Q&A: Creative chief Ken Levine says renamed studio's new project will be outed sometime after GDC, handling multiple projects is a goal.
What's in a name? It's a question that could be asked of Irrational Games, the high-profile studio behind such acclaimed hits as System Shock 2, Freedom Force, and BioShock. After being acquired by Take-Two in 2006, the studio's US and Australian branches were rebranded 2K Boston and 2K Australia. Outwardly at least, the move stripped Irrational of its defining moniker and gave the impression that the studio was simply one more cog in Take-Two's game-making machine.
However, 2K Boston last week made the arguably rational announcement that it would be reverting back to the name it originally formed under in 1997: Irrational Games. Speaking with GameSpot, cofounder and creative chief Ken Levine said that after seeing 2K Boston repeatedly referred to as Irrational Games, as well as some measure of internal chagrin, a request was made to change the name back.
"I think [Take-Two] was hoping for some consistency across their studio names," Levine said. "And I think when we did that, there were some people in the studio who weren't crazy about the idea. And then you kept seeing it in the press. And it was our fans because they kept calling it Irrational Games." Levine went on to note that the change back to Irrational applies only to the 2K Boston studio, while 2K Australia will continue to operate as its own individual production house.
Levine also said that there's value in the Irrational brand that would be squandered by not continuing to use the name. "It's not so much what you gain," he said. "It's the sense that people had a connection to the studio and the name before, internally and externally, so I think there's value there." That value, of course, also encompasses Irrational's reputation for creating quality products, he said.
"There is a theme; there's a thread between all of our products," he said. "But there are some elements that are very similar, I think. Story elements and the feeling of a well-detailed world and a certain neatness to the products that I think people really attach to the name. And I think that we saw the value there, and we think our audience sees the value there. And we thought it was the right time to go back."
One game that isn't at all attached to the Irrational name is BioShock, a game that fell under the 2K Boston banner when it was released to rapturous critical praise for the Xbox 360 and PC in 2007 and PlayStation 3 in 2008. The game's successor, BioShock 2, is in development at a consortium of studios, including 2K Marin, Digital Extremes, 2K Australia, 2K China, and Arkane Studios. It will be available for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on February 9.
"Honestly, the majority of the people who play BioShock don't know anything about the studio," he said. "They just like BioShock. They know BioShock, and so they're just going to buy BioShock because they like BioShock. They'll keep on buying BioShock games as longs as they like BioShock games."
As for reclaiming the franchise for Irrational, Levine would only say that he has had no involvement at all with BioShock 2.
"The way I work…if I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound," he said. "If I'm going to be involved with something, I'm going to be involved with it. If I'm not going to be involved, I'm not going to be involved. And that's the way it's been with all of our products. I never want to take credit for anything that's awesome, but I didn't do. And my feeling is that, hopefully, BioShock 2 is going to be awesome. I haven't played it enough.
"But I also have the experience of getting special thanks on a game that is known as one of the worst games of all time," he said. "Somebody knew me on it, and that's on my Moby Games thing forever--I can't get rid of it. So, it's very important to me that I'm only credited, for good and for bad, for things that I actually work on."
Levine also said that with the relaunching of the Irrational name, gamers will this year begin to hear about the studio's next project, one that appears to be a shooter, according to job listings on the company's relaunched, community-oriented Web site. (Initial rumblings indicated that the shooter in question may be Yager's Spec Ops revival. "I honestly don't know anything about that game. I like the trailer," Levine said.)
"This is the year we'll start talking about stuff, and we stop hiding behind the iron curtain of secrecy," Levine said. As for when the reveal is planned, the creative director would only say that it will come sometime after the 2010 Game Developers Conference, which will descend upon San Francisco March 9-13. He wouldn't comment on whether the game was scheduled for an Electronic Entertainment Expo announcement in June.
With a current staff of about 40, Levine said that the studio plans to ramp up hires to accommodate 100 people. He went on to note that Irrational currently only has one project ("but it's a big project") in development, but that he wouldn't be opposed to working on a second, so long as there wouldn't be a quality concession.
"Irrational has got like an 88 or an 89 game ranking average," Levine said. "All we have is our quality. People hired us because they knew we made something good even if it maybe didn't sell 3 million units or 3.5 million units like BioShock did. So, the way we do that is we make sure we don't overstretch ourselves. If we were to go to multiple projects, we'd have to make sure we had the infrastructure to do multiple teams at once."
"And that's the challenge," he continued. "And I'd like to be there. I don't think we're there today, but I'd like to be there because it's important to me that people here have a really good opportunity to grow. We have people who've been with us for 11, 12 years. I'd love for there to be another guy who runs everything soup to nuts…run a project creatively like I do. There are people here that could do that and don't have the opportunity to do that. And we need to grow the infrastructure to do that, so that is important to me, but we're not quite there yet."
