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Ken Levine shuts down Irrational Games and starts a new, small studio


Endrosz

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Wow, that came out of the blue:

 

A Message From Ken Levine

 

For me, gamplay-wise: System Shock 1 > System Shock 2 > BioShock ( > BS Infinite) (decline!)

 

Bioshock was the show-stopper for me. I stopped playing it rather early, and haven't had the urge to reinstall it ever since. Compared to the freedom of the SS games, the entire thing was way too "heavy-handed" for my taste. I consider it a good game, with a fantastic setting, characters and voiceovers, visuals, just not for me. And when I read the previews about BS Infinite, I concluded that its gameplay was even more superficial than BS's.

 

So, I'm very glad that he goes back to small-and-agile development, because the corner I.G. painted itself into wasn't a very fun one in my book. Whether it was a profitable one, he knows that.

 

Here's hoping that his new creations will bring back the "free-roaming" and "crazy random stuff" qualities of the SS games. Or maybe he wants to do something very different?

Edited by Endrosz
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The Seven Blunders/Roots of Violence: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle. (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi)

 

Let's Play the Pools Saga (SSI Gold Box Classics)

Pillows of Enamored Warfare -- The Zen of Nodding

 

 

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This related Leigh Alexander piece is interesting for reasons far beyond the news itself. Some serious musings about the The Nature of the Game(s Industry).

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The Seven Blunders/Roots of Violence: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle. (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi)

 

Let's Play the Pools Saga (SSI Gold Box Classics)

Pillows of Enamored Warfare -- The Zen of Nodding

 

 

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What a weird industry. Just to point out how absurd Levine's actions were, imagine the head of Exxon shutting down the whole company, firing almost everyone and then going back to designing pressure pumps in a small garage.

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"Some men see things as they are and say why?"
"I dream things that never were and say why not?"
- George Bernard Shaw

"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

 

"The amount of energy necessary to refute bull**** is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."

- Some guy 

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I definitely think we may be seeing what Raph Koster's lecture "Age of the Dinosaurs" talks about. It's mentioned in the comments of the Leigh Alexander post I so believe.

 

Developing costs combined with marketing costs are ballooning to the point that if the game is anything short of a home run then it fails from the perspective of the publisher. Square-Enix considers both Deus Ex HR and Tomb Raider failures even though both sold millions of copies. Bioshock Infinite seems to be in this boat as well. AAA companies need to get a grasp on their spending or we will see more of this to come. It could possibly come to the point of having a few more AAA Publishers follow THQ into the Bankruptsy department. I definitely think they need to dial back a bit, and stop spending double production on marketing.

 

Maybe I am being paranoid, but this and THQ combined with Square's comments I have read on DEHR and TR have me worried it will get worse before it gets better. They will continue to blame their "imaginary dragons" that are used games and the gamers themselves. Capcom blamed the audience of resident Evil for the failure of its 6th installment. They of course never considered that it was a poor game not quite worth $60 ati many gamers.

 

Anyway, I definitely feel for the developers that are losing the most here. I wish them all the luck I can muster in finding a new job.

 

Edit: I definitely don't believe Ken has any say here. I think the word came from on high, and Ken is trying to help 2k spin the perception. They are doing a good job of spinning it though.

Edited by Ganrich
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I'm sorta pleased at Ken Levine's decision.  Irrational Games haven't been attracting my attention since Bioshock 1.

 

System Shock 1 was my first PC game and I still hold fond memories of it.  System Shock 2 is also special to me.  However, after a couple of runs with Bioshock 1, I was somehow unsatisfied and never bothered with the subsequent Bioshock 2 or Bioshock Infiinite since.

 

I would be interested to see what Ken can create afresh.

... and it took me a week of nothing but eating, gaming and sleeping to complete :p

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What a weird industry. Just to point out how absurd Levine's actions were, imagine the head of Exxon shutting down the whole company, firing almost everyone and then going back to designing pressure pumps in a small garage.

