New 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' Game Ups the Zombies and the Graphics

"Call of Duty: Black Ops 3" game features the zombie mode storyline called "Shadow of Evil", featuring characters voiced by Jeff Goldblum and Heather Graham. Call of Duty

In the beginning, Call of Duty developers created the universe and a narrative. But when it came to Zombies—a game inside the first Black Ops video game—that was an afterthought.

It's perhaps fitting that a world in which the undead roam the Earth has an upside-down origin story. When Zombies was getting started, there was no tangible plan, no significant investment from the higher-ups. From start to finish, it was an Easter-egg project from the Treyarch developers who built it in their spare time in 2010.

The first Call of Duty games were known for their attention to military detail and their Tom Clancy–like approach to storytelling. Suddenly, in Black Ops, a third option appeared for players. Zombie mode allowed players to mindlessly shoot at hordes of the undead. Although Zombies didn't allow online multiplayer-mode, it did allow friends on the same console to split the television screen and cooperate with one another to survive.

Much like the debris spread all over the theater in the Kino der Toten map on Black Ops I, in which players try to stop a siege by Nazi zombies, the mode was put together using spare parts from the campaign mode or Treyarch's previous Call of Duty game, World at War.

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What was once purely a passion project thrown on the side in the first iteration is now one of the main selling points of the Black Ops III, which comes out this Friday. Five years since the birth of Zombies, it now has both a campaign mode–like narrative—two narratives, in fact, if you purchase the collector's edition with characters voiced by Jeff Goldblum and Heather Graham—and a universe with its own mechanics and graphics.

"When you start to do a creative project, you build a universe first and a story over time," Dan Bunting, multiplayer director at Treyarch, tells Newsweek. "We went into it with no sense of story, just purely gameplay."

The simplistic zombie mode created unlimited space for developers to build a coherent narrative in the subsequent games. But they didn't need to hammer a story out—the players themselves were already doing the job.

Related: Beta of 'Call of Duty: Black Ops 3' Shows a Slower, More Complex Gameplay

"The absence of story let the players' imaginations go wild," Bunting says. "We listened to what people were talking about [and] the conspiracy theories about it in the forums.… Tomes [are] being written about what the story is going to be like."

Like the universe in zombie mode, the universes in campaign and multiplayer are constantly expanding too. The campaign mode takes place in 2065, in a dystopian world, 40 years after Black Ops II. Military technology in Black Ops III has advanced far beyond that of its predecessors. The main characters are arguably more machine than man.

Along with a new narrative, this Call of Duty has new consoles to power the game with updated hardware and far better graphics and horsepower. Black Ops III is the first franchise game to be on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and it showed no remorse about moving forward. Treyarch announced Black Ops III's campaign mode won't feature on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Treyarch spent three years developing Black Ops III, a year longer than the industry standard development time for high-demand video games. With the extra time, they rebooted their movement system to make for a more fluid game fit for a new generation console.

And with that change meant many of the rules set in previous Black Ops games were thrown out the window.

"This project has been an exercise in breaking the rules we set up," says Bunting. "We wanted to bring a pure sandbox system of gameplay. When you change one thing—like the movement system—at a fundamental level, you throw everything off balance."

What the broken rules are, Bunting and fellow director Jason Blundell would not say. However, Blundell did slip in one twist: look out for an unconventional villain in main story or campaign mode.

"There are certain tropes that people expect from past Call of Duty games," Bunting says. "But like a good magician, we always try to lead to one place then turn them into something completely unexpected."