Call of Duty: Black Ops III Descent Developer Interview

Call of Duty: Black Ops III Descent Developer Interview

With Black Ops III’s latest DLC offering Descent recently releasing for all systems, and a new game on the horizon, we sat down with producer Miles Leslie and Zombies-mode director Jason Blundell to pick their brains about their creative process. Just what goes into making an enjoyable map? Can you give our players a brief rundown on what’s in the Descent DLC pack, and how it differentiates itself from previous entries?

BLUNDELL: The DLC3 pack “Descent” contains Gorod Krovi, the “City of Blood.” This Zombies map features our Origins crew arriving in an alternate universe version of WW2 Stalingrad. In this map, players will encounter the undead, but also huge dragons and futuristic battle mechs. 

LESLIE: Here is a breakdown of each map:

  • Rumble – In the future, what if people could bet on robot battles, just as they did in gladiator fights during Roman times? We took that idea and pushed it to work within our universe and fiction. From there, the core idea evolved to work with the design, and we came up with this stadium idea that the mechs would battle in. From a gameplay perspective, this map only has two lanes, which is something we have never done before.
  • Empire – While brainstorming how to re-imagine Raid, it was very important to use and maintain the clean and simple aesthetic/architecture of the original Hollywood house. We felt that the original aesthetic, as well as the overall design, and clean simple lines of engagement are what helped it to become a fan favourite. We landed on a Roman villa, as it could maintain the clean look, while also allowing us to re-imagine the entire map, making it feel fresh and new.
  • Cryogen – This a great example of an idea that has actually been around internally for a while. We’ve been playing around with various incarnations of it since Black Ops 2, but it never really never seemed to work when we developed and play-tested it. The new core movement system of Black Ops 3 gave us reason to give it another go for the DLC season. We always wanted to make a really harsh, futuristic cryogenic prison in the style of the Gulag (a place you do not want to go), while also leaning into the future elements. From a gameplay perspective, this map is a Core Movement playground: from the pillars at the center of the map to the high walls of the outside area, there are many opportunities for combos and chains.
  • Berserk – This map idea, like most, really started as a “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” In this case, we asked ourselves, wouldn’t it be cool if you could fight in a Viking village, infused with elements from fantasy fiction? From there the idea evolved as we researched Viking architecture. From a gameplay perspective, this map brings some new elements. My personal favorite: players can completely avoid the middle lane by wall-running and double-jumping under the bridge that connects the middle (so you can go from side lane to side lane). This introduces some really great cat-and-mouse elements and gameplay that we have not explored before to this degree with Core Movement.

Increased mobility has played a large part in the series since Advanced Warfare, and Black Ops III was all about momentum and chaining movements together. Are those design philosophies still informing the construction of these new maps?

LESLIE: Absolutely – with every DLC experience, we try to go bigger and better on the visuals, on the gameplay, and the overall experience. We are constantly trying to challenge ourselves to deliver the best possible experiences for players. More than anything, we want to deliver something new and fresh: a new environment to explore, and new gameplay mechanics in a map for players to learn and master.

What’s it like, developing maps for such a competitive game? Do you try and cater to the ever-evolving meta, or do you try and stimulate change by shaking things up?

LESLIE: It’s really a combination of everything, you have to make sure you have something for all player types, but that you are also introducing something new and exciting so that players continue to come back and want to play the new maps. We try to learn from past maps - what worked, what did not work - and create something new. In addition to learning from our past maps, we are constantly pushing and challenging ourselves to deliver something new with visuals and gameplay.

How do you actually go about constructing a map, and go about making them so routinely enjoyable? It seems like a tight rope to walk – a map is either “the best thing ever,” or it isn’t.

LESLIE: It’s a tight rope to walk, for sure. It’s all subjective – everyone has an opinion and you have to navigate the waters on what to listen to and what to build from. We try to take all feedback and learn from it. We never shy away from feedback and/or criticism, because we feel it only makes us stronger and helps us make better maps.

And Zombies is also getting some new content. Does the general insanity of the mode give you guys the ability to stretch your legs creatively?

BLUNDELL: The wonderful insanity of the Zombies universe gives us the ability to try lots of different creative elements, which is creatively rewarding. The balance we have to continually strike though, is keeping everything relevant while also balancing gameplay and narrative themes at the same time.

What’s your inspiration when developing new Zombies content – do you look at other games and cinema when formulating ideas?

BLUNDELL: Interestingly, the ideas we are now playing through in Black Ops 3 DLC season were worked out at the end of Black Ops 2. It’s funny, I’ve had to wait 3 years to finally see what we planned out all those years ago. When it comes to influences, there isn’t a primary source. The team and myself are huge fans of different kinds of media (comics, films, TV, books, games) and I’m sure it is all mixed in our brains and has its influences in our work, but we usually aren’t consciously aware of it.

If there’s one design lesson you’ve learnt from these DLC packs, and the community feedback to them, what do think that would be? Is it invaluable insight in to how more serious COD players play your game, and what matters to them?

BLUNDELL: The community and their feedback is the backbone to Zombies. Remember, this is a mode that wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the love of the community. When it comes to lessons learned from this DLC season, we’ve done our best to take in feedback from everywhere.Zombies is always trying new things and playing with defined mechanics.

Zombies maps should always be trying to challenge conventions, while giving people a familiar foundation for them to grow from. This has meant that we have skilled players calling out the maps they love, and the ones they don’t like. The thing I enjoy is that the experts don’t always agree on the order of their favourite maps. That means that we are making something for everyone in a season. That being said, when we see a feature which is universally questioned, it’s great to look at why it isn’t as popular, and how that differs from the design thinking behind the actual feature.

LESLIE: I don’t think I can whittle it down to just one lesson. The game is constantly evolving, both for us internally and externally, as we watch players get better and better with the content and feature sets. On top of that you have the professional scene that is also continually getting better and better. Because of the constant evolution of the game, we try to monitor what players are responding to, both good and bad, and decipher how to respond in the next set of maps.

Overall, one of the biggest benefits is the feedback that we get, from all channels and social media. The more we hear about what players like or what they want more of, the more informed we are about understanding what to do moving forward.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III's latest DLC pack Descent is now available on all modern platforms. 


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