Black Ops 2 studio head defends lack of 'new engine'

Black Ops 2 developer Treyarch doesn't believe the annualized franchise needs a "new engine." Mark Lamia, studio head at Treyarch, argues that "engines" are simply a "buzzword," and talks up the "significant" work that went into creating Black Ops 2's visuals.

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Electronic Arts has been trying hard to wrangle the title of "best-selling FPS" away from Activision. Games like Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2 introduced new engines that leaps well ahead of what Call of Duty has to offer visually. However, Black Ops 2 developer Treyarch doesn't believe the annualized franchise needs a "new engine." Mark Lamia, studio head at Treyarch, argues that "engines" are simply a "buzzword," and talks up the "significant" work that went into creating Black Ops 2's visuals.

Lamia describes an engine as the foundation of a house. "I liken it to people who live in an older house that has been remodeled. Just because you’re remodeling the house and it will look new or it will have a new kitchen, you don't tear out the foundation," he told One of Swords. "There's a lot of good still in that foundation that you wouldn't get rid of, and we don't."

Treyarch's games have been using modified versions of the same engine used in 2007's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4. While gamers have accused the franchise for resting on its laurels instead of pushing technology, Lamia argues that the fixation on new "engines" is simply marketing. "I think the whole thing about a new engine... sometimes that's a great buzzword," he said. Because so much of the engine has been altered, he questions the validity of labeling something a new engine. "Where does it start and stop? Elements of the code, you can trace back for a very very long time... but whole parts of the code are entirely new." He points to lighting as a feature that received a "significant amount of work."

Once again, Lamia reiterates that Call of Duty must run at 60 frames per second, and won't sacrifice that for new graphical features. "We're not willing to do that if we can't keep it running at 60 frames per second."

From The Chatty

  • reply
    May 14, 2012 3:00 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Black Ops 2 studio head defends lack of 'new engine'.

    Black Ops 2 developer Treyarch doesn't believe the annualized franchise needs a "new engine." Mark Lamia, studio head at Treyarch, argues that "engines" are simply a "buzzword," and talks up the "significant" work that went into creating Black Ops 2's visuals.

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      May 14, 2012 3:07 PM

      aka, we're too cheap to invest in improving the engine, and why should we -- it's our yearly cash cow that prints money!!!!

      Seriously, I haven't played COD since 4, and I will argue till I'm blue in the face that United Offensive was the best in the COD series.

      With that said, as long as there are console kiddies, they will keep cranking out low textured CODs and try their very best to NOT invest any more money then they need to in order to crank out another yearly game.

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        May 14, 2012 3:22 PM

        They have invested a lot of money. The size of the Treyarch team is huge and they have spent time improving the engine. They just didn't re write the engine, because it wouldn't benefit the game to start over. When you have a new engine there are tons of missing features because you can't get everything back in and working all at once and that makes it harder for designers and artists to work. Think about it. With a new engine the old tools might not work so then they have to write new tools, and if the tools are not working, or working well in hurts the people building the content. Also a new engine may end up with less features than the old engine. Then you have to think about is it really worth writing a new engine right now only to have wrote ANOTHER new engine whenever the next consoles come out?

        You think they are cheap and lazy but I don't think you understand the time, money, and effort they put in or if it really makes sense to throw out all your tech and tools every two years. I guarantee you writing a new engine that runs at 60 fps for THIS OLD GENERATION of hardware is not going to help, if anything it would hurt as they couldn't get it working fast enough so it would lack features and slow down the people making content.

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          May 14, 2012 4:06 PM

          This post makes so much sense it hurts. They're stuck in a two-year cycle at this point, as well. You think Activision is gonna give them more than 24 months to refine a game? They have money to make.

          I'm actually looking forward to Black Ops II, if only because it seems different enough to warrant a closer look, as well as it continuing the story of the first game.

