Ken Levine is best known for games like System shock 2 and the BioShock franchise, but nothing new, and it seems there’s a good reason for that. According to Bloomberg, Levine’s next game is in development hell at his new studio Ghost Story Games. The game was originally supposed to be released in 2017, but it is estimated that the game will be at least two years away from release.
The development of the game started in 2014, but after almost eight years of development, it still has no name. There doesn’t even seem to be a concrete idea of what the game should be. The game is intended to be built on a ‘narrative LEGO’ concept where each player’s experience is unique. This can happen as characters react to a player’s various actions, creating different scenarios each time.
The idea was meant to be unique and stand out from other games, but the title has been in production for so long that other games got their first. Ghost Story Games’ version of narrative LEGO was a BioShock-inspired sci-fi shooter that took place on a space station that was home to three factions. Each of these factions can be an ally or an enemy depending on the player’s actions. Whether the game still looks like this remains to be seen now that development has restarted or the direction of the game has changed countless times over the past eight years.
The problem with reboots in Levine’s world is that they often involve wasting months of work. This is not something new for Ghost Story Games; while creating BioShock Infinite at Irrational Games it was estimated that Levine had cut enough material to make two more games. Levine’s tastes can change in an instant depending on what he’s playing at the time. Features of the upcoming game had to be changed to allow features of Dead cells or Void Bastards, for instance. The Ghost Story Games staff understandably called this “demoralizing” and that it could be “an obstacle to their careers”.
One of the problems facing the team is that Levine’s ambitions haven’t been scaled down to fit the size of the studio. Ghost Story Games is a small studio with only a fraction of the staff from Levine’s previous studio, Irrational Games. With less than 30 people on the team, it’s impossible to make an AAA size game with a team size “budget”. The game previously featured “extensive levels and rich, three-dimensional graphics”. Other versions had a “complicated dialogue system that would change based on player choices, requiring a huge amount of writing that could not possibly have been completed in a year”.
Another issue is Levine’s leadership style. He is described as “a flawed manager who often struggles to communicate his vision and alienates or repels subordinates who challenge him or fail to meet his expectations”. A running joke throughout the studio is “Kenception”, a reference to the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Start. This is where DiCaprio enters a person’s dream to plant an idea that the person then thought was their idea. Without anything like this, Levine was incredibly difficult to get away from his original train of thought.
While an initial release window was set for 2017, this has obviously come and gone. The window has moved continuously since then, and Levine is getting away with it because of the leniency offered to him by Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of Ghost Story Games. They check in on how the game is going, but are reluctant to set a hard deadline, something Levine seems to need. Current Ghost Story Games staff think the game is at least two years away from release, but time will tell.