How Treyarch Will Convince You To Play Call Of Duty Online Again

First, a confession. Despite the fact I do most of my gaming on an Xbox 360, I haven't played a online shooter on LIVE for over a year. My account has been languishing in Silver for as long as I can remember.

Console games themselves are, in part, to blame. In truth very few are genuinely worth playing online. Halo, Battlefield maybe? FIFA if you like sports, Borderlands if you like co-op and, of course, whatever iteration of Call of Duty tickles your fancy. That's about it.

But the main problem is the cesspool. The jabs, the racism, the abuse, the hordes of youngsters that camp, use exploits — the folks that are far too well versed in video games for their own good.

Long story short, when it comes to online gaming, there are just so many obstacles, and it's the job of a game like Call of Duty Black Ops II to remove those obstacles. It's the game's job to provide the path of least resistance. To help those who want to play, but could just as easily list a litany of reasons why they shouldn't bother.

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"None of us like getting our asses kicked, and we don't really like kicking everyone else's ass all the time either. If you know you can walk into any game and just lay waste to the field, what good is that?"

Treyarch's Director of Communications, John Rafacz, is unilaterally correct. None of us like getting our arse kicked; particularly when it comes with a healthy dose of verbal abuse and virtual testicles dangling atop our foreheads to 'sweeten the deal'.

It's a genuine issue. As someone who spent most of his early adult years playing Halo, the jump across to Call of Duty — with its wildly different pace, mechanics and strategy — is quite intimidating. And for Treyarch, that is a small problem. In order to grow its audience, Call of Duty has to become more accessible to those who haven't spent the last five years building up a very particular set of skills.

But how can they pull this off? John says yes. And he believes it all starts with 'Combat Training'.

"There are three components to it," he explains. "There's a thing we call boot camp.

"Boot Camp is a mix of human and AI players versus a mix of human and AI players for full XP credit for the first ten levels. You are actually ranking up. Beyond level 10, once you pass that threshold, you start earning half XP. Then there's Bot Stomp which is just you and your buddies wailing on the AI.

"If you mix in those three modes of play, you find a real safety zone. You can play with your load outs, figure out what kind of player you are, hone your skills."

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Matchmaking systems also play a part, but in my years of playing shooters online, I've yet to come across a system that worked as advertised, or didn't turn from a functional algorithm into something stupidly competitive. It's a real problem, one that speaks to the heart of online shooters and the issues they have with their audiences.

"Competition should be fun at any level," says John, "because you and I, no matter what game we're playing, we love to win and we might even be willing to lose if we were challenged or had a great game that was exciting.

"That's what gave rise to the thing we're calling league play. This is a more robust matchmaking system. On day one you start playing and after a short while it starts to rank you. This is where we start matching you with people of like skill. Hopefully someone new to the game won't be matched up against a true master."

It's all well and good to talk about ranking systems, but try as you might, herding folks of similar abilities into one specific pen is difficult, and individuals always slip through the net. Everyone, no matter how robust the matchmaking, has been on the receiving end (or delivery end) of an absolute slaugherfest.

But that isn't necessarily what sours the experience. Most rational adult human beings are okay with losing badly at a video game, it's the social aspect — the abuse, the stupidity — that drives most folks to distraction.

Ironically, that's the element that the most difficult for developers like Treyarch to control.

"We try to influence and control that as much as we are able," admits John. "The ability to report players for offensive language, offensive emblems, all of that will be in place. There's a certain extent to which we hope people will be able to police themselves, and there's no way we can personally account for bad apples, so we try and give people the tools to help people help themselves."

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In a recent interview Jenova Chen, the creator of Journey, said something that stuck with me.

He said: "[N]one of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it's not really the player that's an asshole. It's the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together... Don't you see? It's our games that make us assholes."

I ask John — is Treyarch turning gamers into assholes?

He explains:

"There was a point where at five pm every day you would hear the crackle of gunfire over the desks in my office with all of us doing the exact same things you're talking about. And it is awesome. So when you're talking about that environment, when you are in an office and you hose someone down, then go over to their desk and taunt them personally, that's just another level of fun." But in an anonymous setting — pragmatically, mechanically — Treyarch is trying its very best to encourage a style of gameplay that encourages less friction and more teamwork.

"The team has replaced kill streaks with score streaks," he says, giving an example. "Score streaks are designed to reward people who play to an objective.