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            May 14, 2012 4:21 PM

            I don't under stand why is this an obsession. It's CoD, not Crysis. Is there some angry, basement-dwelling subset of CoD PC gamers who use these games for stress testing? CoD is about multiplayer, and has been for years, would a new graphics engine make any difference? It seems like Treyarch's time and money are better spent improving the parts of the game that their fan base really likes, i.e. the multiplayer, not how pretty the game is. FOr thsoe obsessed with graphics, there are lots of game sout there, I don't see why Treyarch should fix something that works perfectly well and satisfied millions (like your mom).

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              May 14, 2012 4:26 PM

              I'm with this. Enough tweaks have been made to the multiplayer year after year for me to pick up the new box. They won't release the tweaks and maps in a DLC pack for the previous game, after all.

              I suppose all the insulting comments are for the dude bros who love the single-player campaign, but I like these games for the multiplayer. Anyone who's actually played the games (the multiplayer portion at least) and isn't just an idiot jumping on the hate bandwagon because it happens to be a popular franchise would know that it changes quite a bit from year to year. They're just not smart enough to think beyond "Oh, there's a military aesthetic still, so it must be the exact same!".

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                May 14, 2012 8:19 PM

                Smart..lol. I've seen my fair share of CoD players try to do GB scrims in GoW, or attempt to try TWL in BF3. They have little to no grasp of strategy, almost no teamplay skills whatsoever, and adapt is something so foreign to them it's pathetic.

                You can say all of this makes sense, but that's just BS. EA had DICE make frostbite for all EA games. If you think for one second that Activision doesn't have the cash or resources to make a team completely dedicated to creating an engine to make CoD as good as possible you're kidding yourself. Furthermore every iteration of CoD after CoD4 has been 'same shit different disc'. All the gameplay tweaks could've been patched in and new maps released as DLC.

                Have you seen the PC comparisons of CoD from 1/2/blops? You have a hard time telling the difference. If you look at GoW1/2/3 it's nearly night and day and the games play so different that even vets will struggle going back to 1/2 for nostalgia's sake.

                The plain simple truth is CoDs engine is doodoo. It's based on the Quake 3 engine, heavily modified, but that's the core shell of it. The 'look' of CoD has as much to do with the deficiencies of an ancient engine as it does any art direction.

                In the end the engine is as trash as the h/w it's being optimized to run on. People can claim CoDs engine as more than sufficient but I can run BF3, at 60fps, with similar latencies, not only in actual HD, but in true 1080p with huge maps and buildings that actually blow up when shit blows up. Any way you slice it the engine for CoD sucks by any modern standard and the only truly rational answer as to why it's not replaced is because Activision has little interest in doing anything other than milking CoD players for all they're worth. One need look no further than with how mod support was dropped from zombies in blops after being so successful in WaW you'd have been hard-pressed to find lobbies which didn't run mods. You'd see vanillia lobbies sit there for several minutes, but a lobby running Realism 2.0 will get filled in 30s.

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                  May 14, 2012 10:12 PM

                  I agree with this post also. CoD isn't nearly my primary multiplayer game, and yeah the engine sucks. Also the majority of its playerbase is retarded. I love watching them try to play something like Battlefield (or any other multiplayer game), too. It usually ends with them screaming "this sucks" because everyone else isn't running around like decapitated chickens for them to farm kills off of.

                  I think I just take it a little too personally anytime anyone insults CoD players, and that's silly of me. I suppose I'm not the focus of that ire since I don't play it TOO often, and am not a "dude bro" besides. Just every couple weeks, I like to join in with my friends for a few mindless domination matches.

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        May 14, 2012 4:38 PM

        UO was dope! My last CoD was 2, and it was more modern than UO in some ways, but the CoD feature set has never come back up to what it achieved with UO. Big open maps, tank battles, base capturing. None of that has ever come back.

        I had great memories with the first few games, and I was planning to get CoD 4, but by the time I had a computer to do it justice the series had already jumped the shark, so I said fuck it and never touched the series again.

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          May 14, 2012 5:05 PM

          You said UO and I thought "Ultima Online"...

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          May 18, 2012 6:45 PM

          You should go back and play CoD 4. It was an amazing game overall, but Activision keeps slapping a new coat of paint on it every year and calling it something "Completely new". Its whats made me sad about the newer ones, Cod 4 was something that was somewhat fresh and new.

