After the surprise shut down of Irrational Games, Adam Smith looks at the future of BioShock.
Ken Levine, co-founder of Irrational Games, the studio behind BioShock and Bioshock Infinite has announced that he is shutting down the studio in favour of creating a smaller task force.
Levine has taken only 15 of Irrational Games’s employees with him in his departure, and has left the rights for BioShock with 2K Games. The staff of Irrational Games are set to be passed on to other developers during a special recrutiment attended by Blizzard, Ubisoft and Infinity Ward, and so it is unlikely that any of the other 200 staff will be without work for long.
This development was not a total surprise for the employees of Irrational Games. The sales figures that Bioshock Infinite would have had to hit in order to keep the studio together were simply too large. Infinite, even. The studio was aware that the writing was on the wall, but for the general public the news still came as a surprise.
Levine stated that his new goal is to focus on “narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable”, working his way back towards the indie scene. For example, the way that Elizabeth, the key NPC and partner throughout BioShock Infinite, acted in the same way each time the player went through the game, regardless of their playstyle. This seems rather inconsistent with the “replayable narrative” Levine desires to create.
Hopefully, his newer projects could offer more variation in terms of the gamer’s choices influencing the game more, which has been a complaint that many gamers have had about moral choices in AAA gaming. These choices always seem to be polar opposites, and so have been dubbed the “Save-The-Puppy/Eat-The-Puppy” dichotomy. These games lack a moral grey area by insisting players choose a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ side to their playable character. Even more mature games such as Witcher 2 have struggled with implementing a truly difficult choice system. For BioShock Infinite, this choice was only superficial: do you abuse the inter-racial couple, or not? What jewellery should Elizabeth really be wearing in her life-or-death escape? Choices which essentially change nothing do not make players want to replay games.
However, one of the main fears in the gaming community is that because BioShock is such a beloved franchise, without a doubt one of the best gaming has ever seen, 2K Games will always feel obliged to make a sequel.
BioShock Infinite’s conclusion was such a meta-analysis of the BioShock brand and the idea of sequels in general that anything coming from 2K Games is very likely to fall flat in comparison. It is the cutting wit and social commentary that make BioShock so appealing. Furthermore, the only BioShock game not developed with Irrational Games’ backing was BioShock 2, which was made solely by 2K Games. Unfortunately, the title was heavily criticised for seemingly trying to cash in on the success of the first game. It utterly failed to live up to its potential.
As a prediction for the future, I imagine that Ken Levine’s independent work will be a success, and his reputation as the face of such an excellent series of games will surely generate support for his future projects. While 2K have already promised that the BioShock brand will continue, I personally hope that it will just use the mechanics of the franchise rather than attempt to continue the narrative, given their questionable track record.
The spirit of BioShock should live on, while the narrative should be allowed to rest in peace. Remember that, 2K Games…would you kindly?