What’s In A Name? Irrational Returns

By John Walker on January 9th, 2010 at 9:37 am.

Ahhh, that's better.

There’s power in legacy. It’s a power, a significance, this industry is only just old enough to offer. Which makes it peculiar that publishers so often seem determined to conceal it all with the incessant anonymisation of acquired studios. As Ubisoft, EA and 2K (among others) buy and rename studios, we’re left with a collection of studios that presumably present well on a Power Point demonstration in a shareholder meeting, but do little for allowing gamers to associate a particular studio with a particular legacy. I think the importance of this has been severely underestimated. We seek out the films from particular combinations of actors or directors, we buy the next book by the same author, and I think that very often people are loyal to studios. There has to be a huge audience who would have bought anything with the name “Irrational” on the box, who aren’t going to remember 2K franchise they were. Oh, wait, that example’s no good any more. No more are they 2K Boston! Game Informer reports they’re Irrational once again.

The announcement isn’t quite finished yet. The next issue of Game Informer (in the US) is to explain everything properly, coinciding with the relaunch of Irrational’s own website. (The site is currently just a loudly clicking countdown timer, ticking away the seconds until 12th January when more becomes clear. However, a few snippets are already available. Game Informer’s teaser for the story informs us,

“After repeatedly being referred to as “2K Boston (formerly Irrational Games),” the team members recognized a value in the previous identity and the legacy that was tied to it. So, the name was changed again; 2K Boston is no more, and Irrational Games is back.”

They imply that it’s not just an aesthetic change, but rather an attempt to connect with their own history – a developer who, born out of Looking Glass, brought us System Shock 2, Freedom Force, Tribes: Vengeance, and of course BioShock. The new website will apparently contain information about those games, and “insight into the game creation process.”

Of course, this all leads one to assume we must be getting close to an announcement about their new game. Game Informer, famed for often carrying the biggest surprises on its cover, could well be about to finally announce whether Ken Levine and his gang are working on a new XCOM game, or something completely different.

There’s power in a name. It’s good to see 2K and Irrational realising that.

Oh, and if you think a studio changing name isn’t a very interesting news story, here’s some pictures of a baby panda escaping a cot.

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58 Comments »

  1. robrob says:

    They’re working on a sequel to Enforcer. You heard it here first.

  2. crumbsucker says:

    This is not always a good thing though; like when they’re desperately trying to keep alive ancient brands (like Atari or Commodore), even if the company associated with the name today has nothing to do with the original one anymore.

    • Neut says:

      Yeh but isn’t the point of this that they are basically the same Irrational people that made System Shock 2?

    • crumbsucker says:

      Of course. What I was trying to say that there are other examples when they’re just shamelessly trying to bank on the older gamers’ (misguided) nostalgia when they’re bringing back these old brands. This is clearly not the case here. (I hope anyway).

    • Bhazor says:

      Didn’t half the team, including Levine, leave after Bioshock shipped?

    • Jimbo says:

      Ken Levine is still with Irrational, they just aren’t working on Bioshock 2.

    • Nick says:

      “(misguided) nostalgia”

      What?

  3. Casubon says:

    Ooo. Panda!

  4. Paul says:

    I wish they would rename 2K Czech back to Illusion Softworks, but I guess they are not famous enough : /. All companies should rename their studios back to their good old known names.

    • Optimaximal says:

      I doubt EA could even begin to attempt that given how they consolidated half their studios…

      Would EA LA would become Dream-wood Studios Pacific?

    • BAReFOOt says:

      You know what I *really* wish for?
      Bullfrog living again!!! :)

  5. pkt-zer0 says:

    Please be X-COM and please be good.

    Hey, it’s so unlikely it might just happen!

  6. Tei says:

    The seed for greatness is something called “know-how”. Is just a pre-condition, but withouth it, you are limited to “really good” and nothing more, but there exist a upper score.

    Supposedly wen you create a studio, and it manage to produce greatness(Pixar ), is because you have a bank of know-how. This bank can be disolved, and one with the same name generated, but that would not do the magic, since the know-how is dispersed. Often the know-how is soo dispersed that every small item of it try to make games again, with good results but not amazing (Mythos/Torchlight). A big pach of know-how can concentrate, and by the lacks of other elements, fail, or by the lacks of luck, tons of things on bussines need the element luck.

    So a name is recreated, will it contain the know-how that made the name memorable for some?, will it contain all the other pre-conditions?, will it have luck?. these are the questions.

    • Octaeder says:

      @Tei

      Um, I think your question can be paraphrased to “are they still the same guys that made the good games?” To which the answer, I’m pretty sure, is yes.

