Activision takes the wraps off Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 | Treyarch interview

Activision’s Treyarch studio has had an unprecedented four years to work on Call of Duty: Black Ops 6, which is heading for release on October 25.  

So what did they do with all that time? I had a chance to ask them that.

Announced today at the Call of Duty presentation after Microsoft’s Xbox Showcase in Los Angeles, Black Ops returns with an immersive story full of spooks for its single-player campaign, multiplayer action and round-based Zombies in Call of Duty: Black Ops 6.

Set in the 1990s during the Persian Gulf War, this new experience delivers the most breathtaking and spectacular Black Ops action to date, where players must question everything and trust no one. The theme is “The truth lies.”

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I visited Treyarch and got a preview ahead of time and played Black Ops 6 multiplayer. My impressions of that will come later. I also interviewed Matt Scronce, associate design director at Treyarch; and Yale Miller, senior director of production at Treyarch.

Scronce is overseeing global player mechanics and multiplayer design for Black Ops 6. He has supported development on every Black Ops title in the series since the original entry in 2010, and most recently served as lead game designer on Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Operators are returning in Call of Duty: Black Ops 6.

Since joining Activision in 2004, Miller has supported the development of fan-favorite franchises for nearly two decades, including Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Skylanders, and several Call of Duty titles, dating back to 2005’s Call of Duty 2. His production career on Call of Duty began with 2012’s Black Ops 2, and he has worked exclusively on Call of Duty ever since.

They talked about some of the Black Ops 6 campaign details and the dynamic moment-to-moment gameplay — including a wider variety of movement possible with things like diving and crawling in more realistic ways. The game will have a normal single-player campaign and a multiplayer experience, where players will test their skills across 16 new maps at launch, including 12 core 6v6 maps and four Strike maps that can be played 2v2 or 6v6 at launch. In the story, old friends like Russell Adler are more like enemies and old enemies like Soviet soldiers can be allies.
Black Ops 6 also marks the epic return of round-based Zombies, the fan-favorite mode where players
will take down hordes of the undead in two brand-new maps at launch. Post-launch, players can look
forward to even more exciting maps all new gameplay experiences dropping into both Multiplayer and
Zombies. The game will debut on day one on Xbox Game Pass.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Matt Scronce (left) and Yale Miller talk about Call of Duty: Black Ops 6.

GamesBeat: Following this one from afar, it seemed it took four years. Is there some part of that journey you could describe? Why did it take longer than the usual three years?

Yale Miller: Post-Cold War, we started to think about everything we were going to do. Where that journey started was–what makes a great Black Ops game? That was kind of where we started. We’d been making Black Ops for a long time. I feel like there’s a natural drift. What are the things that are awesome? You try other things, do different things. Just because an idea is old doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Looking back at what it means to be a Black Ops game. What’s that Black Ops DNA? That was a big part of it early on.

There was also an engine transition for us. Moving onto the shared engine and looking at all the things we’ve had as far as tech. How do we bring those things to the table and work as a massive team of very bright people, all trying to push the ball forward? That was another piece of it. And then focusing on that DNA stuff. How does that express itself? That led to–at the top of it is that Black Ops experience. Fun should win out on those things. How do we play with the player?

We started thinking about how we wouldn’t just make a game that is talked about as a good Call of Duty game, but something great. That was a lot of the conversation. Obviously, with the campaign we landed on the variety of experiences. We talk about variety as a lot of different things you can do, but it’s really about all the different experiences you can give the player. Whether it’s a military, soldier experience, or stealth, all those things.

Matt Scronce: If you asked each person in the studio, I think you’d have a different answer to that. For me, it’s been exciting–we say we’re redefining what Black Ops is. We talk about the shift to the shared engine. But the first order of business for my team was to make it feel like Black Ops. Just asking ourselves the hard questions. What is Black Ops? What does a Black Ops MP map look like? We know our players love Black Ops maps for their vibrancy. Just going through the entire list of things and saying, “Do we want to do this? Is this the Black Ops approach?” That’s been the exciting part of the journey for us.

Miller: Is that just what we used to do? Because obviously we want to still move the ball forward on stuff.

Scronce: Being intentional. The journey, the four years, the longer dev cycle has allowed us to be very intentional about everything we wanted to do.

