Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 producer and programmer talk Blizzard, cross-play, the beta, and more (Q&A)
The next entry in Activision's renowned shooter franchise, Call of Duty, has been officially unveiled ahead of its scheduled release this fall. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will revive the fan-favorite series, fully embracing its multiplayer success, while exploring new online modes such as "Zombies". Black Ops 4 is being developed by Treyarch with help from Raven. Beenox is helping with the PC version.
The multiplayer beta kicked off on Aug. 3, 2018, on PlayStation 4. It should be available on Xbox One and PC starting Aug. 10. In September, the Blackout battle royale experience comes to life with another beta test.
Recently, we spoke with Treyarch Senior PC Producer Jonathan Moses and Beenox Technical Lead Programmer Philippe Troie to discuss the PC beta of Black Ops 4 and what lies ahead for the game.
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An insider's view of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Asher Madan, Windows Central news writer: There seems to be a greater push for Call of Duty on PC this year. What specific optimizations has the team implemented for the PC version of Black Ops 4? How does it differ from past years?
Philippe Troie: For Black Ops 4, we've secured the team much earlier than previous Call of Duty games. In terms of optimizations, what you'll see in this game next weekend is how flexible it reacts to your hardware. We support very high visual fidelity for gamers that really like an experience close to what you would see in cinematography. But we also support competitive setups like high frame rate and very low latency.
What are some of the frame rate options available on PC?
Troie: You can completely unlock the frame rate and have the game run as fast as you can on your hardware.
What is the status of dedicated servers for the game?
Troie: For Black Ops 4 on PC, it will be a hundred percent dedicated servers for the beta. It's still to be determined for launch.
Jonathan Moses: For consoles, we also have a hundred percent dedicated servers right now.
What are the differences between the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro versions of Black Ops 4? How do they compare to the PC?
Troie: The game supports 60 FPS (frames per second) on a 4K monitor, but we also showcased a more competitive setup at E3 where we had very high frame rate monitors. We want to explore both ends of the spectrum just to get feedback from the community, just to hear what they have to say about having very high-fidelity visuals and also very low latency, high frame rate. We're really focused on extracting every gigaflop from your hardware, making sure it runs as best as it can on any type of GPU. On consoles, you only have the TV on which you can play. On PC it's a jungle of hardware. The game has to adapt to what you have.
Moses: That exact resolution differences are something we're going to get into after the beta and other tests.
How do you make sure certain PC players with weaker setups or other obscure configurations aren't at a disadvantage? Is it just about optimization?
Troie: We have a team of designers who are exploring all kinds of gameplay and UI opportunities. It involves a lot of teamwork where every change is run by the team. Treyarch and Blizzard have been fantastic partners in providing this type of feedback. Moreover, we have large groups of players testing various types of hardware. Activision and Blizzard coming together and giving us access to the Compatibility Lab made sure the game is running well on these types of hardware. From the developer perspective, we really want to make sure the player will enjoy playing the game with their own setups. If someone has an ultra-widescreen monitor, we have to make adjustments so that it's not unbalanced for him or her. Turning your head takes time and prevents reactivity, so we added features to the game which allow you to customize HUD placement.
A lot of Activision games seem to be releasing for PC through the Battle.net platform. Is this the new standard going forward?
Moses: For Philippe and myself, working with Battle.net and the Blizzard team has been super easy and fantastic. Blizzard has been making PC games, for real, forever. Being able to tap into that experience and being able to use their Compatibility Lab to test hardware, talk to their security experts when it comes to locking down systems and comparing them to what we've done with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 in the past, and stability ... being able to bring all of that into Black Ops 4 has been fantastic. Features like social chat and whisper are fantastic. It's really the behind-the-scenes – things that players won't necessarily put their hands on – that will come through when you get to see how this game compares to past titles.
Cheating is a pressing concern among the PC crowd when it comes to any online game. How do you plan to combat this?
Moses: Battle.net has systems in place that we're going to be using, but also Treyarch has a security team that's been built around combating cheaters and hackers from Black Ops 3 and before. The experience for the last several months has been about getting all these teams together, talking about best practices, sharing code, sharing methods and tools. Between Blizzard, Treyarch, and Activision, this will be an ongoing combating thing. People continue to learn and try to find new ways to take advantage of systems. We'll continue to monitor and update as needed.
