Filthy Rumourmongering: Bioshock 2 sans Ken?

“A good chunk of the BioShock team did not want to work with Ken [Levine] ever again, and 2K definitely understood the sentiment and let them set up a new studio so that they can make Bioshock 2, leaving Ken with Project X. A good chunk of the other senior 2K Boston people who were sick of Ken but didn’t move to San Francisco ended up scattering to other AAA developers instead. In Quincy, they’re essentially rebuilding a team from almost scratch again.”

So claims generally reliable industry insider Surfer Girl, based on her own insider tip-off. ‘Project X’, incidentally, is the upcoming X-COM remake, a game I’m personally desperate to hear more details of. But the Bioshock stuff’s depressing if true. While CGI videos of people getting killed in horrible ways sold Bioshock to a mass audience, and clearly the entire Irrational team were responsible for the general excellence of the finished game, Levine and his high falutin’ talk played a huge part in convincing more cerebral gamers that this was the event of the year for them.

With no confirmation or real information beyond Surfer Girl’s short post, it’s barely even worth speculating what happened within the ranks of the-artists-formerly-known-as-Irrational at this point – though I can’t help but wonder whether it’s in any way related to their hind being permanently branded with the 2K name. Plus, there’s a long tradition of developers who carry a whiff of the auteur about them to soon pick up an additional trailing odour of Being A Bit Of A Dick. I suspect it’s rarely deserved (certainly, Levine seemed lovely on the one occasion I met him, but then again he was promoting a game to me rather than telling me to make one for him), but I can well imagine that when a large team of people works on a game, only for just one name to become reknowned for it, there can be some discontent.

Difficult to work with or not, he was associated strongly and positively enough with Bioshock that I wouldn’t be enormously surprised if 2K are pondering whether to pull a Sid Meier with him. “Ken Levine’s X-COM”, anyone?

Oh, and Surfer Girl throws this into her comments thread later: “Very, very, very little work has been done thus far on a sequel, so go to the official BioShock forums with your feature requests.” It’s also worth noting that there’s still no sign of the Bioshock 1 patch and widescreen fix promised back in August.


  1. The_B says:

    Hmm. Interesting, it does seem weird if this is true, or at least the bit about “people didn’t want to work with Ken ever again” – it seems very strongly worded against him. Is he really that bad, and have there been any examples from previously of him being a hard taskmaster/general twonk?

  2. Phil says:

    “have there been any examples from previously of him being a hard taskmaster/general twonk?”

    The final fifth of bioshock?

  3. Schadenfreude says:

    This doesn’t bother me (Mainly because I wasn’t overly impressed with Bioshock). As for his “high falutin'” talk; he spent a year or two bigging this up as the “spiritual successor to System Shock 2” and encouraged people to think it was an RPG/FPS hybrid alá Deus Ex. Then he did a month or two of frantic back-peddling and (IMO) delivered a below par FPS with an above average story that totally fell part after that cutscene.

    And as for all the talk of choices it committed the same crime as Invisible War in that they really didn’t amount to anything.

  4. Feet says:

    If it was internal political issues, chances are we’ll never get to know the full story about them. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Bioshock 2 now.

  5. AbyssUK says:

    Bioshock 2 .. no thanks Bioshock should remain a one hit classic.. make something new for gods sake!

    Also another try at an X-Com remake, risky.

  6. JJ says:

    Put me in the ‘Bioshock wasn’t overly impressive’ camp, after just having finished it.
    Many promisses of non-linearity, but it was only a matter of chosing if you should go check out the left corridor before the right corridor or vice-versa. And there was a complete lack of variety imho.
    I think what really did make it stand out though was the artdirection. Very pretty and original. I wonder how much Ken had actually to do with that.

  7. Radiant says:

    Whoa ok maybe his voice would grate after a few days but still …

  8. Pidesco says:

    If Bioshock ever becomes a classic, it will speak very poorly for the general standard of computer and video games.

    Disappointment of the year.

  9. Jae Armstrong says:

    Wait wait wait. Another X-COM remake? Are we allowed to get excited over this one or is going to be another disappointment?

  10. Alec Meer says:

    I’d very much doubt it’s a remake in the sense that all those shonky Eastern European clones of it are. More a remake in the sense that Bioshock is a remake of Shock 2.

