Irrational Had An "Undercurrent Of Tension At All Times" Says Ex-dev

Paul Walker


In the wake of the closure of Irrational - the studio behind Bioshock Infinite - we speak to an ex-employee about Irrational, Ken Levine and the changes made to Bioshock Infinite.

Published on Apr 30, 2014

It's apparent to anyone who has watched the Bioshock Infinite trailer from E3 2011 that the Bioshock Infinite we eventually got to play was very different from the game we were initially shown. 

With a number of key staff leaving Irrational over the course of Bioshock Infinite's development and the studio's eventual closure, questions about what was going on behind the scenes and whether changes made to the game reflected a troubled development cycle have naturally emerged.

We spoke to an ex-Irrational employee about the impact Bioshock Infinite's changes had on the studio, the atmosphere at Irrational and working with Ken Levine. 

"As far as the differences between early trailers and the finished game, you have to remember that Bioshock Infinite was in production for over five years," our source said, explaining that changes made to the game were, at least to an extent, a natural part of the game development process.

Did those changes cause problems internally, though?

"I'd have to say yes," our source said.

"People came and left the studio in those five plus years, some because of issues with how production was handled and how the company was run," they explained. 

"It was obvious that not everyone agreed with Ken [Levine] and the decisions he made, and as I said, a lot of talent left because of that"

"As a place to work, Irrational had its ups and downs," our source continued.  

"They did what they could to provide anything we needed to make our work day easier. But there was definitely an undercurrent of tension at all times." 

As to working with Levine, our source was largely positive. They suggested that Levine has an unfavourable reputation with some, but that it is unwarranted.

"Ken was constantly involved in most if not all aspects of the design of the game. Constantly playing through the content, or meeting with producers to go over playtest notes, reworking the script, working with the developers to adjust gameplay and controls to make it more fun," our source said. 

"Ken is a creative genius. There’s really no doubt about that," they continued. "But like most geniuses, he’s a little disconnected from the world."

"I’ve talked to people that have met him once or twice and thought he was an asshole. To me he seemed more unintentionally inconsiderate. Like there was so much going on in his head, that he didn’t have the time for anything else."

We asked our source if they had any sense as to what factors contributed to the closure of Irrational.

"I can’t say there were any signs of closure, but looking back, I can’t say I’m totally surprised either," our source said.

"While I don’t know the specific financials of the game, I do know expectations were that the game would sell somewhere in the area of 7 million copies. Last I had heard, sales had just topped 4 million. That’s a big difference," our source explained.

"I think when it came down to it, as well as it did, it underperformed in sales, and the money just wasn’t there."



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