Call Of Duty: Black Ops preview and interview

Michael Leader catches up with Treyarch's Mark Lamia and Josh Olin to talk about the forthcoming shooter Call Of Duty: Black Ops

Newsflash: Latest Call Of Duty to feature explosions, shooty-bangs and gruff males shouting codewords and epithets while saving the world.

Moving on from their WW2 comfort zone, Treyarch (forever painted as the other CoD developer) has set its sights on the Cold War for Call Of Duty: Black Ops, which seeks to deliver the series’ patented form of intense FPS gameplay while spanning the globe with covert missions and secret conflicts.

We recently had our eardrums breached and cleared by a short presentation in London, coming not long after the release of the debut trailer, and in anticipation of yet more scoops to come at the E3 games convention in June. 

Short, but sensually exhausting clips from two missions, ‘WMD’ and ‘Slaughterhouse’, were shown, both taking place in 1968, but featuring different characters and distinct settings. The former begins as the player controls a pilot of a SR71 intelligence plane, pulling back on the left stick to reach the upper atmosphere, and twiddling knobs and dials to call up a state-of-the-art (for 50 years ago) recon display.

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Then the action cuts to ground level, as you lead an assault on a Soviet weapons manufacturing facility, which amounts to rappelling down buildings, crashing through windows in slow motion, sniping Reds with explosive crossbow darts and, eventually, leaping off a cliff face after all those big bangs let loose an avalanche. All in a day’s work.

And Slaughterhouse is no picnic, either, as your transport chopper is shot down just as you’re disembarking, sending you flying through the window of a bombed-out building in the middle of Hue City, Vietnam. You soon find out that the level’s title is fitting, as bullets fly and, at one point, you pick up a radio so you can order targeted aerial raids from passing whirlybirds.

We were a little bruised after, but, despite the ringing in our ears, we were still able to nod enthusiastically as we chatted to Mark Lamia (Studio Head, Treyarch) and Josh Olin (Community Manager, Treyarch) along with a few other shell-shocked journos.

A lot of the game’s specifics are still being kept under wraps (we’d be disposed of if we were told too much, ), but we were able to touch on the game’s change in setting, and the research that the team have put into creating Black Ops.

Black Ops is Treyarch’s first shift away from WW2, yet it’s not a move towards the timeline of Modern Warfare. What made you settle on this time period?

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ML: We wanted to do something different. So we looked at this era, and within this era there was the Cold War, and we looked at some of the different conflicts inside the Cold War. We knew that we wanted to emphasise variety for the player, variety of experiences, variety of things to do. And so, it was quite nice that that era does span a period of time, and it’s quite nice that that period of time hasn’t been touched. And this game isn’t about the Vietnam War, or any particular conflict. It’s about the black operations that occurred underneath, during those conflicts, outside of those conflicts. It was all about being able to do something fresh and new.

Did you conduct a lot of research into these black operations and secret wars? What can you tell us about these special ops teams?

ML: The SOG (Special Operations Group), were a military force, an elite military force, that conducted black operations in East Asia. They took on the denial operations, the operations that their country had to disavow all knowledge of, if they were ever caught or captured, so they went in patchless. They conducted these operations in places where the United States had no presence. We talked with Major John Plaster, who is one of the foremost authorities, and has been published on that. We read his book. We were amazed by it. And we met him. He told us about everything, he told us about the training, the weaponry, the missions. He told us about his comrades. And he looked at what we were starting to create, and gave us his opinions on them. 

What played in really well with what we’re doing, was we found it very inspirational that, when they got their mission, they got this superior intelligence from the CIA. Whatever the mission was, they would get the layout of the situation, and then they would go to an armoury, and then they could outfit themselves however they would see fit. Literally. There was conventional weaponry, there was unconventional weaponry, there was experimental weaponry that hadn’t yet been mass produced. They would modify weaponry. Whatever they needed. So we’re doing our gameplay, and we read about this. You couldn’t ask for anything better to come up!

JO: But then on the other side of that, we brought in another expert called Sonny Puzikas, a Soviet-trained Spetsnaz operative. He came in and told us the other side of it. He explained to us, they were actually trained how to be lethal without weapons before they even picked up weapons, which is the exact opposite of the US military force.

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ML: Day one, they were shot at by their supervisors.

JO: So Sonny came in and gave us this presentation, and it turned into more or less the ‘How Many Ways Can Sonny Kill You’ presentation. He was the real deal! He showed us some crazy techniques that we could then put in the game

You’re focusing on missions and stories that aren’t in the public awareness of these eras, which is quite a move away from the WW2 setting, where the player would be acting out grand moments and events in well-storied history. Has this changed the approach to the single-player campaign’s plot?

ML: Absolutely. One of our objectives is to tell a rich narrative, and have great character development, both in your character and the characters you play with. So your character, for the first time in a Call Of Duty, has a voice. We thought that was important, because if we’re going to take on character development, you’re going to have to respond. In fact, you’re going to have to command, you may have some intelligence – you’re a part of the story!

JO: You have to have a personality.

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ML: We want the players to get immersed at that level. We know what we’ve done, we’ve been able to immerse you in the action. Now we’d like to immerse you into the wars, and remember why you’re fighting. We’d like you to actually care, and be pushed forward by that.

So does the story follow chronologically from 1968 onwards, or does the narrative jump around?

ML: How it unravels is actually part of what you’re going to discover in the game. We’ve told you a great deal already, with the assets that are out there. You can kind of get an idea with how we’re doing some of our narrative, how we might unravel some of the events of the period. What I will tell is that is doesn’t just take place in 1968, there will be missions that come prior to that, and will span for a longer period of time. That’s important because you’ll see characters at earlier points in their career, and you’ll see them as they are in different circumstances.

JO: When you ask what the specific time-frame is, we don’t dance around that question because we’re afraid to give you the answer, it’s just… we don’t want to spoil it!

Gentlemen, at ease. Thank you for your time!

Call Of Duty: Black Ops is due for release on November 9th.

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