Interview: Josh Olin of Treyarch

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t dispute the success of both the Call of Duty: World at War map packs or the game itself. I had a few short questions to offer up the very gracious Josh Olin, community manager of Treyarch, about some various WaW-related topics and he was nice enough to respond with some very candid and informative answers that I think all of you World at War fans should enjoy. So, call the dogs! I’m sitting down with Josh Olin.

Molotov Cupcake: The zombie maps seem to keep evolving into a fleshed-out experience, even adding character bios and real playable characters to take control of rather than faceless soldiers. Is this a hint toward a move to creating a separate Nazi Zombies spinoff title?

Josh Olin: CoD:WaW’s Zombie mode is a really long story… The short version is: we never really knew how popular it was going to be. It started as just a side-project for some of the developers here during the development of CoD:WaW (like a mod), but rapidly began growing in popularity within the studio. It got to the point where most people were spending their free time playing it, so we decided it would be cool to dedicated some resources to polish it up and put it on the disc for all to enjoy.

After the game shipped, we quickly realized just how much of a Zombie epidemic was sweeping our online community. It became very clear that we had the opportunity to really blow the feature out with downloadable content.

So that’s precisely what we did with Verruckt, Shi No Numa, and most recently Der Riese. Each Map Pack brought this iterative improvement over the last, and continued to add more new features while retaining those features introduced in the previous pack.

Candidly, there has been talk about what we want to do with our Zombies moving forward. I don’t think we’ve even got that decision made yet, much less are ready to discuss it.

Molotov Cupcake: Are there any more planned map pack releases after Map Pack 3?

Josh Olin: Anything is possible; I guess it all depends on the success of Map Pack 3, as well as how our agenda here at the studio pans out. As developers, we love downloadable content, as there is always something we can improve upon or iterate on with another go. It’s all just a matter of timing.

Molotov Cupcake: What inspired Treyarch to implement devices such as teleporters in Der Riese?

Josh Olin: The teleporters are just a fun way to move around the map. The idea is, you never know what might be on the other side, but in most cases it is probably better than the overrun swarm that you may be facing prior to teleporting. Of course there is a certain story element to all the trinkets in our Zombie levels, but we don’t want to give all of that away.

Molotov Cupcake: What determines when a new map pack will be released and if it will be – demand by players, sales, or simply the desire to keep pushing more content to keep people playing?

Josh Olin: All three, actually. Of course if nobody is buying it, then that’d be a good sign to stop making it! Fortunately in our case, that hasn’t been an issue. So to us, it’s more about timing; how long it takes us to collect the feedback from the prior pack, and incorporate that feedback into our next DLC. Take Breach, for example (1 of 3 new MP maps in Map Pack 3) – players wanted larger infantry-based maps, that were not sniper-fests. We created Breach as this dense Urban environment with lots of buildings, flank points, and obstructions that allowed for that larger Objective based game mode to play really well, without forcing the players to just dodge sniper fire the whole way through.

As entertainers, we always want to ratchet that bar up. We’re not blind to reality – CoD:WaW was not a perfect game, and there was a lot we wanted to do that we just didn’t have time to. When you have a deadline you can’t move (ship date) some things you may have really wanted to do get sacrificed.

DLC is a way to bring those things back to life. Nazi Zombies is a perfect example of that – we put a lot of effort into the original level that shipped with the game, but didn’t have time to do nearly as much as we wanted / imagined. Our MP content too; Nightfire (from Map Pack 1), for example, was a level we were originally developing to release with CoD:WaW. We just didn’t have the time to finish it, polish it, and put it in the box – but we were able to make that vision into a reality by way of DLC.

Molotov Cupcake: How did you come to be community manager at Treyarch? Was it always your dream to join up with them or did you happen upon it out of luck?

Josh Olin: I always wanted to be in game design in one form or another; I even started my own PC modification for Call of Duty 2 back in the day. Over the years, as just an everyday gamer, I began to latch onto blogging, and took a real interest in getting my voice out there as a critic. That slowly evolved into operating one of the largest Call of Duty fan sites on the ‘Net.

Before I knew it, I was flying out to preview events for the new Call of Duty flavor of the year, and breaking bread with some really awesome industry insiders. One day the call came; Treyarch was seeking a community manager for CoD:WaW, and I was a recommended candidate.

I’ve come to learn that game studios love pulling from their community for talent. If you’ve made a great mod, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. If you’ve made a gripping independent Machinima trailer, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. That kind of self-motivation & passion in an individual speaks really loudly to recruiters in this industry.

So do I consider myself lucky? I don’t like to call it luck – I worked hard to get my work out there, and it paid off. Am I fortunate? Absolutely!

Molotov Cupcake: What do you have to say on the fact that many gamers turn a disapproving eye to World at War and claim that Infinity Ward did it “better”?

Josh Olin: I think every game has critics. Selling more than 13 Million copies of World at War worldwide, as well as a few million map packs and counting is a resounding testament to the fans who do enjoy CoD:WaW. No game is going to fit every gamer’s taste. If any developer tried to accomplish that, all their games would really suck =P.

Molotov Cupcake: Be honest – the Monkey Bomb or the Wunderwaffe?

Josh Olin: Monkey Bomb, definitely. The Wunderwaffe is a fine weapon if using the proper strategy, but I find myself more interested in a Ray Gun + Browning combination anyhow. The Monkey Bomb, however, is universally clutch for every player. If you’re at a high level, and a teammate goes down – you let loose a Monkey Bomb while you revive your teammates, or you’re dead.

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