You can’t really shoot guns underwater. But if you could, it would really be fun. That’s why you’ll be able to maneuver underwater and fire your weapons while swimming in Call of Duty: Black Ops III. And who knows? Maybe by the year 2060, we will be able to shoot guns underwater.
I talked to Treyarch’s leaders about this design decision and other changes they made in Black Ops III. The next installment in the multibillion-dollar video game franchise is being built by a team of hundreds at Activision’s Treyarch studio in Santa Monica, Calif. By the this triple-A release ships on Nov. 6, Treyarch will have worked on it for three years, a year longer than the usual Call of Duty game. Activision now has three studios trading off the duty, including Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Sledgehammer Games.
The Call of Duty games have generated more than $10 billion in sales for Activision over the course of 12 years. And the prior two Black Ops games within the Call of Duty franchise have been played by almost 100 million players. In fact, more than 9 million still play those games every month. The question at hand is whether Call of Duty: Black Ops III will top those previous games and restore growth to the Call of Duty franchise. The quality of multiplayer will directly affect whether Black Ops III can top the past games.
(Check out the links for stories on the Black Ops III overview, Treyarch leadership interview, e-sports style multiplayer changes, hands-on multiplayer, the single-player campaign, and Treyarch’s multiplayer history).
I visited Treyarch headquarters, and got a deep download on Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the next installment in the multibillion-dollar video game franchise. I interviewed the team’s leaders, studio head Mark Lamia (pictured below, middle), multiplayer director Dan Bunting (pictured left), and single-player campaign director Jason Blundell (pictured right). We’ve edited the interview into three sections, with the first focusing on our conversation with Lamia, while the second part focuses on a lot of the changes to the multiplayer game.
Here’s an edited transcript of part three of our conversation.
GamesBeat: You didn’t talk too much about story in this one. You sort of led with it last time, with the villain. I feel like I don’t really grasp what’s going on. How closely connected is this to the story of Black Ops II?
Jason Blundell: It’s the third chapter of the story. The main connective property is the world we left at the end of Black Ops II. That’s where we hit with Raul Menendez attacking the world with those drones and holding it all to ransom. Because our timeline is obviously moving many years into the future, it’s not a character connection in that way. It’s more the world setup and the organizational developments and technology developments. It’s not Alex Mason using some anti-aging cream, and now he’s okay in the future, but it’s the world that’s been set up. Those decisions back then have changed the world and now there’s a unique story inside that world.
GamesBeat: What year is it supposed to be?
Blundell: The campaign will start in 2060.
GamesBeat: Is the co-op online only?
Mark Lamia: Offline it’s two-player split-screen. You can play two players offline and still play co-op online as well. You could technically have two sets of two players playing split-screen on each end.
GamesBeat: What about the key story moments that are common to Call of Duty? Those are very often told from a single first-person perspective. How do you handle that when there are four people involved?
Blundell: The kind of moments you’re talking about there are first-person moments. I see my hands. I’m doing the thing. With our DNI (direct neural interface) technology, we can link and come to each other at certain key moments. If there’s a key moment in the story that we all have to experience, we can all move through that and connect and see this moment at a particular choke point. That’s what we call “first-person shared,” a key story moment that everyone’s going to experience.
You can also have a first-person non-shared, where this person is seeing the amazing thing that they’re doing and the other people maybe are defending the area or doing something else. So he gets the cinematic awesomeness and everyone else sees him performing that action.
What you saw and might have mistaken for a loading movie, there are third-person cameras for the first time now as well. All that customization and personalization you’re doing — when you saw the hero standing up on top of the wall and activating it and blowing up the floor, that’s the player character. However he’s customized himself, whatever equipment he’s got, whatever outfit he’s wearing, that changes. That’ll be different however you are — whether you’ve changed your face, changed your body, man or woman. You can choose that at the beginning and play the full game as a man or woman. That’s represented in a third-person camera. It’s a new tool for us to extend our narrative exploration in the campaign. It’ll be a mixture of those.
GamesBeat: I’m curious about the new setting. It’s about 30 years ahead of Black Ops II, right?
Blundell: Right. Black Ops II was 2025.
GamesBeat: When you did Black Ops II, the fictional technology was very grounded in reality. 30 years from that, how do you determine what goes in where? How do you come up with something believable?
Blundell: It’s interesting. It very much is our opinion about the future in our Black Ops universe. We’ve made certain statements about what 2025 is like. Then you move forward to 2060, you have to build on that. It’s reinforced by the fact that I find it quite shocking. Sometimes we’ll talk about an idea or talk to an advisor and we’ll bring up something. Then a month later it’s actually announced. DARPA will say, “Yeah, we just invented DNI. We just invented nanoswarms.”
In some ways it’s a continual effort to move far enough ahead. If you’re pitching far enough ahead, on some level you wonder, “Did I just go too sci-fi?” And then the answer is no, because the technology is racing far faster than you could possibly imagine. I think we’re striking a good balance in terms of taking the assumptions we made from Black Ops II and then taking what we feel is a logical step forward into the world of Black Ops III. But we’ll have to wait until 2060 to find out if we’re wrong.
Lamia: Take a look at the fictions. The fact of the matter is, as technology is becoming more integrated into our lives, we’re probably all going to be sporting some kind of wearable soon. Obviously that’s a lot different from integrating stuff into our biology, but that stuff’s already happening on a very medical level right now. 20, 30 years from now, that’s a lot more advanced.
That one’s probably the easiest one to see. You’re starting to see people with bionic limbs and things like this. It’s not too far of a leap to think that at some point that stuff becomes incredibly powerful. At some point it could have military applications in a very significant way.
The stuff about the DNI, there are things going on right now where the mind is controlling — even bringing it back just to the limbs. If you have somebody who doesn’t have any more connection here, that’s a brain thing that’s happening. At the World Cup this year, even if it’s only a few steps, the person who walked out of there was not somebody who was capable of talking to their limbs. They had to have a brain connection to make that person move and kick the ball. That’s clearly just in its infancy. We saw it last year for the very first time. But you can see how medical advancements could move in that way.
DARPA is already working on stuff like this. If you want to go look on DARPA’s website about some of that stuff, just what’s public is pretty interesting. You can see the seeds of exactly what we’re talking about being sown today. You can see, 20 or 30 years down the line, how that’s going to evolve. Whether that comes from a military application, or it comes from somebody figuring out how to deal with real medical issues and then deciding to create a military application from those, whichever way that goes, the kind of technologies we’re talking about, the seeds of it are out there right now.