"If you are the high K/D player, there's still a place for you in the Call of Duty tent. We still love you. Rewards for that skill will be available. But if you apply that skill to the benefit of your team? We'll reward you even more.

"We're trying to make sure people are focusing toward a more co-operative style of game."

Will Black Ops II solve everyone's problem with online multiplayer? Probably not. Will make playing a group of strangers in an anonymous environment a little more bearable? Maybe.

Or maybe not, it's difficult to tell, but it's a step in the correct direction regardless. Maybe I'll get that Gold upgrade after all...


Comments

    Well, we can only wait and see. I've personally maintained my Gold subscription for the convenience of not having to worry about getting re-subbed when a co-op game like Mass Effect 3 or Borderlands 2 comes out, but I haven't played competitive versus multiplayer for awhile now. I was certain I'd be as obsessive over Reach as I was Halo 3, but I quickly lost interest shortly after the first map pack came out.
    I thought for sure I'd love Black Ops after the crazy amount of time I put into MW2, but I didn't. I thought maybe MW3 was the thing for me, and it wasn't - though admittedly I went back a couple ofm onths ago after a 6 month break and didn't hate it.

    I plan to pick up Halo 4 and Black Ops 2, and I really hope one of them scratches this itch I have... but I have a feeling they won't. Maybe when it's time to pony up for another year of Live Gold next March, I won't bother.

      I'm the same. I think I'll check out both when they come out, but I seriously wonder if either will actually sustain my interest for a long period of time. I guess it's just the cost of being busy and having a job and stuff.

        I'm fotunate in that when I get home and we've had dinner, it's game time. When the next big thing is out, my wife and I play these games together - or are at least content to sit and watch the other person play, while we take turns.

        At our peak of online gaming which was when we had recently transitioned from Halo 3 to Modern Warfare 2, that is almost all we did for a period of about 4 months.

        I imagine your life is sliiiightly more complicated than that right now!

    Simple way to make it a decent game

    Dedicated servers
    Fix the retarded Spawn system
    Fix bugs, not ignore them
    Ban Hackers accounts without fucking around
    No Nuke killstreak or nuketown map

      I agree with all of what you said except Nuketown. I loved Nuketown and I really hope they bring it back, or something very similar.

    Black ops was the most fun cod online I've been playing MW 2 mp since launch and from what what I've seen this is the one ill move to

      Agreed. So many CoD haters, but the online is pretty fun at times. I did't like MW3 when I played a free weekend on Steam though, but I will no doubt pick up Blops2.

    Looking forward to it. Hated MW3's multiplayer after loving every entry from the original Modern Warfare onwards.

    I really liked the Combat Training mode from Black Ops. It was gerat to have a few mates online & fill the rest of the slots with bots. & its good to hear that this is an option again.

    However, in BlOps1, it was a completely separate mode to the standard multiplayer, so you leveled up etc just like you would in ranked.

    ^up there^ it said that exp earned is going to be halved after level 10. is there any word if the exp is going to be lowered further as you keep levelling up? or are they going to more or less force you to go online to get the top tier gear?

      I had fun playing Combat Training with my sister, who isn't a gamer. Got here setup with a sniper rifle in that tower on Firing Range and I covered her. I think she's a better sniper than me though...

    It's not a fix but playing in a xbla party with friends stops the trash talk (obviously) and what trash talk you do have is dependent on your friends: you may be friends with them because they don't trash talk or because they are your friend they may listen when you tell them to cut it out.
    But this hasn't worked for me in CoD, it often turns into irrelevant information that confuses you. But play a game with some kind of team segregation and it works brilliant, i'm thinking mainly BF3 and the new MoH. Honestly, playing a match of BF3 with 2 full squads in your party can get a bit confusing chatter-wise, but when 2/3s of your team, acting in 2 defined groups, attack a specific objective on command it's almost beautiful.

    Anyway, the point i wanted to make is that there would need to be massive changes to the CoD formula to achieve any decent form of teamwork (I like teamwork when the action was intentionally performed for the good of the team, not when the game turns an action intended for the individual into a helpful team action)

      Or the third type of trashtalk: Friends trashtalk. The type of trashtalk only friends can do.

        Luckily this form of trashtalk does not affect me.. ohh :(

    Darn. RSS feed missed out the last three words... thought they might be able to convince me to try a CoD game again... Nevermind. I've been Silver since Silver was created, and have yet to see a reason to 'upgrade'.