Wishlist: 1. SYSTEM SHOCK 3 System Shock 3 and bring Terri back as Shodan's VA. Then again, I know, damn EA.. Burn in hell. I so wan't to see this to happen, but not if they don't handle it as their newborn baby (and EA for sure doesn't).. It has to be made by the fans for the fans (Ken is fan... hehe. He really is.) 2. X-COM Would love to experience this again. 3. FREEDOM FORCE 3 Make this after SS3 and X-Com. hehe. You know we want it.
Nice article, they are pretty mysterious about their new title, I hope it's gonna be a new IP. But I'd still like to see BioShock 3 as prequel..Can't wait for GDC :)
Tribes Vengeance had great graphics,fun gameplay.and had a decent single player campaign.I loved it.Step in the right direction for the series.I would realy like a new Tribes game that explains what are all the "tribes",and of course,awesome multiplayer.
I don't have any "specific" hopes of what their working on.... in the end, whatever they are working on, i'm sure it'll be a good game :) thats all that matters to me! Keep pushing irrational games!
Ken if you read these sorry E.A. gave Dantes Inferno to a G.O.W. clone wanabe -you and your team could have made this untapped story a really special game(read how you had your mind on this setting/story).....Bugs me to see a good setting ruined for the sake of a rip off shallow clone of a game set to take on an established franchise-not to mention a waste of good development talent(some of the guys behind Deadspace-talk about a game that could really make ya **** your pants).....E.A. if ya need some input on were to put your assets in this dwindling market look me up(get ready for another I.P. fail E.A.)...
When Ken Levine says something I listen...The man is godsend to video games(especially to the first person shooter genre)...!!!
Can't say I know anything about the guy but seems like a good humble dude for sure and gaming needs more of that.
I want System Shock 3, and I want it 5 years ago. I still have System Shock 1 on 3.5" disks, and I still play System Shock 2 from time to time. :) If you do make SS3, keep the FPS style of the previous two games, and don't make the mistake Deus Ex 2 made in changing its interface from button-activated powers to mouse-activated powers. KISS, please, and don't break up the action. Also, more upgrades for each speciality (tech, psi, combat, hacking, etc).
Irrational Games does not have any ownership of the Tribes series. All they did was accept Sierra's offer of assassinating it.
Unfortunately for those who would hope for System Shock 3: EA renewed the trademark for system shock shortly before they released Dead Space. First, this allowed them to take SS2 and make some plot and gameplay modifications, and call it their own. And secondly, since they still own the rights to SS, nothing can compete with Dead Space (which is a laughably inferior game), not even SS3, which Irrational would now be able to make if EA didn't renew the trademark.
I hope they are working on X-COM, but I hope it's not a FPS. The squad based tactics is what made the original series what it was.
@Gamingcucumber Agreed with you up until Metroid Prime....didn't like where the series went after Super Metroid. But, besides that point, glad that Irrational Games is back in it's old glory.
Ken Lavine and Irrational me on of my favorite game of all time and even though BioShock and System Shock might be similar, there isn't really anything aside from those that can give you the same experience. Much like Metroid Prime they are games you remember and stand out from the mass marketed shooters. They might not sell 20million copies but those that are sold are enjoyed.
I agree with SavoyPrime, a diferent game, something new, not the same First-person shooter, be creative!
I'm hoping for an X-com game, but another Swat would be cool, too. Irrational's Tribes game is the only game I didn't like which they developed. It can't be System Shock because EA owns that IP.
I'm interested in what they're working on. Another shooter might not further the credibility of our industry, but I'll reserve any real opinions until I see it. There are just so many "dark" games out now I'm starting to grow tired of it. From games that paste on something dark to their name, whether it be Darksiders, Dark Void, Dead Space, etc. or just having a straight up dark, grimy appeal to the game like many things popular on 360 and PS3.... it's getting old. We need some big budget 360 games that do something different so the dark games seem more fresh once we get to them.
Ken Levine looks like a cross between Agent Mulder and Charlie from It's Always Sunny. And he's a badass. I loved BioShock and of course their other classics. Looking forward to whatever it is they're doing.
Well, it won't be anything System Shock (SS) I don't think. I thought the whole reason Bio Shock was made (the spiritual successor to SS) and not another SS, is because EA is still sitting on the rights to that series with no plan on making a game about it or selling it...
It would be nice if it's something different from them. Meaning, not in the first-person perspective and not a shooter.
I'd jump for joy if their mystery project was The Darkness 2. It's a 2K game, no announced developer as of yet...
A X-COM game or System Shock 3 would be awesome! And with "X-COM" I mean similar to the first 3... not a FPS, Flight Sim or silly mech-based platformer!
It's good news in all cases. Any of those famous IP sequels would certainly make a great game, be it Tribes 4, System Shock 3 or SWAT 5.
If they reboot Freedom Force with the artistic styles seen in the modern age of comics, I WILL DIE A HAPPY MAN!
System shock 3, end of story. Forget about bioshock and show the world from where the hell bioshock and dead space came from!!
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