At the Eurogamer Expo, we were lucky enough to grab some time to speak with David Vonderhaar, one of the designers responsible for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
David is very passionate about the game, and also remembered with some glee the midnight launch of the first Black Ops where he met with fans, signed autographs and even worked the tills!
But anecdotes aside, we really wanted to pick his brain about what Call of Duty: Black Ops II has to offer...
GAME: Call of Duty has always had a legacy of warfare from the past and the present day. So what made you decide it was time to create a futuristic shooter? Was it a case of this is a good place (or time) to tell a story, or to tell this story?
David Vonderhaar: 2025 gives us a lot of great opportunities. There's a big portion of the campaign that takes place at the end of Black Ops and then we go to 2025. What 2025 does for us from a gameplay perspective... I'm a game designer, and the influence there lets us pretend to be futurists, so we get to imagine what warfare would be like. This is still plausible reality. This is still bullets and optics, things that you'd expect from a Call of Duty game. But, this technology that's going to exist is based on things that we can see being built right now as prototypes, and then as game designers, imagining what they would be like in the future.
G: The setting isn't the only change, of course, with tweaks coming to both the campaign and the multiplayer mode. In terms of multiplayer, was there any nervousness when it came to announcing some of the changes? Any fear of backlash from the hardcore fans?
DV: There's a lot of fans of the game, and you have to be very sensitive to everything that they like about the game. But you also have to innovate, you have to push forward, and you have to do that in a smart, great way so that players can take the step with you. And that's why Create-A-Class, and Pick 10, and Wild Cards are done the way that they're done so that we can take the players with us. We know there's a lot of passionate fans, but we like it that way, and with them, we can go together and do the right things.
G:And what are those kinds of things?
DV: All sorts of really important things are going on here. It really starts with a brand new feature that we call League Play. Now, League Play makes sure that the game is fun at any level. A great experience. Long-time Call of Duty fans like you're talking about? They're going to love League Play, because they're going to be playing with people who are also very experienced long-time Call of Duty fans, because that's when the competitive playing field is intense and fun. But, if you're a new player, you'll be matched up with players who are also new, who also need to not necessarily get their butt kicked! So, League Play makes sure that you get an experience that's appropriate for your skill level, so that you get these really intense battles.
G: And the return of multiplayer of course means the return of Zombies. But how will zombie battles work with the new three-team system?
DV: The first rule of Zombies is that you do not talk about Zombies (laughs)! But - Zombies - absolutely, there's this experience, the co-op one that you like, the survival aspects of Zombies and getting through those waves. But there's also a type of Zombies that's a team of players trying to creep another team of players, but if you want Zombie secrets you've come to the wrong place - you have to play Zombies for yourself!
G: Switching to the campaign, with new features like sandbox-style Strike Force missions and the choices you make affecting the outcome of the game. Which addition to the single player experience are you most excited for players to experience?
DV: We hear it all the time - what are we going to do to bring the campaign experience to the next level? And being able to challenge the assumptions about what a campaign Call of Duty experience should be like is very much part of the Treyarch DNA, and that's what you see in these Strike Force missions. These are RTS-style mechanics, dead-smack in the middle of your campaign! Why not? What this does for you is this gives you this different kind of way of thinking about the game. Now you can take over different aspects - you can still be the soldier on the ground if you want, or you can fly out and actually take over one of the drones and pilot that through the mission. And whether you win or fail these missions has consequences on how the game plays out. So just a great new way that Treyarch wants to make sure that you have the most robust game experience imaginable when you're playing this way.
G: On a very different tack now - what's the most exciting part of a game development cycle?
DV: The most exciting part is that actual day that you get to play the game! There's a lot of stuff that goes in, and every part's really exciting. It depends on where you are, and what kind of developer that you are. As a designer we like both the design phase but we also like to see the designs come to life, so we get to have fun the entire time.
G: So... DLC, which seems almost inevitable for a title like Black Ops II. We saw some interesting new takes on the missions and maps coming for Modern Warfare 3; is there anything you can say about what we might expect for additional content drops for Black Ops II?
DV: Right now I'm just trying to make it to November 13th! And once I do, I'm sure that we'll be out letting you know. But here's what I'll say - we're going to do some really cool things here, we're kicking around some ideas, I think people are going to be really happy with what we do with Call of Duty and the support that we'll provide for Black Ops II
G: One last question - is there anything that you've seen in another game that made you think 'I wish I'd thought of that!'? Anything that's really inspired you?
DV: We have to draw inspiration - and do draw inspiration - from all types of media. games, films, TV, books - these things all play a big part of where we're going and what it gives us for creative inspiration. But really, truly, the biggest source of inspiration that we have actually comes directly from the fans. It's so great to be here at Eurogamer where we get to interact with all these people playing the game. They tell us exactly what they think about the game and that's actually really helpful for us as developers.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is out on November 13th on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, and November 30th for Wii U. You can also grab the Hardened Edition and the GAME Exclusive Care Package on Xbox 360 and PS3. You can also sign up for our exciting Perks Programme when you preorder your copy for some cool exclusive extras.