Bloomberg recounts the wanderings of Ken Levine’s project, in preparation since 2014 – teller report

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The next game from the creator of BioShock is experiencing hellish development.“For his first article of 2022, the journalist of Bloomberg does not make in the lace and tells how the group of Ken Levine has struggled to put together anything convincing for years, in large part because of the personality and the methods of the famous designer of BioShock.

In the eyes of the public, the Ghost Story Games studio was announced in early 2017 to succeed Irrational Games, still under the responsibility of Take-Two Interactive. The only thing known to everyone is that Ken Levine’s team are hard at work on a new immersive simulation, leaving it to a brand new studio (Cloud Chamber) to resuscitate the BioShock saga with a 4th episode, which it is said could debut in 2022 and take us to a fictional town in Antarctica during the 60s.

The big reveal from Jason Schreier’s investigation is that Ghost Story Games’ immersive simulation has actually been in the works since 2014, and the game was originally supposed to be released in time for the end of 2017. Soon 8 years of work and still no game announcements in sight? All eyes turn immediately to the figure of Ken Levine, who is said to embody the good and bad sides of some influential authors: “a singular brilliance, a stubborn perfectionism and a delicate ego“, can we read.

If the productions of BioShock and BioShock Infinite were each spread over five years, the reasonable duration of a project (even an ambitious one) was largely exceeded in the case of the first game of Ghost Story Games. According to the 15 employees and former employees who spoke with Bloomberg, the development has suffered from numerous restarts and leadership changes. According to current estimates, the project will not see the light of day for another two years.

Although 55-year-old Ken Levine has demonstrated his talents as a writer and creative director with titles like System Shock 2, BioShock, and BioShock Infinite, his managerial qualities are far less evident. Testimonials describe him as someone who has difficulty communicating his vision and who would tend to crowd out or intimidate anyone who opposes him or does not meet his expectations.

To change this perennial dissatisfied person’s mind is generally considered a mission impossible within the team. The personality of Ken Levine would also have caused the departure, sometimes suddenly, of most of the people who decided to confront him, in particular the chief producer who tendered his resignation in 2017 after an argument. Sometimes described as “rather charming and charismatic“, Ken Levine is also able to get carried away by a bad mood and strongly reprimand someone in front of his colleagues.

If Ghost Story Games is still active after so many years without leaving the game and internal difficulties so marked, it is undoubtedly thanks to the goodwill of Take-Two Interactive, which kept Ken Levine in its ranks after the sudden closure Irrational Games in early 2014 and continued to bet on him by entrusting him with the reins of a brand new studio while guaranteeing him rare autonomy. However, from the point of view of some employees, this creative freedom which might seem ideal at the beginning (especially when Take-Two funds it all handsomely) ended up working against the whole team.

  • To read also | Ken Levine, in the shadow of Looking Glass

Take-Two probably tolerates all of this for the same reason that many people have flocked to work at Irrational and Ghost Story over the past two decades: because an author is able to produce something magnificent. But Levine’s management style led to burnout and, according to former employees, caused a lot of suffering.“, can we read. Take-Two Interactive, which has already suffered a big disappointment with the cancellation of the AAA project of Hangar 13, did not wish to comment on Jason Schreier’s investigation. Nor did Ken Levine, particularly discreet in the media for years.

The situation seems all the more deplorable as the closure of Irrational Games in early 2014 was motivated, it was said, by Ken Levine’s need to start from scratch with a small team. This is why only part of Irrational Games was able to integrate Ghost Story Games: Ken Levine explained that he wanted to work with a smaller team to better explore new ideas. Today, half of the employees who remained to work with Ken Levine have left the premises over the years.

From the start of the project, the ambitions displayed by Ken Levine seemed disproportionate to the size of his team. The original project, which was intended to launch in the fall of 2017, was to take the form of a sci-fi shooter set in a space station inhabited by three factions that could each act like allies, enemies or something. between the two, depending on the player’s actions.

Although he promised an indie mentality, Levine wanted to make a game as ambitious as BioShock with a fraction of the staff, say half a dozen former employees. Two of the studio’s first employees recall a version from 2016, with elaborate levels and rich, three-dimensional graphics. They were wondering how they were going to be able to finish it with less than 30 people on the team. Others remembered a complicated dialogue system that morphed based on the player’s choices, requiring a huge amount of writing that couldn’t have been completed in a year.“, explains Jason Schreier.

Greatly questioned are the certainties of Ken Levine with regard to the profession of author, which for him goes hand in hand with an acute perfectionism and consists in producing and regularly throwing in the trash months of work, to the dismay of his team. In an interview with AusGamers in 2012, Ken Levine himself admitted to having “probably cut the equivalent of two whole sets“on BioShock Infinite, whose home stretch caused a crunch such as 2K Games managers apologized to the wives of some Irrational Games employees.

Ghost Story employees spent weeks or months building elements of the new game, before Levine abandoned them. Levine’s tastes would sometimes change after playing a trending indie game like the side-scrolling action game Dead Cells or the comic-inspired shooter Void Bastards, and he insisted that some features be changed to imitate these games. Former employees say the constant changes were demoralizing and they felt like they were hampering their careers“, can we read.

Still a good point, the lack of delay made it possible to avoid reconnecting with the crunch from the Irrational Games era. According to a recent survey highlighted on the studio website, 94% of employees believe that Ghost Story Games is a very good place to work.

Crédit photo : Kevin Winter / Getty Images

“The next game from the creator of BioShock is experiencing hellish development.“For his first article of 2022, the journalist of Bloomberg does not make in the lace and tells how the group of Ken Levine has struggled to put together anything convincing for years, in large part because of the…

“The next game from the creator of BioShock is experiencing hellish development.“For his first article of 2022, the journalist of Bloomberg does not make in the lace and tells how the group of Ken Levine has struggled to put together anything convincing for years, in large part because of the…

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