So, boom! Activision opens its secret payload to deliver a special Christmas tech megaton - Call Of Duty: Black Ops will hit in proper, stereoscopic 3D. That was the news being blasted out as I sat in a swish New York hotel last week, expensive electrical glasses perched on nose. Expectations were high and for the most part, Activision didn't disappoint.
Call Of Duty in 3D is pretty terrific. Everything is pulled into tighter focus. Your gunsights (even better: crossbow sights) are front and centre in the foreground, alongside your radar and objective text, or arrow if you're heading in the wrong direction.
Everything else exists in varying levels of background depth which all combine to create a compelling sense of gameplay depth. It's affecting and subtle, but it has to be - otherwise you'll be enjoying a grinding headache within minutes.
It's no game changer like HD was for television broadcast, but I came away impressed and downhearted. Why downhearted? Because I always told myself that 3D was for later. A vanity purchase for next year when I didn't have expenses more pressing, like a holiday or a new car.
Having sat through two missions and Combat Training, I really, really wanted to play through Black Ops in 3D. This is going to be the only way to experience the biggest game of 2010. Curse you for that, Activision.
But there was an interview to be done, one with lovely, cuddly favourite uncle-type Jay Puryear. He's the senior manager at Treyarch, and here's what he had to say.
Eurogamer: Let's start with some background. How come Call Of Duty is suddenly in 3D?
Jay Puryear: Well, it wasn't even [Treyarch's] idea. It was some very smart guys at Activision – engineering folks – who thought they could pull it off.
So we said, by all means investigate it, go ahead and try to get the tech to work for both systems. But know that if it's not up to par, or at least up to our expectations, and it doesn't add something to the experience, it's not going to make it into the box.
Then we had the opportunity to see where they were at and we said, "Wow! This is fantastic! Let's go full steam ahead!"
Eurogamer: Is there any difference between the 2D and 3D games?
Jay Puryear: The product that you see here in 3D is the same product that's shipping in 2D. So we didn't add anything specifically for 3D, this tech is working with the existing title. And 3D is supported across all the different game modes: so multiplayer, single-player campaign and zombies.
Jay Puryear: Yes. And zombies. All three.
Eurogamer: Is there an idiot's version of the tech involved to turn 2D source code into 3D gameplay?
Jay Puryear: I don't know how much we want to get into the specifics of how we're doing it. But we've been enabled to figure out a way to do a left and a right screen, to do side-by-side 3D, so we're rendering two different fields.
In many instances we are hitting 60FPS, in some cases we're not, but the key to it all is making sure that in your field of view, it feels natural. So as you play it, you don't feel eye fatigue.
Eurogamer: It's amazing how fast your brain adapts.
Jay Puryear: That's the part we really tried to make sure was right. There are no options to set up 3D, you're not going to change the parallax. There is an option where you can go from 3D to 2D and vice versa. It is running at 720p and because we're able to find that sweet spot so you don't get that eye fatigue that some players receive in 3D.
We've had guys at the studio who have gone though the single-player campaign multiple times in 3D and really not even notice it. You just forget about it. You can also turn the cross-hair on and off as well, if that is a bother for some people.
Eurogamer: What made you decide to do this? Presumably it's a fair bit of work for what will be relatively small installed base?
Jay Puryear: We always wanted to look at the technology. We always try to push the envelope and with all the possibilities that the 3D TV offers now, it was more a question of, "Can we do it"?
The second step was, will it work for Call of Duty? Is it something we feel will add to the experience? And we felt that the 3D really gives you this immersive nature that's a little bit different to the normal 2D experience. Because of that, we felt that it added value to the title. As long as it was up to our standards for what we wanted, then it was going to go in.
So if you asked me a few months ago if it was going to make it... It was a fifty-fifty kind of thing, we just didn't know. And so when we saw the demo, and when we saw that crossbow for the first time, we were like, OK, how do we make this happen?
Eurogamer: If you couldn't ship it, would it have been in an update?
Jay Puryear: Potentially. I think really once we saw it working, we really wanted to make sure, how can we get it in for 9th November?
