"Multiplayer is the lifeblood of the franchise," says Treyarch's studio head, Mark Lamia. "Call of Duty multiplayer is played 365 days a year, twenty-four seven, all over the world. But we can do better."
"Black Ops did everything we wanted it to do. We had the customisation, the theatre, the emblem editor, great maps, great options - but one of the things that it didn't do is look at the gameplay and say: 'hey, let's significantly innovate upon some of these core systems.' Black Ops II takes the core systems and does something new."
Black Ops II is CoD's biggest multiplayer overhaul since Call of Duty 4. For the first time you'll be able to create a custom class entirely from scratch, play with six teams in one game, livestream games without expensive PC hardware, and even enter games as a commentator with a dedicated e-sports HUD.
But more than that, it's the first CoD where every mode rewards you for playing it properly, and where every weapon and every perk can be rebalanced on a micro level at Treyarch's end. The moment a perk proves too powerful it can be nerfed without removing it because CoD, says multiplayer designer David Vonderhaar, has become a sport and sports have to be fair.
"I've seen our game on the main stage at MLG with a hundred people in the stands rooting for their team," says Vonderhaar. "I've seen it and I think: 'I've got to a find a way to give this to everybody.' I don't know what will happen but I'm sure as f*ck going to try because I have fun watching those people play, because it's good for e-sports and because it's good for this business. If we do it right I hope somebody comes along, copies what we did and finds ways to make it even better. I want this to catch on the way perks did. This can be the next big thing."
For the first time in any console game, a single button click will let you stream your games to the internet. "All you need to livestream is a little bit of upstream bandwidth and a USB camera if you want picture-in-picture," says Vonderhaar. "Right now, people who livestream have to have a computer with very expensive hardware and lots of cables, and we get rid of all that."
"You'll be able to watch streamed games anywhere - your phone, your iPad, your computer..." says Lamia. "We're demoing it on our own webpage internally, but there's nothing magical about the feed itself, and nothing to stop you from broadcasting it when and how you want."
The feed runs with a delay - in part a limitation of the time your console needs to compress and send the video, and in part an artificially-enforced delay to prevent cheating. That's especially important for Black Ops II's new Shoutcasting mode - a dedicated commentator's HUD, with full camera controls, the ability to jump to any players' view and a picture-in-picture scoreboard and map for tracking even the fastest games. The Shoutcast HUD is built with tournament play in mind and designed to be readable quickly and easily for audiences at Major League Gaming shows and other professional tournaments, and just like everyone else the Shoutcasting commentator can livestream their ownview and become the host oftheir own Call of Duty show.
But none of that would matter if the old Call of Duty gripes threatened to break the game. Those motion sensors, those overpowered killstreaks, those players who play every objective mode like it were Deathmatch, and those players who spoil your game by being too bad / too good are all problems Treyarch have heard, understood, and fixed.