  11. AbyssUK says:

    As long as ‘project x’ isn’t an FPS it’ll be fine..

  12. Pidesco says:

    I’d very much doubt it’s a remake in the sense that all those shonky Eastern European clones of it are. More a remake in the sense that Bioshock is a remake of Shock 2.

    That would be awful.

  13. Muzman says:

    I’d very much doubt it’s a remake in the sense that all those shonky Eastern European clones of it are. More a remake in the sense that Bioshock is a remake of Shock 2.

    So…it’ll be a shooter then
    (you knew someone would say that)
    Any sense that the general disdain with Ken or each other was from the changes in direction Bioshock seems to have taken during development (ie. less Shock2, more Half-Life2 = more lucre )?

  14. Fugazi says:

    What’s with all of the Bioshock hate? Sure it has some issues, but it was (IMO) an outstanding game. The boss fight at the end was shaky, but to condemn the whole game for that?
    What games make your impossibly high standards then?

  15. Pidesco says:

    What’s with all of the Bioshock hate? Sure it has some issues, but it was (IMO) an outstanding game. The boss fight at the end was shaky, but to condemn the whole game for that? What games make your impossibly high standards then?

    Deus Ex and System Shock 2 are two examples. And I’d throw No One Lives Forever in there too.

    Oh, and it wasn’t just the boss fight. It was also the bad AI, the pathetic difficulty, the lackluster combat, the aggravating linearity, and the devs using a major plot point to rub the linearity in the player’s face.

  16. Muzman says:

    Oh I don’t hate it (apart from the end), it’s just frustrating. The game seems so obviously at crossed purposes. After all that guff it’s hardly a shooter and certainly not a good one, definately not shooter 2.0.

  17. Paul Moloney says:

    Put me in the “not overly impressed” camp, and I was excited enough initially to fork out for the Special Edition. It arrived with a smashed figurine – foreshadowing?

    Yes, the game looks great, but plays like a dog; no amount of fiddling with the mouse settings stops my cursor feeling like it has a life of its own. And despite lowering the settings way down on my Q6600/2GB RAM/8800GTS system, there’s a pause … every … few … seconds which drove me nuts. No amount of wonderful backstory or lush graphics makes up for that. I’ll await a patch (they’re taking their time about it) before I try it again.


  18. terry says:

    Is a project manager not entitled the sweat of his brow??

  19. Fugazi says:

    Hey, I really like Deus Ex as well-but to think that it was without flaws is wishful thinking. It ran poorly, the animations were awkward at best and it had a forced failure that robbed it completely of its open-endedness. And the voice acting-egads!
    System Shock 2 (one of my favourites as well) had a crazy weapon breakage mechanic that made a lot of people very angry. It also had infinite respawns. It was also very ugly and I believe it did not run well on machines of the day. It’s “AI” was pretty darn limited as well. The psychic monkeys did not employ squad tactics.
    NOLF was pretty good although the squishy “on-skates” feel that the movement had was a bother for many people. Great game though-although it was pretty linear.
    I guess my point is that I think the hardcore gamers (myself included) have impossibly high expectations for games these days and the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia have crept in and made us think that everything these days is mass-market crap.
    Is linearity inherently a bad thing? I find that nowadays with limited time I sometimes like being held by the nose and walked through the game a bit. Even though I have played through Deus Ex at least six times I think I have almost always taken the same routes to objectives anyway.
    AI-I really hate this term and I think it’s a ridiculous exaggeration for a set of pathfinding and behaviour algorithms that are supposed to be challenging, but not impossible. The ‘AI’ in older games was absolutely merciless (how many C64 games-Spectrum is teh suck-have I played that I have never finished…in 20+ years of trying?) The challenge with designing enemies these days is that all of the effort and time put into the end-game will never be seen if the game is too hard.
    I found the combat in Bioshock to be fun and fulfilling. The mouse movement is a little sluggish and the plasmid variety was a little disappointing, but fighting Big Daddies is pretty fun.
    As for “rubbing the linearity in the player’s face” -do you really think the devs were trying to ruin the game for you? I doubt it.
    I completely respect your opinions and appreciate that Bioshock did not deliver the game experience you were hoping for-but I am finding that PC gamers are never happy with anything that has come out in the last few years and if someone does like a game they are labeled a fanboi.
    The jadedness and cynicism is wearying. Why can’t we just have fun? It’s just entertainment.

