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

"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."


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."

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.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 2, 2012 8:00 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Why Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 needed a branching storyline.

    "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."

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      May 2, 2012 8:05 AM

      Wouldn't it be amazing if CODBLOPS2 offers more choice in the ending than Mass Effect 3? :D

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      May 2, 2012 8:23 AM

      A future setting and choices in the storyline. Sounds innovative to me. No other video game has attempted such a daring feat..

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      May 2, 2012 8:26 AM

      Guy in the pic looks like a tatted up Danny McBride.

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      May 2, 2012 8:33 AM

      It seems whenever a new CoD game comes out there's always 3-4 fluff news articles a day for it.

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        May 2, 2012 9:16 AM

        Agreed...they haven't gotten any of my money since the first Modern Warfare. Why people continue to support these antics is beyond me.

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          May 2, 2012 9:26 AM

          Because they are fun I expect....what you play and call fun, may bore me to tears....I guess I must be one of those people, or "console noobs" you hate, because I pre-order and buy each years COD game???

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            May 2, 2012 1:07 PM

            here at the shack we don't like fun. We also hate people who have fun with games we don't like.

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          May 2, 2012 2:49 PM


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          May 2, 2012 3:39 PM

          These antics? Oh.. and people like something that you don't? What?! This cannot be!

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          May 2, 2012 3:41 PM

          They buy them because they enjoy the games. End of story. If you don't, then fine. Jesus FUCKING Christ I have no idea why people cannot fathom this simple fucking concept.

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        May 2, 2012 7:28 PM

        It is at odds with the "I wish every FPS would stop trying to be a CoD clone" sentiment made after releases like Crysis 2, or after the annual Call of Duty title.

        Another sad quote from Steve Ellis, GoldenEye multiplayer coder and Free Radical co-founder: http://www.edge-online.com/news/free-radical-founder-pretty-much-every-fps-loses-money

        "I spent the whole of 2008 going round talking to publishers trying to sign up Timesplitters 4," he tells us. "There just isn't the interest there in doing anything that tries to step away from the rules of the genre - no one wants to do something that's quirky and different, because it's too much of a risk. And a large part of that is the cost of doing it.

        "Nobody really buys any FPSes unless they're called Call Of Duty," he continues. "I guess Battlefield did okay, but aside from that pretty much every FPS loses money. I mean, [look at] Crysis 2: great game, but there's no way it came anywhere close to recouping its dev costs."

        And only now, a "something slightly different" announcement from a Call of Duty studio, after years and years of barnburning with the exact same formula, and the same empty promises in May, to be broken in September and October. Plus the old guard are either walking away from FPS (Epic), or stunned, trying to figure out what the hell to do next while playing silent damage control (Id / Bethesda).

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      May 2, 2012 10:00 AM

      Still looks like Battlefield 2142 to me. And we all know that went well.

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      May 2, 2012 11:47 AM

      oliver fucking north basically nails the coffin to this shut for me

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      May 2, 2012 11:57 AM

      In the future, regenerating health will be a reality.

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      May 2, 2012 12:02 PM

      Yowza, haven't bought a cod for a couple years now, looks like I may pick this one up.

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      May 2, 2012 7:08 PM

      i dont get how its a cold war when the premise of the story is the enemy has stolen all the US drones n robots etc and invades......

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