Call of Duty returns in 2018 with the fourth instalment in the Black Ops franchise. We spoke with studio design director – “the guy who makes the shoes” – David Vonderhaar about what to expect from ‘Blackout’, the series’ new battle royale mode.
What were some of your main takeaways from the beta?
Hollywood westerns made during the 1950s often featured former Confederate characters invariably depicted as recalcitrant loners carrying various levels of resentment and bitterness over the South losing the Civil War.
What do you think it is that sets Blackout apart from other battle royales?
Blackout is unique because it is Call of Duty in everything from pacing to signature fluid combat. We pulled from a 10-year-plus heritage to influence game systems and mechanics. Blackout merges together a library of game devices in unpredictable ways that creates a unique and fun experience for our fans.
Did you need to add new members to the team in order to make Blackout possible?
Yes. It’s been a collaborative effort from the beginning, which includes dozens of people at Treyarch, new hires, and partners like Raven and Beenox. We have a talented mix of designers and developers with a wide variety of skillsets and experiences all working together to make Blackout possible.
How did you decide on which maps would be placed where in the grand scheme of things?
Ultimately, we are creating a fun and engaging experience for the player. With that in mind, we let gameplay and those experiences govern our decision making in placing maps. We created a series of system rules that would help ensure our gameplay vision, by asking critical questions like how far apart locations should be from one another, what types of locations should be next to other types, and where destinations should be placed in relation to the corners and intersection of the map, amongst others. So, the Blackout gameplay rules and gameplay vision determined where maps are placed in the Blackout world.
Has Blackout impacted the other multiplayer modes in any way?
You can look to Heist and the mechanics of Last Stand to see evidence of Blackout’s influence. And, Blackout has definitely drawn from the other modes as well, like being able to understand how zombies need to work in Blackout. It’s been a back and forth sharing of information which has positively impacted all of the game modes.
The Blackout Beta
The Blackout beta was live for a short while last month on the PS4, and we got the chance to jump in and play for ourselves. The general consensus around Blackout is that it is a mode so intrinsically well-suited to Call of Duty that it’s a surprise that it hasn’t been added sooner. Blackout is a merger of the fun and tactics of other BRs like Fortnite and PUBG with the fast-paced action multiplayer COD fans have come to love. We were pleasantly surprised by what we played of the Blackout beta, and how fun and high-stakes it really was, bringing a completely new experience to the franchise that we have little doubt will have mass appeal for gamers.
What is it about the Call of Duty DNA that you think blends so well with a battle royale?
Battle Royale is a genre, a game mode with a mechanism of rules. What makes Call of Duty is not a game mode, but how the combat works. How you engage and disengage – how you heal and move. The DNA of Call of Duty works with Blackout just like it would with any new game mode. The mechanics, systems, features, and content make the Call of Duty DNA, not a specific game mode you’re playing.
Is it as a result of the inclusion of Blackout that there is no single player campaign included, or were other factors involved as well?
Our original vision for this game was to create the best online, social, connected gaming experience that we could offer. Blackout supports that vision and delivers a unique experience to our fans that they want and that is fun.
What’s your outlook for the future of the series?
Speaking specifically about Black Ops and Treyarch, our future is bright. We have more ideas than we know what to with, and a lot of momentum. I think this is really the start of something.
Finally, is there a reason it’s ‘IIII’ and not ‘IV’?
It’s a fun question, but I just make the shoes.