Mapping out Call of Duty: Black Ops

Treyarch developers hit Call of Duty XP to explain the method behind the mayhem, show the maps that never made it into the game.

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Who was there: David Vonderhaar (lead game designer), Dan Bunting (online director), Phillip Tasker (senior game designer), and Alex Conserva (lead software engineer).

Treyarch panelists.

What they talked about: While the majority of the Call of Duty XP attendees were busy shooting each other on various maps across multiple Call of Duty games, Activision held several panels for those looking for some behind-the-games insight. One panel focused on multiplayer, or more specifically, multiplayer maps.

Tasker recounted the experience of coming up with the Summit map--he and the rest of the panelists traveled the world for inspiration. He mentioned that it can take several months or up to a year to make one map. For Summit, they were still a year and a half away from shipping Call of Duty: Black Ops. Some mock-ups were displayed on the large screen to give fans an idea of what the layout used to look like. Textures aren't added until six months before the ship date and finally the polish phase is when they push to make it look as beautiful as possible.

As for the people who put the maps together, Tasker said, "Call of Duty level designers are three-part designers: one part artist, one part architect, and completely insane."

Even though maps don't always make it into the final game, there are times when the development team scratches an entire environment. A Cairo-themed area with temples and pyramids was ultimately cut from the game, but instead of losing out on all that work, the map location was moved to Cuba, and they were able to rework the original map to suit the new country.

Throughout the panel, the panelists would call on the audience to guess the map. One map, which fans immediately recognized as Nuketown, was not actually it. It was called Empty Nukes, and Bunting explained that it was a map that let the designers experiment with new ideas. These original ideas will generate other ideas and will eventually lead somewhere new.

This wound up in the development scrapyard.

A map that looked similar to Castle was actually the War Museum, a clean, immaculate-looking shrine that was decorated with paintings, medals, and bronze statues. A video was shown to give the audience a tour of the map, which was ultimately never used.

Maps also undergo multiple name changes. Area 51 was changed so that they wouldn't get sued, but other changes were made for more trivial reasons. Some maps had boring names, and some names were changed because the letter they started with was the same as too many other maps.

The next part of the panel highlighted some excellent user-created art that they were legally allowed to display. The panelists joked that with the creator, they knew that there would be plenty of beautiful art along with all the horrible things that people come up with. They had to hire a full-time employee to monitor the creations.

During the Q&A portion of the panel, Tasker was asked by a member of the audience to talk about the design process flow when it came to creating the maps. He talked about how it all starts with paper and that there needs to be a concept. Working on paper helps give them ideas and work out the flow of the map. There are some rules to adhere to, even though Tasker pointed out that some were made to be broken. For example, when a player walks into an area, the exit should always be visible. Maps should also be designed in a way that players will eventually collide with one another. Part of the process is also to "play the hell out of the maps," said Tasker. The team gets together daily to see if it works and if it's fun.

A memorial of the War Museum map.

Another question was asked regarding the development of the modes in the game, and Bunting described it as very similar to the map process, where they start with an idea and then the design team will spec it out. Engineers will build a quick and dirty prototype that allows the team to playtest the mode. Conserva added, "You'll know right away if you get something good or not."

Quote: "The point here is that ideas generate other ideas. Sometimes you'll have to let somebody not do what they're supposed to do because it leads you somewhere else."--Dan Bunting on playing with new ideas when it comes to designing maps.

Takeaway: A lot of time and research goes into a single map, and they don't always end up in the game or even in future DLC. However, it's not uncommon to take what has been created and work to change the environment to reflect an entirely different location. The process isn't easy, and it's time consuming, but it's possible.

Discussion

52 comments
SharinganDowden
SharinganDowden

I wish they can bring back the old maps from Call of Duty World at War!:( Except a version what it looks like after WW2, in our time now..

Goods_Merchant
Goods_Merchant

@Joeshmo93 Uh dude I hate to defend COD, but Black Ops did ship with 14 maps...just saying.

crossdudu
crossdudu

I admit I do have MW2 and Black Ops already and I do know that they are pretty much the same game with some (maybe small) tweaks, but MW3 really is exciting, because it seems that they have in fact noticed the franchise is dying that they are making new systems and game modes to make it fresh again. Yes, I do know that the game will be pretty much the same as last year's, but last year's game was actually lots of fun, and if it gets more weapons, balances and tweaks, it maybe worth the 60$. I'm not saying that it's gonna be an all-new game, but it maybe interesting. And honestly, if the CoD multiplayer, which is the game's main feature, is really interesting and exciting, they shouldn't change it very much, or else they may ruin it. Also: if you want vehicles and huge maps and 64 players and all that stuff, just buy BF3. Yes, CoD and BF are both FPS, but they play very differently and aren't actually competing with each other (even though EA believes they are)

abompro
abompro

Actually, there is speculation that the next Treyarch CoD could be in a post apocolyptic world, seeing as how in the moon zombie map you send three nukes at earth and blow it up. I won't be buying MW3 because it looks exactly like MW2, but I look forward to seeing what Treyarch does with the next CoD.

