Dan Bunting Talks Treyarch’s Unique Style in Black Ops 3
Ben Sheene / Nov 10th, 2015 No Comments
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is finally here for players to get their fix on one of the most hotly anticipated shooters of the year. The game is Treyarch‘s first in the new three-year development cycle for Call of Duty games. The effort has definitely paid off as the game received a 96 percent rating on Gaming Illustrated.
Related: Interview with Black Ops 3 campaign and zombies director Jason Blundell
A few weeks before the launch of Black Ops 3, Gaming Illustrated sat down with Dan Bunting, Treyarch’s game director for multiplayer. Bunting opened up about the big additions to the Call of Duty multiplayer experience, including co-op and player customization. We also spoke about the importance of the Black Ops name and whether the world will see another “classic” Call of Duty experience, revealing an in-depth look behind some of the decisions driving one of the most competitive games around.
Listen to the audio version of the interview below or scroll down to read the interview.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: My first question is, with games like Halo, Star Wars: Battlefront, The Taken King, Rainbow Six: Siege, all these shooters coming out, what is going to put Black Ops 3 ahead of all of those?
Dan Bunting: You started with a softball, huh?
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: What’s going to make it the premier multiplayer, co-op experience over other games?
Dan Bunting: We’ve been making multiplayer games for a long time. We have our very own brand and style of gameplay that no other shooter has. Everyone’s got their own kind of style and their own flavor. Ours is unique. We have a good sense of what our fans want and we know what they like. We build gameplay around an experience that we know that people like. We also give them things that they don’t yet know that they want. That’s part of the difficulty or the challenge of our job, is to come up with ideas that push the boundaries and goes into new areas, while still giving people the things that they feel are familiar.
Familiarity is really important for them. For players who like Call of Duty multiplayer, they want to feel like it’s familiar but they also want to feel like theres something new and fresh and different and a bit of a change. With specialists, for example, it’s a really big, new system we have that gives players a whole new way of expressing themselves through both gameplay and customization options. It puts a little bit more lore into our multiplayer, which is something that we’ve never really done before. I think that makes it a lot more fun for players. With the movement system it really fundamentally changes how people play and how they engage and navigate around the map, while at the same time giving them some very classic boots-on-the-ground style of gameplay as well.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: Do you think with Advanced Warfare having the exo suit abilities that it did and with Black Ops 3’s wall running and double jumping, do you think the series or even the multiplayer, is sort of toeing the line of being too futuristic?
Dan Bunting: Not for me. It starts with what we want to do as a gameplay team. We want to build off the foundation that we’ve built up to at this point. We want to take it a step further. The movement system, really, was a natural progression of where we’ve been. That’s kind of what’s unique about it, it’s very fast, it’s very fluid. We’ve put a lot of power and control into the hands of the player. That’s a lot of what the game experience is about, that Call of Duty brings that nobody else has. We’re always wanting to one-up ourselves and say, “What have we come to? What’s the game that we’ve built to this point and how can we take that further?” That’s what we’ve built here.
I don’t think it’s a big departure, again, going back to the familiarity that people want. We did a lot of work to find the right balance between giving people the classic feeling and purity of the gun play, while also steering them towards the movement system as a way to navigate around the environment in a faster way and to make those battles more engaging and more dynamic.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: I think one thing I’m interested in knowing is, with the popularity of the Black Ops name in multiplayer, has Treyarch crafted an experience that is more Black Ops than Call of Duty?
Dan Bunting: It’s funny. We do talk about it a lot. Call of Duty is such a big, big franchise and brand but what we built with Black Ops, it really is at the heart of what Treyarch is all about and what our sensibilities are and what our tastes are. The subject matter of what we like to explore, we like to explore the darker side of war. That’s really what we’ve done. Going back to our World War II days, even the first title that we worked on, Big Red One. There was some pretty interesting turns even for our first title as a team. World at War, that was the last World War II game in the franchise. We really pushed the boundaries of what is the darker side of war. What’s the part that people don’t see as much? It’s not the uber-patriotic and jingoistic kind of flavor or it’s really-
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: It’s not Americans verses Nazis.
Dan Bunting: Yeah. What is the human element? What is the part about war that is gritty and gets to the heart of what it’s all about. Even in World at War we were exploring some of the kind of special operations side of things as well. Black Ops 1 was the beginning of our sub-franchise of Call of Duty: Black Ops. We kept going with that tradition, going with that theme.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: Out of curiosity, what about Black Ops and it’s multiplayer has created such an avid fan base? Why are people, still to this day, pumping dozens of hours into Black Ops 2 and even 1?
Dan Bunting: We have a really good team that knows what they’re doing and very professional and very seasoned at what they do. We craft a really solid multiplayer with a good foundation. We start with fundamentals. That’s something that we hold as a very important part of our development process. The fundamentals of things like, we build maps around three lane structures, which is something that we hold very close to our development Bible. There’s things that we don’t want to violate. It’s like three is the magic number. The three lane structure really gives players the right amount of choice, the right amount of options without overwhelming them with choices at any point in time. It keeps players in the head-to-head engagements that feels, really, the best in our game. When you’re pushing one team against another and the flow of our maps is something that’s really core to that experience that I think is unique to what we do at Treyarch.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: What do you think the challenges were in building the multiplayer experience in post-Black Ops 2, post-Advanced Warfare, next gen environment?
