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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.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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