
villain than you perhaps would normally.
But on another level, we had guys who were thinking about how a near-future environment would factor into gameplay. Those two elements really began to merge very quickly. We had the idea that allowed for the a new type of fiction, and a setting that allowed for new creative challenges. Above all else, we started to answer the eternally-hard question for any Call of Duty
developer - what can we give fans that they haven’t seen before?
SPOnG: Now that the game is officially done and dusted, what would you say has been the most rewarding and yet challenging elements to its development process?
Probably the biggest rewarding element is the sheer diversity and depth of the gameplay. It will take you a long, long time to search every nook and cranny of this game. In single-player alone, there are things that you’ve never seen or done before. A time-spanning narrative, the most ambitious story we’ve ever told, innovations like Strikeforce levels that take you into a non-linear gameplay scenario, branching storylines... single-player has its own deep experience.
You then get into multiplayer and get into a whole new level of gameplay. The eSports initiative is a really huge deal for us - CoDcasting, giving people the tools to wrap their game as a programme, a sport. Livestreaming straight out of the console and onto YouTube, league play, stat-based matchmaking... everything has been taken to the next level. And that’s not even counting Zombies, which is its own big world. You could feasibly play any of these modes for the next couple of months to the next year.
SPOnG: Do you feel, in this world of mobile devices and social gaming, that you’re fighting to keep core gamers, or do you feel that Call of Duty is still as strong a brand as it was a couple of years ago?
I’m sure that the depth of gameplay we have speaks to ensuring that we’re providing an outstanding experience. I think the more important thing is that Call of Duty
is an entertainment experience. Now, if providing that kind of experience, complete with these ‘Holy Cow’ moments and seriously deep online gameplay? That’s a creative challenge that requires you to go wide and deep.
If the result of that gives people a reason to play on a console more often than on a mobile device, then awesome. But the reality is that... when you look at mobile devices, there’s a Call of Duty
gameplay experience for the Vita. So, there’s certainly a lot of game to be played, whatever your device.
SPOnG: Do you know of Taylor Penning, the kid who’s been camping outside the Oxford Street HMV store since Wednesday night? What do you say to that kind of dedication?
Thank you, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to share it with you. Because, I tell you what, the call of duty is nothing without its community, and there’s not a single day that any of us go to work and forget that. In fact, thank you for making it not [feel like] work.
SPOnG: Treyarch’s games used to be seen as the secondary Call of Duty series. With the ideas and technology present in Black Ops II, do you feel that you now hold the keys to the primary Call of Duty series?
Your question covers multiple developers and hits. The reality is, none of it matters. What matters is what we deliver. And that is what everybody goes to work focused on. At the end of the day, there is no ranking. It’s having the opportunity to deliver a creative product and entertainment experience that is the best work that you can possibly do, and delivered in a way that speaks to what fans want from a game.
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is available now on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.