Black Ops 4 got its Blackout mode – a Call of Duty-style take on battle royale – and it did not get a campaign. There’s been speculation about exactly why that is ever since Treyarch confirmed the absence of a single-player campaign, and a new report breaks down exactly what happened to the original story mode and why it was replaced with Blackout.
A true single-player campaign was never in the original plan for the game, as Kotaku reports. Instead, it was going to be a 2v2, multiplayer-focused story, where players in opposing factions would battle against AI enemies and each other to complete objectives in a post-apocalyptic setting. Winning shootouts against the other team would make their progress to their objective tougher.
Management began to inform developers that they were cutting the campaign early in 2018, based one what Kotaku calls “technical concerns” and “timing issues.” One anonymous source also says that playtesters were finding the campaign too repetitive. Then the studio began to work on turning the 2v2 mode into a more traditional campaign.
The idea was: What if we spruce it up, put more explosions in, set pieces,” a developer says. “Then maybe people will get that classic Call of Duty feel from this.” But there wasn’t enough time – after Red Dead Redemption 2’s release date was set for October 26, Activision ditched the traditional November COD release from November up to October 12.
“People were saying: How can we do this, create an entirely new campaign that takes everything we’ve put in this other mode that was unsuccessful, and still tells our story,” as one employee tells Kotaku. “Everyone realizes at this point: This is absurd. This is impossible.”
So the campaign was cancelled, but that would’ve left Black Ops 4 with only two main modes rather than the three fans had come to expect. Thus, we got battle royale, but even that was a struggle to finish in the nine months the team had left. One developer says “That mode came together by the seat of its pants. It’s kind of a miracle that it did.”
Every person Kotaku interviewed in the report confirms that Treyarch crunched on Black Ops 4 throughout 2018. One estimate suggests that most worked 64 hours a week – 12 hours from Monday through Thursday, then eight hours on both Friday and Saturday.
“There were weeks straight when I was not taking weekends,” a developer who left Treyarch says. “Panic attacks, burnout, dissociation. You feel like your boundaries are being violated. You lose all passion for what you’re doing and forget why you were doing it in the first place. It’s a nightmare.”
There are far, far more accounts of development life at Treyarch in the full Kotaku report, and it’s similar to what we’ve heard about crunch around the industry over the past few years – though accounts of conditions at the QA department here are much worse.
For its part, Activision provided a statement saying “The teams who created this game are diverse and widespread. It’s important to us that everyone working on the game, or any of our projects, is treated with respect and that their contributions are appreciated. If there is ever an instance where this standard is not met, we work to remedy it immediately. We constantly strive to provide a rewarding and fun development environment for everyone.”