Dan Bunting: This is our first three year game. When we started on this project there were… We took a lot of really big risks. It’s important as developers that you really push your boundaries from the beginning. The development process is always kind of a step backwards, so if you don’t go far enough in the beginning then you’re always going to be chasing. It’s really hard to build up to something that feels innovative. You have to start pushing big innovations from the get-go. That’s what we did on all fronts from our technology. We revamped our whole graphics engine to where it’s a deferred renderer, gives us a lot more lighting power to have much more visual fidelity in our environments. It give us much more power to make particle effects, more of them and have them much more refined and look more realistic. There’s just a lot that we did with the graphics engine, just completely brand new technology. That was a big change for us and how we build our environments, how we author our assets.
On the AI side, we completely overhauled our AI system and rebuilt it from the ground up, so that we could get the diversity of AI behaviors because we knew we were going to make a co-op game. We really wanted to make an online game–an all online game–from the get-go because we believe the game is much more fun when you play with friends. The social component was very important for us. That required us to build smarter AI that could adapt to player behaviors much better in a much more dynamic way.
Of course, the movement system was another thing we started from the beginning. It really forces you to rethink how you design your spaces and design your environment. There were a lot of challenges that we took on from the beginning. I think that we pushed ourselves, pushed the boundaries of what we were used to doing. I think the end product speaks for itself. I think it all came together really well.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: Did you guys collaborate with Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games during the process?
Dan Bunting: Everyone’s super busy. Anyone who’s making games is pretty much busy all the time. We do have these key moments, key points in the projects where we touch base with what everyone’s doing. Try and understand, in the case with Sledgehammer, they were coming out a year before us. We met with them to understand what their game was about so we didn’t overlap too much with what they were doing. It’s important that we keep distinction and diversity in player experiences. We were all kind of going into the same time period and it was very important that we made sure that what we were doing was exploring different subject matter and different mechanics and different technology. We did meet with Sledgehammer a few times in the development process. We met with Infinity Ward many times throughout the year. Like I said, everyone’s busy but we do have an open and sharing environment where we want to make sure everyone knows what everybody else is doing.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: What would you consider to be one of the most rewarding things about playing Black Ops 3 with others online?
Dan Bunting: I mentioned that playing games with friends and especially playing Call of Duty with friends is the best way to play. That’s sort of a tenant that we’ve held for a long time. We’ve built a lot of social systems around that. We want to reduce the friction. We want players to get together. We want players to be able to party up and join each other quickly and easily.
With this game, we combined everything into a single executable, which in previous games the way the engine was constructed, you have to have an executable for campaign, you had to have one for multiplayer and you had to have one for zombies. Which meant that for a party who was playing multiplayer, they had to break the party up, go back to a different part of the game, and rejoin if they wanted to. That was a huge barrier to entry in terms of the social experience. We wanted it to be much more seamless. Basically the entire front end is a lobby, so players can join the parties, they can go around to any part of the game, whatever they want to do. I think it just makes a much more fun experience when you’re playing with friends. You’re talking: I used to have a group of guys I would play with once a week. Half the time, you just sit in the lobby and catch up on what people did that week. It’s almost like a social platform in itself.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: After playing the Bastogne mission and the story, it was almost strange going back to World War II in a Call of Duty game. Do you ever see a back-to-the-roots Call of Duty? Maybe not in terms of story but in terms of multiplayer like lack of perks, toned down weapons with fewer attachments.
Dan Bunting: Never say never. Anything is open. We like to explore a lot of ideas. I can’t say that it would happen. I can’t say it won’t happen. Right now we’re just so focused on getting this game in the hands of the fans so we can play with them and see what they respond to. We generally wait until a couple of months after the game is out to see how people respond to the game before we start even thinking about what we do next. Anything is open. There’s a lot of creative room to explore in all different time periods.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: Since your days working on World at War or even Black Ops 1, what have you seen to be the biggest changes to the online experience?
Dan Bunting: That’s interesting. The online world has changed so much. When I started making multiplayer in this franchise, we were looking at maybe, 20-30 percent of our entire audience played multiplayer and now, it’s the vast majority of our players play online. I think, even, there’s statistics that show that less than five percent of all consoles are not connected online. It’s just the whole technology and the adoption of technology has transformed significantly over the years.
I think it means that players are generally more connected. Even outside the game, people are interacting in social spaces, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all different social platforms. It’s just a more connected world. I think that people, now, just expect that. It’s an important part of everything that they do. It has evolved significantly. I think we do a lot. Because it is a very social game, we give players tools to express themselves, whether it’s through theater and sharing their experiences with their friends or the paint shop and the gunsmith. Basically, building out your guns, painting up, and creating your own camos.
Even in the beta, we saw people making these amazing, amazing paint jobs, like way more than anybody in our studio. We’re a studio full of artists but they’re artists that are trained in traditional art applications and creating art out of little bits and pieces of decals, it’s something that is a unique talent. We saw a lot of people do some amazing stuff. That was even with just one week of exposure. You can imagine, a couple months after the game is launched, people are going to make some really crazy designs. We give players 64 layers on each of the three sides of the gun to paint. Even with Black Ops 2, the emblem maker only had 32 layers. Black Ops 1, before that, was only 8 layers. We keep upping the ante, keep giving them more tools for expression. I think that the community is going to make some amazing stuff.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: You’re going to see YouTube how-to’s on paint jobs and stuff like that.
Dan Bunting: Absolutely. Yeah, we even did out of the Beta. There were so many of them. We were sharing them around the studio, just blown away by what people were making. It’s really cool. I think that that’s one of the most satisfying things for us as developers, is to just create the tools and the platform and not necessarily make every piece of content for people, just give them tools to do their own thing and to see them come back with stuff that’s way better than we even expect or imagine.
Ben Sheene Gaming Illustrated: Dan, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to the game.
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