Black Ops Designer: “Certain People Will Never Love Multiplayer”

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The Call of Duty franchise has made its name on intense player-vs-player experiences and David Vonderhaar–the design director for Call of Duty: Black Ops–bleeds multiplayer. He’s the man in charge of making Black Ops‘ online competitive modes insanely addictive and challenging yet welcoming, too.  It’s a tough balance to strike and–in a roundtable discussion following the reveal of the new COD’s multiplayer details–Vonderhaar spoke on how he and the team at Treyarch are trying to mold their multiplayer experience.

The introduction of an in-game economy is a huge change for the series. How do you balance the principles behind that and those prestiges and the leveling up from other Call of Duty games. Is there going to be any kind of interoperability between the different systems? In terms of leveling up and in-game money.

Yeah, there’s interoperability right off the bat. In fact, it’s part of the design. So let me go into a little bit of detail about how it works. Is that cool?

Yeah.

So, you still unlock features by level. You still have to rank up. You can’t not rank up because you won’t get any features. The difference is, when you, say you get to–this is a hypothetical–level 10. You unlock killstreaks. At that point, you unlock all killstreaks. But, then, you have to buy whichever ones that you want. The same is true of perks for the most part. And the same is true of any of the personalization stuff, for sure. Emblems, gun camos and all these things.

So, you’re still leveling to get the unlocks, and then you can get in there and buy whatever you want. This is really a non-issue because when you’re tuning the game, you don’t tune based on the levels that anybody is at. You tune the game as though anybody can have anything at any point in time. So it doesn’t really matter in any significant fashion that you have some guys at level 20 and some at level 32.

(More on Techland: Hands-On With Call of Duty: Black Ops Multiplayer)

At the end of the day, when you’re balancing the game, everything needs to work, because at any point in time, the matchmaking lets anybody play together. So, anybody can have anything. So it doesn’t matter. This way, it feels great to be able to say, “Hey, look, buy what you want. Do what you want.” Some people know what they want, and some people don’t know what they want. Some people will spend money trying to figure out what they like, others are going to know exactly what to go for.

Will the leveling and money-earning go hand-in-hand?

There’s a leveling bonus. So as you level up, you’ll get money. You can obviously complete contracts or you can Wager Match that. Leveling still has a pretty big role to play because when you go up in rank, guys who are ranked higher get paid more than guys who are ranked less. It makes sense. Just like life. [group laughter] Me, I make a lot of money, and John (Rafacz, Activision PR) makes none. [more laughter]

John: That is true.

It’s not true at all.

John: Look at these pants. [laughs]

You guys have talked about how the single-player game is going to move the character throughout various decades and all over the world. Is there any way you can incorporate the globe-trotting aspect and the moving through different time periods into multiplayer? Is there a way you can reflect that in the maps and in the assets in the world?

Yeah. They’re indirectly reflected inside multiplayer. But multiplayer is the complete toolbox. We put all those mechanics up and we put them all together at one time, and we give you all of it at once. Whereas when you’re playing the campaign, you’re going through a more structured experience. And it’s intentionally part of the design. Whereas, multiplayer is far more sandbox than that, or like, and killstreaks, and contracts, and perks, and create-a-class, and…and we’re putting it all in front of you because it’s really fun to see what players do with all of those things at once and together.

That’s what makes multiplayer, multiplayer. Single-player campaign segments that game into something a lot smaller and simpler, and gets away from sort of the spirit of multiplayer. That spirit puts all of these tools at players’ disposal, working together, and that’s really what makes it fun. It’s those scenarios where you have a gunship, I have a surface-to-air missile turret.

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