Post-Irrational Decisions: 2K Founds New Super-Studio

reporting for dury, sir!

OK, normally “human being accepts new job at large company” isn’t our sort of news, unless it’s a really big name. The creative lead on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed perhaps doesn’t make it onto any auteur lists (though he has worked on enough other Star Wars games to fill a few Sandcrawlers), but Haden Blackman fetching up at 2K is fascinating because… well, what’s going on at 2K? Where are the big games going to come from in a post-Irrational (as-was) world? Well, perhaps from Hangar 13, a new 2K internal studio whose stated intention is “delivering mature experiences loaded with meaningful choices.” Reading between the lines: 2K wants its next BioShock.

(By which I mean, its next BioShock in terms of repute and – ugh – demographics, rather than its next BioShock sequel. That’s coming from BioShock 2 devs 2K Marin, apparently).

2K has generated a number of highly ambitious ‘grown-up’ (for lack of a better term) action games over the last few years, to mixed critical and commercial success for sure, but there has been less franchise laurel-resting than some of the other big studios. The question is, where are those games going to come from next? Let’s have a quick tally:

Ken Levine has essentially closed Irrational in favour of doing something pseudo-indie (albeit within the 2K safety net); Mafia devs 2K Czech (formerly Illusion Softworks) got semi-squished and relocated earlier this year; 2K Marin lost many of its senior staff and seemed to be on life support for a time (though has been given the keys to BioShock castle); Yager didn’t return after Spec Ops: The Line; 2K Australia most recently did the heavy lifting of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel rather than their own thing.

The exact current circumstances of most of those studios are currently not public, so any one of them could be put back on their feet and tasked with something huge, but from the outside looking in it’s certainly hard to tell where 2K’s next mega-franchise would arise from.

There are a number of other studios, including in Shanghai and Vegas, and current partnerships with the likes of Gearbox (Borderlands) and Turtle Rock (Evolve), but it’s perhaps hard to identify quite where the next self-made, wholly-owned big-hitter would emerge from. (Firaxis broke out of their traditional strategy box with XCOM, something of a crossover hit, but gods willing they’re not going to be told to go make first-person shooters any time soon.) Perhaps it will be Hangar 13, which is based out of 2K HQ’s town of Novato, California.

Hangar 13 will be ‘led’ by the aforementioned Haden Blackman, who previously was franchise director and senior executive producer for Star Wars games at LucasArts. He did things to do with Galaxies and KOTOR and many more, but it’s The Force Unleashed with which his name is most-associated, given he was creative lead on it.

He left Lucasarts of his own volition, which was probably for the best, given what went down there subsequently. He also writes comics, including the current Elektra run for Marvel. Blackman had this to say about his new endeavour:

“At Hangar 13, our mantra is ‘Every player story is unique.’ Our ambition is to create next-generation games that allow players to shape their own experiences, from the moment-to-moment gameplay, to the long-term impact on the world, characters and narrative. To realize this goal, we’re building proprietary technology and assembling a core team passionate about delivering mature experiences loaded with meaningful choices.”

Those don’t entirely sound like words a human being would naturally say, but certainly some of the things we want to hear – again, looking at this through something of BioShock lens – are in there. ‘Proprietary technology’ is an interesting one to drop too, given 2K has so often seemed perfectly happy with the Unreal engine – not that this necessarily refers to a graphics engine anyway, of course. Not expanded upon as yet is a claim that many of Hangar 13’s other staff will hail from “some of the most well-known studios in the industry.” This could mean they’re aggressively recruiting the great and the good, or it could mean they’re pulling together staff from disparate and variously troubled other 2K studios.

In any case, expect whatever comes out of Hangar 13 to have a right old song and dance made about it. A new name to be aware of, if nothing else, I think.

20 Comments

  1. Xocrates says:

    I wonder though, while they almost certainly do mean “we want another Bioshock”, upon reading it the thought that crossed my mind was: Do they want their own TellTale?