  7. TheSombreroKid says:

    the swat games were good too, the name change means nothing to the people outside the company anyone who knew who irrational were knew they’d had thier name changed just as bioshock came out, inside the company you go from being able to choose your own name to being forced to be called 2k 0×001, it doesn’t do much for morale.

  8. Solivagant says:

    When will X-COM finally be announced?! I’m too anxious!

  9. Kadayi says:

    I guess it makes sense in that it ties them more to a legacy, esp in a day and age where in people increasingly identify with studios in terms of product. It also of course opens up the potential for them to be sold off to someone else as an known asset if required in these difficult times.

  10. Casimir's Blake says:

    The first thing they should do is drop Bioshock. Make another “proper” XCOM or System Shock game, guys. Seriously they’re both way, way overdue.

    • Kris says:

      Well it 2K Marin doing the sequel, so consider Bioshock dropped. You could argue that the ‘know how’ has been dispersed as some of orginal Bioshock Team are now at 2K Marin. Then again, some people dislike Bioshock and might assert that there was no ‘know how’ in the first place. I’d disagree with that negative assessment, mind you.

    • Kadayi says:

      The System shock name is now owned by someone else IIRC. That’s why Bioshock isn’t System Shock 3. TBH though I think there is too much harping back to old games as a nostalgia trip, whose legacy is frankly lost on the current generation of gamers. When they announced the remake of Monkey Island everyone was fist pumping like crazy across the internets, yet when it was released everyone realised it wasn’t quite as OMFG epic and funny as they seemed to recall.

      Personally despite being old skool myself I prefer to see new games with new mechanics that push the boundaries (like Mirrors Edge & Portal) rather than rehashes of old games. Titles like SS2 were as much a reflection of the technological constraints of their time, as they were in terms of game play. If Carmack had invented the technology to make large open world games like Far cry 2 from the off, do you think we’d have ended up with corridor shooters like Doom, SS2 or HL?

    • TheSombreroKid says:

      people don’t want a system shock remake or a monke island remake, the want evolutions of the ideas contained within, no one is giving us the kind of experience we had in system shock 2 and deus ex any more, or heavily story driven comedy games with paper thin mechanics like monkey island.

    • Nick says:

      Nothing in the past was ever actually good, its ALL nostalgia, right?

    • Kadayi says:

      @Nick

      Given that computer games are very much still an evolving media (esp in terms of technology) , where in that which has come before inherently impacts and influences that which comes after it. When Half-Life was released it literally redefined the FPS experience at the time. Play the original today and it’s still a good well paced game, but it’s fair to say that there are richer gaming experiences that have come since, because the things that made Half-Life a great game (at the time) have been absorbed into the fabric of both game development & player expectation.

    • Subject 706 says:

      @Kadayi
      Thing is, you’re not always correct about that. Plenty of recent games are actually feature-poorer than their predecessors. SS2 is constrained exactly how by technology, compared to say, Bioshock??? Being able to make open-world games does in no way exclude the viability of games with more closed in worlds, nor does it in itself make games better.

      New mechanics are all well and good (Mirrors Edge being a great example), but they recently they seem to be the exception rather than the norm. Nostalgia can blind you to the flaws of old games, sure, but many older games are revered simply because they haven’t really been bettered, despite better technology.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      I do not want a REMAKE of X-Com, or System Shock 2.

      I would like to see modern “re-freshes” of both. Don’t care what they’re called, but whole new games using similar – if perhaps “tightened” – mechanics from the originals would be much welcomed. New levels, new stories, same gameplay. That’s all. (Oh and a new Ultima Underworld-style dungeon crawler is way overdue, but everyone’s too blinded by sandbox cities to bother with carefully crafted dank hallways and crevices… I can’t be the only one that finds the latter JUST as compelling?)

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      SombreroKid (you’re a troll but have some chow anyway):

      I said I want to see, not “everyone wants”. Don’t make baseless grandiose generalisations such as “people don’t want”, you just make yourself look vaguely similar to every Generic Internet Retarded Hater.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Subject 706

      Did I anywhere say always? Personally I don’t think that Bioshock is a particularly good game overall. Certainly it has excellent atmosphere, but the inherent problem for me is, that it is attempting to be the spiritual successor to System Shock 2 rather than it’s own game, and there in it falls down. Almost everything you interact with in the game is a derivative of something that was found in SS2. However an Ayn Rand 40s style underwater City is a big departure from an experimental space ship filled with futuristic technologies, and the developers don’t really have seemed to have embraced this. Fact of the matter is, there is a large disconnect between the vast underwater tower blocks you witness on arrival, versus the pokey linear corridors and hubs that make up the game space.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the studio behind Bioshock was also responsible for System Shock 2 (which I suppose is the point behind the article). For me, the common elements were what was most welcome in Bioshock…
      - it’s not so much set in a dystopia as it is a post-apocalyptic brave new world
      - when you first encounter a level it is stocked with bad guys; on your second visit, there will be a smattering of low-level trouble but nothing too taxing, just enough to let you know that you can’t wander about carelessly
      - neither game has living interactive good guys, so if you see a “friendly”, they’re about to encounter death by cutscene
      - audio logs left by dead people you can listen to as you play (building character and plot without slowing the game down)
      - get ammo from vending machines not just from looting (this helps maintain a level of supply balance)
      - a hacking minigame to get access to more/cheaper stuff
      … and so on. All of these helped to add to the game or to cover over its weak points in some way.
      You can leave the Rand stuff out as far as I’m concerned :-)

