This year’s season of Call of Duty DLC continued with the release of the Eclipse pack for Black Ops III on PS4 yesterday. Being Black Ops means that alongside four new multiplayer maps, you also have the latest new map for the long running Zombies game mode.
We sat down with Jason Blundell, Treyarch’s Director of Zombies – easily one of the best job titles around – as we played the new map, Zetsubou no Shima, for the first time. And the second time as well.
Unfortunately, this was recorded quite near to the preparations for last night’s Black Ops III stream, which made for a lot of background noise. So for those of you in libraries or who simply prefer the written word, I’ve transcribed some of the questions and answers from the rather chatty and talkative interview. Trust me when I say that watching and listening is much more fun!
TSA: So, we’re here to play the new Zombies map from the Eclipse DLC pack. What is it called and where are we?
Jason Blundell: It’s called Zetsubou no Shima, which means “Island of Despair”.
TSA: Did you think after Der Eisendrache that people were already having enough difficulty with the German pronunciation, and so you figured, “Let’s go further away from home again!”
Jason: Yeah, and when we get to DLC3… this is an ongoing thing! I’m trying to actively mess you guys up. You have to say these things on videos over and over again, but why should you have it easy?
TSA: And where in the world are we? [Looking at the intro video], I have a feeling that people can guess…
Jason: So we’re somewhere in the Pacific […] and we’re going in there and we’re going to meet Division 9, which is the Japanese research group that have been experimenting with 115 on biological plant life, animal life, human test subjects… […]
So that’s where we are, on this very warped and disturbing island where there are – I used this line before and I’m going to use it again – perversions of nature. Humans have played with nature and the powers of 115 to create these atrocities that we’ve not seen hither too.
TSA: So, because there’s this convoluted Zombies timeline…
Jason: Well, you say it’s convoluted, but I would say obfuscated! I’d say that we have a very succinct and direct storyline that we are measuring out to people piece by piece.
TSA: Ah, so you have all this planned out on a whiteboard somewhere at Treyarch?
Jason: Yes, absolutely. It’s not a whiteboard anymore, though. I think it’s actually on my laptop just over there…
So, just before we started Origins, which was DLC4 for Black Ops 2, we sat down and said, “How do we put a container around all of this story?” There’s no such thing as a one of map in Zombies, so it’s all canon, it’s all connected, and so we sat down and worked out the next four years of content in a structural way.
So that was what Origins was going to be, what Shadows of Evil was going to be, what Der Eisendrache was going to be, it’s what Zetsubou no Shima and 3 and 4 was going to be. I felt we needed that to be able to give the community some level of closure and also put tendrils into the future as well.
TSA: Have I just made a terrible, terrible mistake by planting a seed [in the game]?
Jason: No, I think you’re… inspired, is the word.
TSA: So, talk about the seeds. Is this the hook? Am I botanist in this level?
Jason: I think with every map it’s about playing to the strengths and finding how you want to play it. In this map, there’s obviously a very overt biological element to the enemies, the things you’re doing with the plant there…
TSA: The plant just gave me a gun?
Jason: Uh, yeah. It’s a kind of shocking vision of the future or the past there, isn’t it?
TSA: So how big is the team for Zombies at Treyarch at the moment? Because it’s grown in importance over the last four games.
Jason: Here’s the thing, I feel that the first Black Ops was the point where Treyarch fully understood what our brand of a Call of Duty game was. Black Ops really defined it, and with the definition we had an amazingly engaging campaign story, a world class multiplayer game and then a kind of mind-bending Zombies experience. Those three pillars became what we defined Black Ops.
As such, Zombies has been getting its fair share of resources. One of the more boring parts of my job is resource management, looking over how we move resources. […] So what happens is, once we finish things for the main release, what I can then do is move the majority of the campaign team over to then do the DLC as well. It’s all planned out, but they have to make it all.
TSA: Is it difficult to come up with new settings each time?
Jason: No. It turns out there’s loads of places and loads of times! [laughs]
TSA: Have you been tempted to go really far back into the past? Before the 1930s?
TSA: Are you going to?
Jason: No comment…
TSA: Did you think it was a little bit cheeky that Sledgehammer did Zombies as well?
Jason: No. Why is that cheeky?
TSA: Well, because it’s your thing. It’s what you and Treyarch came up with!
Jason: Well, bear in mind that the idea of zombies has gone back very, very far in human history! We even paid homage to George Romero – the father of zombies in my mind – when we had Call of the Dead, way back when.
So absolutely not. I think it’s a fascinating topic, I think they did a great job, and they took a different slant on it. Every creative studio and every creative force will look at it differently.
So no. If I was going to take anything, it would be a little bit of flattery.
Thanks to Jason for taking the time to sit down and chat about Zombies. The Eclipse DLC for Black Ops III is out now on PlayStation 4, and coming in the not too distant future for Xbox One and PC. In the meantime, a reminder that if you’re reading this far down the page, you should scroll back up and watch the video!