Treyarch design director David Treyarch took to the stage at Eurogamer Expo this afternoon to discuss what it's like to be in charge of the design of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and dish the dirt on the game's new prestige system.
There are 55 levels in the main progression and 10 levels of prestige. As in previous games in the series, when you prestige you can choose to reset your level back down to one, gain a snazzy icon for doing so and do it all over again. But unlike previous COD games, when you prestige you will not lose all of the content you unlocked. Weapon experience, for example, will remain, so when you unlock a weapon again the game remembers the progress you've made with it.
"Prestige. PRESTIGE!" Vonderhaar began to laughs from the Expo crowd. "Congratulations. Here's a new icon. Repeat the entire game. What? What?
"This is a very simple example of how we are damned if we do and damned if we do not. Looking back at these mechanics, play 55 levels, hit a button, get a new rank icon, start over.
"I've been thinking about it non-stop, about how to get people to prestige. We kept going about it the wrong way. We kept saying, here are some more rewards if you do it. Here is this extra stuff if you decide to hit the prestige button.
"Then I looked at a graph of the people who play and what happens to them when they hit level 55 or whatever the max level is, and how they drop off, and how few people actually go to max prestige. I know they could go to max prestige because their time play suggests they could have. I have this data. I know this for a fact.
"They just stopped levelling. Maybe it's because we keep taking away everything. Maybe. Maybe that's the reason."
Then Vonderhaar showed the 10 Black Ops 2 prestige icons on the big screen - the first time they've been shown publicly.
"In Black Ops 2 prestige is not a start over system," he continued. "When you prestige in Black Ops I will not reset your weapon levelling. If you are level four on a gun you will still be level four when you cycle back around to that gun. Same with all your cosmetics, any camo you've unlocked or emblem, all the personalisation, all the fancy backgrounds you managed to achieve, all of that will still be there."
"Thank you!" yelled someone from the back of the audience, which sparked a round of applause.
"Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. In this case I feel damned if we don't try something new to get you to prestige. PRESTIGE ALREADY! Please, you can do it! Look at the cool icons you get.
"When you finish up the prestige you become the prestige master."
Unfortunately, Vonderhaar didn't show the icon you'll get for becoming the prestige master. You'll have to play the game yourself to see it.
Meanwhile, during a question and answer session, Vonderhaar addressed concern that the game will be unplayable on this side of the pond when it launches - as was the case for many when Modern Warfare 3 released last year.
"I have a lot of confidence in the launch," Vonderhaar replied. "There's a lot of effort that's going into it. But there are two things that go on: we are not in control of the internet. At all. Yet. And human error. People make mistakes. And it's possible something could go wrong.
"But I can say this. There's a lot of commitment here. In fact, while I'm here I see the threads going back and forth as the team prepares for launch. Look, every time we try this we think we got it. Then a couple more billion people show up at our door and we're not quite ready to hold them for our party. But I'm telling you we're really committed to doing the best we can so the game's ready for launch."
Vonderhaar then deflected a question about the Wii U version and the resolution and frame rate it will run in.
"I can't get into the Wii U details because the Wii U monster will have my head," he said. "As a title that's getting worked on to go with the Wii U at launch, the relationship between Nintendo and Treyarch here is actually nearly sacred, and it's really important all the information about the Wii U and Black Ops for the Wii U is developed and given to you in tandem."
He added: "I can tell you though that there's no lead SKU, and the 360 and the PS3 and the PC versions are all simultaneously developed by the same group of people. And we're playing all three of those platforms all the time in the studio."