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Why Black Ops 2 could be Activision's pre-emptive strike on Respawn

Opinion: The future is the new battleground between Activision and Infinity Ward's ex-bosses, and Tim Clark is delighted...

When visiting a developer's studio, the oldest trick in the games journalist's book is to stray from the PR-approved path in order to sneak a look at whatever concept art, map designs and other secret stuff has been pinned up around cubicle walls.

In more innocent times, you could even catch a glimpse of whiteboards stuffed with ideas (much like this). I even know some writers who'd take photos of their colleagues grinning with developers, posed just so they could zoom in on whatever design bumf was on the wall behind. Shameless.

Zoom

These days, the more savvy software publishers include clauses in non-disclosure agreements preventing you from writing about things you notice 'accidentally', and it's not unusual to have "you haven't seen that" hissed at you while wandering from the 3D modelling department, "we're capturing more follicular detail than ever!", to the sound studio, "we recorded all the guns being fired in a quarry".

[Note: For a while, every sound engineer seemed to think they were the first person to do this. It actually got a bit embarrassing.]

Times were slightly more innocent in 2008, when I visited Infinity Ward in LA. I was in the city for a first look at Treyarch's Quantum of Solace 007 game, but had arranged to do an interview Infinity Ward co-founder Vince Zampella and strategist Robert Bowling about the success of the first Modern Warfare.

As per standard form, we were given a quick tour of the offices, during which I spied some very futuristic looking concept art on one of the walls, along with a model of a sci-fi gun.

Curious, I thought, especially as Infinity Ward was known to be a one-game studio. So we ran a rumour that the developer was considering making a sci-fi game in Official PlayStation Magazine's gossip column. Not long after, the studio confirmed it was working on both a "future project", which would've been MW2, and "a unique new IP by Infinity Ward, that we'll have complete control over". Hello, new sci-fi game.

And indeed goodbye. Because that new IP never materialised. We'll likely to have to wait until the outcome of the pending Activision vs Jason West and Vince Zampella court case to find out exactly what went down, but it's interesting to note that the pair, who were fired in March 2010 for "breaches of contract and insubordination", are seeking to assert contractual rights over the Modern Warfare branch of the Call of Duty franchise in their claim against Activision.

Couple that with their previously stated desire to have "complete control" over their mooted new IP, and you can surmise tensions over ownership issues had been brewing for a long time.

Fast forward to now, and Zampella and West are heading up Respawn Entertainment, whose first game will be published under the same EA Partners program used to distribute Portal 2 on consoles. And - shocked face! - it will be a sci-fi shooter which, according to EA Games Label president Frank Gibeau, will "compete with things like Gears and Halo".

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