Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Dev Talks About Pushing The Series Forward With More Player Freedom

Senior creative director Dan Vondrak speaks about how Black Ops Cold War will offer more player freedom than ever before.


The Call of Duty series is known for its linear campaigns, but this has started to shift with the franchise's recent releases that provided players with more freedom and choice. This trend continues with Black Ops Cold War, and it goes even further, Raven Software's senior creative director Dan Vondrak told GameSpot.

While Black Ops Cold War will embrace a more open-ended structure, you can and should expect the same kind of over-the-top Call of Duty action that the series is known for. Vondrak said the open-ended elements of Black Ops Cold War were designed to give people a greater sense of ownership of the story, if they choose to embrace it.

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"Any amount of player ownership we can put inside a mission, we try to do that. People sometimes just want to get in and just focus on a very linear experience and keep that hard driving Call of Duty action. So without a doubt we wanted to add a bunch of optional stuff as well," he said.

As an example, Vondrak said there is one mission in Black Ops Cold War that requires stealth, but you can also shoot first and ask questions later. This is all part of the team's effort to give players more options--and even choosing not to participate in the optional missions or objectives is still a choice.

"We've got a mission in a stealth area, and if you talk to the contact in the bar, you can pick up an optional objective in that stealth area. And in that stealth area, you can go guns-blazing if that's what you choose to do, the game will react properly, it won't fail you," Vondrak said. "You can stealth all the way through. You can decide to do this optional objective when you're in there or you can skip it. So we want to make sure the philosophy is sometimes just offering the player choice at all, even if they don't do those choices, it's freedom, it's fun. Just having the choice to be able to do it--it's still making a choice to not do it."

Black Ops Cold War begins with some "light" choices that players can make, but near the end of the game, the team "really blew it up."

"One of those is that KGB headquarters mission that we showcased, and that was our way of saying, 'Hey, let's go as crazy as we can and give the player all these different choices.' It was so foreign for some of the Call of Duty players. Even the designers on our team were like, 'Ohh, we're not getting it.'"

In this mission, "Desperate Measures," players take on the role of a Soviet double agent working for the CIA and getting the job done inside the KGB headquarters.

"This status comes with access to an incredible peek into the world of the KGB, along with the opportunity to 'obtain' information out of their 'fellow agents,'" reads a line from the mission's official description. "However, one odd move or awkward discussion could lead to cover being completely blown, compromising the mission and turning it into an all-out fight for survival."

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For this later mission, the team created a map that players can access to help find their way through the area and to see the sheer number of optional activities that are available.

Overall, Vondrak--who has worked on the Call of Duty franchise for more than a decade--said he believes the series needs to continue to push itself with new ideas.

"I think Call of Duty needs to be always expanded on," Vondrak said. "One of the things we wrote down, it was number one on the white board, when we first thought we were going to do this game. It was 'Black Ops 1 feeling.' Number 2 was take risks. Something that Treyarch has always done with Black Ops is try to push the boundaries of what you can expect out of Call of Duty. We took that same philosophy. We wanted to couch that all in that player choice, player control, player freedom. If we're going to take these risks, and we're going to push what's expected of Call of Duty, let's do it but also offer the player a little more ownership over those experiences."

The narrative choices and optional missions are not shoehorned in, Vondrak said. Instead, they have been placed into the campaign where it makes narrative sense, he said. There is a mission at the end of the game that Vondrak is particularly excited for fans to see, as it represents the fullest extent of what the team created with its open-ended design philosophy.

"There's one that I love that narratively is easily the most unique mission we've ever made. Narratively, it just fits what's happening at that moment in the progression of the story," he said. "It's going to be great to see the reaction. Hopefully this is something that's a stepping stone for us where we can continue to push this and do it even further."

"I think games are better when players have freedom. I hope this is just the start of something we can continue to push for Call of Duty."

Black Ops Cold War releases on Friday, November 13, for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5. In other news, lead designer Tony Flame recently spoke to GameSpot about the game's various next-gen improvements for PS5 and Xbox Series X, including DualSense support. The developer also told us why the game is adopting its new synchronized XP system.

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