Treyarch reveals the behind-the-scenes story of Call of Duty: Black Ops

Treyarch's Phil Tasker, Alex Conserva, Dan Bunting, and "Lvl 1 N00b" David Vonderhaar (in costume, with a cardboard nameplate above his head and a full-sized Trollface mask) took the stage at Call of Duty XP this weekend to do a behind-the-scenes talk on Call of Duty: Black Ops' multiplayer game, showing off some work-in-progress and unreleased maps, and answering players' questions about the game. Their well-scripted talk was interesting, though perhaps because most of the show is about the next game in the Call of Duty series, they didn't end up going too in-depth on production secrets.

They did, however, explain a little bit about the way multiplayer maps were created for the game. Initially, the developers just sit down with pen and paper to design the map and the flow, and then the map goes through a series of playtesting stages, starting out with temporary art and textures, and then moving on to more tweaks and details as time goes on. The "Summit" map was shown off throughout this process -- it started off as just two buildings on a rooftop, with an open path between them, but over time, the developers tried to open the map up a little more, and really show off to players that they were on a high mountaintop.
Vonderhaar did a short segment on "the greatest animation ever made for a video game," which the developers were forced to take out of the title. Originally, when players took the "Coward's Way Out" in a match, by ending their life instead of waiting for another player to help them back up, the player's avatar actually pulled a pistol out and fired it directly into their chin, suicide style. Unfortunately, Activision's lawyers didn't appreciate the humor of the move, and the devs were forced to take it out of the game.

Something else the lawyers didn't really like were a few of the map names the developers came up with. "Hangar 18" was originally called "Area 51," but Activision's legal team said no. The Treyarch folks also shared some other insights: The map known as Havana was originally called "MP_Cairo" and set in Egypt, but when the single-player part of the game cut the portion that was supposed to be set in Egypt, the developers had to reimagine the map. Summit was originally called "Mountain," and Launch was originally called "Cosmodrome," but the developers agreed that change was for the better. Sometimes, they admitted, map names are changed simply because there are too many maps made that start with the same letter.

The devs also showed off an unreleased map called War Museum that was actually a reimagining of the old Castle map from their previous games. This version took place in a museum full of actual army vehicles and props, and the devs said that it just never made the cut on the disc or DLC. One player asked if they'd ever release it, and they all agreed that likelihood was low.


Their last attack at the lawyers was based on the custom emblem system in the game -- the devs showed off a lot of great user-created emblems that were either too offensive to stay in the game, or broke some sort of copyright rules. But the devs stood up for players in this instance -- despite the legal fights and talks they had to sit through for trying to put customizable emblems in the game, they maintained that "if we had to do it all over again, we'd do the exact same thing."

Finally, Vonderhaar (shortly before he loudly called Counter-Strike "the best game ever made," to a round of applause from the crowd) walked through the story of one Tambor Fudgely, who is apparently the mythical founder of Treyarch, born back in 1901. Fudgely is an in-joke on the internal Treyarch wiki, a huge history that the devs have built up for fun, and even inspired the in-company prize called the "Chalice of Unparalleled Achievement." Vonderhaar said that whenever the devs are dragged down by their work, they think of Fudgely -- "he reminds us," said Vonderhaar, "that we're just making a game, and that you are just playing one."


The Q&A session afterwards was fairly uneventful -- the developers mentioned that Call of Duty: United Offensive was probably "our most successful vehicle implementation," and mentioned that they almost included a "Suicide Bomber" killstreak attack in World at War (though they may have been kidding about that last one). But there was one more interesting tidbit about Black Ops on the panel. Treyarch apparently spent a ton of money -- "almost two million dollars," according to Vonderhaar -- to figure out how to make "team-based wager matches work" ... and they never did it. There was a wager match variant called "Rock Paper Scissors" that the developers really enjoyed, but as the panel ended, they didn't reveal any more about that one than just the name.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.