    • draglikepull says:

      I think they do mean they want their own Telltale, not the next Bioshock.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        Telltale makes sense with the “delivering mature experiences loaded with meaningful choices” thing. It’s hard to think of a less appropriate description of, say, Bioshock Infinite than “a mature experience loaded with meaningful choices”. Although I suppose you could just hit “random” on Wikipedia if you needed one..

        “a German footballer who plays as a midfielder for Chemnitzer FC”
        “a time zone used in Azerbaijan”
        “the twenty-fifth roller hockey world cup, organized by the Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports”

        ..nnn.. nope, that first thing still wins the inappropriate-description-off.

  2. Persona says:

    So…why is this a ‘super-studio’ exactly? That would mean a few important names being part of it, but there was only one person mentioned in the article.

  3. Dan Griliopoulos says:

    Worth noting that 2K Marin was also based out of the Novato 2K headquarters – but it sounded like most of the people there left last year. Incidentally, the headquarters is an old Air Force base which is a series of hangars that 2K works out of, alongside lots of other companies. Marin used to be in a small section of one, 2K HQ in another.

  4. pepperfez says:

    a post-Irrational world
    Oh, to have your optimism.

    • teddancin says:

      Yeah, no foolin’ – I’m sitting here in Queens, nothing looks rational in 2014.

  5. Hex says:

    Mature experiences? Meaningful choices?

    Finally, the XXX-rated choose-your-own-adventure game I’ve been waiting for all these years….

    • Monggerel says:

      Not naming names, but that’s an actual thing.
      NOT NAMING NAMES
      NOT
      NNN
      COR…
      NOT NONON

  6. Turkey says:

    I wish some of these veteran guys were breaking off to do the kind of old-school systemic PC games that they’re not allowed to make anymore, but walking simulators and first-person puzzle games are nice too, I guess.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      Christian Nutt, the interviewer in the Gamasutra story, describes the first Hangar 13 game as “a story-driven triple-A game for next-gen consoles.” So there goes PC-driven design.

      And on page 2 of the interview, HB describes his belief that third-person perspective is more immersive than first-person.

      Neither of those is freakout-worthy, but they do suggest that folks pining for systemically rich games with that PC feel can keep on looking.

      That said, I do like his comments on player-engaged storytelling, and I wish HB and the folks at Hangar 13 all the best. Good ideas can indeed come from anywhere.

  7. Philomelle says:

    I’m not sure naming Blackman’s run on Elektra is a good way to help people recognize him, given that most people tend to forget Elektra exists due to her status as a joke character in the fandom.

    You might be better off citing his run on Batwoman for DC Comics, which was widely critically acclaimed but ended prematurely because DC is run by homophobic cockmonglers (he was told that his character, a huge chunk of whose marketing campaign revolved around her being gay, isn’t allowed to actually marry her girlfriend).

    • Baines says:

      That wasn’t about homophobia. That was because DC doesn’t like characters getting married, because it changes the status quo. As well, many comic book writers seem to have the same feeling as TV writers, that single main characters become less interesting once they are married. (Which, like some other “You just can’t make interesting stories with…” claims, says more about the writers than marriage.)

      It is the same reason Bruce Wayne doesn’t get married. Not that Marvel is that different, when you consider stuff like Quesada’s crusade to undo Spider-Man’s marriage.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        I’m pretty sure that people becoming less interesting after they get married is a fact-of-life.

  8. dsch says:

    What’s so “ugh” about demographics?

    • teddancin says:

      If you consider AAA games to be Art (and sometimes they are!), I could see where an “ugh” might fit in (said the marketer)

  9. Chuckleluck says:

    Either whatever comes out of Hangar 13 will knock your socks off, or it will be overhyped on a scale of a thousand Destiny’s.

  10. Justin Keverne says:

    I believe this is also where Matthias Worch (formerly Lead Designer on Star Wars 1313) ended up. I remember a rumour awhile ago that 2K’s new Novato studio (unnamed at the time) was working on Mafia 3.

    Not sure there’s a 2K Marin left, I believe those who hadn’t already moved on (to form the likes of Fullbright, Question, and Orthogonal Games) were offered positions at this new studio.

  11. WileyGZTQxepk says:

    This is certainly cool to pr.co be independent of all