Miles Leslie On Black Ops III Descent DLC And Designing Maps For Everyone

You know what you’re getting with Call of Duty DLC: three brand new maps, a remake of a classic and a big new zombies map for those who prefer to dabble in the game’s online co-op. But what goes into this map design, how much is tailored to the competitive scene, and why do we only see the crazy maps in DLC packs?

The third DLC pack for Black Ops 3, Descent, is out on PlayStation 4 today, and we spoke to Miles Leslie, Multiplayer Producer at Treyarch, at the Gfinity Summer Masters the weekend before last. Read on for some insight as to what goes into catering to eSports, as well as how the team get to push the boundaries with both the level and visual design of the DLC.

TSA: Starting with the eSports side of things, is there any fundamental difference between designing maps five years ago, where you didn’t really have to think about eSports, and now, where you really do?

Miles Leslie: Absolutely! As the industry wants more eSports – the thirst is real! – and us trying to predict where the industry is trying to go, it becomes very difficult to make sure that you’re providing for eSports, so that they’re competitive maps, they’re super fun, they’re super balanced, but then also that casual players respond and play them as well.

You want the casuals to play them and watch, you want them to see their favourite team and their favourite player do the most amazing things, and then say that they want to try and do that, jump on their machine and try to emulate it…

TSA: And then you obviously fail… [laughs]

Miles: Well, of course! You absolutely fail, but then you’d need to play for a hundred hours and maybe you’ll do it!

Those experiences need to be predictable, so you try and build them in, because part of the problem between five years ago and now is that players are so good at the pro level that they’re doing things we didn’t expect, right? So they’re informing us on the good and the bad.


TSA: Yeah, so putting these maps in front of pro players, they’re going to be the first to find those cheeky little tricks, like being able to double jump, look and shoot over a wall…

Miles: Yeah, that’s right! From the shipped game to the DLC, we’re acutely aware of those things and we’re trying to iron those out, but it’s difficult because these guys are going to use every advantage that they can – rightly so at that level!

But we try to iron out the bad ones and incorporate some of the cooler stuff that we want players to actually do, because it’s kind of cool to be able to use advanced movements to get an advantage, just not in a cheap way. So that’s the fine balance which is tough to do.

TSA: And this is still very much a live game, where you go in and patch things.

Miles: That’s the benefit, where we’re a living breathing game. So a couple weeks ago we patched the bomb sites [in Search & Destroy and Demolition], I don’t know if you’re aware. We used to have a gap in the bomb site crates and all the pros were using it. They’d sit behind the bomb and look through, and that’s a bad experience for the players watching and for the pros. That’s not a fun thing, so we got rid of that and now you have more meaningful engagements around the bombs. Finding things like that to fix is the key.

TSA: There’s a lot of symmetrical maps and a lot of asymmetrical maps, and even before you consider eSports, those are much more difficult to try and balance. How do you go about developing these? Is it a halfway house of having similar but different sides or just finding a way to make something work?

Miles: [laughs] It’s hard, because when we start, we have an idea of the portfolio for the game that we want to make. It’s in terms of maybe having four small maps, four medium maps, or whatever it ends up being, and then within that you’ve got this map is going to have verticality, this map’s going to have water, or whatever. Then there’s the other layers of if we want it to be a competitive or non competitive.

You want, at a baseline, for all of them to work with competitive, but of course, the symmetrical maps are the ones where we’re saying these are the most balanced, right? But you look at BO3 and Metro, which was a symmetrical map, is not really favoured by the pros. You take those lessons learned from the longer engagements down the side and the train, which is the randomness that the pros really don’t like…

Symmetrical maps are easy and hard at the same time, but asymmetrical is a little bit harder because, as you said, how do you distinguish the sides and make it not be symmetrical.

At the Gfinity CWL Summer Masters, they were trialling a new idea where teams could vote to ban and approve certain maps for each mode, in addition to Black Ops III’s similar built in features for weapons, attachments and abilities.

TSA: I was wondering if there’s a favourite map that they’re blocking at the moment? One that the pros don’t like?

Miles: That’s really tough. They don’t like a lot of things!

That’s almost like asking me who’s my favourite child. No, it really is because I’ve been at Treyarch for eight years and I’ve made over 100 maps, so it’s really difficult for me to say I like this one over this one, because they’re each unique and they offer different things. I really can’t answer!