GamesBeat: How far back did the intention go to zero in on 1991?

cod 2
The entrance to Treyarch shows off its awards.

Miller: Very early. The team felt like we did something cool with Cold War. Looking at the ecosystem of things that are out there, it felt like the ‘90s–we all have a lot of love for that era, whether it’s from our own histories, the music, all those things. It was one of those early decisions. We started looking at the weapons we would use, the gear. How could we put a different spin on it? How would it be different from what people played in other games? It has its own lane.

So it was early when we thought of that. It’s also an area where–we just hadn’t told that ‘90s story before in the franchise. It made sense.

GamesBeat: I wondered if it was a bit risky just because when you give people a taste of modern weapons, and then you go backward in time to something earlier, it could be disappointing for some players.

Scronce: We definitely discussed that as a team. On the flip side, it gives us an opportunity to bring a bunch of new weapons that players have never seen before. We’re at 12 weapons that have never been seen in the franchise. Which is a lot. I think it’s more than any other new Call of Duty has introduced. But it’s also–because we’re Black Ops, we can introduce those new prototype weapons that only a few people have heard of. I was watching some videos yesterday about one of our guns. It’s super-prototype, but it’s cool.

That was our perspective. It’s a different challenge. But we looked at it as an opportunity to lean in. Like Yale said, we’ve never been in that early ‘90s vibe. Just digging deep into what that means.

GamesBeat: I know you’re not saying a lot today, but from the trailer people got the impression that there was a present-day setting. The Mount Rushmore stuff, was that supposed to be in the present, or was that the ‘90s as well?

Scronce: Yeah, that’s out of the game. That was just some fun marketing. Just to have a little flavor, to ground in United States politics.

GamesBeat: So we don’t come to the modern day and flash back and forth.

cod 3
A mural at the entrance to Treyarch.

Scronce: No. It’s a ‘90s story.

GamesBeat: There’s a simpler timeline, then.

Scronce: Mm–yes.

GamesBeat: For the multiplayer, I haven’t seen much. Are you still able to Gunsmith?

Scronce: We’ll have Gunsmith, yeah. You’ll have the full loadout and attachments. A unique progression experience across every weapon.

GamesBeat: Something like Overkill, does it feel like you should earn the Overkill, or should you get Overkill from the very beginning if you want it?

Scronce: You’re talking about being able to carry two primary weapons? I can tell you that will be a wild card. That’s a decision. If you’re that type of player, you can choose that wild card. But that means you’ll have to forgo another type of wild card. Maybe that’s fine for you. It’s tough for me. I go a different route with my attachments.

If you remember the wild cards from Cold War, it’s an additional piece of your loadout. You pick one card and that lets you break a rule. In your case, you would pick the Overkill wild card. That lets you take two primary weapons. We’ll have different wild cards.

Miller: Matt would take the wild card that allows you to put more attachments on your primary. There are different wild cards that let you spec into one–more attachments on a gun, more perks, Overkill, things like that.

BO6 Campaign Marshall Casino BRANDED
Captain Marshall in Call of Duty: Black Ops 6.

GamesBeat: You referenced Adler as a monster a couple of times. Is he really considered a super bad guy? Or is he a morally gray kind of guy?

Miller: From Cold War, I think he was obviously morally gray. Part of our story–he’s still on the outs. We’ll obviously go on a story arc. But it’s absolutely the Black Ops–good guys doing bad things for good reasons, bad guys doing good things for bad reasons. We play with all of that.

GamesBeat: But you’re teaming up with him? He’s one of the primary characters.

Miller: It’s a whole team, obviously. You as a player with your team leader as Marshall. But there’s a group of different characters that come in–again, with that mission variety. Sometimes it could be Adler. Sometimes it could be other characters that you’re interacting with.

GamesBeat: How long of a campaign did you want to make? Is there anything you’re saying at this point?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will be revealed on June 9.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will be revealed on June 9.

Miller: We talked about quite a few missions here. It’s absolutely in line with what you would think from historical Call of Duty campaign length. For us it starts with, what’s the story? What’s the right amount of variety we want to have? If you look in that classic Call of Duty range, it’ll be right in there.

GamesBeat: Do you have anything like the larger maps, the Ground War game type?

Miller: There’s more stuff to talk about coming up with our multiplayer beats.

