“Call of Duty: Black Ops” was never viewed as a “Call of Duty” franchise with a single narrative by developer Treyarch, instead it is an entire universe within which stories can be told. And while “Black Ops 4” won’t have any traditional single-player campaigns, it will still tell some of those stories, Treyarch co-studio head Dan Bunting says.
“I don’t know if (the Black Ops) storyline will ever be done,” Bunting told Variety. “There are a lot of documents we have never released about narrative development. You could map from ‘World at War’ all the way to ‘Black Ops 3.'”
But in “Black Ops 4,” he said, the team felt they found the perfect opportunity to dig into the backstories of the multiplayer specialists introduced in “Black Ops 3” in a way that wasn’t a campaign, a chance to explore the 40-year gap between “Black Ops 2” and “Black Ops 3.”
“When we started on this game we never had any intention of making a traditional campaign,” Bunting said. “We spent time paying attention to how people were playing [‘Black Ops 3’]. How they were interacting. Where they spend their time.”
“We have loved the stories we told over the years, but when we set out to make this game we said we wanted to make a game that was different. Not the same thing we had done before,” he added.
Treyarch found that players spent a vast majority of their time talking, livestreaming, and interacting through multiplayer.
“They were spending more and more of their time playing with friends,” he said. “It also happens to be what we do best as a studio — multiplayer experiences, playing socially.”
Bunting then noted the innovation he said Treyarch brought to online play over the years, including a theater mode, a robust editor, building livestreaming support directly into one of their games.
“We have always been big fans of making the game more socially accessible,” he said.
So the team decided to focus on that.
“Call of Duty: Black Ops 3” introduced a character system to multiplayer. Nine, eventually 10, specialists were added to the game. Each had a unique ability and weapon, but not really any backstory. And that’s where Treyarch saw an opportunity to introduce some story without building a full campaign.
“It was perfect to go into their story,” Bunting said. “There wasn’t a lot of depth in terms of what players had access to. We could build that world out in a richer way.”
The result is solo missions that are built around unique, self-contained stories.
Bunting declined to go into much detail about the Specialists missions for “Black Ops 4,” but did say they will be played in the context of the game’s multiplayer setting and connect some of the narratives between “Black Ops 2” and “Black Ops 3.”
“The narrative around them is meant to give a sense of purpose,” he said. “Why they’re together. Who are they working for? It builds the connective tissue between each one.”
When pressed for more details, Bunting declined to say where these missions will “live,” but teased that they will “play like their own thing: not like Spec Ops [a co-op mode found in ‘Modern Warfare 2’ and ‘Modern Warfare 3’] or a campaign.”
“Our goal is to give players a deeper connection to the characters they experience and the world they live in,” he said. “To deliver stories around who they are, where they come from.”
More details on the “solo aspect” of “Black Ops 4” will be announced on a later date, he added.
Even hours after the initial unveiling of “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4,” Bunting was aware of some of the pushback longtime fans of the franchise had about the lack of a campaign.
Variety’s interview started with the same question so many were asking online about the game: Why did you have to kill the campaign? If “Call of Duty” needed to have a franchise without a story, why did it have to be one made by Treyarch?
The interview ended with Bunting getting a chance to address those players directly.
“You can trust in Treyarch and the awesome games we’ve delivered over the years, that we are going to give the best gameplay experience we can,” he said. “It’s going to live a long time. We’re building our game to grow and adapt. We’re going to continue making content for this game more so than in the past. And we’re going to continue to listen to the community.”
Does that mean “Black Ops 4” could one day get a post-release campaign?
“Anything is possible,” he said.