We caught up with director of communications John Rafacz, and learned more about how they approached developing the sequel, how their version of near-future warfare was conceived and details on the return of the Zombies mode.
> 'Call of Duty: Black Ops II' preview: Los Angeles burns in year 2025
The first Black Ops was a tight and well-received shooter. What have you learned from it, and how has that shaped the sequel?
"It's a great place to pick up. Literally as soon as the first Black Ops was being pressed to be put into boxes, the team very quickly rallied around some ideas for what they wanted to do and how to take it further into a new direction. That manifested itself in a number of ways.
"The team really wanted to push on story and particularly how you see character development within that narrative. And they loved how moving to the Cold War opened up opportunities for new weapons, toys and ultimately gameplay. But then there's also answering the adage question of, 'I've played Call of Duty before, so what's bringing me back?' Where we landed was a direct sequel to the first game but one that has a near future setting.
"About two-thirds of the game takes place in 2025, but as you meet old Frank Woods you share stories about the first Cold War. He's able to lay the foundation, talk about the other characters and provide more context and colour around this near future setting.
"For example, there's Raoul Menendez our villain, who you will learn about. He's someone who's collateral damage from the first Cold War and you will see how he impacts near future.
"The near future also opens up a lot of opportunities with weapons and gameplay, and allowed us to improvise opportunities to introduce things like Strike Force levels and tell stories in new ways."
What fresh and new things can we expect to see in the near future?
"In terms of variety of gameplay, I don't think you've had this type of experience. Just in the Los Angeles level, you experience a SAM turret as well as a sniper rifle that utilises modular wave technology and electronically-charged projectiles. You saw cognitive land assault weapons, drones, FA-38s, strike fire - there's so much new stuff to play with."
What research did you undertake when you came up with the story, the setting and the new weapons?
"Coming out of Black Ops, there were these ideas of where we wanted to take things and how we wanted to do it. But when you talk about near future, it's like what does that mean?
"You and I can talk about a year out and be pretty much on the same page. Five years out - a little less on the same page. 13 years - two totally different pages, probably two different books. So, to counterbalance that a little, we worked closely with Peter Singer who's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and happens to be a specialist at robotics and drone warfare.
"It was important to us to remain faithful to the Call of Duty experience and remain plausible and authentic. And where we thought we may have been going too far, Singer told us we probably weren't going far enough, which was pretty eye-opening for us. Singer was instrumental in helping us find that plausibly authentic zone and carving out something that remains true to the Black Ops II fiction."
From what you've shown, there appears to be a lot of cinematic moments. Can we expect any quieter missions in the game?
"I think you'll find a good sense of variety. In the first Black Ops, there was a good mix of moods and settings, and I think it's fair to say that the guys are looking to do similar things in that sense."
The FA-38 sequence was quite different in that it was a free-roaming section rather than forcing you on a set path. Are there more free-roaming segments throughout the campaign?
"The analogy I would raise is - if you recall the 'Payback' mission from the first game [where the player operated a helicopter] - use the mechanic where it makes sense and when it serves the story best.
"When you also talk about mood and tone, if you just look at the Los Angeles level, there's some very intense ground action and then you are in an FA-38 fighter. It strikes a different tone when you're there.
"All of this speaks to the breadth of story and that type of experience where within the core single-player experience it is on the ground. But it is also off-the-rails flying and also these non-linear Strike Force levels, so we've tried to draw that line of how the story is told much farther. We wanted to really challenge and redefine people's experience and what they think they're going to get from a Call of Duty game."
What motivated you to make such radical changes to the gameplay - from the non-linear moments to the Strike Force levels?
"We like to think about it in terms of innovations. Whether you are a fan of single-player, zombies or multiplayer, you will still come to those experiences with the core side of Call of Duty. There is no-one interested in throwing the baby out with the bathwater in that sense.
"There is, however, a great interest in providing some new experiences for players - something they've never seen in the Call of Duty universe before.
"Strike Force levels are a good example of that. Throughout the single-player storyline, you're presented with the opportunity to play these levels. When you are in them, you can assume the point of view of anyone in your squad and play with all the toys. But the success or failure of that level will ultimately help shape the geopolitical fiction that surrounds the ending of the pure game.
"Everyone will share the same core experience. They will get the epic, cinematic set-piece moments that they expect. But there will also be this element of non-linearity which they have never seen before. So the most important thing is to meet the expectations the fans have, but also push where we know they want to see things move forward."
Can we expect a similar level of innovation with the zombies mode as well?
"Absolutely. In fact, the zombies mode is being developed in with the multiplayer engine, so you can imagine taking everything we can do in multiplayer and seeing how that's applied to the co-op mode.
"The team has talked about things like 4-vs-4 and a range of new modes that we will get into down the road, but I can tell you without a doubt that it is easily the most ambitious and biggest zombies universe that we've ever attempted."
Call of Duty: Black Ops II will launch on November 13 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U and PC.