Scronce: The 16 brand new maps are split between the core 6v6. Then the four strike maps are the more–everything from intimate 1v1 gunfight, 2v2 gunfight, all the way up to, we’ll do 6v6 core mores on those very small maps. Those are some of my favorites. Those will all be there at launch.

GamesBeat: Do the locations all tie in to the single-player campaign?

Miller: A bunch of them do, absolutely. Throughout the campaign there’s a bunch of locations we use–because of how we work with Raven, we literally sit down and map it out. What are the places we want to go? What are the things we want to do? We talk about how those can make awesome MP maps and vice versa. It’s important to us–the multiplayer story kicks off after the events of the campaign. There’s a lot of direct tie-in with the locations.

GamesBeat: Do you think there’s anything politically stirring about this one? Every now and then–

Miller: It’s absolutely a work of fiction. We obviously play with real-world events. The truth and the lies behind it.

GamesBeat: It sounds so far like that feels part of the backdrop, the history, as opposed to some key event–

Miller: The story is obviously–we talked about it. The rogue elements have infiltrated the CIA. Your team has to go on the outs. Any time we do that, we’re playing with who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

BO6 Multiplayer Action BRANDED
Multiplayer action in Call of Duty: Black Ops 6.

GamesBeat: Do you have to unravel something? Figure out who is the spy?

Miller: Absolutely! The goal for all of our missions–why are you there? What are you trying to learn? Whether you’re trying to assault one of Saddam’s palaces to get intelligence on X-Y-Z, or different characters you need to find, whether it’s Adler or other rogue elements, absolutely.

GamesBeat: The palace looked like a pretty spectacular set piece.

Miller: Absolutely, but it’s the variety. This mission is about stealth. You’re using interactions with different characters to figure out how to get through something. This mission is very military, assault, calling in support. Another mission, it’s some kind of espionage in the beginning, but then crescendoed with a huge set piece, like the mission you saw. Giving people that “Boom!” huge moment. Giving them that John Woo moment. Whatever it is.

GamesBeat: If you’re contrasting it somewhat to the experience people have had with Modern Warfare lately, what does this get more into?

Miller: There are twists and turns. They’re just different. Again, I think it’s really about an intentional variety of experiences. Black Ops can do that because it’s not a military experience, directly. It’s something else. We can do the heist missions and the espionage and unraveling the spy thriller stuff. That’s been the big focus.

Again, thinking about the Black Ops DNA, it’s that variety of experience. That’s one of the big things we’ve been leaning into.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Scronce: That’s been the exciting thing to watch. Raven calling out, “Hey, we want to do this type of level. We want to do a puzzle level. We want to do a heist level.” Seeing them come to life over time. Like Yale touched on, we’re Black Ops. We have a bit more liberty to play around with the fun and find that level of fun. It’s amazing to see that variety of gameplay from mission to mission to mission.

GamesBeat: How consistently might we expect things across–sniper rifles in particular are something I’m sensitive to. In Warzone it’s been changing every year or so as far as taking two shots to kill people, or one shot, going back and forth. Is there a consistency across the different games that are going to be available this year?

Scronce: I’ll give you the PR answer. We’re talking about Black Ops 6, the premium experience, today. We’ll have more to talk about as far as Warzone at the next event and later on in the year. What I will say today, I was just talking to my lead weapons designer about shots to kill on sniper rifles yesterday. In Black Ops 6 multiplayer, for example, all of our sniper rifles are one shot torso up. Obviously you’ll have different characteristics as far as slow fire, fast fire, recoil. But we talk across the studios. We’re all very aware of what we’re doing. There’s a goal of consistency, but there’s also a goal of doing what’s right for each experience.

Miller: We start with that goal of consistency. On Cold War, looking at the Warzone experience on that, we were completely different code stacks and tech. It was literally a port and then a tune of the weapon to Warzone. Now we’re unified. It allows us to work a lot closer together. When Matt’s making tuning changes, the Warzone folks can see that directly.

Russell Adler is a CIA operative who hunts after Perseus.
Russell Adler is a CIA operative who is back in Black Ops 6.

The goal always starts with being unified. We’ve said this a bunch. If we teach the player to do something, we want to teach them to do it once. We don’t want to have a bunch of extra, “It’s like this here, but this there.” That goes across all the modes. Zombies, Campaign. Movement and all those things, we’re trying to have unification.

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