  20. CrashT says:

    I find this difficult to accept, as a lot of the people that made up Irrational Boston (as was) had been there since the System Shock 2 era, or not long after. Irrational have always seemed to have a low staff turnover, and even those few that did leave have stayed in contact. Even after moving to Harmobnix Eric Brosius still did some work on Irrational’s games. The senior members of the Irrational team have worked on at least four titles together so to suddenly decide they’ve had enough of Ken at this stages seems rather strange.

    Unless it’s those few, who’ve been with the company nearly from the start, are the only ones left.

  21. Joe says:

    Another one for Bioshock being disappointment of the year. I have the time and inclination to buy 3 or so games a year, and this one was a waste of time. I didn’t even finish it.

  22. Muzman says:

    It’s because we had fun ten years ago and the progress has been a little slow since. Well, that my explanation. It’s certainly true for me and I’m aware it’s a little unrealistic to expect great advances. But Bioshock of all games had it’s ducks in a row; it seemed like everything was lined up to deliver something truly earth shattering. The means, the motive and opportunity was there and they settled for what seems like merely expanding slightly the kinds of stories and settings a certain section of console players might accept. That probably a lot to some people, I don’t know. Also my fault for getting my expectations up. If I knew nothing about it going in it might have been more fun. Still, I had terrible trouble connecting with the game; its atmospherics and controls were largely lacking and I’d like to figure that out. There wasn’t the slick fun of a shooter, nor the smack-in-the-face immersive power of Thief, or the scenic majesty of Half-Life 2. I felt more intense connection with Call of Cthulhu, which I played immediately before it, and there was lots wrong with that game. I tried to like it more than I did. Really.

  23. Dracko says:

    Project X should be a remake of the first two Thief games.

  24. Dracko says:

    System Shock Gaiden.

  25. Nallen says:

    Project X should be a side scrolling shoot ’em up, then we’d all know where we stand.

    As for all you cool kids saying Bioshock was sub average, piss off, it was worse than half of all FPS games? that’s just bollocks and you know it.

    I didn’t think it was a 10/10 but I defiantly did think it was original, had wonderful art direction, great atmosphere, novel and engaging combat a great plot and did more to create a sense of wonder and intrigue that any other game I’ve played in recent times.

    You want sub par? play fucking Call of Duty 4.

    an extremely irate Nallen.

  26. Radiant says:

    Bioshock is a fantastic game.
    Definitely 9 out of 10 grapefruits.

    Kieron Gillen says:

    No, this is project X.


    Many a speedking/competition pro was broken playing that game.

  27. mgl says:

    It’s because we had fun ten years ago and the progress has been a little slow since.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much it for me too. Deus Ex had pretty glaring problems, but the game was so much more engaging than anything else out at the time that we just accepted it. I guess we assumed the issues with graphics, dumb AI, forced “choices” and dopey story devices (huge, man-sized vents running along the floor into every locked-down area!) would get ironed out as the technology and craft improved. That hasn’t really happened, except for the graphics.

    (BTW: The death of the NOLF series has left a hole in my heart. I loved those games.)

  28. Joe says:

    It’s not “cool” to dislike something. It’s honest.
    It was pretty. It has some nice weapons. I didn’t actually find that much game in there.
    I am glad you and so many others did like it, I don’t expect everyone to agree.
    I just expected something more from the game itself than this hollow shell that I found, especially after all the hype. Maybe that didn’t help.

  29. I_still_love_Okami says:

    Ken Levine is remaking the Team17 classic?


  30. Andrew says:

    though I can’t help but wonder whether it’s in any way related to their hind being permanently branded with the 2K name

    Probably not, if they are going off to form 2K Marin. Maybe they were just tired of Boston.

  31. Fugazi says:

    Tired of Boston?


  32. Chis says:

    Tired of Boston?

    Try listening to their albums. (Though I like More Than A Feeling, FWIW)

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  34. Dracko says:

    Nallen: No really, BioShock was that bad. Call of Duty 4 is fucking phenomenal.

  35. Dosfreak says:

    “cerebral gamers that this was the event of the year for them.”