    Last edited 18/10/12 4:33 pm

    I can summarise this whole article in one sentence:

    "We added bots n shit to multiplayer for you to train against. Oh and you get XP til level 10."

    Its a great article, Im not trying to take anything away from it, it just seems they're trying to add flash and bang to bots???

    Don't get me wrong I actually think this is a POSITIVE thing btw.

      Fail on my behalf, I meant to put in a comma, it became 2 :P

    I love people accusing CoD and Halo of being troll dens, because here's the truth; there are dickheads playing every genre of game out there, and you will run into them no matter what.

    Simple solution - mute.

    I dont kniw why more people dont mute them. if its the wankers trashtalking in the lobby annoying u then mute them. most of the time i find the witty banter amusing.

    For me and my friends it's the severe lag on the Xbox that prevents us playing any adversarial multiplayer. We would love to play them, but the lag is so bad we always give up. I live in Brisbane and my friend lives in Sydney and we both experience lag. We play a lot of online co-op because lag doesn't seem to be an issue there. I used to play a lot of adversarial multiplayer on the PC (Counter Strike Source, BF2, BF2142) so I can tell when there is lag and where there isn't on the xbox.

    They should fix the lag, and then they'll get more multiplayer participants on the xbox.

    Treyarch has a fine line to walk between accessibility and dumbing it down. With the saturation of CoD games in the current generation, there's a lot of temptation simply not to buy BO:II and instead play one of the other 4 titles.

    I fear that their desire to have everyone on the planet playing this particular CoD will lead to a game that isn't so much a 'good shooter', but one that everyone can play and not get mad because they are bad or when they die.

    I hear a lot of stick against players who talk a bit of trash, and enjoy attempting to dominate the other team, sometimes referred to as 'winning the game', or 'the point'. But these are the core CoD players and nerfing their god-complex experience in favour of more release day cash is going to do nothing but damage the franchises already declining name in their eyes, and if the game is not for the hardcore console shooter, then who is it for? This breed of 'mature' older gamer who gets mad at foul mouthed children on the internet because they beat him, or rages at the people who are just consistently better for getting more practice? This gamer won't be happy because, he's still gonna get stomped by some punk 15 year old high school dropout who plays for 15 hours everyday, and he's still gonna be mad about it. In my experience, the old adage of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" applies. It's a lot more fun to run through your game screaming like a barbarian who just fire-bombed an orphanage from the jet he's doing your mum in than it is to complain about it.

    In games, as in life, there are always bigger fish in the sea. You are going to die, a lot. Get over it. The games developers shouldn't twist their game design for people who are bad at it, that's what makes people mad - cheap kills that require no skills. You add a feature so bad players who get killed alot get a chance to snag a cheap kill on the way down or whatever. Now everyone, including the bad players it was meant to help are getting ganked by these cheap abilities and everyone hates it. People hate getting killed unfairly way more than they enjoy getting an unfair kill. Now, I'm not saying turn it into a raw reflex and muscle memory test, but keep the playing field fair, without bullshit abilities, but with some real, quality matchmaking. Without matchmaking, the only way to guarantee you'll play with people of your skill or below is to be at a high skill level, which is not always practical, after all, we aren't all 15 year old dropouts playing CoD all day. Matchmaking really is the key here, because in my opinion fair truly balanced gameplay with people of your skill level is the mecca of online games. Not lumping everyone together with a bunch of options for less skilled players to get one or two kills each life against the better players with a cheap gimmick. A difficult task, but with the billions Activision pulls in, they can probably afford some r+d in that area. Imagine if in basketball one team had a player that didn't have to bounce the ball? Or if you're local soccer league played with the EPL? Balance and Matchmaking make for better competition, better competition makes for more fun. (Or at least less rage)

    Got a bit carried away there.

    Stop crying. There r trolls in every day life just like there r in games. They can still be annoying and rude all they want, thee is no law or rule that says they cant be. Remember we are still Semi-free countries

    I'd play online if it went back to the old dedicated server model, not how it is now and certainly not if its still using that MWNet rubbish.

    If they want to make CoD more team focused, bring back the ability to revive your team mates. When they took that out of Mw3 I stopped playing and so did friends. Just felt like I was playing in the same map with mates but there was no teamwork or way to help each other out. BF3 at least makes it possible to help out your squad.

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