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BioShock Infinite Could Have Been Much More, Were It Not For Ken Levine
While I enjoyed BioShock Infinite when it came out back in 2013, there was a lot amiss. For instance, all those extra gameplay features & content about alternate realities and making hard choices in an open-world setting shown in past gameplay trailers of the game were all cut in the final version. Why is that?
According to a book called Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry (via Polygon), BioShock Infinite fell victim to the trope of triple-A game development: it was a huge mess for the majority of its development, with many of its developers having to crunch for months to ship the game in 2013. Most importantly, many developers who spoke to the book’s author Jason Schreier said that it was “challenging” to work with game director Ken Levine.
While Ken Levine is a creative genius, he had trouble communicating his ideas or leading a 200-plus team at Irrational Games. Here’s an excerpt from former BioShock Infinite developer Mikey Soden on the harrowing experience, stating that Irrational’s way of developing BioShock Infinite was not sustainable at all:
“While waiting in the drink line at the gold party, I overheard two spouses of Irrational devs talking about how it was nice to have their SOs backâ€”that the last year had felt like a divorce. I looked at my wife and asked if she felt the same… ‘yes’.
Here’s how Infinite changed me: I promised I would never do that to her again, and started looking for positions outside Irrational the following. I made a promise to myself, as a producer, that I would never do that to a team.”
When producer Don Roy joined the studio in March 2012, he was shocked when he saw how badly organized the team and project was. In the summer of that year, the company had to get Epic Games’ Rod Fergusson to act as a “closer”, building a manageable schedule to finish the game for its 2013 release. Fergusson also had to work with Levine closely, which was a challenge to even the Epic Games veteran.
Here’s an excerpt from another former Irrational multiplayer QA lead Tara Voelker, who now works at Xbox as an accessibility program manager.
When I started at Irrational, I was the Multiplayer QA Lead. When I left, I was technically QA Level Lead but honestly spent 50% of my time as a personal Ken secretary, sitting in 1:1 meetings to take very specific notes, entering them in as tasks, and following up with Rod. https://t.co/vcQEwqr9XY
— Tara Voelker (@LadieAuPair) May 10, 2021
Voelker said it was hard to do her real job while spending so much time in those meetings. And the kicker was the game’s multiplayer was cut on the same day she submitted a QA report where the team was able to run through all the maps without a single crash. The team went to the nearby regular bar to “have a wake”.
“I remember the day remappable controls got cut. The feature was buggy & we didn’t have time to fix it. I stormed into Rod’s office and started crying. He gave me a glass of whiskey and let me cry it out while we talked about how hard this project was.”
You can read the full article here, which highlights the arduous process of making BioShock Infinite and how long many folks had to wait until they can speak out. In the meantime, check out the scrapped gameplay & narrative ideas from the game below: