There's a certain school of thought which holds that all Call of Duty games look the same - ergo, that all Call of Duty games look like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You can see the point, to a degree: the core of Modern Warfare 3's engine dates back to 2005. But much as the developers have rejuvenated the franchise's multiplayer each year by chopping and changing mode dynamics, so they've managed, by honing their techniques with masochistic abandon, to keep the old code fresh. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will be no exception.
In fact, Treyarch's director of online Dan Bunting reckons the new game's moment-to-moment visuals will rival previous Call of Duty marketing shots, which are arranged to showcase everything the game offers at a glance. "We'd take a map or a block out which was just really rough textures, no detail at all, literally just blocks that define the gameplay," Bunting explained. "We'd take it from block out to our polished phase where we'd call it the 'beautiful corner'.
"We'd take a corner of the map and say: 'here's a vertical slice, let's just pimp this out, make it as beautiful as possible.' That would set the bar for our level designers. When we formed this team, we said to ourselves: 'well, what if we took that 'beautiful corner' process that we do on each map and apply that to the entire game?'" It's just an aspiration, of course, but there does appear to be some brain-muscle behind it. Scroll down for more.
1. Buffed-up lighting and shadows
"Lighting is the first area of emphasis, lighting is everything, lighting is what brings the room together, so to speak," Bunting told us. "It's kind of the thing that makes the environment feel immersive. Once you do lighting and effects, that's when your environments start to shine." Black Ops 2 aims to better its forebears via a combination of high dynamic range lighting and something called bounce lighting, which simulates the way photons ricochet off surfaces.
This couples with ambient occlusion techniques, which replicate how light attenuates as it travels, to change the entire colour chemistry of each scene. "If you walk into a room in the real world you get the same effect - light comes in from a window, hits the floor and bounces around, and as the light bounces around the room you see much darker shadows in the corners." The hoped-for overall result: environments will seem "deeper", more atmospherically nuanced, and objects will "pop" out at you more. "You'll see a lot more gradations between the shadows and the light, the high definition textures and the material and the world around it reflect light much more accurately than they have in the past."