To commemorate last week’s launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, we sat down with Rob Hendry of Ideaworks, the UK developers in charge of converting the cult classic Zombies game mode to mobile. In the following, he takes us through the ideas and development behind the latest iOS title.
The first Zombies mobile title you released was based on World at War Zombies. What have you learned since then, and how has recent technology improved the features of the new Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies app?
We definitely learned that there's a market for authentic console experiences on mobile and that players show a lot of interest for those mobile offerings if you can execute your game the right way. With the original World at War Zombies mobile title, we were in the Top 5 on iTunes for nearly six months.
Our start position for the new game was to take Black Ops Zombies to the next level and build on the success of the original game. Some areas we've improved are quite subtle, such as the collision system, AI and path-finding, which adds to the authentic feel of the iOS game in relation to the console experience.
We also had really good feedback from community members on improvements they would like to see, particularly the controls. I think we've responded to that feedback and made big improvements which we hope will be really apparent to players in the new game. Improving controls for both the handset and tablet has been a key focus. The iPad controls in particular have been significantly improved this time around and make it a much more satisfying experience on tablet. Adding sprint and crouch were also heavily requested from players, as they add an extra tactical dimension to the mobile game.
From a technology standpoint, we've re-written the game to accommodate the scale and scope of the new Black Ops console maps. It has been a big challenge to balance performance and quality considerations, and we shifted our hardware to unlock much higher detail and visual quality levels. We also added depth to our tools to support bigger maps with complex collision. Also, having greater CPU bandwidth opens up intensive features like 4-way voice chat which is a really cool new feature in Black Ops Zombies iOS.
The game also utilizes two asset sets dependent on your device - one for 3GS/iPad 1 and another for the higher spec devices. If you have an iPhone 4/4s or iPad2, you'll see we've really been able to improve the overall graphical fidelity of the game and maintain performance, even when you have a serious number of zombies on screen.
Where did the idea to bring Zombies to mobile originally come from?
We first met with Activision at GDC in 2009 and discussed the potential to take Zombies to mobile and what that would take to make that happen. As a studio we've always had a strong focus and a lot of experience in bringing high complexity, performance-based games to the mobile market.
The cornerstones of our early design and production discussions with Treyarch Studio Head, Mark Lamia, and the Activision team was to ensure we could bring an authentic and accessible adaptation of Zombies console to the mobile market. These conversations were key in aligning our vision and developing a great working relationship and understanding of the pillars on which we developed the game.
What sort of challenges, if any, did you face in converting the larger Black Ops Zombies maps to mobile platforms?
Simply, the new maps are way bigger, more complex and much more detailed environments than in World at War Zombies. Also, major engine players like id and Epic entered the fray and raised visual expectations for everyone.
We've tried to respond to that challenge without sacrificing gameplay for better graphics. That's always the challenge when working to the edge of mobile device capabilities while making the game accessible to the broadest range of devices, and of course players who want to experience the game. To accomplish this, we really had to redesign our workflow to produce content on this scale in pretty much the same timeframe we had available for the original game’s development.
How involved was the original Zombies development team with the mobile process?
Mark Lamia was the original torchbearer for the product and the Treyarch team had lots of visibility and also provided great input during development. We've built a really good relationship with the Treyarch and Activision teams over the last couple of years, and we've had more freedom to drive development decisions this time around based on the trust we built from the original development.
Any closing thoughts or stories you'd like to share?
I think one of the cool things on this development was getting really good input from Dave King at Treyarch, the 'Silverback Consultant' who originally created Dead Ops and helped us on the underlying game mechanics and how we were adapting DOA for mobile. I know our design team got a real kick out of having that kind of input during development.
Looking down the road a little we've got upcoming maps and they are looking really cool. Ascension is coming and we're working on some interesting ideas with Treyarch and Activision on special mobile-specific content like new weapons and content made exclusively for iOS, much like the Peter's Grave Easter Egg in the Shi No Numa map, where players could dig up and use his prized Wunderwaffe with special shovels; that was a great and unique bonus for iOS players.
I'm excited about how the community will react to the new game. I hope the players out there love playing Black Ops Zombies as much as we've enjoyed developing the game here at Ideaworks!
Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies is available now in the App Store!
How are you enjoying your mobile Zombies experience? Let us know in the comments below and in the forums. As always, follow us on the official Black Ops Facebook page and Twitter (@Treyarch) for all the latest Black Ops info.