Call of Duty

David Vonderhaar Discusses Treyarch's Multiplayer Design Philosophy Ahead of Black Ops 4 Community Reveal

by Calum Patterson

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The design director at Treyarch, the studio behind the Call of Duty: Black Ops series, has revealed the studio's secrets behind multiplayer map design.

The Black Ops series is the most successful sub-series in the Call of Duty franchise, and with good reason, as classics like the original and Black Ops II, pushed the franchise forward.

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The studio is also known for its work on the Zombies mode which has recurred in each game since, and which has its own massive fan base in its own right.

But, for multiplayer, Treyarch is known to have produced some of the most fun yet expertly balanced games in the franchise's history, and Vonderhaar has explained the philosophy.

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Vonderhaar himself has been with the studio since the 2005 Call of Duty: Big Red One days, and has become the de facto face of the Treyarch brand.

Speaking to Polygon, he went into detail about the team's method behind each game - while being very careful not to say too much hinting at this year's Black Ops 4.

"Back when we were making World at War, we were getting a lot of feedback from players that was, essentially, ‘These maps aren’t fun.’ That was the note.

We realized that eight-way intersections are not fun because you’re not having head-to-head engagements. All the levels that were fun, you could walk into a space and pull up your weapon, and you knew where the enemy could be. They’re not typically behind you, because whatever you came through, you would have ran into that person. But when you run into an eight-way intersection, you can get shot from eight ways. So of course it’s not fun."

The map 'Fringe' from Black Ops 3 was a fan favorite

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So Vonderhaar explains that they came up with the "lane check" method, whereby the team would ensure that at any given time, players could predict where the enemy could be - and that it was not often behind them.

This was particularly challenging of course when developing Black Ops 3, because it had the advanced movement and wall running mechanics, but Vonderhaar explains they simply kept to their principles.

"I probably have rose-tinted glasses about history on these things, but I remember working on wall-running in Black Ops 3. At the time, the lead level designer for multiplayer and I said to the team, ‘Just apply the rules. Apply our playbook. Apply the same exact set of principles that we have in the past.’

Whether you’re walking into a room with eight doors or running up the side of a wall onto a catwalk, the principles are the same. You have to collide people together. You can’t put people in unpredictable spaces.

We have to ask, ‘What experience are we trying to create?’

How do we measure if we’ve created it, and what are the things that are necessary to do that again?’ And when all of those come together, that’s when we make our best designs. Because it takes everybody here being on the same page to make the best game.”

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The team kept any hint of Black Ops 4 very close to their chest, revealing nothing, but of course confirming that they will stick with their tried and tested design philosophy.

Players will be able to get the first look at Black Ops 4 during the community reveal event on May 17th, streamed live on Facebook and Twitch.