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        May 14, 2012 8:57 PM

        So what you're saying is, you've played less than half the games in the series but will argue you know you've played the best. I can't see you winning any arguments.

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      May 14, 2012 3:08 PM

      While a lot of what he says is true, there's a lot of rot in that foundation too. Plenty of advancements have been made since then. Shacknews plays it off a bit younger than it really is, it's a modified quake 3 engine, which is actually 13 years old. Yeah, it definitely doesn't look 13 years old but it definitely looks dated, and I can almost guarantee there are plenty of headaches when dealing with that engine.

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        May 14, 2012 3:21 PM

        Yeah, every dated engine comes with a few unsavory side effects. Like Source engine's incredibly long load times.

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          May 14, 2012 8:15 PM

          I don't think they use streaming, I'm pretty sure they're loading every asset they'll use when they load a level, or at least most of it. Maybe some things are streamed, but textures are not on of those things as far as I can tell - and textures tend to be the biggest memory hogs (and consequently take the longest to load).

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      May 14, 2012 3:19 PM

      Of course it doesnt need advancment... that would cost Activision actual money and they dont make ehough money on these games to give us something new *sarcasm font*

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      May 14, 2012 3:20 PM

      he's right.

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        May 14, 2012 4:18 PM

        I think BLOPS looks better than MW3.... and the multiplayer is better. So they likely DON'T need a new engine..

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          May 14, 2012 7:49 PM

          youre out of your mind, call of duty has looked dated for the last 3-4 years...

          compare it next to battlefield3. lol?

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      May 14, 2012 3:22 PM

      The only reason they don't make a new engine is because there's swarms of idiots that buy the same thing year after year. As soon as the idiots figure out that the game hasn't changed I bet the first thing they do is make a shiny new engine.

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        May 14, 2012 4:11 PM

        Well, I buy it year after year because it's one of the multiplayer games I enjoy playing, and they won't release the small improvements to the system or new maps as a DLC pack, so I really have no other choice.

        I suppose I should take offense to your statement. If people are stupid because they buy something you wouldn't personally pay for, then you're an idiot to plenty of others out there as well. *trollz*

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      May 14, 2012 3:27 PM

      Could you guys have imagined Half Life 2 on a spruced up Goldsource engine?

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        May 14, 2012 3:38 PM

        i lol'd

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        May 14, 2012 3:54 PM

        Exactly my thoughts. Source was damn near the entire reason why HL2 was so successful. Unfortunately, though, this developer is right; they don't NEED a new engine. Why would they when people don't care about innovation?

        He' is right, however, in that new engines are often used as a "buzzword", nowadays anyway. If you look at the difference between CryEngine 2 and 3 or Gamebyro and the Creation engine, you can see the point he's making. There's not a lot different going on the progression of those engines, not like the difference between Goldsource and Source. New engines used to improve so much upon older technology, and now them seem to only progress in the way Source does now with its incremental updates.

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          May 14, 2012 4:12 PM

          Back then there was so much to be improved on. We're at such a high level already that I don't think there is anything that makes you go "WOW" like improved lighting or actually having post processing. Bringing it back to Source, I still haven't seen any Source game with parallax mapping.

          The technical features of a modern engine aren't the most central to visual fidelity anymore. Crysis 2 on release had lower resolution textures than Crysis 1, despite having a better engine, for example. It's limitations like this that really have nothing to do with the engine that hold games back the most IMO.

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          May 14, 2012 5:51 PM

          I don't know if you noticed but the hardware changed between HL1 and HL2

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        May 14, 2012 4:17 PM

        The flipside of that: look at the time between Half-life games. I'm pretty sure most half-life fans would happily accept some watered-down graphics if it come the game out the door before 2014.

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        May 14, 2012 4:27 PM

        lol

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          May 14, 2012 5:04 PM

          "Yes there has. It's a bit slow at the moment while we get everything planned and set up, but we have made progress. We're also going to be keeping it under our hats until there's something substantial to show for it."

