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I spent a day with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 last week. After Treyarch's presentation, I borrowed a breaching charge from the studio's kitchen (the place is lousy with C4) to blast open the office door of its studio head, Mark Lamia. Entering in slow-mo with Inquiry Guns akimbo, I complimented Mark on the presidential red rotary telephone on his desk. Through a fog of drywall dust and poisonous florescent lightblub particulate, my interrogation began.
PCG: Will Black Ops 2 have dedicated servers on PC?
Mark Lamia, Studio Head, Treyarch: We had it with Black Ops, so the architecture exists. But we haven't yet announced exactly what that setup is going to be with Black Ops 2. The goal, for us, really, is to... We like the flexibility, just philosophically, of the dedicated server. We also like our game to be played the way we spent the last couple of years making it, and try to find that happy medium between the two. There's a meta-game that we've created here in terms of allowing people to rank up with the experience points and everything. Trying to make sure that people can enjoy that meta-game is important to us too. That's where we try to strike that balance on Black Ops as much as possible.
Is it an issue related to anti-cheat? I think that was something a lot of people—
ML: Absolutely it is. It's absolutely related. It's one of the considerations. Once you let those server files out, there's a problem. That was actually one of the primary reasons why you could rent a server... I can tell you that that wasn't a business decision on our part. That's not our business. But it's an important security consideration.
One of the things I know that the team has been focused on for the PC is, in particular, anti-cheat mechanisms. We know it's a huge issue in PC gaming, for online gaming. We've been working on proprietary schemes, we're not just relying on the commercial schemes that... They do a good job and clearly that's their job, to do that stuff. But we have a lot of experience, especially after Black Ops, seeing what people were doing to the game, and we want to make sure... Look—you want to do that stuff in a custom, private game, that's your business, but if you're playing out there in the world, in the community, we are going to try to make it fun for as many people as possible. So we have some proprietary schemes the team has been working on. I think that will be unique to this title, since it's not off-the-shelf software. We're working on that.
Don't you think Black Ops 2 would benefit from a beta?
ML: The problem with a beta, in particular on our time frame, it's just not practical. We're coming out this year, we're not taking four years to make this game or three years to make this game. You could actually take a lot of time on a beta. Most consumers don't have a technical problem. We have done betas in the past. Sometimes you get the information you need and actually sometimes you don't. It just depends. But there's nothing like having the reach of a game like Call of Duty to eventually get to every single place.
What about Call of Duty Elite? It's still strange to me that your web-based platform doesn't function with the PC version of Modern Warfare 3.
ML: Great question. It's one that Activision has to answer for us. Right now it's not a technical limitation on our engines. But there is... We haven't announced exactly what we're doing with Elite for the next game. It's more of an Elite question that's going to be answered for people later. But our game does a real good job... Did you play Black Ops?
ML: So there's a ton of stats that we have already built into our engine. Our engine's really well-integrated with all that stuff. We're already doing quite a bit of that. It's going to be really... It takes advantage of Elite pretty nicely.
Will Black Ops 2 have LAN play? That doesn't seem like a troublesome thing to implement.
ML: Yeah, so we'll talk about, like, what network architectures and stuff we're going to give you a little bit later. But I think it's fair to say that we're paying attention to the eSports scene, and the kinds of issues that you're talking about... Forget the specific hardware, but the kinds of issues that you're talking about are ones that we are paying attention to and are important to us.
How would you expect to support eSports on PC without dedicated servers?
ML: Um... Well, I haven't told you whether we are or we aren't having them, so... You mean if there were no dedicated servers? Well, we were able to do that with... I'm not saying that's what's going to happen, but we were able to do that with... We had Black Ops on the PS3 on the MLG, that was a Pro Circuit. What you're able to do is create... In your custom game configuration, you allow people to create the customizations that they need. You don't need a dedicated server to give people the variables they need to create a custom game.
Thanks for your time, Mark.
Check back later this week for Hard Questions about mods and more from our interview with Treyarch on the PC version of Call of Duty: Black ops 2.