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Ex-COD Dev Says "You Can Only Do So Much" With Such A Big Series

"You can't demolish the things that people like about it."


David Vonderhaar made a name for himself with the Call of Duty franchise, having worked on the series at Black Ops studio Treyarch for nearly 20 years before calling it quits and starting his own studio. In a new interview with, Vonderhaar reflected on his time working on the juggernaut FPS series and spoke about what it was like working on an enormous franchise and the creative limitations that came with that.

"You can't demolish the things that people like about it. You can only do so much different within something that big. I want the whole game to be different, not just a little bit of this and a little bit of that, this game mode or that mode, right?" he said.

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Also in the interview, Vonderhaar said when a franchise gets "too big" and when "so much money" is at stake, things tend to get "complicated."

For his part, Vonderhaar said the best times he had making games during his career came from creating elements within a larger experience. He didn't name Call of Duty outright, but said those were the times "when I was alive and the team were alive, that's when you got the innovation."

In these moments, people stayed late, and not because they were told to, but because they wanted to due to their passion, Vonderhaar said.

At his new studio, BulletFarm, Vonderhaar is hoping to capture some of this. "That's how you should make games. That's the fun part. Can you make a whole game that way? We're going to find out," he said.

Vonderhaar also revealed that he contemplated retiring after leaving Activision and the Call of Duty franchise to drive around the country in his RV. He said nearly two decades of working on one of the biggest franchises in gaming would have made for a good career. But Vonderhaar said he felt a call to start something new so he could flex his creative muscles beyond what he was allowed to do within the confines of Call of Duty.

"When you get to be 18 years of making a game that's franchised in that way, that goes on that long, what you can do to that game gets harder and harder to do, because it's so big and popular for a reason," he said.

Vonderhaar's new studio is making a "AAA" game set in an original universe that features co-op in some capacity. He said he's intentionally being coy about the game's specifics because the team will spend the next year prototyping, and a lot could change in the creative process. "It's a co-op first-person shooter, and it's not going to be about killing a lot of people all the time. It's more nuanced than that. It's more personal than that. It's more innovative than that," he said.

Chinese gaming giant NetEase is backing BulletFarm financially. Chris Cowell, another former Call of Duty developer, followed Vonderhaar to BulletFarm and is the studio's creative director.

"Starting this new studio has given me a chance to step out of my comfort zone and try my hand at making something entirely new and different. This is a departure from the games I've worked on, but one that showcases my passion for rich characters, precise mechanics, more intimate storytelling, and plenty of action," Vonderhaar said.

BulletFarm has numerous open positions listed on its careers page, most of which start at six-figure salaries. It's still early days for the game, however, and there is no word on platforms or a release date.

As for the Call of Duty series, 2024 will reportedly see the release of a new Black Ops game set, at least partially, during the Gulf War.

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