My first impulse after hearing the news that one of my favorite developers was shutting down forever was to immediately rush here and create a post about it. I gave it a second thought and decided to wait and collect my thoughts into what you’re reading now.
While Irrational Games has been around for about 17 years at this point, my first real taste of what they could do came in 2007 with the critically acclaimed hit BioShock. I was floored by how expertly woven the story was with a game set up as a first person shooter. The game captured me right from the get go as the main character with seemingly no connection to this ruined paradise is quickly pulled into the ongoing conflict beneath the waves between the charismatic Andrew Ryan and the mysterious person known as Atlas. What struck me most about this game was the sense of place. The ruined underwater utopia known as Rapture took on it’s own persona almost as if it was another main character. Looking out at the peaceful ocean, seeing life swim by contrasted with the broken structures, blood splatters, and stark raving mad splicers inside the once great city. BioShock was engaging, mysterious, and sad all rolled into one and still has a place inside my top five games I’ve ever placed.
After exploring the murky depths of Rapture, I was ready to see what Irrational was cooking up, eager to get sucked into another universe. In 2010, the world was given a look at the floating city of Columbia in a brand new GC trailer. It looked to have strong BioShock elements tied into it including interesting enemies, a compelling location, and a setting influenced by a certain era. While the glimpse was great getting everyone frothing for more, what we didn’t know is that the wait would be hard as BioShock Infinite would undergo multiple delays and go through long stretches without any information. As we now know, the game had somewhat of a troubled development as the company lost some developers through out this cycle, segments were being cut, and redesigns were needed. It wouldn’t be until 2013 that Infinite would finally hit store shelves and while I just absorbed the game, it didn’t quite high those ridiculously high notes that the first BioShock managed. Still, Infinite was and remains a game I love.
With its downloadable content now coming to an end in March, I think most of us were wondering what direction Irrational was going to go in for their next title. On Feb 18, the world was given their answer and I don’t think anyone really saw it coming. In a letter posted on the Irrational homepage, studio co-founder Ken Levine announced that the studio would be shutting down and that he would be creating a small 15 person studio under 2K to develop narrative-driven digital titles for the core gamer. The news completely blindsided me as one of my favorite developers who happened to be located pretty much in my backyard was to be no more.
You can’t help but wonder what actually happened to have caused this. Many people are quick to jump on Ken Levine because he wanted to move to a smaller development cycle. I personally don’t think he just up and caused this. We all know Infinite’s development cycle was longer than anticipated with a bunch of redesigns, cut features, and delay. All of this cost more money than 2K expected so I’m assuming that financial reasons were more of a factor than anything else. Perhaps 2K approached Levine, gave him options, and he picked the less damaging one that he could. It was probably a no-win situation. On the other hand, perhaps 2K didn’t want to keep the studio going if it meant Ken Levine wasn’t at the helm. I just don’t know. This article from Leigh Alexander will probably be the closest thing we ever get to finding out the truth.
While we don’t officially know what caused the studio shutdown and probably never will, I want to wish everyone affected by this my condolences. The team over there in Quincy, Massachusetts is insanely talented and I have no doubts that they’ll have any trouble helping some other developer reach new heights. It’s always amazing to see the support through social media sites and with what 2K is doing to help those who have been laid off.
To Ken Levine, I wish him best of luck going forward as well and hope that he’s able to accomplish what he’s looking to do now. He’s following his heart and I can’t fault anyone for doing that.
Thank you Irrational, it’s been a fantastic ride.