New report details BioShock Creator’s new game and the stony development, employee burnout and numerous content cuts around it

Ken Levine, the creator of the famous BioShock series, released his latest game, BioShock Infinite, in 2013. Shortly afterwards, he closed the doors to the Irrational Games, a studio he started in 1997. Most of the staff were released no less. short notice, but a handful of developers were hand-picked to join his new smaller studio startup, Ghost Story Games.

The new studio, still at the helm of 2K and parent company Take-Two Interactive, began work on a new game – it’s the narrative Legos that a Levine talked about years and years ago – in 2014. Now, eight years later, no a trace of that game has been seen by the public and a new report from Bloomberg reveals why.

Ghost Story game

Unfortunately, what is revealed in the report is not at all uncommon in video game development: poor management, burnout and frustration of employees and the dogmatic pursuit of a person’s vision for a game, despite what the said persecution could do to others in the studio. . Game Informer has compiled some of these development hell stories in a recent series that you can follow here: Video Games Stuck In Development Hell Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Bloomberg spoke to several Ghost Story staff, both current and former, and the publication reports that many blame Levine for the “tortured project”, citing that he is a “flawed leader who often struggles to communicate his vision and alienates or browbeats subordinates who challenge him or do not live up to his expectations. ”

A joke that took place around the office was called “Kenception.” Refers to Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film, Introduction, former and current anonymous staff at Ghost Story said it was so hard to persuade Levine that it might have been easier to infiltrate his dreams and plant an idea, so when Levine woke up, he would think it was something he himself imagined.

Those Bloomberg also talked in detail about the flaws of allowing a person like Levine to have so much autonomy over what Ghost Story creates. Sure, Levine could create the next BioShock for 2K and Take-Two, but some who worked with him have wondered what it costs. Mike Snight, who co-founded Ghost Story with Levine, ended up leaving the studio because of his dissatisfaction with the seemingly endless cycles of closet-cut-closet-cut-and-repeat Levine is known for.

“Ken is a very tough person to work for,” Snight said. “I think he tried a lot to change, and he really excels in this business than Irrational because it’s a smaller group of people.”

Levine’s creative process, however, led to Snight’s departure from Ghost Story.

“When it constantly goes in cycles and you don’t adjust anymore, you get a little tired of being a part of it,” he said. “I was not really happy anymore.”

Part of the creative process is apparently hampered by how much control Levine is given. Bloomberg writes that by negotiating a contract with Take-Two, Levine managed to negotiate until he responds directly to Take-Two, rather than 2K, the publisher that will (perhaps) one day publish his next game. Employees said Take-Two executives would occasionally look past Ghost Story for updates, but other than that, it was up to Levine what happened to Ghost Story.

If he wanted to cut back on months of work because he was no longer happy with it, he would, to the great dismay of the employee who worked at the said job. This is not surprising, though, given that Levine has publicly discussed how okay he is with cutting content.

As noted by Bloomberg, Levine said AusGamers in a 2012 interview that he “probably cut two games worth of stuff” while developing BioShock Infinite. So, a few years later, Levin said, “in almost every game I’ve worked on, you realize you’re running out of time, and then you make the game.”

“You peek in a way for years and then you think ‘Oh my god, we’ve almost run out of time’ and it forces you to make those decisions.”

Without a tough deadline due to the amount of autonomy Levin has gained on Ghost Story, time apparently does not run out, so he reportedly continues to cut and stiffen as he pleases, leaving Ghost Story employees to speculate on when their game will ever see the light of day. Some stay, but others go as a result, according to Bloombergs report, and unfortunately, because contracts often stipulate that the work cannot be shown until it is publicly released, many are left in awkward situations where they have many years of work on Ghost Story on their resume and nothing to show for it in their portfolio.

Speaking of games to show for, or rather, games that have not yet seen the light of day, Blomberg reports that Levine’s “narrative Lego” proof-of-concept game should come in the form of an autumn 2017 sci-fi shooter set on a mysterious space station inhabited (and fought for) by three factions. Depending on what the players did and how they built and moved the narrative Legos, the factions would shift and change into enemies, allies, or something else.

Despite Levine’s goal of making Ghost Story feel like an indie studio (in terms of creativity and pace) with a AAA budget (with permission from Take-Two Interactive), his vision for this game was big and straightforward. as ambitious as BioShock. Early staff at the studio told Bloomberg that they remembered a 2016 version of this game with “advanced levels and rich, three-dimensional graphics.” They wondered how the team, which was less than three dozen developers, would end the game.

“Others remembered a complicated dialogue system that would change based on player selection and that required a huge amount of writing that could not possibly have been completed within a year.” Bloomberg writes.

A former Ghost Story employee, Giovanni Pasteris, said “the ideas and ambitions were good”, but that “the scope just grew and grew without worrying about the team’s ability to get it done before our fall 2017 deadline.” Pasteris said Levine wanted to make a AAA game with a “budget” team size, something he said would simply never happen. Missing the deadline was a problem further hampered by Levine’s ever-changing tastes, according to Bloombergs report.

Ken Levine

He would play games like Dead Cells or Void Bastards and return to Ghost Story with requests to implement features seen in them in their own game. This caused the target release for this fall 2017 game to shift to 2018 and then 2019. Now an employee at Ghost Story says the team is finally optimistic that the game is on its way, but that it may still be two years away.

One positive, if you will, at this ever-changing deadline is an apparent lack of crunch or at least minimized crunch time, but staff told Bloomberg that working on an endless game in sight is its own challenge. Add that Levine wanted to maintain the cinematic direction and focus of BioShock and BioShock Infinite in this new project, specifically designed to present a different experience to each player, and the development tension at Ghost Story only continues to grow.

Further alluding to Levine’s my-way-or-highway style of running a studio, Bloombergs the report says those who sparred with Levine on Ghost Story would mysteriously be let go, with executives simply saying the said drop employee was a bad match for Ghost Story.

“[Levine] can be quite charming and charismatic, “said Pasteris.”[Levine] can get moody and turn out, highlight a person while scolding them in front of their colleagues [too]. ”

Bloomberg paints an even more complete picture of the stony development this upcoming Ghost Story title has undergone, and the toll it has taken on developers who are currently there and those who used to work in the studio. It is worth reading the full report here. For more, check out our thoughts on Levine’s last game in Game Informer’s BioShock Infinite reviews and then reads what we thought of 2016’s BioShock: The Collection. Read about what we want in the next BioShock game after that.

[Source: Bloomberg]

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