Thursday, April 26, 2018
TV and Media

'BioShock' creator's focus on digital heralds a new era

It seems there's an end to the story for the makers of BioShock Infinite. Studio head Ken Levine says his Irrational Games will be shutting down for good to focus on "a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two."

How much smaller? Only about 15 people out of a studio of about 200 were going to keep their jobs, the Feb. 18 announcement on the studio's website read. The more positive spin, however, is what Levine will be doing.

"In time we will announce a new endeavor with a new goal: To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable. To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally," he wrote.

That's a tall order in today's AAA game market, where guaranteed franchises get the lion's share of the attention (and development and marketing budgets). Ironically, BioShock was one of those franchises, so it's interesting to see Levine shuttering Irrational to focus on a much smaller effort.

There were hints something like this was coming. Infinite's development was wracked with problems, with staff turnover and features being killed and rewritten as close to release day as the studio could muster. Not that the gaming public cared much on the way to forking over serious cash to make it the No. 1 console game during its first week of release in 2013, both on physical disc and digitally on Steam.

Levine obviously took note of that, apparently deciding to focus more on the excellent but rather scattershot story elements from Infinite and bringing it into the age of download-only media. For a man who spent his career refining a formula to near-cinematic quality, this move really shouldn't be a surprise.

A fellow tentpole mastermind, Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski, told Gamasutra that he left Epic because the industry wasn't headed where he wanted to go.

"The whole 'old guard,' where you get a Game Informer cover and an E3 reveal, is dead," he said. "I'll never make another disc-based game for the rest of my career, and (at E3) they're trying to woo buyers from Target and Walmart?"

That's compelling criticism coming from a guy who made his name selling games about "shooting f---ing lizard-men in the f---ing face with a f---ing chainsaw gun." But he may be on to something.

The best games coming out these days eschew the traditional format as Cliffy B describes it. The Fullbright Company's Gone Home, Telltale's The Walking Dead and Red Barrels' Outlast all are story-driven efforts with unusual mechanics that didn't rely on the typical mega-rollout big titles enjoy. All three of those (and many more) are easily better games than the majority of lackluster efforts churned out on a monthly basis, even if receipts don't readily show it.

That tack may not fly with Take Two, which will no doubt expect a return on its investment with Levine. But despite his insistence he will need "a long period of design," the publisher wanted to keep him in house. BioShock can live on at 2K Marin, in any event, so you can assume their efforts will eventually subsidize anything Levine wants to try.

It remains to be seen if the wider gaming audience will cotton to this approach, though. Evidence increasingly shows that while there are more gamers than ever, the casual experience of mobile entertainment is increasingly where the money will be at. For every untitled Levine project in the works for the home hardware of choice, there will be 100 Angry Birds raking in the microdough on mobile.

Levine isn't concerned about casual gamers, though, professing to be more intent on catering to the core gaming audience. That's a very broad definition, as Bleszinski can tell you, but Levine seems to know what he's doing. Anyone who can take the same design as his prior efforts and drape it over the mindbending quantum mechanics at the heart of Infinite to create an engaging experience is no slouch.

But it makes me wonder: Talk was big about Infinite years before its release, so much so that Irrational stayed out of BioShock 2's development. The same strength of the title, its repurposing of familiar themes, is also its greatest weakness.

Before anyone praises or damns Levine for his move, we all need to wait and see whether he comes up with something truly original. The driving factor of the advent of download-only gaming is just background noise until then.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Challenge his opinions at [email protected]

Comments

Wednesday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBaseballMariners at White Sox2 p.m.MLBNationals at Giants (in progress)5 p.m.MLBTwins at Yankees6:30 p.m.1040-AMRays at Orioles7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMCubs at Indians7 p.m.ESPNMarlins at Dodgers7:30 p.m.FSFCollege baseballIndiana at Purdue7 p.m.ESP...
Published: 04/24/18
Twin sisters from Tampa helping shape Fox's 'Empire' say they'd like to tell Tampa stories

Twin sisters from Tampa helping shape Fox's 'Empire' say they'd like to tell Tampa stories

JaNeika and JaSheika James’ television obsession was fueled by scarcity and convenience. As self-described "military brats" living in Germany, the girls treasured the VHS tapes their grandparents shipped overseas filled with English-language S...
Published: 04/24/18

Tuesday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBaseballTwins at Yankees6:30 p.m.MLB; 1040-AMRays at Orioles7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Dodgers10 p.m.FSFCollege baseballCoastal Carolina at North Carolina6 p.m.ESPNUMississippi at Mississippi State7 p.m.SECCreighton at Nebraska7:30 p.m.Big ...
Published: 04/23/18
Dwayne Johnson turns down promposal, but rents a movie theater for her instead

Dwayne Johnson turns down promposal, but rents a movie theater for her instead

STILLWATER, Minn. — An eastern Minnesota teen who asked her celebrity crush Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to prom got a huge surprise when he actually responded. The Pioneer Press reports that Stillwater Area High School Senior Katie Ke...
Published: 04/23/18
Prince Arthur? Odds on the name of the newest royal baby

Prince Arthur? Odds on the name of the newest royal baby

Jackson, Liam and Noah may have been the most popular boys names in 2017, but don’t expect either of those monikers to be applied to the latest addition to the royal family.The Dutchess of Cambridge (that would be Kate Middleton) and Prince Wil...
Published: 04/23/18
Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ returns as a brutal message on extremism, complacency and trauma

Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ returns as a brutal message on extremism, complacency and trauma

About eight minutes into the second season of The Handmaid's Tale, you hear Kate Bush's This Woman's Work play amidst close shots of muzzled women. It's so heartbreaking that you may question your stamina to get through another dozen episodes.The son...
Published: 04/23/18

Monday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosIndyCar: Grand Prix of AlabamanoonNBCSNBaseballAutosIndyCar: Grand Prix of AlabamanoonNBCSNTwins at Yankees7 p.m.ESPNMarlins at Dodgers10 p.m.FSFCollege softballTennessee at Alabama7 p.m.SECLouisville at Florida State7 p.m.ESPNUNBA playoffs...
Published: 04/22/18

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosNHRA: SpringNationals2 p.m.FS1IndyCar: Grand Prix of Alabama3 p.m.NBCSNBaseballTwins at Rays1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Brewers2 p.m.FSFIndians at Orioles2 p.m.MLBCubs at Rockies (in progress)4 p.m.MLBNationals at Dodgers8 p.m.ESPNColle...
Published: 04/21/18
Tampa Theatre is showing ‘Reefer Madness’ tonight on 420 Day

Tampa Theatre is showing ‘Reefer Madness’ tonight on 420 Day

The campy gem known as Reefer Madness is screening at 10:30 p.m. tonight at the history Tampa Theatre, a perfect bit of programming on 420 Day. Today's day is 4/20 and it has beeen adopted in some circles as Weed Day because of the numeral code used ...
Published: 04/20/18
Watch this weekend: ‘Westworld,’ ”The 100,’ ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Watch this weekend: ‘Westworld,’ ”The 100,’ ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Back online: WestworldIt's crazy to think that the first season of Westworld premiered more than a year ago. But the hype surrounding this modern sci-fi series hasn't let up since. In the first season we explored the high-tech theme park of Westworld...
Published: 04/20/18