Ntalikeris666
Ntalikeris666

@gameking5000 Apparently you did not get the point...

gameking5000
gameking5000

@Ntalikeris666 Sometimes I wonder if you read your own comment. Because it sounds so stupid.

Scorchstar
Scorchstar

@howie1926 i agree with you. I hate how everyone LOVES cod. Cod soon needs to end, i have no idea why they gave Treyarch the rights to make a cod game, and i dont believe that "Infinity Ward" isn't really Infinity Ward anymore because they all have left... CoD some day will end. Where is all the other posts about the other EPIC games coming out. MW3 will suck and everyone will just say it ROCKS cause it has a label on it saying "Call of Duty". If you take off that Title, i bet you a million bucks it wouldn't get as much publicity. DICE has taken over... Battlefield 3 will defy gaming.

Ntalikeris666
Ntalikeris666

2012 Prediction: A completely new, and innovative game is gonna be announced by Treyarch called, CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 2! This ground breaking, one of its kind sequel is going to feature: 1) Same Plot as Black Ops, but with different character names! (In fact, one will also wear a new watch! :0) 2) It will have Graphics! 3) It will require you to upgrade your PC for no apparent reason! 4) It will only cost 79.99$ 5) It *May* Feature some dropout maps from Black Ops! And that, is just the beginning!

furiousjester
furiousjester

I know that most of the people dissing C.O.D will be buying MW3

Ninjagrym
Ninjagrym

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

ValmartheMagi
ValmartheMagi

God damn cod!!! Stop spamming gamespot!!!! No one likes you! (except for idiots who dont even know what good gaming is anymore)

Joeshmo93
Joeshmo93

It takes them one year to make a map.............explains why they come out with a new COD yearly with only 5 maps........COD sucks!!!!!

Merex760
Merex760

I love how they're having all these panels as if Call of Duty is some shining beacon and pinnacle of FPS game design. DICE does it better, guys.

Console_Gamer93
Console_Gamer93

Stop complaining about map packs when they don't change the game in any way shape or form. There's still tens of thousands of people playing the maps that come with the game at any given time.

phatmatt030
phatmatt030

@TrapMuzik92 That isn't true at all, they all want money.

phatmatt030
phatmatt030

@xdude85 I'm pretty sure Infinity Ward did the same thing with MW2 and MW3. Can't say that yet because I haven't played MW3, but from the looks of it, I don't think I would know if I was watching someone play MW2 or MW3.

ARD3NT_GAMER
ARD3NT_GAMER

guys many of might not know this but they say the map pack is for 15 dollars but in reality in some parts of the world like in middle east its like 20 which is a rip off that being said 15 dollar itself is overpriced. I know its business but don't cheat with ur consumers cod (thats activision and treyarch both). the things which should be included with the game is being sold separately huh? boo u! At least give us some codes for free downloads like battlefield vip codes.

xdude85
xdude85

Treyarch highly utilized the "copy and paste" method for developing Black Ops.

brunolp
brunolp

It's the new trend in game-development for a few years now and expanding. Take the most amount of money out of your costumers, no matter how angry or insatisfied they get. Because they will buy your games again when the next one is released. A huge number will, anyway. And will pay for the DLCs all over again. And many developers are taking the same strategy. The most comercial ones, and we all know who they are, are doing this for a long time. Is the same with Hollywood.

brunolp
brunolp

It's the new trend in game-development for a few years now and expanding. Take the most amount of money out of your costumers, no matter how angry or insatisfied they get. Because they will buy your games again when the next one is released. A huge number will, anyway. And will pay for the DLCs all over again. And many developers are taking the same strategy. The most comercial ones, and we all know who they are, are doing this for a long time. Is the same with Hollywood.

campbell153
campbell153

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

TrapMuzik92
TrapMuzik92

Hey guys remember its Activision that does the stupid pricing not Treyarch, I'm sure IW or Treyarch would give out map packs for free if they could. but its money hungry Activision.

howie1926
howie1926

Listen, I love the CoD franchise and the Battlefield franchise both. I am probably getting both games. But I am sick and tired of every game site having no news BESIDES CoD related news. Every damn article is about CoD. Come on. Your telling me you have nothing new on AC, GoW3, Skyrim, NHL, Fifa, Dark Souls, Mass Effect 3, and the million other great games that are coming out??