          That post was from June 2010

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        May 14, 2012 4:56 PM

        I was thinking about this today: IW and Treyarch have stuck with this engine (Call of Duty released in holiday 2003) longer than Valve stuck with GoldSrc (Half-Life released in holiday 1998). Back then, when Counter-Strike was demonstrating how creaky the engine was getting, the limitations of GoldSrc were obvious, in janky animations, low-res textures, map object limitations, and so on. Whereas with "iw5_treyarch" or whatever Treyarch is calling this version of their fork of the Call of Duty engine, they seem to be content with ripping out and rearchitecting entire sections, like the lighting system update they said they're performing.

        But there's probably still some bugbear elements in that engine that have developers shouting, "Oh, I hate this stupid (engine subsection code)!" There HAS to be at least one element of the engine like that. Every piece of software has elements like that, including operating systems (I have a few key parts of Windows Server 2008 that I gripe at daily), enterprise applications, and other game engines (how many years, and how many thousands of pages on anti-aliasing in Unreal Engine 3?!). To claim that the engine is entirely without nagging problems is ignorant, and smacks of the words of a very very high-up manager who isn't in touch with the grimy technical details.

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          May 14, 2012 5:19 PM

          To claim that the engine is entirely without nagging problems is ignorant, and smacks of the words of a very very high-up manager who isn't in touch with the grimy technical details.

          or... it's exactly what you say in a public facing context about the technology in your big budget product while knowing full well the related problems internally, regardless of your title. This isn't a GDC session

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            May 14, 2012 5:49 PM

            Pretty much this.

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            May 14, 2012 7:54 PM

            Okay, PR mode, but what do they say after the game is released, and there's the usual heavy scrutiny of the engine, and people saying things about how a specific part of the engine seems creaky and the same as Black Ops 1?

            Then again, we're probably going to see another series of reviews pumped out from the review event where games journalists played the game on 360 for 5 hours single-player, 3 hours multiplayer, and then weeks later, actual gamers tear apart the 360, PS3, and PC versions. Happens every year.

            One area where I saw that Black Ops was creaky was that its modeling system was still "mocap sequence" chained to "mocap sequence" chained to "death animation", with no ragdoll, no parametric pain flinch animation routines, or whatever its industry name is (this is one of the few areas where Rage really shined; you could shoot a guy in one area, and he'd limp convincingly to one direction). Presentation masks much of that, but once you've seen behind the curtain, you can't stop looking.

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              May 14, 2012 8:52 PM

              Okay, PR mode, but what do they say after the game is released, and there's the usual heavy scrutiny of the engine, and people saying things about how a specific part of the engine seems creaky and the same as Black Ops 1?

              If it's GDC or a gamasutra post mortem, they say the stuff you want to hear, pretty much anywhere else... PR speak.

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      May 14, 2012 3:28 PM

      Why should they? The drones that buy their games don't seem to mind.

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      May 14, 2012 3:31 PM

      Man that's a bunch of bullcrap just to keep old crappy graphics with a new coat of paint. I don't care what graphics engine u call it. If it doesn't look as good or better that BF3 or Crysis on PC u ain't getting my money!

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      May 14, 2012 3:35 PM

      Madden doesn't get a new engine either.

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        May 18, 2012 6:58 PM

        Madden doesn't need a new engine, Its just an updated player roster, could they update graphics wise... for a sports sim, not really

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      May 14, 2012 3:38 PM

      i wonder if carmack still gets royalties from the quake 3 code still swimming around in there

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        May 14, 2012 4:01 PM

        Surely Acitivision made a deal with id to stop paying future royalties in exchange for a once of lump sum long ago. The same with Valve(They even licensed the Source engine to other devs). Either that or they ARE still paying royalties. But the latter seems unlikely.

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      May 14, 2012 3:39 PM

      What a bullshit statement to pump out shitty games year after year, but what do I know millions of people keep buying the same shit over and over so if I had a bunch of lemmings in my pocket I sure would keep dragging them along

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        May 14, 2012 4:41 PM

        They've finally managed to capture the elusive "iterative sports sequel buyer" market with FPSes. They'll buy anything you incrementally feed them!

