Treyarch talks about ‘spreading your butter too thin’

No developer sets out to make a bad game. And Treyarch’s Call of Duty games haven’t been bad per se; 2008’s World at War was well received, but it didn’t garner the same critical acclaim as Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty titles. At a recent preview event for Call of Duty: Black Ops, I asked Treyarch’s community manager, Josh Olin, about the studio’s unfortunate (and perhaps undeserved) reputation as the red-headed step-child of the Call of Duty franchise. I wondered if the team saw Black Ops as their chance to say, ‘Hey, we can do just as good of a game as Infinity Ward!’

Olin explained that Treyarch had, of course, been trying to do that for a long time — but that certain circumstances had prevented them from doing so. He took me through the year 2008, in which the studio was working on three games at the same time: World at War, the James Bond film tie-in Quantum of Solace, and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, all of which shipped within three weeks of each other. “Our studio had about 250 employees, and we were split across three different titles; it was kind of like […] spreading your butter too thin,” he told me. Since then, they’ve pretty much only been making Black Ops:

So after those games shipped, we refocused every single person at our studio on exclusively Call of Duty: Black Ops, with a small core team that still did some World at War DLC. But the bulk of the team was Black Ops, and then when we wrapped our DLC, everybody was on Black Ops.

Since development on Black Ops began, Treyarch has had three separate teams — but they’ve been building “three pillars” of the same game: single-player, a separate co-op mode, and multiplayer. “We put that investment up front — put our money where our mouth was,” proclaimed Olin, “and this is what’s going to come out in November, is Black Ops.” Treyarch is throwing down the gauntlet with this one, and from the gameplay I’ve seen, they should be confident.

Call of Duty: Black Ops will launch for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, and Wii on November 9, 2010. (There will also be a DS “companion piece,” but it’s being developed by n-Space, and Olin called it a “different story set in the Black Ops universe.”)

Samit Sarkar