Ken Levine’s Ghost Story Is Nowhere Near Releasing Game

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Ken Levine's Ghost Story Is Nowhere Near Releasing Game

Ken Levine, looking to his left, past a blurry seaside jetty.

Levine looks back to try and see the last game he released iPhoto: Kotaku

A Bloomberg article Industry veteran Ken Levine’s Ghost Story Games studio is reporting today not a happy place. Half of the company’s founders have quit, along with many employees, and after eight years there is still no sign of a match.

Levine is perhaps most famous for 2007’s BioShock, a first-person action game that was unmistakably a landmark game in the industry. Previously, he had been a key figure in the development of all-time greats like Thief: The Dark Project, System Shock 2 and Freedom Force, working with Looking Glass and his own studio, Irrational Games. Though too often mistakenly described as an “author,” Levine is undeniably a central figure in 21st century video games.

In 2014, Levine said Irrational would be shutting down and starting a new studio, Ghost Story Games, to focus on storytelling projects for owner Take-Two. As of 2022, no such project has ever been made public, and Bloomberg reports that this could be the result of Levine’s leadership style and lack of managerial skills.

Aspiring games reporter Jason Schreier reports, “Levine’s management style has led to burnout and, according to former employees, caused a lot of pain.

In this 2014 announcement, Levine surprised the majority of Irrational Game employees by being fired, despite the huge success of their most recent game, BioShock Infinite. He wanted to work in a smaller place, with a lot less stress and pressure, so he sent loads of people to do it. At the time, there was a lot of talk about his proposal to create “Narrative Lego,” games featuring stories that would be either completely unique to each player, or entirely different each time they were played. Which is, you know, one thing a lot of people say before they start.

However, there was a lot of money about to try. Owned by Take-Two, but with only 12 employees, the idea was to have a studio with enormous resources to explore these creative ideals. However, given that they released a total of zero games, it’s clear something about this wasn’t working.

According to BloombergGhost Story founder Mike Snight left the studio citing Levine’s “creative process” as the factor that drove him away. He left with half of the other founders. Six of them told Schreier that the independent size of the studio did not infringe on Levine’s desires to create something on an AAA scale. It was set to take place on a space station, with three factions that players could align or oppose with, aiming to release in 2017.

In 2016, the team appears to have reached around 30 people (currently the workshop site reports 32 employees), but as Bloomberg states, the ambitions went far beyond what such a small group could achieve.

Two of the studio’s first employees recalled a version from around 2016 with elaborate levels and rich three-dimensional graphics. They wondered how they would end up with less than 30 people on the team. Others remembered a complicated dialogue system that morphed based on player choice, requiring a huge amount of writing that couldn’t have been completed in a year.

Unfortunately, it seems that if one person has bought into the “author” theory, it is Levine himself. While projects like System Shock 2 and BioShock were the work of hundreds of people, the press (hello) was guilty of giving too much credit to individuals in response to a project. A burden that no developer can ever really carry. According to the Bloomberg article, Levine tried despite this. His leadership style is one that frequently sees months of other people’s work abandoned at will.

On previous projects, budgets and release dates forced this practice to end at some point, unfortunately usually with a lot of crunch. But with Ghost Story’s enormous freedoms, it looks like Levine’s behavior has been much more out of control, and as such, this first project has been allowed to enter its fifth year after its originally planned release.

Oddly, it seems Levine’s desire to do something so infinitely adaptable to the player is also something he wishes he could see in every aspect on a cinematic level. Schreier implies that several current and former Ghost Story employees haven’t been able to explain to Levine that these two concepts cannot coexist.

Levine would often evaluate aspects of the game when they weren’t finished yet, decide they weren’t good enough, and order the team to remove or modify them, employees say. “The type of game explored doesn’t fit well with the creative process being used,” says Andres Gonzalez, a founding member who left to start a new business with Snight.

It also looks like Levine is a bit difficult to work with. Schreier perhaps euphemistically describes “mercurial behavior”, while also alleging that some who “fought” with Levine then “mysteriously ceased to appear in the office.”

None of this really sounds like an ideal environment to design breakthrough games. As reported by Bloomberg, current employees say they don’t see how anything could be released for at least two years. Which, to say the least, rather shines a light on Levine’s absurdity as a writer, given that no game was created when left on its own.

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Article source https://kotaku.com/report-ken-levines-ghost-story-studio-is-nowhere-near-1848297126

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