Call of Duty: Black Ops II does not need new engine, insists Treyarch

Treyarch's Mark Lamia is happy with improvements to the old engine

Call of Duty: Black Ops II hype is building, but naysayers have yet again pointed to the title's usage of the same engine that has been in use since Call of Duty 2 from 2005. Black Ops II will be using a heavily updated version of the engine (which has its origins in the id Tech 3 engine), but many have been critical of the supposed "stagnation" of technical development of the franchise.

This critique, though, does not bother Treyarch, who insists that a new engine simply is not needed to make the game the best it can be.

Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia details to One of Swords that the discussion is much like working on an old house, one that needs to be updated and worked on. "I liken it to people who live in an older house that has been remodeled. Just because you're remodeling the house and it will look new or it will have a new kitchen, you don't tear out the foundation, or break out some of the framing," he explained. "You might even go as hardcore as replacing the plumbing, and we will do that sort of thing, as an analogy."

"It's a gross simplification, but it's one way to say that. There's a lot of good still in that foundation that you wouldn't get rid of, and we don't. We look to advance in the areas that support our game design. Engines, each time they get touched, they change. The creators alter them; they don't modify what they don't need to, and then they alter what they need to. You can't make a competitive product if you're not upgrading that engine along the way."

Many are expecting a different visual feel to Black Ops II, but Lamia offers that the idea of adding a new engine is simply a critic's hype against Call of Duty.

"I think the whole thing about a new engine... sometimes that's a great buzzword. Well, I have a new graphics engine - is that a new engine? Where does it start and stop? Elements of the code, you can trace back for a very, very long time... but whole parts of the code are entirely new. Two areas we did focus on for this game were the graphics and the lighting - a pretty significant amount of work is going into that."

The game is getting a big update though: 60 frames per second gameplay. A demo showcased to journalists recently revealed a game running rather smoothly.

"I think what people are asking for is for us to push," Lamia added. "They want us to make a better-looking game; they want things. I don't think those are things people can't ask for. We asked ourselves that very same question - we wanted to advance the graphics. I think the questions are valid. The answer may not need to be an entirely new engine, but you might need to do an entire overhaul of your entire lighting system."

"The trick is, we're not willing to do that if we can't keep it running at 60 frames per second - but we did that this time. So this is the Black Ops II engine."

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Latest comments (6)

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 10 years ago
I cant say Im against this. At least when it comes to graphics Im ok with what the video game industry has achieved. I find little need to push graphics much further at this point. I think you can do so much with graphics now a days that its more of a matter of aesthetics and achieving a unique visual style than graphical horsepower. Now a days the games that interest me either have a comelling visual art style or unique gameplay. I think the way foward in games is evolving AI, ingame physics and gameplay mechanics. A game like border lands aims for a cel shaded look, but it works just fine. A game like xenoblade has a very interesting art style even with the low resolutions, the lanscapes and draw distance is huge offering a breathtaking gameplay expirience and few load times. Zelda skyward sword, no more heroes, El Shaddai, rayman origins are just but a few games that dont require unreal engine or cry engine graphics, but still offer interesting visuals.

but when it comes to call of duty, i think their main problem is adding game play elements that keep it interesting such asbetter AI, gameplay mechanics and physics, like the ability to destroy buildings, alternative routs to objectives, terrain can behave differantly and a differant way to tell the story to make it more interactive and not just sit through a long movie.
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Pier Castonguay Programmer 10 years ago
Rick, an engine is not only graphics, all the things you mentioned in your second paragraph need a new engine if they want to do it.

This article is not much a surprise. Infinity Ward was the one doing all the engine programming work, Treyarch are awesome at creating levels and scenarios, but don't have the team for an engine re-writing from scratch, hence why they say they don't need it, but seriously they do.
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Dominic Jakube Student 10 years ago
Part of the Call of duty experience is the silky smooth 60 frame a second gameplay, I think the current consoles are unable to improve much visualy while still maintaning this rate.
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Joe Winkler trained retail salesman, Expert10 years ago
"Never Change a winning team" says a poster on the activision headquaters(at least that's what I expect). Why invest money and work on something you already have? Even if call of duty 10 would look the same next year, the gamers wouldn't bother. As long as it's Call of Duty they'll buy it anyway. Little improvements here and there and the meal is served.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 10 years ago
"@ Pier Castonguay - You know what i mean... i wouldnt worry about graphics and use the rest of the hardware resources on other things such as game play and AI. But alot of things, like how they tell a story, the map layouts, objectives, controls and gameplay could probably be tweaked enough to offer something refreshing. Now a days I favor gameplay and game design over graphics. "


I prefer having long draw distances than really sharp textures. i had a nice moment in Xenoblade... I was in the Nopon Village, and its like a tower in a huge tree that the inhabitants live in. Its very high with many stair cases and people to talk to, at the bottom in the center is a pond. I was very high and accidently fell off, I was going to die, but then i thought of the pond in the middle as I fell. So I acted quickly and had my character fall in it. I managed to save him. And also as i walk on the field you can see portions of the Bionis at a distance individual blades of grass, flowers and trees. Alot of the stuff is really in 3D, just 2D drawings on polygones that always face foward no matter were you turn. But the illusion of3D blades of grass really adds to the visual style. the Bionis is a huge robot where people live on. The game has very few load times, massive draw distances and a pretty unique gameplay system that doesnt bore me to death everytime I do battle. I love mass effect, but this game with its unique story holds its own even with outdated graphics and a not so sophisticated engine. It has a stylish graphics accompanied by great game design.

But regarding call of Duty... its a cow that has a lot of milk to give. So I dont blame them for milking it as much as they can. I guess if it aint broke why fix it. But if they are smart they should be developing a new engine now. I guess they have more time to work on a new engine and when the current one doesnt hold up they can roll out the new one when call of duty 10 or 12 comes out. Black Ops did make em 1 billion $$$... so it would be prudent to invest on creating a new engine while the call of duty games keep making money.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 15th May 2012 3:15pm

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Jamie Read 3D Artist, Neon Play Ltd10 years ago
They know they can bring out game after game that is pretty much the same thing every time around and people will still buy it. I for one, will not.
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