 

These aren't anything close to analogous behaviors. Irrational Games is a small, privately held company that is not beholden to stockholders or a board of directors and does not have a huge amount of physical assets.

"It has just been discovered that research causes cancer in rats."

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Take-Two owned Irrational Games. I believe they bought them around 2006. They were anything but privately held. This new thing Levine is doing is also under Take Two.

 

Like I said Levine was probably told he could go the easy way or the hard way, but Take-Two preferred to keep him. However they needed him to keep a positive spin here too.

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Take-Two owned Irrational Games. I believe they bought them around 2006. They were anything but privately held. This new thing Levine is doing is also under Take Two.

 

Like I said Levine was probably told he could go the easy way or the hard way, but Take-Two preferred to keep him. However they needed him to keep a positive spin here too.

 

Okay, so that would seem to be almost equivalent to Exxon closing down one of its hundreds of subsidiaries and moving some of the employees to another subsidiary. Not exactly unusual behavior.

"It has just been discovered that research causes cancer in rats."

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More like Greg and Ray deciding to shut down Bioware when they left. Just simply could not happen, had to be the 2k execs whatever Levine says.

 

It certainly isn't unusual behaviour though, 2k has shut down IG's two sister studios (IG Australia as was, 2k Marin) inside the last year or so, they just couldn't PR that as being anything other than sales of XCOMFPS not justifying the 5 years dev time. Having allegedly spent $200 mill on B:I attention needs to be deflected to minimise damage.

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Take-Two owned Irrational Games. I believe they bought them around 2006. They were anything but privately held. This new thing Levine is doing is also under Take Two.

 

Like I said Levine was probably told he could go the easy way or the hard way, but Take-Two preferred to keep him. However they needed him to keep a positive spin here too.

 

Okay, so that would seem to be almost equivalent to Exxon closing down one of its hundreds of subsidiaries and moving some of the employees to another subsidiary. Not exactly unusual behavior.

 

 

Usual behaviour is Take Two shutting it down. 

 

Since you guys got hung up on the "nu-uh, that's not like that all!"-analogy, let me rephrase it: Exxon has a big subsidiary that does the plant design. Due to failing to live up to the expected ROI, usually some restructuring is done. But instead the head of the whole thing shuts it all down and goes to his garage with his best friends and start designing pressure pumps.

 

Personally, i think that Ken is both a bit of a sociopath and someone with a huge ego that got hurt by those pesky economics guys. I can't tell which part is bigger though.

 

But if it is the results of a backroom wheeler-dealings of an unknown PR guy, i have to applaud that guy's machiavellian move. Check ****** Mate.

"Some men see things as they are and say why?"
"I dream things that never were and say why not?"
- George Bernard Shaw

"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

 

"The amount of energy necessary to refute bull**** is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."

- Some guy 

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Ken Levine probably has a certain amount of George Lucas Syndrome- successful enough to not have to listen to other people. Back in the day Lucas made some good movies, back when people could actually say to him "George, that line is asterisks" off the cuff adjustments. But I think it also has to be said that there are very few shrinking violets in the games industry who think their idea might be OK, kind of, you might like it a bit, because if you have that attitude your game won't be made at least via a publisher. It's like pitching or selling anything, you have to confident and sure of yourself because that is one thing that people will always look for.

 

Most of the times I've seen KL comment in forums and the like, albeit some time ago, he really hasn't come across as someone with a huge ego- though there are clearly issues given the level of staff turnover IG had most of the specific complaints I've seen are about inconsistency of vision from start to finish, with people being annoyed that their work was scrapped or retasked after working on it for years. And that is a complaint that can be levelled at a lot of games.

Edited by Zoraptor
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  • 3 weeks later...