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          May 14, 2012 7:21 PM

          So you think making a new cod game is as easy as updating the team roster in a sports game?

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      May 14, 2012 4:09 PM

      I love coming to these threads to see butthurt kids cry over and insult Call of Duty because of its popularity.

      I'll buy it again this year. I have a good-paying job. If I enjoy the multiplayer with friends, why not drop $60 for some minor improvements? It's not as if I won't be buying the other, better games also.

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        May 14, 2012 4:28 PM

        I have a good-paying job.

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          May 14, 2012 4:36 PM

          Great, isn't it?

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            May 14, 2012 4:55 PM

            I have a good paying job too, but I don't like paying for $60 for the same thing that came out last year. Its just like paying $300 for a console that came out 7 years ago.....oh, I forgot, people do that too.

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              May 14, 2012 7:21 PM

              On that I'll agree with you. Hehe.

              I suppose not everyone's happy with the small tweaks they make. If they changed it too much, it wouldn't be the game I enjoyed playing in the first place. I do think a $60 box every year instead of just a "large DLC" sucks, though.

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            May 14, 2012 11:56 PM

            Yeah, it's like a free pass to be fucking stupid

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            May 15, 2012 1:49 AM

            It really is. It's a fucking world apart from being a student and having to torrent all things because you're broke and morally questionable.

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        May 14, 2012 6:22 PM

        "why not drop $60 for some minor improvements?"

        LOL I can't tell if you're serious.

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          May 14, 2012 7:22 PM

          If you've got the money to burn, and enjoy the multiplayer, why not?

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          May 14, 2012 7:40 PM

          Actually, you know what, I phrased that terribly and it sounded retarded. I'm just a sucker for CoD multiplayer (among other games also), and since they money's there, I might as well get it and see what improvements they've made to the formula I like.

          I hope that makes sense. :/

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        May 14, 2012 10:14 PM

        man, what kind of job affords the luxury of a $60 game once a year? it must be pentagon or something...maybe in hollywood.

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      May 14, 2012 4:14 PM

      At this point in time, I would expect the engine devs to have more focus on the upcoming consoles. A fall console launch + fall CoD release = big money.

      Once the next MS and Sony consoles are out, I wonder if CoD releases will be on both the new and old consoles until the old consoles are phased out. I'm sure the console manufacturers would love to have a big title push people to get the new console.

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      May 14, 2012 4:30 PM

      He's not incorrect, imo. People don't play CoD for the graphics (or if they do, they are dumb, because the graphics are shit compared to other games in the genre like BF3).

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      May 14, 2012 4:33 PM

      Well, he's actually right. Engines are largely a marketing concept. Most modern engines are improved incrementally.

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      May 14, 2012 4:37 PM

      I could care less about the engine. I'd be a little more interested in title if they tried something new in the gameplay dept.

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      May 14, 2012 4:41 PM

      Parts of it are still quake engine.

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      May 14, 2012 6:24 PM

      Here's a buzzword for you: "laurels"

      Here's another: "boredwithyoufourgamesago"

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      May 14, 2012 7:32 PM

      On the plus side it should have really really good mouse input code.

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      May 14, 2012 7:48 PM

      Quake 3 engine. still going strong 13 years later!

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        May 14, 2012 8:55 PM

        This.

        Quake3 engine >>> you. Oh wait...

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      May 14, 2012 8:37 PM

      I've got nothing against the engine, just stick some high rez textures on the damn thing and I'm happy. The Q3 engine always felt smooth and still has the best mouse input.

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      May 14, 2012 9:59 PM

      Sometimes I wish I could just filter all game related posts in the chatty

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      May 14, 2012 10:05 PM

      lol. a new engine on current gen consoles would be meaningless

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        May 14, 2012 10:16 PM

        Yeah, it's getting to the point of diminishing returns, but that won't stop the butthurt complaining. I am guessing most of the shiners have no idea how much it costs to develop a game engine.

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        May 14, 2012 10:17 PM

        i don't know - the cod engine isn't exactly pushing consoles to their limits. other games are doing more, right now.