  11. Legionary says:

    I really enjoyed the various studio names, and dislike 2K for reducing creative names for companies to bland corporate “brand-conscious” blobs.

  12. fulis says:

    Don’t forget SWAT4! Damn that game is good

  13. Walter says:

    PLEASE LET IT BE SWAT5!

  14. Hunam says:

    I personally think this move is all part of the Modern Warfare 2 effect, Ifinity Ward are a developer fans and even Joe Public knows by name. If they were activision [city name] people wouldn’t have such a strong connection to it I feel. Seems like 2K are banking on this connection and the credibility of the Irrational name (as System Shock 2 seems to get mentioned more in media now that RPG Shooters seem to be a little more than a hardcore curiosity) to help push the next project into the same hights as Bioshock.

    Either way. Me likies.

  15. Premium User Badge Stense says:

    Nice to hear. Irrational have a wonderful history that the generic, faceless name 2K Boston never did justice to.

  16. Heliocentric says:

    Irrational games, formerly known as 2k Boston.

  17. bill says:

    It’s never made sense the way publishers keep assimilating, closing and renaming studios… just as they build up a reputation, and people start following their games… move half the people and change the name.

    Yeah… great strategy.

    There’s a reason valve, blizzard, etc… could release a flash game for $40 and everyone would still buy it.. because they’ve built up reputations.

  18. LionsPhil says:

    I’m surprised that the “Related Stories” do not list Change Your Irrationality.

  19. Gumbomasta says:

    This was definitely a smart move on 2k and Irrational’s part to go back to their prior name. I think, in general, we’re living in a time when micro genres and labels are really the only way consumers can navigate through such a fractured marketplace. Any label with a specific legacy or allure definitely helps raise its product’s profile in the eyes of consumers. Plus, Irrational is such a great name. How rare do you see a core team of people in the industry working together for this long? Most of the early 90s studios are disbanded that made the ‘classic’ games of that era have long disbanded.

    Most of the major dev studios that came from the era that Irrational was born in either disbanded rapidly (Ion Storm, Troika, Black Isle) or ballooned incredibly (Valve, Bioware). There was very little middle ground for one studio to just be out there and make the games it wanted, without turning into a much larger entity. Irrational seems an exception. They’re move to align with 2K was savvy and helped fund their magnum opus, and it’s a shame that they had to basically ‘sell out’ to do this. But whatever> Their game was a hit, so let them do what they want. And what they want is excellence and flexing their talents.

  20. terry says:

    This geographic studio malarkey always seems a bit counter-intuitive to me – suddenly my thought process for buying a game becomes some convoluted logic game. “There is a new game coming out by Rockstar. I like games by Rockstar as a rule so I will buy it. Who’s it being ported by? If it’s Rockstar Toronto, I’ll pass. And I’ll pass if it’s developed by New England, after THAT Bully port. What did San Diego work on? Did they do the duff Midnight Club or the good one? Was there even a good one? Who did the awesome DS GTA again? Who would build a studio in fucking LEEDS!?”

    So to summarise, hurrah for sensibleness.

  21. UK_John says:

    Too little too late….

  22. RogB says:

    names mean nothing unless its the same team. If Looking Glass or Origin came back it would mean nothing without the original talent who have probably been scattered to the winds.

    Recognition can also be abused too – see Infogrammes shameful adoption of the Atari brand.

  23. Chalee says:

    I agree completely with this article. I will buy anything that has the clover / platinum games name on it, simply because there is such a pedigree of constant excellence (and let there be no doubters!!)

  24. Miker says:

    Freedom Force, Freedom Force, FREEDOM FORCE!

    *sobs*

  25. enigma says:

    Did Irrational in Australia move?

    I still can’t really forgive them for what they did to the tribes franchise.

  26. Mehlicious says:

    Took them long enough to realize “2K Boston” sounds so utterly sterile, generic, and soulless compared to “Irrational Games.” What is with “2K” to begin with…is it supposed to be “2000″?

    Also can someone fill me in on the Tribes: Vengeance debacle? From what I understand they did a poor job of supporting and patching it. Was the game itself that bad? I hear SWAT franchise fans bitch all the time about SWAT 4…a game I really enjoyed but have no prior experience with the previous iterations. I’m wondering if that’s the case with Tribes also.

  27. enigma says:

    Mehlicious:
    I just remembered this old thread from tribalwar, I think it’s worth a read: http://www.tribalwar.com/forums/showthread.php?t=457247

    It’s not entirely fair for me to blame Irrational, Vivendi dropped the ball. They forced Unreal2/havoc on the development team, gave them no money, no marketing, they were plagued by the mass firings right before release, and they released the game around half life 2, wow, and other huge titles. It was dead on arrival and never got any support except from the community.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      Vivendi seems to enjoy hiring producers who believe that managing a game project is a zero sum game, i.e. the producer that makes his team really suffer is some kind of game development stallion.

  28. Shadowcat says:

    It’s not going to be SWAT 5, that’s for sure. The SWAT series is a Sierra/Vivendi product. As soon as Irrational were bought by 2K, any faint hopes of them providing any more support for SWAT 4, or working on a SWAT 5, pretty much went out the window :/

    Which is maddening, because with just ONE additional feature (friendly A.I. in co-op, SWAT3-style), SWAT 4 would have been my perfect co-op tactical shooter; yet without that feature it’s not even close.

    Damn you, 2K.

  29. Shadowcat says:

    Mehlicious: Tribes Vengeance is a lot of fun as a single-player game. The jet-pack and skiing combination provides a FPS experience you don’t get elsewhere in a genuine single-player game.

    If you’re not a multiplayer Tribes fan, don’t let their discontent with T:V put you off trying it.

    Oh, and do play SWAT4, as well. Despite my previous comment, it’s still an absolutely fantastic game. It’s just that the co-op mode is effectively broken if you have fewer than 4 players :(

  30. Nick says:

    A sort of mix between SWAT 4 and X-com could be great.. I seem to recall back in the mists of time something like that was in developement or at least the drawing board stage but never came to be.

  31. hoff says:

    I’m so irrationally psyched for this. I can’t tell you how much I hated the name “2K Boston”.

    In fact, I almost forgot that the studio behind the original System Shock 2 was still intact after all these years.

  32. Anthony Damiani says:

    Do they own the rights to X-com?

  33. Tom O'Bedlam says:

    Oh please don’t tempt me with talk of a new X-com game. Twelve years I’ve waited. TWELVE!

  34. Kadayi says:

    @Subject 706

    Did I anywhere say always? Personally I don’t think that Bioshock is a particularly good game overall. Certainly it has excellent atmosphere, but the inherent problem for me is, that it is attempting to be the spiritual successor to System Shock 2 rather than it’s own game, and there in it falls down. Almost everything you interact with in the game is a derivative of something that was found in SS2. However an Ayn Rand 40s style underwater City is a big departure from an experimental space ship filled with futuristic technologies, and the developers don’t really have seemed to have embraced this. Fact of the matter is, there is a large disconnect between the vast underwater tower blocks you witness on arrival, versus the pokey linear corridors and hubs that make up the game spaces.

  35. Mark says:

    It’s funny but I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, mainly in the context of sequels. I think it’s very important that games start being promoted based on the involvement of prominent designers or distinct studios. To a certain extent this is already going on but only the most ‘hardcore’ of game players will recognise names like Tim Shafer, Ken Levine etc. Part of the reason cinema isn’t quite as prone to pumping out sequels in the same way that videogames are is that the names of popular actors and directors can be used to promote a film rather than just using the film’s name. Maybe if gaming could reach a similar point then 2K wouldn’t need to put out a Bioshock 2, they could just put out a new IP ‘from Irrational Games’ or ‘from Ken Levine’. Of course this could just be wishful thinking on my part, maybe the industry won’t be ready for this kind of shift for years.

  36. drewski says:

    I think Infinity Ward are probably at that point now, Mark. They can farm off the straight to video sequels to lesser houses and start working on their next Michael Bay blockbuster.

  37. Masked Dave says:

    I think they do realise the importance of brand loyalty only to well, which is why they want good games to be remembered as being 2K. You might not remember if it was 2K Boston, 2K Sydney or 2K Stoke-on-Trent that produced the game exactly, because they are all bland and similar sounding, but the 2K bit sticks out.

    Irrational is great for that studio’s output, but it doesn’t like their other studios ‘borrow’ it’s kudos.

    I’m not saying its good for us as consumers, but don’t assume stupidity on the publisher’s side.

  38. Premium User Badge KindredPhantom says:

    Aww what a cute panda.