Black Ops 2 has barely just come out, but I’ve managed to spend quite a few hours fooling around with the game’s multiplayer mode (thanks to adjusting my sleep schedule from “plenty” to “not even close to enough.”) The one thing I came away the most impressed with was the brilliant map design.
Now, map design is something I’ve been fascinated with ever since playing Medal of Honor: Allied Assault all those years ago. The maps in that game were expertly crafted; typically, each one would contain three chokepoints, as well as sniper perches in cleverly placed locations that made them difficult to defend for unskilled players. In MoH:AA, memorizing map layouts would give you a strategic edge, which made it more than just a run-and-gun shooter.
Whatever happened to MoH:AA? Well, it pretty much became Call of Duty, as the people who made MoH:AA went off to form Infinity Ward and make the original World War II-themed CoD.
And that’s sort of fitting. Even though the Black Ops games are in the hands of Treyarch rather than Infinity Ward, I almost feel like their multiplayer suites are spiritual successors to Allied Assault in a strange, unexpected way. Sure, CoD has long since abandoned the World War II setting and replaced it with modern warfare, the Cold War, and even Black Ops 2’s pseudo-sci-fi near-future. But when you look at basic map design theory, Black Ops draws a lot from the old MoH games.
The essential feature of Black Ops’ maps is chokepoints. You see, instead of letting players run around willy-nilly, having a limited amount of chokepoints funnels them into the same areas, which keeps the action moving at a steady clip. An apt metaphor would be that wide open maps (like those found in Battlefield 3, for example) turn the fundamental competition into a game of hide-and-seek, whereas chokepoints make it a game of tug-of-war.
Now, both design philosophies—we’ll call them the Hide-and-Seek Philosophy and the Tug-of-War Philosophy—are completely valid, and there are plenty of people who love the wide-open layouts of Battlefield 3. But Call of Duty—especially with the Black Ops titles—is a series that’s known for being fast-paced. In fact, there are times where I’ve come back to Black Ops after playing some other shooters on the market, and it felt almost like everything was happening in fast motion. And Black Ops’ maps simply cater to this fast-paced gameplay.
Let’s look at Nuketown as an example. Sure, I know there are a lot of Nuketown haters out there, but it’s hard to deny its brilliance from a designer’s standpoint. See, you have a fairly symmetrical game map, with two houses separated by a street that has a bus and a truck for cover. Now, you have four options for getting through each house: go around to the left, go around to the right, go through the house, or go through the garage. What this does is steer players into chokepoints where action is pretty much guaranteed to happen. And this action is amplified in Nuketown due to how small the map is.
Additionally, each house has a room on the second floor with a window overlooking the street. These are your sniper perches. From these perches, you have a distinct advantage, though you can only see a small portion of the map from each one. And you can’t camp one of these perches safely for any extended period of time, since the windows face each other, making any window campers open to fire from the opposite window, and there are two distinct ways to breech the second floor on foot (from the balcony, or from the stairway.) All of this is set up in such a way that there are multiple strategies and counterstrategies constantly at play.
Sure, several people will try to argue that Nuketown is a mindless run-and-gun-fest, but those people obviously haven’t studied the map layout or noticed the tug-of-war-type situations that are constantly emerging and dissolving as the game progresses. Yes, I’m arguing that those naysayers are completely missing the point.
Now, in my time with Treyarch’s newest, I’ve realized that the Black Ops 2 equivalent of Nuketown is probably Hijacked, the futuristic cruise ship map. Well, technically Nuketown 2025 is the most obvious equivalent to Nuketown, but Hijacked employs a lot of the same design principles as Nuketown (with splashes of CoD 4’s Wet Works). The map is fairly small and somewhat symmetrical, with a limited amount of chokepoints on each side and a room on either side that acts as a sniper perch.
And that’s just one of Black Ops 2’s incredible maps. I could gush for quite some time about Cargo and Drone as well. Then again, I’d rather be playing Black Ops 2.
So even if you grow tired of the same old shooter formula, now spending the time you once spent in shooter lobbies in forums repeating the catchphrase “Call of Duty sucks,” you can’t really deny that Black Ops 2 contains a deeper multiplayer experience than you’re probably willing to give it credit for.
Editor / Social Media
Date: November 14, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*