Why Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 needed a branching storyline

Call of Duty is the biggest entertainment property in the world right now. While that's sure to make Activision and its shareholders very happy, it also poses a conundrum for developers. How do you prove the cynics wrong, proving that this year's iteration is not just "another $60 map pack"? How do you add innovation to a franchise where millions of fans are expecting something very specific?

Treyarch doesn't have a choice, studio head Mark Lamia told Shacknews in a recent interview. With the franchise now reaching its ninth iteration, the team is itching to do something. "When we talk about pushing the boundaries, that is an internal creative desire for a team of veterans that have created a lot of Call of Duties... At this point in the franchise, I think it would be far riskier to not push the boundaries."

At first glance, Black Ops 2 won't look very different from the games that preceded it. "People when they play a Call of Duty campaign, they want that cinematic intensity, they want to be dropped into that very rich world, and they want to feel very powerful in it," Lamia said. Maintaining that Hollywood-inspired momentum is a "core tenent" of the franchise, Lamia argued, something that must be offered in every COD game. However, that still leaves room for surprises and innovation. "People's expectations are that Call of Duty will put you on this linear path, and everyone has basically the same story. That won't be the case this time."

BOOM video 12661

Black Ops 2 is the first game in the franchise that will introduce player choice to the narrative. "You're going to make decisions along the way, and they will have an implication on your story," Lamia explained. "Some of those choices will be obvious in 'Call of Duty style.' And sometimes, just as in real life, the implications might be more subtle and you might not realize them until later."

Lamia insisted that no matter what you decide, the story won't necessarily move in "better" or "worse" ways. Instead of focusing on trying to get the "best" ending, he wants players to simply experience different stories. "To be clear: this isn't an RPG. We're not trying to do that. We are trying to give players some story branching in their gameplay so they can see how some of their choices affect the outcome of the game." The results of your actions and the decisions you make will ultimately shape the geopolitical landscape of the futuristic "Cold War II" that Treyarch has crafted for Black Ops 2.

And while the story is set in the future, dealing with a fictional political war, Treyarch has another balancing act to do: make sure the game provides explosive action, while maintaining a sense of believability."[Fans] have an expectation that we're going to blow them away. But there is that fine line where you can go too far and you might lose people. Rooting the fiction--no matter how intense--as long as there is justification for it in the world--as long as we can drop you into that world and let you live comfortably in that world, it's up to us to keep you there. It's up to us to make sure that what's playing out is something that makes sense to you. Otherwise, you have that disconnect and that's not a good thing."

For more on Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, read our full preview.