Son_of_Bmore
Son_of_Bmore

I hate Treyarch there online sucks there maps sucks there game sucks & there DLC sucks (which i didn't buy but played at a friens) which is y I'm sticking wit MW

Ntalikeris666
Ntalikeris666

In my list of worst developers, Treyarch takes a pretty good place.

aswer12_emo_00
aswer12_emo_00

I thought that they were actually gonna stop making overpriced map packs

Death_Blade_182
Death_Blade_182

@jasonzilla11 It ain't bribing, mate. Sure Gamespot covers a lot of conventions, that's entirely true. But publishers also purchase advertisement space on the site, one way or another, that's no secret. And when all of the site's picks and frontlines are about CoD... well, let's just say the thing speaks for itself.

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

Activision: For 15.99 You get the cut map "War Musem" and three old fan favorites from World at War! Coming October 31st

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

@Death_Blade_182 like any FOR profit company, they are out to make revenue and profit. If the general public loves COD (most console gamers go ape*^& over it) then it is wise of them to make posts and commentary on this convention. It may be useless to many more refined gamers but it still is where the money is at and therefore it is expected that gamspot post news of it.

jasonzilla11
jasonzilla11

@Death_Blade_182 Dude, calm down. GS always goes to conventions like these and reports news about them, no matter how stupid they are. No bribing was involved.

Death_Blade_182
Death_Blade_182

We know they're paying you for all of this Call of Duty BS advertisement Gamespot, you can stop it now.

Benifited
Benifited

Wat happened to infinity ward? When did they let this milking of their game begin? I remember when the first call of duty came out on the pc and was a game i played endlessly. I know that Treyarch also makes the numberless COD games but i believe that they do an ok job, at the zombie game anyway. But this COD every year thing is out of control. I just checked and found 2 COD games i never even seen b4!

Goyoshi12
Goyoshi12

Call of Duty just won't die...:x That's it. Where's my stake?

jabutl02
jabutl02

"All your money are belong to us" - Activision

Benifited
Benifited

@Kirintar lmao man i have to watch that episode of sp now. But u are completely rite these guys are just after our money. Its funny cuz I hadn't been able to play a call of duty online for 2 years for the lack of a console. so when i bought black ops i bought the first map pack thinking it would only be one of like two packs that would prob be months apart from release. i wish someone had told me that they throw out map packs every 3 weeks now a days, i would have never bought the first one.

FallenOneX
FallenOneX

I understand that making a game takes a lot of work, but if one map takes a year to complete........... that had better be the best map ever! It would just suck if one of the maps that only took a few months was better than the one that took a year.

Gunmaster51
Gunmaster51

1 year to make a map? I doubt that. Ubisoft can make a new city every year for Assassin's Creed games lol.

Jinjuri
Jinjuri

@blairstheman Yeah, and we all know Skate is waaay better.

Jinjuri
Jinjuri

@Frame_Dragger AHAHAHAAAAAAAA, that was hilarious.

B4NTH4F0DD3R
B4NTH4F0DD3R

Totally not what I was expecting with a title like that. I was hoping it would be something along the lines of a slew of fans asking questions about map packs, specifically why they charge so much, etc. This is not really inspiring at all. In fact, I think anyone with half a brain could come up with a fairly logical guess at how maps are created. However, in this case, they have to make it seem like they're actually doing a lot of work, even though it's just a rehash.

IMPACT_17
IMPACT_17

Instead of talking about how you recycle and sell your maps for $3 a piece, why don't you finally give us mapping tools so that we could make our own? CoD4 has the most dedicated PC audience, and it was because it was so mod friendly.

NoLifeGamin
NoLifeGamin

They could just put Modern Warfare 2 under a different title and rename it "Modern Warfare 3", and people would STILL buy it

Kirintar
Kirintar

Step 1: Find old maps from previous titles. Step 2: Copy-paste and release as "New" Content and sell for $15. Step 3:???????? Step 4: Profit.

holtrocks
holtrocks

Its just getting old not hating but i am just tired of hearing the name CoD the series is quickly loosing hype despite how many copies MW3 sells if they do not change something the series will die just like Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk R.I.P

holtrocks
holtrocks

Its just getting old not hating but i am just tired of hearing the name CoD the series is quickly loosing hype despite how many copies MW3 sells if they do not change something the series will die just like Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk R.I.P

BillyColeman
BillyColeman

Vorodor21 +1 so sick of COD there all the same