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          May 14, 2012 10:18 PM

          I am more interested in good content than pushing more shader operations or render passes.

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            May 14, 2012 10:20 PM

            i don't see why it's mutually exclusive. plenty of studios push the technology boundaries while making compelling content.

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              May 15, 2012 12:28 PM

              Money. Investing in an engine that will last through multiple titles might be a smart move. At this stage of the console cycle it would be a stupid idea because to optimize further you'd have to write it to really take advantage of the current hardware. It's not like PC game engines where you know at some point the hardware will catch up.

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          May 14, 2012 10:28 PM

          You'd be surprised. Call of Duty tech is impressive as hell. It runs a rock solid hyper responsive 60fps. No other shooter even comes close to it in this area of tech.

          Battlefield 3 has more eye candy at it but it's also only 30fps and has more input delay. I'm not sure how solid framerate on BF3 is for consoles, but I'd be somewhat surprised if it ran a solid 30.

          Neither in "better" than the other. They just chose to focus on different things. The 60fps "feel" of CoD has been 100% critical to it's success in the market. Their current engine has an insane amount of iteration and optimization done on it. If they spent 3 years from scratch focusing on a new engine I'm not sure they could get to where they are today.

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            May 14, 2012 10:30 PM

            BF3 is not just more eye candy. the engine is doing a lot, lot more. in terms of physics and bullet modeling on sniping, etc. it's not even in the same ballpark. not to disparage CoD - it's not about quality of gameplay. just engines. and the frostbite engine is so ridiculously ahead of the CoD one.

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              May 14, 2012 10:38 PM

              Sure. And yet BF3 had some of the absolute worst scripting in any recent AAA game while Call of Duty has the best.

              I'm not interesting in arguing which engine is better than the other because I couldn't possibly care less. The key point is that current gen consoles are basically maxed out. Especially 360. You can't do everything and different game companies have chosen to push their engines in different directions.

              What's crazy impressive to me about Frostbite isn't what the engine does, or how many games use it, but how many different types of games use. FPS, racing, and RTS? Damn.

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            May 15, 2012 8:53 AM

            The Rage engine would be the ideal replacement. Basically a mega upgraded Q3 engine that it is, with the same old fantastic input and designed to run 60fps on consoles but support for all new features if and when needed.

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              May 18, 2012 6:37 PM

              True, but since ID Software is now owned by Bethesda, Activision cant use ID tech 5(Rage engine) because as part of ID's incorperation into Bethesda, ID gave up the rights for new engine licensing. Bethesda had said a long time ago that they will not be licensing the new engine, except for games being published by Bethesda.

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          May 14, 2012 10:55 PM

          not at 60fps

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      May 15, 2012 12:26 AM

      Just one long excuse for "We can't be bothered and don't have time anyway". So they added new lighting and kept it at 60 FPS, great, it still looks like shit up against UE3 or Frostbite.

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        May 15, 2012 2:03 AM

        pretty awesome post man

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          May 15, 2012 4:53 AM

          I know it's pretty trollish but also sincere. Recycling old tech when they have significant resources to put behind something better just seems like a waste. Granted, the real argument is probably that there's little point investing in a current gen engine when the next gen consoles are just around the corner, and I appreciate they have to churn out these games in no time at all.

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            May 15, 2012 4:54 AM

            To my latter point, what I mean is I wish they'd admit that, given that "You guys are wrong it's a great engine still" simply doesn't wash.

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      May 15, 2012 2:10 AM

      I don't blame them for sticking with what they know and what works, but engines are not a buzzword ffs.

      Also, I still don't know what Treyarch did to Infinity Ward's work on that engine.

      On my aging PC
      World at War & Black Ops = sub 60 FPS average
      MW1 & MW2 = well above 60 average

      It's not like the Treyach CoDs are graphically superior, either. It remains a mystery!

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        May 15, 2012 4:53 AM

        I had the exact same problem, couldn't tweak either of the Treyarch engines to run smoothly at all no matter what I tried or read, it makes no sense.

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      May 16, 2012 10:53 PM

      Treytarch's cluelessness about the decrepit nature of their game engine makes me sad. :(