    If cerebral gamers were convinced that an FPS game developed in modern times being developed for both console and PC was for them then perhaps they weren’t as “cerebral” as they thought.

  36. Chis says:

    Probably should have used a smilie. All th Boston albums are truely horrendous, and no self-respecting rock fan should go near them.

    And in a vague attempt to stay on-topic. I still believe Bioshock deserves the various 10/10 ratings it received from many reviewers, if only because for a large part of the game, the writing is impeccable and the atmosphere is unique and utterly convincing. But System Shock 2 is a superior overall gaming experience.

  37. CrashT says:

    From my own experience of the people who enjoyed BioShock and those who didn’t, some of the former were System Shock 2 fans, and nearly all of the latter were.

  38. Leeks! says:

    Like it or not, Bioshock did something no other FPS had ever even attempted. Complaining about it after its been semi-canonized is a lot like saying you think the Beatles were overrated.

  39. J says:


    I don’t know about you but with all the talk that he ‘likes the write the game as it’s going’, the complete re-scraps and rewrites of the game, and how there wasn’t a final design doc until january 2007, makes me understand why you could get a mutiny. “You mean I have to put in 3 weeks of 90 hour weeks because you can’t make up your mind and get your shit together?”

    I understand iterative design but, you also heard shit like him hanging out by himself and buying comic books at E3, It’s circumstantial, but, you know all starts to add up to a picture.

    And it did sound a bit like the team imploded after launch, with the lack of the widescreen thing, and the lack of final little polishes the game has.

    On the whole though it is an amazing game for the first half, and a great game for the final 1/3 or so.

  40. Jeff says:

    I have a feeling that the problems the artists might have had with Ken is that Ken, by his own admission, didn’t have the story written out and the dialog done until this december. Which as an artist has to be unbelievably frustrating. Of course from what I understand System Shock 2 was similar. But then System Shock 2 did not have nearly the amount of extensive art design that Bioshock does.

    As for those complaining that the moral choice has no real difference in terms of consequences, I think people are missing out on what Levine’s intention was. It was not to give the player different story branches. In fact Levine has said that he doesn’t like the binary paths that these moral choices often descend into. Instead, Levine wanted to create a moral conflict within the player. And that conflict was real, as long as you didn’t know what the consequences of your action would be (which is of course how real life is). When you first made your choice to save the little sister, and even a few choices afterwards, at that time you still didn’t know that ultimately you’d end up with as much Adam as going the other route. What you did know is that if you harmed her, there was little risk you would end up with less. So the choice at the beginning was really about the risk of less Adam for the sake of saving the girl. It was only until later down the line that you realized that it all balances out. But I don’t fault the developers for choosing this path. Because they also have to think of the enjoyment of the player, especially some who are just playing this as a FPS. And to handicap the player throughout the game by saving the little sister, while maybe more profound from an emotional and storytelling aspect, wouldn’t really fly with many gamers.

    It’s like those designers who don’t allow people to save anywhere. Sure it might make the game more terrifying and instense, but it also pisses a lot of people off.

  41. yutt says:

    “Deus Ex and System Shock 2 are two examples. And I’d throw No One Lives Forever in there too.”

    Wow, so three FPS games in the last decade? Thanks, I’ll happily play Bioshock, and not go with your pretentious standards.

    I hope you have as much fun hating excellent games is as I have enjoying them.

  42. yns88 says:

    (Disclaimer: I played and enjoyed Bioshock, so if you plan to flame my criticisms, please don’t set up a straw man).

    Leeks: What exactly is it that Bioshock did that no FPS ever attempted? The only things that Bioshock has that Deus Ex doesn’t are nice graphics, good voice acting, and an interactive environment, none of which are particularly new to FPS games of the NEXT GENERATION (Star Trek, anyone?).

    As for story, where Bioshock deals with economic philosophy, Deus Ex deals with political philosophy, and in the end forces you to choose which system you believe will make the world a better place, from a totalitarian computer-controlled world to a secretive oligarchy to mass anarchy. Now, the exact nature of going about making this decision could be improved in Deus Ex, but Bioshock’s system of choices has remained much the same.

    Point being: Bioshock is by no means a bad game, and is very comparable to Deus Ex and System Shock 2: It’s this very comparison that causes people to become bitter. The game is lauded as something the world has never seen before, but in terms of gameplay and storyline really does not have any groundbreaking improvement over these two very dated games.