I am of the opinion that this is partly a good thing - I felt that with BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine doesn't have the amount of free-reign to make the games he wants. The game has been through tons of delays, and he changed the boxart to something that would sell the game compromising what it actually is about. Something Naughty Dog didn't want to do and didn't have to do. I do feel bad for the people who are out of job because of it. I feel that sooner or later 2K would have scrapped them as well like they did with 2K Marin or placed them somewhere in lower staff of the other studios. Best of luck to all of them in the future.

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Ken Levine probably has a certain amount of George Lucas Syndrome- successful enough to not have to listen to other people. Back in the day Lucas made some good movies, back when people could actually say to him "George, that line is asterisks" off the cuff adjustments. 

George Lucas has never been a good filmmaker - Most of the good dialogue, directing, cinematography, acting, everything were done by Lawrence Kasdan, Peter Suschitzky (Awesome guy, who's done a lot of collab with Cronenberg) Leigh Brackett & Irwin Kershner etc. Heck one of the best romantic moments in Empire was something Harrison Ford improvised on the fly. Star Wars' quality didn't drop with Phantom Menace, it was already partly there, in Return of the Jedi. Lucas sadly gets too much credit for the old movies, when it really was a team effort (all of it). He might have been the one with the idea, but I got ideas too, it doesn't mean I have the resources to get them out there.  

Edited by TheChris92
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I am of the opinion that this is partly a good thing - I felt that with BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine doesn't have the amount of free-reign to make the games he wants. The game has been through tons of delays, and he changed the boxart to something that would sell the game compromising what it actually is about. Something Naughty Dog didn't want to do and didn't have to do. I do feel bad for the people who are out of job because of it. I feel that sooner or later 2K would have scrapped them as well like they did with 2K Marin or placed them somewhere in lower staff of the other studios. Best of luck to all of them in the future.

I thought the problem with Bioshock Infinite was that he had the amount of free reign to make the game he wanted, he just couldn't make up his mind as to what that was.

I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

village_idiot.gif

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I am of the opinion that this is partly a good thing - I felt that with BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine doesn't have the amount of free-reign to make the games he wants. The game has been through tons of delays, and he changed the boxart to something that would sell the game compromising what it actually is about. Something Naughty Dog didn't want to do and didn't have to do. I do feel bad for the people who are out of job because of it. I feel that sooner or later 2K would have scrapped them as well like they did with 2K Marin or placed them somewhere in lower staff of the other studios. Best of luck to all of them in the future.

I thought the problem with Bioshock Infinite was that he had the amount of free reign to make the game he wanted, he just couldn't make up his mind as to what that was.

 

This is a reference to the story, right? xD

 

Anyway, that's not the impression I got. Otherwise I'd believe the game would have been released earlier than it did.. I think. It felt kinda desperate with the way of changing the boxart to attract the dudebros and how most of the content in the game was cut. The philosophy with Ken Levine's gameography (excluding Thief) is that there's some kind of matronly school teacher standing behind him repeatedly going: "Now do it again, but properly this time." It all started out with System Shock 2, which was basically being System Shock but without the wacky cyberspace mini-game, but with an unbalanced skill system, and looking like an arse made out of Lego. Then there was Bioshock, basically being System Shock 2 with more imagination and no longer having to put 6 points into 'Exotic Weapons Proficiency' to figure out how to **** people over the head with a piece of jagged rock. And now we have BioShock Infinite, which is basically BioShock reversed, which of course is the plot-twist as well.

Edited by TheChris92
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No, it wasn't.

 

Remember the new Tomb Raider? 4.5 millions units as initial sales was considered a failure. The same thing happened to Infinite: it sold a few million units, it probably wasn't a net loss as an investment, just nowhere near the numbers that were expected from the sales.

 

And yes, Levine himself seems to be part of the problem.

The Seven Blunders/Roots of Violence: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle. (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi)

 

Let's Play the Pools Saga (SSI Gold Box Classics)

Pillows of Enamored Warfare -- The Zen of Nodding

 

 

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No source handy, but apparently sales numbers were similar to the first game. In that context it would be a failure, since with the goodwill, added development and marketing costs and free hype, they've failed to garner more sales.

