Ken Levine has announced he is closing down Irrational Games. The press is concentrating on Levine’s move - and there’s no doubt it is a move initiated by Levine - to start a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavour at Take-Two that makes replayable narrative-driven games that will only be released digitally - and this new “start-up style studio” will be based at Take-Two, employing 15 (ex-) Irrational staff. The rest of the Irrational staff are being laid off. Irrational will be no more.
Irrational’s own website carries an enlightening fourth paragraph:
Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one. And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I’ve ever had. While I’m deeply proud of what we’ve accomplished together, my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we’ve done before. To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.
As hard as it is for the folks at Irrational and gushing gamers (did Levine really have to close the business down to pursue this?), at the least it represents an opportunity to see a revered entertainment designer go against the grain when it comes to popular games. Has the ‘lighter’ approach to gaming seen for and on mobile devices (from the creation through to the actual playing device) turned Levine’s head? There’s nothing in the news either that gives any hint towards the platforms he will be creating for and on. But spelling out a smaller, tighter team: also a chance for Levine to be more hands-on and creating?
I only got round to properly playing Bioshock for the first time during the past year (I needed a kids-related excuse to buy an Xbox 360, OK?), but discovered first Irrational just over ten years ago with the excellent PC-based superhero adventure Freedom Force - which in many ways seems to be the kind of game Levine refers to wanting to return to making, and which would work well on many handheld devices. (Why hasn’t anyone converted Freedom Force for tablets already?)
Good luck to Levine, and to all the Irrational staff. While closing down the business might seem irrational, there’s a large degree of rational thought behind this move peeking through. Interesting times for gamers and games makers, very interesting times.