Black Ops 2′s new multiplayer, perks and leagues – design director David Vonderhaar explains all

Black Ops 2 screens

A lot’s changed in the new Black Ops 2 multiplayer. Treyarch have taken a good hard look at the systems and rethought everything from the ground up. Here to explain it all is design director David Vonderhaar.

OPM What was the most important thing that you learned from the first Black Ops?

David VonderhaarDavid Vonderhaar I loved COD points. I thought it was a really interesting way to let people have some control over what it is that they want when they rank up. But it has some side-effects, being that by level 35 or so you could effectively end up getting everything that you wanted – and you sort of ran out of progression and things to do. So it was really important for us to find a balance between, ‘Here’s a world where you have complete control over your rank up progression’ and, ‘Here’s a world where you have some stuff to look forward to.’ I think this unlock progression that we’re doing in Black Ops 2 is the middle ground that can be met between those two worlds.

OPM Do you think it might upset some people that when you level up all the way you don’t get all the perks in one play through?

DV Yeah, I think that in the abstract of not having all the information about how it works, of course it would upset somebody – but when you see what we’ve got planned up there and you see what control the user has over the course of the progression, then it will make a lot of sense.

OPM Perks no longer affect weapons – what was the thought process there?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 screensDV A perk is just an icon that you see briefly when you’re picking a loadout and when you spawn. An attachment is something that you can feel and experience because it’s on your gun, and you can see it and you can see its impact in the world, and other people can see it. So whenever you can visualise gameplay aspects directly it feels a lot better. The other side of it is that with perks modifying guns they have to modify every gun the same exact way , and if they don’t then it’s confusing. So we can tune stronger and more directly with something you specifically attach to a gun, because you don’t have that expectation – you expect that this attachment modifies the gun that it’s attached to in a specific way. It modifies the gun, not the guy holding it.

OPM What drove you to overhaul the Create A Class system the way you have?

DV There were a couple of key motivators. I think moving into 2025 for the game really kicked us into gear – we did a lot of work on the technology that powers the user interface. That opened up new things that we can do that weren’t even possible before. The UI system has been completely pulled out of the engine and [we’ve] had this new one put in for this game. The other side of it, though, was two guys that work here – one is a visual designer, one is a user interface designer – those two guys just powerdriving this thing into a place that feels crisp and looks nice but can still be read. That’s always been really important to us – the visual browsing that you see in the front end – and it was just time to really go into that thing, gut it all and start again, and find out a better way of looking at it. When you’re in 2025 you need a 2025 user interface.

OPM In league play, presumably you get promoted or relegated after a fixed amount of time?

DV Absolutely. Seasons are very important to league play for a couple of reasons : if you’re not doing too well and you want a chance to do it over, and to promote you up into the next division. I don’t want to promote you too far or too soon. The other thing is, I need seasons to clear out inactivity. If you roll into the next season and you don’t play, too bad, buddy – because you’re off that board. So you’ve got to be active to be ranked.

OPM How will shoutcasting work on a wider lever? Will you guys pick certain matches that you want to shoutcast and who the shoutcaster is?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 screensDV We will definitely do that, but it’s also more than that. So if I’m just in a regular lobby, in order for me to become a shoutcaster, I just hit [the shoulder button] twice. It’s basically like joining a team, except it’s a shoutcaster team. So I can become this team or that team or shoutcasting team – therefore anybody can be shoutcasting at any point in time. And it can be turned off, so if you for some reason are concerned about cheating or anything like that, right here in the general settings there’s shoutcasting, and we’ll just put it to ‘not allowed’ and now no one can shoutcast the game. So whoever the host is can turn it off. Also, we as Treyarch can become shoutcasters in the top matches – we can shoutcast the games that are the top 2% games or whatever. Whatever makes sense for us.

OPM What changes have been made to Combat Training?

DV Combat Training was a huge success for us, but in Combat Training you could only play team deathmatch and free-for-all . Now we want the Combat Training bots or dummies to play lots of modes besides those two. We want to make sure that there’s usability and you can put them in whatever you want. We want you to be able to play with your friends and pubstomp against the AI, or me and you and a bot against him and him and a bot in public matchmaking. So Combat Training wasn’t part of the public matchmaking experience before – it was isolated, it was its own rank progression and you had to play with your friends and you could never play with strangers. So when you think about integrating it into the core matchmaking experience, it’ll be just like any other kind of mode that you’d play. It’ll be there and available to you.

OPM It’s been said that there’s so much content in Call Of Duty’s multiplayer that it’s like a game in itself. Do you think that could ever literally be the case?

DV That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know. The thing is, stuff is dealt with at such an abstractly business level for me that I wouldn’t really know how to even go about that. It’s a great question for someone at Activision – I’m a simple game-maker, you know! It’d be fun, though, that’s for sure.