 

At least 2K in this context have implicitly conceded that it's a matter of the game costing too much to make, rather than trying to claim that the game should have shifted so many more units. That's the sensible path to take instead of gambling on even bigger blockbusters trying to be the next GTA or COD. Remember EA saying Dead Space 3 needed to shift 5 million copies to have a future? That's the opposite approach.

L I E S T R O N G
L I V E W R O N G

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Yeah, cost control is the big thing. If Dead Space 3 had sold 5 million copies it would have been decently profitable. There the question was whether Visceral could be better used doing something that would sell 5 million, not Dead Space being literally unprofitable. If B:I had sold 5 million it still wouldn't have broken even. You should be able to make money off the sort of sales B:I or Tomb Raider had.

 

WHY THERE IS NO SS3 THUS FAR?! - this is far more important question, if anyone remembers how SS2 has ended.

Nobody willing to make/ fund it and deal with Star Insurance/ Meadowbrook. Various people have tried to reclaim the rights at various times, not least Ken Levine himself. I rather expected some sort of kickstarter or similar from Night Dive at one point, but they're literally Steven Heck Kick plus secretary so they'd need developers, an engine etc.

Edited by Zoraptor
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I am of the opinion that this is partly a good thing - I felt that with BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine doesn't have the amount of free-reign to make the games he wants. The game has been through tons of delays, and he changed the boxart to something that would sell the game compromising what it actually is about. Something Naughty Dog didn't want to do and didn't have to do. I do feel bad for the people who are out of job because of it. I feel that sooner or later 2K would have scrapped them as well like they did with 2K Marin or placed them somewhere in lower staff of the other studios. Best of luck to all of them in the future.

I thought the problem with Bioshock Infinite was that he had the amount of free reign to make the game he wanted, he just couldn't make up his mind as to what that was.

 

This is a reference to the story, right? xD

 

Anyway, that's not the impression I got. Otherwise I'd believe the game would have been released earlier than it did.. I think. It felt kinda desperate with the way of changing the boxart to attract the dudebros and how most of the content in the game was cut. The philosophy with Ken Levine's gameography (excluding Thief) is that there's some kind of matronly school teacher standing behind him repeatedly going: "Now do it again, but properly this time." It all started out with System Shock 2, which was basically being System Shock but without the wacky cyberspace mini-game, but with an unbalanced skill system, and looking like an arse made out of Lego. Then there was Bioshock, basically being System Shock 2 with more imagination and no longer having to put 6 points into 'Exotic Weapons Proficiency' to figure out how to **** people over the head with a piece of jagged rock. And now we have BioShock Infinite, which is basically BioShock reversed, which of course is the plot-twist as well.

 

If the Leigh Alexander article is to be believed; and i'm inclined to do so since there is a considerable gap between what was shown at E3 and the game, plus it explains why it took so long to come up with an uninspired game. Albeit a very pretty one but it doesn't take 3 years to create modular assets and code a pretty shader, there was likely a lot of rework done.

Also, in case someone didn't know: they licensed UDK for this game so they didn't have to create a whole engine. 

I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

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No, it wasn't.

 

Remember the new Tomb Raider? 4.5 millions units as initial sales was considered a failure. The same thing happened to Infinite: it sold a few million units, it probably wasn't a net loss as an investment, just nowhere near the numbers that were expected from the sales.

 

And yes, Levine himself seems to be part of the problem.

 

It was 3.2 million and it was just 3 weeks after release. Their expectations were so obnoxiously ridiculous that I kinda dismiss it as Square Enix being... i don't know... Japanese.

 

A year since and Tomb Raider is apparently exceeding expectation: Click!

 

I don't remember statements that ridiculous were ever made about Bioshock: Infinite. But I suppose something must have been wrong. Although I wouldn't get it past people to simply be greedy.

 

If B:I had sold 5 million it still wouldn't have broken even.

 

Is this an established fact?

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