Published on October 6th, 2015 | by admin

David Vonderhaar Interview (Studio Design Director, Treyarch) – Black Ops III

On the eve of the EB Games Expo 2015, Impulse Gamer had a chat to Treyarch’s Studio Design Director David Vonderhaar who has over 15 years of gaming industry experience. Probably one of the most well-known personalities working on the franchise, Vonderhaar joined Treyarch over 9 years ago as the Senior Online Manager on Call of Duty 3. The architect of the Pick 10 system in Black Ops II, Vahn, brings a passion for multiplayer games and eSports into his work. Since arriving at Treyarch, he has spent much of his time at the studio designing and refining the multiplayer experience into what it is today.

For our readers, can you tell us a little about your role at Treyarch and what it entails?

I’m the Studio Design Director of Treyarch. At a macro level, this means I am responsible for the design department at Treyarch, from a management point of view my team works with the game directors & studio management to develop the core designs for all game-wide features and systems. It’s a very experienced and professional team, so I largely try and stay out of the way and help them be successful when they need it.

More personally, I’ve traditionally invested the largest amount of my time on the competitive multiplayer game design, since it’s my passion, background, and where most of my professional experience is.


What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a very large game with a lot of constantly moving parts. Across the board, there are many passionate people who care about our game.

It starts with the 260+ developers who work on in it daily, then it extends to the millions of global Call of Duty gamers and fans of Treyarch. It also includes our publisher Activision.

Although everyone is after the same goal, which is to make the best game of our lives, there are certainly a lot of different voices to balance on the project, while also maintaining the vision the game director and the team has.

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops III – Story Overview

Call of Duty Black Ops III … easily one of the most anticipated games of 2015. Why do you think Call of Duty series resonates so well with the gaming community.

I would hope the answer could be as simple as, “because it’s fun and people like it.”

More practically, it’s a ton of game that has a broad appeal:

  • A 4-player co-op / single player campaign experience with a deeply dark and gritty narrative that you can get lost in.
  • A huge competitive multiplayer game with many social features.
  • … And a very accessible, fun, Zombies co-op experience.

Can you tell us a little about the story behind Black Ops III?

Sure, but only a little because we want people to experience the narrative without spoilers.

In Black Ops 3 you are a member of a prototype cybernetically-enhanced Black Ops Unit.  This was a group that is the epitome of “connectedness” and being wired-in. But then, suddenly, they fall off the grid and disconnect for the first time. Without explanation, what follows is the largest leak of intelligence in military history. This leads to the collapse of covert operations worldwide and creates utter chaos. Your mission is to go behind enemy lines and uncover the truth about what happened.

Zombies are quite popular at the moment, as a developer what draws you to this genre?

I don’t think it’s the genre that is the draw, per-se.

At the risk of grossly over-simplifying things, and from the perspective of a game designer, Zombies gives us opportunities to tell unique stories while developing fun gameplay mechanics and features that can only be explained or rationalized by the Call of Duty Zombies timeline and universe.

Even more importantly, we are hugely motivated and inspired by how the Treyarch fans adopted it so willingly. We play with our fans, and also communicate and connect with them back and forth. SO MUCH FUN!

Black Ops 3 Zombies_Shadows of Evil 1_WM

Are there an “developer” Easter eggs in Black Ops III.

Would it still be an Easter egg if I spoke to you about it?  I don’t know. Probably. Maybe not. Hard to say…

So how’s the anticipation amongst the gamer community regarding the upcoming release of Black Ops III? Do you ever visit the forums and social media sites to read the feedback and wish lists.

I’m as engaged with the Call of Duty fans on social media as I can be given my work load. They outnumber me 777,000 to 1, but I do what I can, when I can.

It’s not just me either. Many members of the studio as a whole are quite connected. Multiple times throughout the day someone at the studio will pass along a Youtube video, a link to a Reddit or message board post for us to actively discuss.

During our beta last month we had real-time Twitter feeds of fan feedback streaming on the monitors we hung on the walls in public spaces, so everyone could see the fan feedback in real time.

It’s a very-large, very vocal and passionate community we have here. So, of course, you have to balance social-media sentiment with the design and creative goals of the game.

However, I think being connected to the fans is important. No matter what, we make time for it, as it’s part of the dialogue and overall voice of the studio.


In terms of gameplay, what’s your favorite aspect of Black Ops III.

Easy! The entire game is online and playable with friends. That’s been a long-term goal of mine. I’m an online gamer and have devoted my nearly 20 year career to making online games.

With the gameplay tweaks, what do you think most gamers will enjoy the most?

Although a bit more substantial of a change than the textbook definition of “tweak,” I am optimistic that gamers will enjoy the gameplay that comes from the MP Specialist characters, with their weapons and abilities in multiplayer, and the cybercore and tactical rigs in Campaign.

With regards to development, how do you cast some of the Hollywood stars?


It truly depends on your point of view and what part you have to do with the casting process. For me personally, I always look forward to working with talented people who understand the material and are into what we are doing and want to be a part of it.

Lastly, when Call of Duty Black Ops get released in November… why should we be playing it?

Treyarch is back with a twisted and dark game narrative you expect from the Black Ops series. With up to 4-player co-op and more open-style battles, the campaign is less in a straight path and more off the rails.

Additionally, as fans have come to expect, competitive multiplayer has massive depth in both strategy and tactics. That starts with the pick-10 Create a Class systems introduced in Black Ops 2, which has over a hundred pieces of gameplay content to unlock. On top of that, players will now select from one of nine playable Specialists, each with a unique weapon or ability.

And finally, Shadows of Evil. The latest installment in the Zombies universe, contains all new surprises and game mechanics. You’ll have to wait to hear more about that though…

Official Call of Duty®: Black Ops III – Multiplayer Beta Trailer

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