    It also depends on your interest in RPGs, since Deus Ex has many RPG components, while Bioshock lacks the “gained character skill” required for the game to be called an FPS/RPG. Which leads to another point: The level of immersion, choice, and story depth in all three of these games has existed in RPGs for a very, very long time now.

    I think most of us here don’t hate Bioshock, we’re just worried that the treasures of gaming history are being forgotten and irritated at the short memory and attention-span of gaming media.

  43. yutt says:

    Why does everything with you people have to be “ground breaking”? Whatever that means. If you set your expectations to ridiculous and unreachable levels, of course nothing is going to amaze or impress you.

    I loved Deus Ex, it’s one of my favorite games of all time. However I am not going to pointlessly compare every game released for the rest of my life to it. I will enjoy a game on it’s own merits, and criticize it on it’s own faults.

    Everything isn’t going to be revolutionary. In fact, I bet if you looked back to the release of Deus Ex, many people were making the same comparisons you are; claiming Deus Ex was a mediocre update of System Shock 2.

    Gritty reality can’t ever compete with rosy nostalgia.

  44. Garth says:

    I think the reason we (royal we) are not as impressed these days with games is that, face it, we’re in the downward slump of games. Take the mid to late nineties: Quake, Starcraft, Deus Ex, Marathon, System Shock, etc etc etc. What was the last game to capture, and indeed, have the same impact those games had? I remember when PC Gamer gave Doom 3 a 95% or something and ‘dared’ people to come up with a game that good, or developers to trump it, I was up in arms. Then Half-Life 2 comes out, and it gets 98%. Ninety Eight Percent. It came with no multiplayer, had terrible A.I. (in all forms), was on-rails, had no story, and really wasn’t that interactive.

    I think what happened was it had been so long since a Deus Ex/Starcraft/whatever, that people wanted to love a game that much.

    The last game that had even close to the impact on me the Aforementioned Greats did was F.E.A.R. I’d never say it was as good as Deus Ex or whatever, but I actually felt compelled to keep playing. I’m a serial-completionist, and the will for me to do it these days has wilted severely. I beat every single game I ever bought up until the 2000’s. Suddenly I was actually returning games, something I hadn’t even considered.

    If I were to be pressed as to why this is occuring, I’d pretty much point to the development cycle. The idea that games have to spend gargantuan amounts of money to create a game that is even above average is a lie, a straight up awful lie. The games we love had terrible problems with them — what we loved was what was inside those games. Deus Ex had twitchy animations, an engine that loved to crash, a rather.. overly gray tone (It’s Quake, Only Gray!), and so on. But what drew us in was the story, the gameplay, the interactivity.

    I’ll take a buggy, ugly games with plot, story and gameplay over an “ooohhhh, pretty!” game with a hojillion dollar budget any day.

  45. Muzman says:

    yeah, every apologist accuses critics of nostalgia.
    Every game doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, NOLF wasn’t groundbreaking, it was just made well with coherence of purpose and personality. But when the same people who were responsible for an admitted classic head down the same road again, with the expressed goal of living up to what that game did well and even building upon it…are you going to say that there’s no expectation there? It’s not like this is out of left field stuff that ought to be assessed on its own terms like Freedom Force.

  46. Garth says:

    Exactly; Deus Ex 3 is a sequel to Deus Ex. People want it to be as good as Deus Ex. When it isn’t (Deus Ex: Invisible War), the obvious parallels are introduced, and people complain.

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  48. Leeks! says:


    No disagreements, man. What I was referring to was Bioshock’s self-satirizing comment on the FPS genre more than the whole ‘moral philosophy’ bit. As much as That Scene was about the consequences of choice, it was also about how those choices work in a videogame, and how ultimately meaningless that is. So, yeah, Deus Ex did the social philosophy thing brilliantly, but it wasn’t nearly as conscious of its medium. It didn’t matter that it was occurring in a videogame. You could say the same thing in a film, a novel, a comic book (see: The Invisibles), an essay… you get the idea. And, in my opinion, that makes it the less effective of the two.

    But if we were stacking the two up just in terms of gameplay (and the revolutionizing thereof), you’d find me in considerably less disagreement.

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