Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is scheduled for release worldwide this October 12, and it boasts not only a grounded, gritty, and militaristic gameplay experience but also a multiplayer aspect that raises the bar when it comes to showcasing the game’s core narrative.
With an arsenal of new weapons and Specialist roles, players can put their own unique playstyle to the test either individually or with an unstoppable team. Along with Easter eggs that will be in Zombies, players will also get to have a Battle Royale experience.
CGMagazine had a chat with the Co-Studio Head at Treyarch, Dan Bunting, to find out why the multiplayer aspect and inclusion of Specialists have such a powerful impact on gameplay and the franchise as a whole.
CGM: How have you taken the fan reactions so far since Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was announced? How do you plan to unfold this series?
Dan Bunting: The fan reaction has been phenomenal, and I think the reveal event was hugely positive. We had a lot of really great feedback and responses. One of the things that we were doing at the reveal event was actually collecting data on the backend on how people play the game, and we used a lot of that data to start our first kind of big tuning part of the game. So it’s been great. You take the data and you also couple it with the sentiment and what people perceive and how people kind of perceive things as balanced or unbalanced or overpowered or underpowered, and you kind of wrap that all up in the tuning passes. We’ve already done a big tuning pass based on the reactions from the reveal event.
Tuning happens fast. Actually, tuning is something is ongoing throughout development. We always have designers who are just constantly tuning the guns, balancing guns. Multiplayer is a complex system with lots of mechanics working together, and they all have to kind of come together in this big, balanced, and competitive experience. It’s something that’s constantly happening. The more data we have, the better it is.
CGM: This installment of Call of Duty is taking a risky move to go all multiplayer. Was there any question in the team if this was the right move, and did the reveal event affect you? How was that internal dialogue?
Dan Bunting: Every change that you make in a franchise as big as Call of Duty is always risky, and you’re always kind of questioning whether you’re making the right decisions, but you have to evolve, you have to innovate over time, and you have to be able to change and adapt.
So Treyarch has been a studio that’s never backed down from challenges, and that’s something that we always embrace as part of our studio culture. We’re not afraid to take those take big risks and really go where fans are going. That’s what the most important thing is — that we want to build a game, first and foremost — for socially connected gameplay experiences — and that’s what we build it around — playing the game with friends, playing it for long, long periods of time. Every game nowadays is considered a service where you’re constantly updating, constantly adding new content, and Black Ops 4, from the beginning, has been built for that. We’ve learned a lot from Black Ops 3, and we’re still adding content to that game even today.
So we went into the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 development with the idea that we were going to make something bigger, more socially connected, and make sure that it’s something that lives on for many years.
CGM: At the preview event for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, you weren’t able to talk about how that storyline would play out. Are you allowed to expand on that now?
Dan Bunting: We’re still kind of just talking at a very high level, but the solo missions are meant to let you go in and play with each Specialist one at a time and understand who they are a little bit more, get a little bit more of the story around them, while also mastering their gameplay mechanics in a way that’s unique to each one. So each of those missions is designed around the Specialist and letting you build and master their special weapons, their abilities, and their equipment.
CGM: You revealed that this Call of Duty will be a game for people to play for years to come. Can you explain how is that going to work as a franchise?
Dan Bunting: I think we showed it with Black Ops 3. Black Ops 3 was not a game that was necessarily built to go on for three years. It was just something that happened because people were playing it so much. And we, as a studio, adapted to that very quickly and, like I said, you’re seeing content being released today in that game. It’s been a whole new challenge for us — how do you balance two games at once? — You’re developing a new game and you’re also developing content for a game that has been live for a couple of years. But we’ve built a lot of experience around that now, so we know how to do it.
It’s really just great for us to see our fans respond so well to a game that we worked so hard on and to see it — even within a franchise — that does have annual releases and that you can still have a very healthy audience continue to play your game for that long.
CGM: In the demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII that we played, one person could be one Specialist, so you had diverse fights. Why the choice to have Specialists among those who play an offence role?
Dan Bunting: It’s a setting that we have that we can tune. So it doesn’t have to be exclusive — one Specialist per team all the time. But it is the way that we’re building, fundamentally, how we want this game to be played out in at least the core objective mode. So if you look at an objective game mode, the more competitive it is, the more important it is that you have that kind of distinct team make up, because everyone is going to a role that they fulfill. You can be passive or you can be active in your team work.
You can still — whatever Specialist you pick — is going to feel fun and rewarding and satisfying for you as an individual. But when you look at how the team is composed, the composition of that team, collectively, it’s going to make a difference in which characters you’re choosing to go into battle with. So that’s been a big important part of it and you see it — you get these emerging encounters, you get a moment where someone sets a barricade and puts razor wire behind them, and you go in and you can use that to barricade yourself. Or somebody has chosen Firebreak and they’re radiating an area and using area denial and causing damage to themselves. If you’re Crash, you can heal them and let them last longer. So you get these kinds of moments that make the gameplay deeper and more rewarding.
CGM: Branching off that, the fact that this is now an all multiplayer game and you have people who might be experiencing this as their first Call of Duty game, do you find these different roles, classes, and ways to win points for your team, allow for these new players to jump into the experience more easily?
Dan Bunting: Absolutely. I think that’s true, and we have to do it. Of course, a challenge — being in a franchise that’s so large and has been going for so long — is that you have to be able to appeal to a broad and ever-changing audience, because every year, you get new gamers coming in, and those gamers tastes are shaped by different games that have come out. And so every year, you have to be able to adapt, you have to be able to evolve. And at the same time — really focusing on and building off the strengths of what your game offers at its core. And that’s always the kind of the delicate balancing act that we perform.
I think that one of our pillars when we started developing multiplayer, was that we wanted it to be as fun to watch just as it is to play. When you think, in the last two years, about how the gaming landscape has completely changed and how players interact with games and engage with the gaming community, they’re not just playing games — they’re watching games. And some people watch games and don’t even play this game. It’s a whole thing in itself, and so it was important to us that we did think about evolving this game in a way that can make it more fun to watch.
CGM: This is a Call of Duty package that has Battle Royale, zombies, and the main mode. Do you ever stop yourself and say, ‘Okay, this is too much. Maybe we’ll hold one thing back for next year?’
Dan Bunting: We have never been that studio. We tend to cram as much as we possibly can into the game that we release. And I think that sometimes, we’re overambitious on that front. I think it’s more important for us that we give our fans as big and diverse an experience as we possibly can, so there’s something for everybody. Not everything is going to be for everybody, but you have something that appeals to every type of gamer, and that’s always been a big part of what we do.
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