The Call of Duty Zombies mode is such an integral part of the series these days that it's hard to imagine a Treyarch CoD game without it. That wasn't always the case however, as Treyarch lead Mark Lamia told Wil Wheaton in a new episode of the PlayStation-sponsored Conversations With Creators web show.
"I probably shouldn't even be here as a studio head because I let this thing happen at a time when development was strained and the team was in a difficult place trying to release a historically authentic cinematic World War II game," Lamia said. "And then you hear, 'Have you heard? They threw a zombie in there! It's a Nazi zombie! Everyone likes to kill Nazi zombies, it's a fun new game co-op mode!' And I'm like, 'This hasn't been greenlit, what's going on?'"
The zombies mode was thrown together during a crunch period, where the team was working overtime to meet development goals, so scripters and programmers made do with what they had. The zombies' movement, for example, was taken from motion capture of actors giving the performance of injured soldiers wandering the battlefield after an air raid. Word spread around the office about the project and individuals began to volunteer their time to make the mode a complete asset. "It was total grassroots," Lamia said.
The problem came from the disparity between having a silly-but-fun zombie-killing mode in a game that was being advertised as a gritty, authentic portrayal of WWII. "We made this deal with Activision … that it wouldn't get marketed. We wouldn't market this," Lamia told Wheaton as he recreated his meetings with Activision executives. "[I said] 'It's okay. Let us release it as an Easter Egg. After everyone's already experienced the artfully-crafted, beautiful Call of Duty that we've been working on for years, let them experience that game. After the credits roll, this'll surprise at the end.'"
Lamia noted how strange it seems now to not promote the zombies mode, a sentiment reflected quite well by the fact that CoD Zombies has grown into such a major phenomenon that Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 will feature Jeff Goldblum as a mustachioed magician. That's when you know you've made it.
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