Cross-play seems to be a major push in the gaming industry right now. Is Treyarch or Activision exploring this for future Call of Duty games?
Moses: It's something we've talked about at the studio, but we don't have any announcements at this time. Thanks to the technology we've got behind the scenes, cross-play could be possible. You'd really have to take into account how that would change competitive multiplayer though. Having one platform perform better than another would cause potential problems in a competitive setting.
Black Ops 4 forgoes a traditional single-player campaign in order to focus on more multiplayer modes. What was the reasoning behind this decision?
Moses: I think game design is really iterative, and a lot of choices are made as we go. Every Specialist ability you'll try in the beta next weekend was slightly different at various points of the life cycle. The Black Ops 4 campaign was always meant to be a different way of telling stories and it iterated over time to be what it is now. We're telling the story a different way, and Zombies has a fantastic story. The story is told differently through multiplayer.
What are some of the inspirations behind Black Ops 4? How have recent games shaped development over the past few years?
Moses: The team at Treyarch would say that they play a lot of stuff, a lot of different games that influence the designers as they go, but really the biggest inspiration was Black Ops 3. At the end of that game, we were tearing it apart and really looking at things that worked really well. The Specialists and team-play were something they liked a lot and were talking about ways to build on that to really emphasize the gameplay they wanted from Black Ops 4. This game isn't our answer to any other game as much as it is just us trying to take what we have learned from Black Ops 2, Black Ops 3, and bring that to what we think is the penultimate experience.
Black Ops 4 feels slower and more tactical than past Black Ops games. How did the decision to go this route come about?
Moses: The team coming out of Black Ops 3 really wanted to double-down and make the feel of the Specialists and key aspects feel more like a tactical shooter, so players of various skill sets still feel like they contribute. I suck at Black Ops. I'm probably the worst player here. But, in Black Ops 4, I still feel like I'm able to contribute because of the different Specialist abilities. It definitely gives every player the opportunity to feel like they're contributing.
Given Black Ops 4's boots-on-the-ground approach, how does level design differ? How do you maintain unpredictability?
Moses: Having played through a lot of the levels, there's still a lot of verticality to them. There are a lot of overwatch positions and players coming from different directions. Treyarch's approach to map design comes from understanding what the Specialists are going to be able to do and understanding how you want to break up maps into lanes so players can drive combat into meaningful places. We give players opportunities to maneuver around. We don't have the wall-running, so we don't have to worry about building maps for that in Black Ops 4.
How do you balance tools like the grappling hook? Are there concerns about how much of an advantage these can give certain players?
Moses: This involves a lot of playtests. The beta is going to give us a fantastic amount of data on that. It's about understanding the Specialist abilities to make them feel well-balanced and unique, so there's a few different ways we can balance them against the power and how often you can use them. For example, while looking at the PC version, we're making certain choices to take into account the fact that players have the mouse and keyboard. For the grappling hook, we wanted to maintain a greater sense of camera movement with the mouse so that players aren't locked in like they are on a controller.
How did the decision to use syringes to let players heal themselves come about?
Moses: This was really to drive that tactical gameplay to give players added choice. Do I want to try and push to finish this guy off? Or do I want to back up for a second and heal? Do you want to push and tag them while they're healing? Maybe they have a friend around the corner as well. This gives that additional depth to moment-to-moment gameplay.
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about the beta experience?
Moses: The beta is a beta in every sense of the word. It's probably not as finished as we'd like it to be. It's still an excellent opportunity for us to get the game out and in front of every PC player. Battle.net allows anyone with an account to play. We're really looking forward to getting feedback. We're looking forward to using that to make future releases much better.
Thanks to Jonathan and Philippe for talking to us!
Hopefully Black Ops 4 will be a polished and balanced experience on all platforms when it releases in a few months. You can currently preorder Black Ops 4, starting at $59.99. The game is scheduled to launch on October 12.
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I'm dying for this to go cross platform. Too many folks on the other console.