Interviews

Treyarch’s Jason Blundell talks current-gen development and Black Ops 3

Black Ops has never been about clarity.

Let that sink in while I introduce you to a man I had the pleasure of talking to – Jason Blundell, director at Treyarch and responsible for both the campaign and zombie game modes. Not only is his body of work mysterious, but so too is the man. While in San Francisco at a Activision-hosted Call of Duty: Black Ops III event I spent a fair amount of time with Jason, and he was very much in control of his message. The experience of having been here, at the launch of every major Treyarch title has steeled his nerves. There wasn’t a thing that phased him (admittedly I don’t interview for a living, and there were no thumbscrews available at the time).

You can tell there is a passion for the team he heads, and the product they’ve been making that shines through. I recall moments where he’d come by my station to question what I thought of certain characters and elements during the campaign with a gleam of pride and true curiosity. I’ll cover more of that in my review proper, but his knowing smile hinted at deeper elements, clues you wouldn’t know to look for unless you’d already finished the game more than once.

Playing it cool, you could tell he wanted to spill the beans – but more than that is he is truly excited for people to experience the layers the game offers. He was kind enough to give us some time to share his thoughts on development and the changes in moving to the next generation.


 

GT: Right now you’re poised on the release of a game I would call a cornerstone.

Jason Blundell: Oh bless you sir. Bless you.

GT: It is a cornerstone. I mean: Call of Duty – this is big, and you guys have been away for a couple years. What is it, three years now?

JB: Three years, yeah.

GT: So how do you approach that as a developer who’s been kind of stuck in the development cycle and not really had that back-and-forth with the market?

JB: We do interestingly [have that back-and-forth], because we finished Black Ops 2 – and that’s three years ago – and then we have a series of DLCs that came out for our community. Both from campaigns and stories are the first things that people get hands on with, to our multiplayer and now the Zombies. Zombies started off as a bonus mode and now it’s a full fledged pillar of our experience. Our community is very vocal and has stayed very active as well, so you know, Black Ops 2 is still incredibly played and incredibly talked about and so even though it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been out on the circuit talking to gentlemen like yourself, we have very much been looking at the forums and hearing the feedback.

A lot of those conversations have shaped what we’ve created with Black Ops 3. One of the main things is taking each one of these modes, and running them all in a unified executable, so you can seamlessly move between the three different modes. That’s a direct result of listening to people and watching how they play the game. You know, you look on just the messages and people just play mode predominantly and when you look at the analytics and talk to people, they actually move through different modes. So we’re like, OK let’s put a system into place where they can seamlessly move – they can group in parties and move between experiences.

This is the first time we’ve had all our modes online, so it’s the most personal product we’ve ever made in terms of, not only can you customize and personalize that way, but it’s social as well. You can communicate and kind of really have an idea of teams and groups. It’s a been a while since we’ve been on the press road, but in terms of development it’s been an active communication throughout.

GT: One of the things about the development is that you’ve been on last-gen hardware, and you’ve come to new-gen hardware three years later. Has that hurt you any, starting three years ago and moving into next gen – engines changing, technologies jumping?

JB: Yeah – It’s great. Remember that when we started with what’s current gen technology was there, we saw the capabilities of it, and we saw the three year time cycle. Excellent, it’s time to clean house, you know – It’s time for the spring cleaning, you know? A lot of our tools that have been faithful to us – our engine, our lighting engine, our AI systems, our social networking systems, our networking back-end.

All our stuff, when looking at a three year road, you can say “Let’s go for it”. You know on a two year cycle, remember if you take these things out, there’s a large percentage of your team that can’t actively work until they’re back on. Let’s take advantage, let’s rip out stuff that we don’t want or upgrade stuff.

We now use – I’m going to get a bit geeky for a second but – we now have possibile of deferred rendering and basically that means you can deal with more lighting and more light sources. In the past on old-gen I could only have one primary light which is basically a light which casts shadows on things going in front of it. Now I can have infinite numbers. That’s wonderful, right? That’s a world of difference for things like campaign where you’re trying to set a certain mood and type of vibe, or zombies where 70% of your work is lighting, you know, setting the mood and atmosphere. It’s massive, you know. You now have per-particle lighting – particles moving in front of shadow-casting light sources and change colours as they move. Things that sound simple, but we’re all about the overall atmosphere and bring you into a world. That’s just lighting, let alone animation, bone counts, sound systems, taking advantage of new hardware and DSPs and all this good stuff- AI systems, you can change the archetypes running around the world. The list is endless. We kinda had to cram that into a year and a half before the project really got going.

GT: Of all the changes as your platform moved forward into the current gen, what exactly has been the biggest help to you as a developer?

JB: It’s interesting, because as developers we’re big crybabies. Every time a generation of hardware comes out we always say “Oh, if only I had a bit more memory. If only I had a few more cycles on the CPU, or on the GPU!” Then we get it, fill it and go, “if we only had a few more cycles.”[laughs] Our job is to max it out, to wring it for every ounce it’s worth. You know, I love the fact we have large storage space that we didn’t have before with Blu-Ray being the default media type. All those things I’m naming all make it possible to kind of go after bigger things.


 

It was refreshing to get to know some of the folks behind the work – the men and women of Treyarch were a great group of people with a really good energy about them. We look forward to the official release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 tonight.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned to Gamingtrend.com as our official review hits later today. 

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