TSA: You tend to go pretty wild when it comes to the DLC and how stuff looks. Why is that? Why don’t you put these into the main game and save them for later on? My favourite one so far is easily the water theme park.

Miles: [laughs] Splash. Yeah, absolutely!

So, when we make the shipped game, we’re really trying to tie to the single player universe and the fiction. We’re trying to relate and have players be in this world, so we don’t want to get too wacky and be too different. But the DLC offers us this world where we’re not tied to anything, and that’s where the team can just go hogwild. We can have water parks, we can have a personal fighting arena, some Polynesian island and stuff like that.

To be honest, we’ve actually talked about bringing some of those wackier and crazier ideas into the shipped maps, because players respond to those. We like to call them the ‘fun maps’ and we try to have a few of those when we ship the game, but you don’t want it to seem like it’s coming out of left field. If a player’s playing Havoc and Redwood, which are really grounded and have a military feel, and then Splash is the next one? You’d be like, “What the F-?”

TSA: [laughs] It felt with Eclipse, the second DLC pack, that there was a kind of Saturday matinee movies feel to it, and a lot of film references. Is there a kind of theme like that for the third DLC, Descent?

Miles: Um… I think the theme is just a little bit of experimentation. Some of these maps have got some really interesting and unique things we’re trying to do. Cryogen, for example, has got a pillar, King of the Hill style play. We tried to explore this in [DLC2 map] Knockout, this King of the Hill thing, and then we were like, how do we make this more insane? How do we up that?

The whole point is really to explore what players respond to, and lots of players like Knockout and they liked that King of the Hill. Cryogen is how you evolve that, so now it’s a floating pillar that you have to get to, and if you hold it down, it’s really advantageous.

So the theme is really pushing ourselves and exploring. We’re driving ourselves forward on what we think players are going to respond to, but to be honest, some of it, we don’t know. We’re doing some different things of purpose to help inform us. Some players aren’t going to like some maps, some players are going to love it, and we take that data for the next shipped game and try to turn it into something.

But there is no overarching theme; this isn’t the “super wacky pack”! We try to make sure that the pack overall has a good portfolio, in terms of sizing and theming, so they’re very unique from themselves, especially with the remake and everything.

TSA: Speaking of the remakes, how do you go about picking which maps to include each time? I’m not too familiar with a lot of them, but I’ve had friends complaining about the particular maps you’d picked!

Miles: Well that’s the problem, because for every person that complains, there’s five who love this map!

Part of it is the maps we want to bring back, but then we actually use data and do surveys to try and support our theories on what maps people want to see. But there is an element of wanting to give something that’s very unique. When we brought Banzai back as Verge, people did not expect that, but it offered us an opportunity with the core movement, with the bridge, the water, and stuff like that.

So it gives us an opportunity to do what I was saying with experimentation. We’re always looking for the angle on how you can bring it back, flip it and make it feel very unique.


The remake in the Descent DLC pack is called Empire, a remake of Raid from Black Ops II.

TSA: You don’t have DLC maps in the competitive side of COD at the moment, but is that something you’ve thought about? Are you going to do it, even?

Miles: It’s hard to say. We’ve talked about it, and I personally would to bring some of them in, because I think a lot of them could work and could be very fun.

I’d love to see Rift, which is symmetrical and high above the Caldera lava, but it’s got really hard chokes and offers a lot of interesting core movement. So pros who are expert at core movement, I’d love to see how they use that map and how they abuse it, so we can get frustrated! [laughs]

The biggest problem is timing, actually, because you don’t want to introduce a new map a week away from COD Champs…

TSA: So, here’s the thing. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great if…

Miles: Welcome to Champs and here’s a new map? [laughs]

Sure, but they would murder us!

TSA: Well, you’ve got a few years to get better again…

Miles: That’s true, you could recover.

But that’s something we keep in mind, actually, when to do it in a season, so that players and pros could respond and get enough practice on it and become masters of it. So if we do it, it’s TBD, but I think it’s a good idea to see how the pros respond to those.

Thanks to Miles for chatting with us. Black Ops III’s Descent DLC is out today on PS4, and will be coming to Xbox One and PC some time next month.

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1 Comment

  1. I haven’t played a COD game since the PS3 and looking at the trailer above I am reminded why. Compared to the game and character mechanics and animation with Overwatch, COD looks so dated. I won’t be returning to COD. Give me Overwatch and Battlefield.

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