To outsiders, game design is like an iceberg: the part you can see is a tiny fraction of the monstrosity beneath. Ideas and assets are in circulation for years, from scribbled asides on weapon recoil through texture maps to fully rendered lumps of geometry, the vast majority destined for the scrapheap, unknown to and unsung by fans of the final product.
Which is why it’s so fascinating when one such abandoned concept or approach comes to light. Take the two campaign levels Treyarch showed off at its Call of Duty: Black Ops event in London this week. One of them’s called ‘Slaughterhouse’, and is set in Vietnamese Hue City. It is, as most previewers agree, quite the exercise in single player craftmanship. But it was first built for multiplayer.
Treyarch’s Studio Head Mark Lamia dropped the detail in an extensive (and soon to be published) chat. ‘Often times what we’ve done is we’ve created a single player environment and we’ve modified it for multiplayer,’ he said. ‘But a lot of it’s been the other way round. The Slaughterhouse city level was initially created inside of multiplayer. It’s different in the single player experience, but the point is it started there.’
According to Community Manager Josh Olin, the tasty-looking stealth crossbow you’re handed in ‘WMD’ also originated in multiplayer. Such reversals of the norm are an indication, Lamia told us, of how ‘aggressive’ Treyarch is being with Black Ops online.
‘I think lots has gone into our map development,’ he went on. ‘We really iterate on these maps – I can tell you that all the maps that we are making get iterated on literally every day, the guys have play sessions every day, they have a little microcosm of the gaming community where they bitch about things they don’t like.’
‘All the new maps we make are unique to MP,’ added Olin. ‘They’re 100% for multiplayer, there’s nothing reproduced from single player.’
Treyarch appears to be pinning the multiplayer modes’ success on a combination of customisable experiences and social networking.
‘Players like to play Call of Duty in certain maps in particular ways,’ Lamia explained, ‘so we’re going to give them particular tools to let them do that inside the game, without getting specific.
‘So we’re going deep on that, and we also know that players inside the game and outside the game want to have the tools to socialise about their Call of Duty experiences, and we’re going to put a great deal of investment into allowing players to do that, and again we’re not going into specifics.
I can tell you that we’re taking it to lengths we’ve never taken it.’
Intriguing stuff. Black Ops is out in November for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, DS and Wii. The full text of our interview will be live next week.
UPDATE: Read it here!