Call of Duty Black Ops designer starts new studio to create a more ‘intimate’ shooter

David Vonderhaar left Call of Duty Black Ops developer Treyarch last August, after 18 years at the studio where he worked as a designer on eight Call of Duty games. On Wednesday, Vonderhaar announced a new venture and studio called BulletFarm.

BulletFarm is developing a “new and ambitious AAA game built in Unreal Engine 5 and set in an original universe with an emphasis on cooperative gameplay,” according to a press release. BulletFarm and parent company NetEase Games say the new studio’s self-titled project will be a “more intimate and recognizable experience while offering a fresh take on first-person gameplay.”

Vonderhaar says he is working “out of (his) comfort zone” with BulletFarm’s debut project.

“This is a departure from the games I’ve worked on, but one that shows my passion for rich characters, precise mechanics, more intimate stories and lots of action,” Vonderhaar, studio head at BulletFarm, said in a statement. “NetEase has provided us with an incredible support structure to explore these new avenues and give us real freedom to start building the concept and ideas for our game.”

So far, BulletFarm has released two pieces of art that appear to be related to the new project. The one below offers a slight ’90s retro aesthetic, with its CRT television and vintage covers for Thrasher, Raygun and iD magazines on the wall.

Image: BulletFarm/NetEase Games

Game designer Chris Cowell joins Vonderhaar at BulletFarm, who also has 18 years of experience with Call of Duty. Cowell will serve as creative director of the new studio.

BulletFarm is headquartered in Los Angeles, but is described as taking a remote-first approach. The studio is actively looking for staff, a welcome contrast to the sector-wide news of mass layoffs in 2024.

Vonderhaar and Cowell were last credited in 2020 Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. This year’s Call of Duty entry is led by Treyarch, and it is reportedly a sequel Cold War Set in the Gulf War era of the 1990s.

BulletFarm and NetEase have not announced a release date or platforms for their new game.

Treyarch and Cowell’s departure from Treyarch is part of a larger trend of studio leadership and senior designers leaving the Call of Duty studio. In 2021, longtime Treyarch developers Dave Anthony and Jason Blundell announced a new studio, Deviation Games, partnering with Sony Interactive Entertainment to develop a new franchise for PlayStation Studios. In 2022, veteran Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting left the studio in the wake of a Wall Street Journal investigation into a sexual harassment allegation against him.