Eurogamer: So how on earth did you fit a 3D solution into a game that's on crunch?
Jay Puryear: Having lots of smart people. It wasn't something that was necessarily developed in house at the studio. It was some R&D tech support through Activision, by some engineers that they had there.
It was something that they brought to us. It was mentioned that we'd like to do it, that they were going to be working on it. We said that we can't stop what we're doing, but if you can make our timeline...
Eurogamer: So the tech was out-sourced?
Jay Puryear: It was internal, from some of the engineers from different teams at Activision.
Eurogamer: Having added 3D so late in the production cycle, are you worried that you'll come back and look at it later when everyone's really got their heads around 3D, thinking about all the stuff you'd do differently?
Jay Puryear: Let's not forget, it's still a fantastic offering in 2D. You don't lose anything, you just gain a little bit.
Eurogamer: Because if it was me, I'd have said: "No thanks! We're awfully busy here! We'll consider it for the next game!"
Jay Puryear: Believe me, that was where everybody was. We were definitely focused on delivering Call Of Duty: Black Ops, not looking at some other technology to go along with – to put another thing on our plate. The team's worked so hard and long and it's been such a passion of theirs for two years.
And to be fair to that, you wouldn't have what you have today if we'd set out to produce the game in 3D. It would potentially have been too much of a distraction for the team.
Eurogamer: So if you're playing online in 3D, do you get any processing pay-off from your console working to generate the 3D? Online shooting is such a twitch-heavy affair, you don't want to be at a disadvantage because your console is catching up, crunching 3D numbers...
Jay Puryear: Correct. So that was part of the equation as well. We didn't want to have it that you could only play single player, or you could only do zombies or you could only play multiplayer. We really stressed to make sure that whatever mode you like as a player, we would be able to support that.
Eurogamer: Also new is Combat Training – a mode where you can familiarise yourself with the levels, play against bots, not get spanked by 12 year-old ninjas from Ohio with reflexes like buttered cats...
Jay Puryear: In Combat Training you can have up to 12 characters on screen, you can go six-on-six co-op and any combination of that. We're actually playing 3 on 9 and right now it's free for all team deathmatch. But it gives you a chance to go through the guns.
Eurogamer: Which is great, because a big criticism of online shooters is that if you're a novice, going online is not fun, because you just completely get annihilated.
Jay Puryear: That really was one of the main reasons that they came up with Combat Training - to let players get the experience of the levels, give players the ability to understand the system, understand levelling up and the perks, et cetera.
Eurogamer: Zombies! What can you tell me about zombies?
Jay Puryear: Nothing.
Eurogamer: Oh come on. There's been an announcement and everything. Throw me a bone!
Jay Puryear: We confirmed that zombies will be in Black Ops. And that's all we're saying. You should be excited that it's back. I believe even in the press release it said it was one of the world's worst kept secrets.
Eurogamer: Not as bad as the PSP Go, but there you are. Were you surprised by the success of the first zombies? People went proper crazy for it.
Jay Puryear: People a hundred per cent went crazy for it. And you see its progression through the World Of War DLC. If you look at the maps that were on the disc compared to Der Riese, with the portals and the hell hounds, you can see how the game progressed through its iterations and became this great community game that everyone loves.
It's very exciting, and I think that the community is really going to love the new zombies.
Eurogamer: Even Rockstar is jumping on the band wagon with their Red Dead Redemption zombie download. Is that imitation, flattery or shameless rip-off?
Jay Puryear: I would say it's a compliment. Everybody knows Call Of Duty has zombies, but we're not the first one to come up with zombies in video games. But the bar is high.
Eurogamer: So the game's done?
Jay Puryear: It's been submitted, yes.
Eurogamer: So surely it's about time that you all go mental, start turning tables over, getting sacked for gross insubordination and launching multi-billion-dollar law suits?
Jay Puryear: Well, I'll do my best to keep my nose clean. And focused on the future. We do have some festivities planned, and a lot of people getting ready for vacation... We are at the end, just waiting to see how everyone responds to everyone's hard work.
Jay Puryear is senior manager at Treyarch. Call of Duty: Black Ops is out on 9th November for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS.