Ken Levine “Winding Down Irrational Games”, Lays Off Staff

By Graham Smith on February 18th, 2014 at 6:00 pm.

Hmm.

In a post on the Irrational Games website titled “A Message From Ken Levine”, the BioShock creator announced that he’s “winding down” Irrational Games. What does that mean? All but a core team of fifteen developers are being laid off, so that the remaining few can focus on new ideas, “a long period of design”, and the idea of “replayable narrative”.

This is a surprise.

Irrational are about to release Burial At Sea Episode Two, the final piece of BioShock Infinite DLC. It’s not uncommon for teams to lay off staff members after finishing a large project, but given the success and long history of the company, it’s a surprise to see such drastic change.

In the post, which is short and worth reading in full, Levine explains that a new project will be announced in due course. In the meantime, he’s clear on the goal: “To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable. To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally.”

He also says that he initially thought the only way to pursue a project like that was to use a “classic startup model,” but that Take-Two – Irrational Games parent company – convinced him that he should tackle the challenge while remaining at the publisher. That decision presumably is what led to Irrational Games being re-made, with fewer employees, “a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers.”

It also means no more BioShock games from Levine or Irrational: “I’m handing the reins of our creation, the BioShock universe, to 2K so our new venture can focus entirely on replayable narrative.”

The idea of Levine and some experienced developers focusing on new, ambitious projects is undeniably exciting, but it’s never good news when people are losing their livelihoods. It’s especially painful to watch that happen to a team as successful as the one which made the BioShock series. Levine says that they’re doing what they can to find those people new jobs – working with other other internal 2K teams, holding a recruitment day, giving people time to build their portfolios while remaining at the studio – but this is going to mean a lot of struggle for a lot of people.

It raises a lot of questions. Could Take Two have given Levine a new team, within the publisher, and left the staff at Irrational Games where they are? Even if Irrational Games needed to change its name again without Levine there, don’t they now need someone to start work on producing future BioShock games without Levine at the helm? If Levine had decided to go independent, would all those people at Irrational Games still have a job, or was this the result of some broader corporate re-structuring at the publisher?

If you’ve got any first-hand information on the subject, you know how to reach us. In the meantime we’ll reach out to Take Two to try to get answers to some of these. If you’re a developer interested in hiring some of Irrational’s former staff, please hop through to Ken Levine’s post, which has contact details. If you’re a former employee now on the look-out for work, someone friendly person has put together a big list of recruiting companies here.

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142 Comments »

  1. WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

    Of course my greatest sympathies to all those who have been laid off. I hope they get a new job soon.

    From a purely creative standpoint, this may be just what Levine needed. In my opinion, System Shock 2 was a masterpiece, Bioshock was great from an art and narrative perspective but mediocre from a gunplay perspective, and Infinite was great in terms of art but bad in terms of gunplay and a whole new level of bad in its story. Since the games were declining in quality quite dramatically, hopefully this new “focus on replayability” might give us something good. Can you imagine the level of anticipation if this new-Levine announces something like SS2/ Deus Ex/ Thief/ Ultima Underworld? It would redeem him for putting me through Binfinite’s “ending”, for me.

    • onsamyj says:

      This.

    • Gurrah says:

      Well, to be fair, the gunplay in System Shock 2 was appaling. If anything the man’s consistent. I always liked the gunplay in the Bioshock games though, it didn’t feel like you’re a military trained ace, always aiming true, it felt more like what the guns represented – cobbled together boomsticks.

      • Muzman says:

        I’m not sure I get what ‘good gunplay’ is. SS2, a survival horrorish RPG, was so immersive and hard firing a gun was pretty intense and impactful and you had to be surgical about it.
        Bioshock, a purported shooter, had weightless squishy controls and weapons. You felt like you were detached, behind a screen or in a suit before you actually were. Technically I guess the tag was right though. You did shoot things, quite a lot.

      • cunningmunki says:

        The combat in SS2 was exactly at the level it needed to be for the type of game it was. If you found it difficult it’s because it’s supposed to be difficult, that was the point.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      You know its not all about Ken?

      If he wanted to focus on something new he should have done what every other big name in the industry is doing and leaving the company to setup their own startup.

    • piedpiper says:

      I wanted to spit Ken right in the face after that “meaningfull’ ending.

    • Mindfreak4563 says:

      I liked the story in bioshock infinite.

      • mwoody says:

        I really, really did, too. I have no idea how the zeitgeist just decided it was terrible one day. I have my issues with how linear the game was, and how the city never really felt like a place to explore, but the storytelling – and the story it was telling – was outstanding.

        • Kal says:

          Indeed. I thought the story in Infinite was thoroughly engaging, and I really enjoyed watching Booker and Elizabeth’s relationship develop. There’s no accounting for taste!

        • malkav11 says:

          I loved the story in BSI, but the naysayers were immediate and very very vocal, so I wouldn’t characterize the zeitgeist as ever having been very positive, reviewers aside.

          • Mark Schaal says:

            I’ve never seen any justification of how “a guy falls asleep at his desk and has a dream” is a good story. On the contrary side, many of us who remember “Who Shot JR” have a gut instinct to consider this about the worst story to tell.

          • drewski says:

            If that’s what you thought the story was, I’m not surprised you didn’t like it.

      • SRTie4k says:

        I thought it was decent up until the big reveal, then laughed it off as a shoddy and amateur conclusion to an alright story. To me it seemed like the first 3/4 of the story were planned ahead of time, then the writers couldn’t quite figure out how to wrap it all up so tossed “multiple realities” in to tie everything together. It was a poor explanation as resolution, and a sign that a writer got in too deep to dig himself back out.

        Taking a step back, it’s my opinion that introducing concepts like time travel, multiple realities and multiverse into narratives only muddies a good story because of the inherent paradoxes that those concepts create. Using them as a basis for a story is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself if the writers are aware of the potential ramifications of using them, but using those concepts as a deus ex machina of sorts is pretty poor practice and awfully convenient (not in a good way).

        • Kevin7557 says:

          Actually you are correct the original ending was removed because it offended a Christian employee who almost quit because of it.

          • Lars Westergren says:

            They didn’t change the ending. They changed how Comstock was depicted, and his theological arguments. The employee pointed out – “Why would anyone follow such a man?”. And considering how nasty is now, I wonder what Hitler-Satan lovechild he was before they changed him.

        • Nogo says:

          It’s clear that Binfinite was, fairly late, redesigned from a hub-based, branching storyline to a completely linear one. The parallel universes make complete sense in a branching storyline, but are of course utterly ridiculous in a linear game.

          Heck, Levine’s insistence on now making “narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable” and abandonment of the Bioshock IP further supports my little theory here.

          • mouton says:

            Why? Parallel universes is a setting, it does not mandate, by itself, non-linearity. Linear games are usually placed in worlds that ordinarily give much more options, you know.

      • pilouuuu says:

        I think it was predictable. It was decent enough, but its execution wasn’t well done. The focus on shooting instead of creating a believable and alive world is what hurt it.

        • mouton says:

          Maybe, but it wasn’t “whole newlevel of bad” as the OP said. Internet and its hyperboles. Everything we dislike must be “worst ever” or “ruined” for some reason.

    • Mark says:

      Very sad to see all those devs lose their jobs.

      On a side note all the ex-Irrational people I’ve worked with have said nothing but awful things about Levine and what it’s like to work with him.

      • Kevin7557 says:

        Can you share more details, I’d love to hear them. The guy seems like an arrogant arse to me who probably gets more credit for the work of those around him than what he achieves himself.

      • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

        Well that’s a shame, I respected him.

      • Zephro says:

        Yeah just this is a total dick move.

        No matter what people say about Infinite the place was gorgeous to look at, like Bioshock 1 and Freedom Force. That art/creative team are amazing and separating them seems like a really, incredibly stupid move.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I dunno “re-playable narrative” sounds a bit dubious. I just keep getting feelings about some Molyneux-esqe garbage marketed as some revolutionary new breakthrough in video game art.
      I rarely ever feel the need to replay any form of story-based game, I’d guess a large % of gamers are the same.
      Putting your main focus on a story that changes enough to be re-playable really doesn’t sound like the sort of ethos I want from a developer, I want good gameplay, couldn’t give a toss about the story, no matter how re-playable.
      I’ve always considered Bioshock to be incredibly overrated and never got through any of them fully due to getting bored by the repetitive and dull gameplay. Re-playable storyline is useless if people are bored of the gameplay halfway through their first playthrough.

      • Nogo says:

        I’m dead certain that Binfinite was the first stab at this, but the constraints of the IP and AAA status messed that all up.

      • Zenicetus says:

        “Re-playable narrative” doesn’t make much sense to me either. Sounds like marketing buzz speak. If the story is good from start to finish, then why would I want to replay it? One way around that is to let the player inhabit a different character in the story… play the Witch instead of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, or play the Wizard. But the sheer effort to create those alternate perspectives means the first play-through will be compromised in budget and artist/programmer hours.

        Another way is branching story paths like Witcher 2, but that’s another big hit on the budget and it sounds like he’s trying to do smaller games.

    • rebochan says:

      Yes, I suppose firing 200 people to pursue his dream project is just what he needs.

      Forget the 200 people who are now job hunting in the worst employment environment in the history of the industry, you might get games out of it!

      I’d love to say the me, me, me tunnel vision of gamers is surprising, but nope. At least RPS had the basic decency to not do what Kotaku did and suddenly promote Levine and his supposedly amazing new project. RPS staff is fantastic and you’ve had the best cover story on this event today.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        Ken Levine is not in charge of 2K. 2K could have easily kept these people around if they wanted to.

    • engion3 says:

      He’s made the same game for past 10 years. Time for a new one.

  2. Erinduck says:

    “The idea of Levine and some experienced developers focusing on new, ambitious projects is undeniably exciting”

    No, having played his recent games, I can absolutely deny that.

  3. daphne says:

    “To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable.”

    So, a Day Z derivative?

    Yes, I’m being cheeky. But narrative doesn’t have a singular meaning in games any more, not with the meteoric advent of player-driven narratives.

    • jonahcutter says:

      Hopefully you’re being cheeky, because DayZ didn’t invent roleplaying in video games.

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      I assume he means story driven but repayable, like Dark Souls maybe. Day Z is a sandbox that allows player driven narratives, can’t imagine Ken going that way, he has been a story teller first and foremost in the past. The idea of him free to do that without pressure to force it into a AAA FPS framework is exciting, but my heart goes out to the affected staff. Hope something good comes of it for everyone.

      As for the BioShock licence, BioShock 2 was arguably the best one in hindsight. One of the best outsourced sequels ever, I’m sure 2k can keep it going (whether RPS commenters want them to or not).

      • Blackcompany says:

        Is it possible to mention quality gaming experiences or converse/debate the nature of ‘quality, replayable’ games in this day and age without mentioning Dark Souls?

        Not that I am complaining. Or disagreeing, for that matter. More just…wondering whether Dark Souls might be one of those games like DX:HR and Bastion were. At least, for me. By which I mean, games that changed how I look at gaming itself.

        DX:HR and Bastion both renewed my faith in narrative in games. In completely different ways, for completely different reasons. And both in a positive manner.

        And Dark Souls, with which I have finally clicked…it has taught me that a game with real challenge is a gem to be treasured. That even though it will punish me for playing, it punishes me not out of spite, but in order to make me better. I once feared Black Knights; now, I parry them and sneer at their corpses and move on to my next lesson.

        The trade off, of course, is that there now exist games – Skyrim comes readily to mind – that I can never, ever go back to or settle for, now I have clicked with Dark Souls. They simply aren…enough…somehow. I wonder if Levine can manage to do something like that, with a smaller, more focused team.

    • SoupDuJour says:

      I would not be surprised if the stuff Levine intends to make would turn out a lot more like the Telltale stuff (The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us).

      Multiple choices = replayability?

      But… not sure if want. D:
      Don’t have time or inclination to play single player games multiple times.

  4. BreadBitten says:

    Are you happy now you snooty “games critics”? Your “criticism” of Binfinite’s combat being at odds with the game’s narrative has caused Ken to reevaluate his studio’s development culture which cost the livelihoods of hundreds!

    I hope you lot really savor your glass of chardonnay and french cigarette tonight, for their blood is on the keys of your old-timey typewriters.

    [Sobs alone in a corner]

    • RagingLion says:

      I think Ken Levine had already stated this idea of pursuing these kinds of games before B:Infinite came out … I’ll see if I can find where – maybe it was this Gamespot interview?: youtube(dot)com/watch?v=JwsjALh2vYA. Edit: nope, but maybe I was thinking of this interview: polygon(dot)com/2014/2/18/5422834/irrational-games-closing-down-ken-levine-starting-new-studio but granted this was post-game-release. I still reckon Ken was thinking about this beforehand but I couldn’t rule out criticism pushing him further down this road. I just don’t know that this seems likely.

      I do really like Bioshock Infinite but it does seem hard to stick to that sometimes given the eventual force of criticism which came after I’d already played and had my great experience with it. I can understand some of the criticism but I think a lot came just because it did so much well that it evoked the hope of fulfilling on even more and it wasn’t able to do everything.

    • The Random One says:

      If I knew I had such power in my hands, I’d have been more careful. But now… Now it’s too late.

      *cries in the opposite, darker corner*

    • MichaelPalin says:

      You mean the myriad of critics who have invariably given the game a super high score and that have included it in the highest positions of most “best games of the year” lists?

    • pilouuuu says:

      What the deuce?

      Most critics gave 100% scores to that game. It was the gamers who complained about the shooting part being totally nonsensical and that’s because gamers weren’t paid by Irrational. Bioshock Infinite could have been brilliant if it had been closer to the first demos, but they ended up making a game that’s even more simplistic and not as good as the first Bioshock, even if the messy and convoluted plot may make you think it’s something amazingly clever and complex.

    • Jackablade says:

      Infinite constantly fights against the FPS box it’s been crammed into. I’d speculate that Mr Levine would have liked to follow this creative direction years ago.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    Best of luck to the team, they’ve had a fantastic run.

  6. Paul says:

    I guess Ken just got fed up with 5+ years long development of AAA games and wants to make something smaller, put it on Steam/PSN/XBL and see what’s up. I am sure the laid off folks will have no trouble finding work, with their portfolios.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      I’d say he was bloody sick of it.. A lot of veteran Devs seem to be tired of the AAA process. And these types of mass lay offs are just part of that process. When you have a AAA size dev team it’s very expensive to keep them paid so after the project is done you have to lay them off. They’re guns for hire and they know it. I doubt many of the people laid off were surprised. You go from job to job, game to game.

      Working with 15 people is far easier, far less stressful and a much more focused team. They might actually make something I’m interested in now. I bet a lot of those people who were laid off are looking to work in or start a company of similar size.

    • cunningmunki says:

      Yep, my thoughts exactly. I wish them all the best and look forward to whatever they come up with next.

    • SoupDuJour says:

      Also, a lot of good stuff needs to be in pre-production for a while, where all the technical/gameplay/story issues are worked out. And then, once that’s done, bring in the hordes of 2d/3d artists, animators, etc. The 200 man horde is so expensive to keep on full-time for 5+ years, which means you need 5 million + sales at minimum, and that will affect what kinds of concepts are viable, etc. The higher the budget, the more all-round the concept needs to be (i.e., less niche) to be able to financially carry it.

      Don’t get why publishers don’t just do small pre-production teams and then 1 large actual production/finish-up team (consisting mostly of artists). But who knows, maybe they do.

  7. thedosbox says:

    That sucks for those about to lose their jobs, but many thanks for Bioshock.

  8. piedpiper says:

    I am afraid his new game will be even more terrible than Binfinite. Story of Irrational Games is a story of degradation and fading glory. From epic SS2 (still, not as epic as SS1) to powerfull Freedom Force to good but somewhat flawed Bioshock and in the end to totally atrocious Infinite.

    • HKEY_LOVECRAFT says:

      You neglected (or chose not) to include S.W.A.T. 4 and Tribes: Vengeance. I would have liked to have seen a sequel to the former, and I actually managed to wring some enjoyment out of the latter. I realize I’m in the minority on that last bit, of course.

      I wonder if either run on Windows 7 x64? There’s some nostalgia creeping into my gaming organs.

      • Warduke says:

        I’ve had a couple LAN parties with Tribes Vengeance. It was great fun.

      • piedpiper says:

        Somehow i missed them and just have no idea how good those games are. I hope they are.

      • jimmydean239 says:

        I have SWAT 4 Gold Edition and it runs fine on Win 7 64. There’s an easy tweak to get it running at 1080p too, it still looks pretty good!

    • drewski says:

      Eh. Freedom Force is alright, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still the worst Irrational game I’ve played. And SS2 is my GoAT.

  9. Alexander says:

    So no System Shock 3?

  10. Lars Westergren says:

    > To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable.

    Wow, that is *awesome* news (sorry for the people being laid off, of course). I’ve thought Irrational have some of the most smartest people in the business with some awesome stories to tell, but they’ve been hamstrung by the demands AAA games have put on them.

    Edit: “most smartest”. Hnnng. Sorry about that. I meant “most smarterest” of course.

    • Terragot says:

      I’m wary of the ‘core gamers’ reference as, to these people, it tends to mean single males who like shooting people.

      • Lars Westergren says:

        I hope that is what they are trying to get away from. If he wanted to cater to those, do you think he would have mentioned narrative games?

        I think by core gamers he means people like those here on RPS. PC gamers, who have been gamers for a long time.

        > In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.

        When they started, they did games like System Shock, SWAT and Freedom Force. Just saying.

        • Oasx says:

          I consider Freedom Force their best game, so i don’t think it is too bad if we would see something similar to their early games.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          System Shock and SWAT are infinitely better games than the nonsense of the Bioshock series. I don’t care one jolt about re-playable storyline if the gameplay is dull and repetitive, I’m probably not going to experience the storyline all the way through once because I will stop due to boredom. That’s what happened to me with the Bioshock games, I didn’t even finish one playthrough let alone want to start a second, the gameplay was that mundane.

          Something like SWAT, at least as a co-op game, gave a unique experience that was incredibly replayable due to randomised positioning of objectives etc. To me SWAT 4 has not been beaten as a game of that type, Payday 2 being the closest thing to it so far. I would dearly love to see what they could do with a new SWAT game after nearly 10 years but alas it seems they are going for some more storyline based drivel.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      Yeah that big pile of cash, huge team, limitless resources and publisher backing really prevented Levine from being good.

      • Vinraith says:

        Everything you just mentioned comes with giant strings attached.

      • Lars Westergren says:

        I didn’t say that he wasn’t good now! In fact I loved the Bioshock games. I’m just eager to see what they can do when they aren’t constrained by publishing bots going “Yes, but will it play in Peoria?” Running free, creative juices spilling everywhere…

  11. Infinitron says:

    “Ken Levine is tired of making AAA games. You’re all fired.”

    • RedViv says:

      “You’re in my way, team.”

    • drewski says:

      What’s the alternative? Force him to make a game he doesn’t want to?

      People are allowed to try new things ffs.

      • Josh W says:

        The problem is that a large amount of many people’s effort has gone into their games. There is IP, tech and reputation tied up in irrational, which is the work of many people. There was also an office.

        Now if a load of the sacked irrational people want to carry on some of the work they were doing before, there are all sorts of barriers in their way. Legal barriers about who owns the work they’ve put in.

        Suppose Levine does what valve have done lately, and hands off whatever tools are needed to the new companies? Awesome, the problem is resolved. Otherwise it’s an amplification of the problem of big name producers taking credit for the work of their teams. He’s got all the results of their work, and quite likely doesn’t want to use much of it. This image doesn’t get to the heart of it, but imagine him sitting in a mostly empty building with his small team, boxed up computers all around him, while across the city different ex-colleagues cram into small rooms with first draft networking, second hand replacement kit etc.

        His new direction sounds great, the corporate politics side sounds awful.

        Edit: And to be fair to him, I wouldn’t be at all suprised if that thing about giving out resources is exactly what he does; it fits what he’s already mentioned about turning the office into a career centre for a few weeks, it’s just a question of if he goes far enough.

  12. puppybeard says:

    Right. Take Two actually own Irrational Games. Call me a tinfoil hat wearer, but is this not just a big publisher dissolving a studio and getting the top talent to stay on in a different guise? And getting someone else to deliver the news?

    Can Ken Levine actually shut a studio he doesn’t own?

    • NotToBeLiked says:

      Since the studio was able to work on Bioshock Infinite for as long as it did, I’d guess his contract with 2K states that he has a very large say in how he runs the studio.

      If 2K wanted to intervene in some way, it would have been more likely to force them to make games faster, instead of just giving 15 people the opportunity to mess about a bit & experiment on 2K’s payroll.

    • Jackablade says:

      That would be the logical explanation if Levines new team hadn’t gone straight back to working under 2K. Presumably if this move was driven by issues with the publisher, the two would have parted ways entirely.

    • drewski says:

      Looks that way to me.

      T2 ask Ken to start a new Bioshock game, he wants to do his new thing. T2 are fine with that but aren’t going to bankroll 185 Irrational staff while they figure out how to reboot the IP.

      Solution: close studio, give Ken his small team, move on.

  13. His Divine Shadow says:

    now that came as a shock

  14. Frank says:

    Yeah, it’s a weird move to lay them off: bad rep among consumers and staff throughout 2K, and dropping a bunch of talent specialized in iterating on a series 2K will surely continue to pursue. Maybe they plan to let Levine use the Bioshock IP exclusively for this new project, quitting the main series (so as not to dilute the IP, AssCreed style) and so have no further use for the rest of his team…?

  15. RedViv says:

    Hey, maybe this means we can also get five Gone Homes before his stuff is even out.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      That would be wonderful!

      Oh, how I adore that game. I think, if not for my perpetual infatuation with Crusader Kings 2 it might have tied with Kentucky Route Zero as my GOTY of last year. As it was, CK2 ended up GOTY second year running. And is looking to be a strong contender for 2014 as well. Send help! Please!

    • piedpiper says:

      I would prefer Gone Home to Infinite any day.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      Best summary of Irrational’s history I’ve ever read.

  16. someguyxx says:

    I know we don’t have all the details, but it’s very, very hard not to see this as a selfish move from Levine that costs a lot of talented, hardworking people their jobs.

    I believe Turbine also recently had layoffs, and the two companies are both in the same area (Boston?), so that’s a lot of game industry people to be out of work.

    • Smashbox says:

      Between this, Turbine, 38 Studios, and Harmonix’s fall from grace, the region is fucking dead.

      It really sucks. Here’s hoping Harmonix has success with the new game they just announced.

    • Jackablade says:

      Twitter has been full of studios looking to pick up displaced Irrational staff all morning. That’s where that ever growing document mentioned in the article came from. Losing your job sucks, but it looks like there’s plenty of other options out there, and to Irrational’s credit, they look to be doing everything they can to make the transition easier.

    • drewski says:

      You really think Take 2 would let a whole studio get fired just to give one guy a small team they could have given him anyway?

      If they wanted there to be an Irrational, there would be an Irrational.

  17. Chubzdoomer says:

    Wow… this just makes me want to cry. This is a huge, and I mean HUGE loss for the gaming community. Thanks to everyone at Irrational for crafting some of the greatest first-person shooters of all time! System Shock 2, SWAT 4, BioShock…

  18. The Sombrero Kid says:

    After Bioshock, 2K pulled a bait and switch with Irrational when the renamed the entire studio into 2K Marin/Boston/Australia. There was rumours the Bioshock team refused to work with him again, supposedly 2K Boston was almost an entirely new team, which they later renamed to Irrational. It seems like they are pulling the same shit again but this time aren’t even giving the existing staff their shovelware crap like 2K Marin got.

  19. Eschatos says:

    Narrative driven and highly replayable are two concepts that rarely go together. I’d like to see how Ken Levine plans to address that.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Obsidian pulls it off just about every time, in my opinion. So it can be done.

    • Shazbut says:

      The fear is that he’s referring to making interactive movies of the Call of Duty ilk, with one or two choices in ten hours: choices along the lines of “shoot that dude” or “do not shoot that dude”. With “shoot that dude” being wrong.

      If this is the case I will shoot myself

    • Gonefornow says:

      A nonlinear story is still narrative driven. Thus high replayability is totally possible.

      In other news, good riddance!
      There were two directions to go from SystemShock 2: Story-driven or world-driven. They chose the former and backed themselves into a corner with Binf.

      Hopefully good things come out of this, but I’ll remain sceptical until further notice.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Obsidian makes RPG’s with deep interesting game play and character development systems though, not just storyline, while I have played these sorts of games multiple times (Obsidian stuff as well as some of the earlier Bioware stuff) you tend to play those games in a completely different way, i.e. play a melee class once, a mage the next time etc, you are doing more than just choosing different storyline options the second time around.

      In my opinion they need to focus on gameplay as much as storyline because Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite were just too weak on the gameplay side of things. To me all it had was narrative and setting and it wasn’t enough to keep me enjoying the game once I got around halfway through. Which is why I am kind of dubious as to how good something they expect you to play through multiple times will actually be.
      Having said that I would consider System Shock 2 to have an immense amount of replayability due to the different ways to approach each situation. So lets hope they go that route rather than “on rails shooter where different things can happen each time you play it”. Combine the storyline and immersion of Bioshock with the depth of gameplay from SS2 and SWAT and it could be really special.

    • aleander says:

      By firing everyone until gameplay improves, apparently.

  20. derbefrier says:

    it sucks people lost jobs but when you work in any type of manufacturing industry these things happen from time to time.

  21. The Pink Ninja says:

    So basically in this team creative process I am the only person who matters and everyone is interchangeable?

    Nice, no wonder so many games suck so bad if this is how they’re created. Also classic correlation with increasing control and decreasing quality.

  22. db1331 says:

    That’s actually good that they’re handing the BioShock reins back to 2K. BioShock 2 was infinitely better than Levine’s last entry in the series.

    • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

      Uhh… Bioshock 2 was a bug ridden piece of shit. It was unnecessarily tacked on to what should have been the end of Rapture. It made no sense – why would a beta version of the Big Daddy be faster and better and able to use plasmids? Its hacking was awful. It removed functional options like joypad support and it would reset keys every time you started the game. Plus 2K yanked PC gamers around with the “DLC, no DLC, maybe DLC, no more patches” fucking shit. Any new Bioshock from 2K will be junk.

      • Lars Westergren says:

        It was RPS that convinced me to give Bioshock 2 a chance, and I’m glad they did. Once I got over the “Rapture 10 years after it was sinking and burning, and it looks the same but with barnacles on the wall.” I found a game with fantastic level design, some really good NPCs (I’m thinking of Grace Holloway and Gilbert Alexander in particular), and much more satisfying shooter mechanics than the first game.

        Yeah, the DLC story was sad, but that was obviously Microsoft trying to promote the XBox by sabotaging for the PC. It ended well though. GFWL has been removed, and everyone who owns B2 got Minerva’s Den for free, which some consider the highpoint of the series.

  23. Urthman says:

    Wow, it makes me sad that Ken Levine still thinks the strength of his Bioshock team was doing narrative in games. Those folks are fantastic at world building and environmental design, and they’re quite good at shooting mechanics and level design, and they come up with some nifty big ideas as premises for their games, but I really don’t think they’re particularly good storytellers.

    • Widthwood says:

      Right, apart from “tun-dun-dun” moments the plot throughout both Bioshocks was like any other FPS, just running around for one plot device after another. If he actually shifts focus from his excellent design to story it could be a big mistake…

  24. Michael Fogg says:

    Guys, this is not an industry where people spend their lives as employees of one company. It is in fact standard practice to hire on a ‘per-project’ basis, where it is mutually understood that after the product ships people may have to look for another position. I’m sure the laid off devs will be fine.

    As for Levine, looks like he decided to go indie because he was tired of having to compromise his game design to fit with the objectives of big publishers. Bio:Infinie was obviously one of such ‘compromised’ games, a thinking man’s shooter made to be also bro-friendly (remember the cover art scandal?). With what Levine revealed so far – highly replayable ‘core’ game, it looks like he’s going to expand on the ideas of the SS2/Deus Ex school. I can only see good things coming from this.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      I’m sure the laid off devs will be fine.

      Oh ok, I’m sure they feel better now.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Capitalism: Because We Care About Your Feelings

        • rebochan says:

          I love how our society has devolved to the point where we now willingly defend the right of the rich and powerful to completely stomp all over people in situations where they have no power.

          By the way, your post is not how the industry works and its kind of laughable that you would pretend to speak for the industry when you don’t actually know how its hiring practices work.

    • Shooop says:

      Why did he have to sack most of his staff in order to do it? I’m sure his namesake alone would have guaranteed him some hefty funds if he announced he wanted to do a game without a major publisher.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Maybe he doesn’t want to run a huge staff anymore. The more staff you have, the more management of that staff is necessary. You can easily end up spending far more time helping others do their creative work and less time doing actual creative work yourself.

        • rebochan says:

          You know, if he’s not capable of managing a large studio, maybe the problem isn’t that the studio’s staff is too large. Maybe it’s actually a failure of the guy that is the head of a studio of 200 people and is too incompetent to manage them without mass firing them for simply existing.

          • drewski says:

            Do you really think a company should be forced to retain workers it has no work for?

            If Irrational were done after BS:I, that’s it. If Take 2 had work for the studio, it wouldn’t be shutting down.

          • jonahcutter says:

            @ rebochan

            It’s not about competence. It’s about how many minutes there are in the day, and how you want to spend them.

    • Widthwood says:

      Highly replayable game from Ken Levine is like something like an RPG from Carmack – not exactly something his previous work is famous for. Judging from Bioshocks at least – he is much more interested in desing and story than meticulously tweaking gameplay until it is q3/meatboy level of perfect

      • KenTWOu says:

        System Shock 2 was a highly replayable game because of gameplay not because of narrative.

  25. Artea says:

    Maybe they’ll finally make a good game now.

  26. Jason Moyer says:

    I hear Ken Levine is buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and throwing his computer out the window because he wants to make something real. He wants to make a Yaz record.

  27. dethtoll says:

    So Levine thinks himself to be the personification of Irrational Games, decided he was bored because Bioshock Infinite only sold 4 million copies, and a bunch of people just lost their jobs because Levine had an ego fit.

    Whatever, man, System Shock 1 and Bioshock 2 are both better than the other games in their respective series and he had nothing to do with them. I’ve disliked this guy since before Bioshock 1 came out (though I did enjoy the game itself) but Bioshock Infinite proved he believes his own hype. I hope everyone who just got screwed over by Levine’s narcissism finds jobs soon with someone who isn’t such an egomaniac.

  28. luke_osullivan says:

    Yes, always bad to hear about job losses. But the reasons given do seem odd. I actually can’t think of a single game that’s made me want to replay it, and some of them have had very good stories. For Levine and Irrational’s sake, I hope I’m not representing the majority, especially because I liked all the Bioshock games – even the ending to Infinite, which I’d studiously avoided reading any spoilers about. I’ve never replayed any of them though, when you finish one game there’s always another and another there waiting in that dreaded Steam backlog.

  29. melnificent says:

    High replayability and digital only. Sounds like mobile gaming to me

  30. yaggz says:

    They devolved from PC greatness to consolitis. Makes sense their next step of devolution would be mobile gaming.

    Oh and how much will Burial at Sea Part 2 cost. $39.95 and feature 17 minutes of gameplay?

  31. Danda says:

    Option 1: You leave the company and start a new one with 15-20 people.
    Option 2: You fire all the company but 15 people.

    I think I respect Peter Molyneux a bit more now.

  32. Werthead says:

    BIOSHOCK INFINITE cost, by some estimates, $100 million. When Take Two posted their end-of-year financial reports last March, they said that they made a net loss even with INFINTE selling 3.7 million copies in its first two months on sale. We also have to remember than INFINITE was in development for over 5 years. It looks very likely that despite its sales and acclaim, 2K would have to judge BIOSHOCK INFINITE a financial failure.

    On that basis, once Irrational had delivered the contracted DLC, it looks likely that 2K would have to completely rethink their relationship with Irrational and Levine anyway. They’re not going to let Levine spend another 4-5 years and tens of millions of dollars farting around before delivering something that, even as a hit, fails to deliver a much stronger return.

    I think it’s highly likely that this move was a ‘mutual decision’ by 2K and Levine that allowed 2K to retain his services and allowed him to keep working on games for them without the associated financial risk. If Levine had disagreed, 2K might have just shut down Irrational altogether and everyone would have lost their jobs instead.

    The moral, I think, is more about the insane development costs and times of Triple-A games than the selfishness of individuals. Though I guess we’ll find out in a few years when Polygon publishes the inevitable warts-and-all expose.