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It’s been almost ten years since the closure of Irrational Games, the studio behind BioShock. It closed because the creative force behind the studio, Ken Levine, wanted to work on something different.

“Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one,” he said in a letter at the time. “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.”


Levine wanted a new creative challenge – understandable after 17 years – and the result was 75 job cuts. Sure, the parent company hosted a jobs fair and tried to help those affected land other roles in third-party studios, but that objectively sucks ass.

According to a Polygon report, development on BioShock Infinite was a widely iterative and sometimes frustrating process, to the point where other big-name developers like Jordan Thomas and Rod Fergusson had to come in and help find the middle ground between Levine’s creative ambitions and building a shippable game.

Many of the former employees Polygon spoke to still think of Levine on positive terms, saying he drove them to create their best work. They describe Levine as a perfectionist who isn’t afraid of giving his developers and artists creative freedom, but will happily criticize the work if he didn’t deem it up to scratch. Sometimes this feedback was “rude” or “mean”, according to the report.

One source claimed that an external firm was even brought in to improve company culture in the final days, but instead decided that Levine wouldn’t change, so his employees would have to change instead.


By all accounts, Levine is a creative force. He seemingly just struggled with working for a studio with over 100 employees while creating BioShock games forever – the studio’s last project was DLC for BioShock Infinite.

During the announcement of the layoffs, employees say Levine was sensitive and offered one-on-one time with affected employees. His hands were shaking as he gave the news. He also took to Twitter to share resumes of former employees, and the affected staff were allowed time in the office to wrap up any unfinished business, rather than being unceremoniously hoisted out.

It’s clear none of this was easy for Levine, and he has kept to his word in regard to studio size – his new studio, Ghost Story Games, has only 35 employees listed on its website. But the reveal trailer for the studio’s new game, Judas, does make you wonder.

Scroll down the YouTube comments of the trailer and count how many people mention BioShock. The game is clearly a spiritual successor of sorts to both it and System Shock, launching us into a society that’s falling apart, blending first-person shooting with a range of inhuman powers, and putting the focus on a series of antagonists with different philosophical viewpoints.

The game’s description makes it sound almost identical to the original ambitions for BioShock Infinite: “Judas is a single-player, narrative first-person shooter developed by Ghost Story Games, a studio led by Ken Levine, Creative Director of System Shock 2, BioShock, and BioShock Infinite.

“A disintegrating starship. A desperate escape plan. You are the mysterious and troubled Judas. Your only hope for survival is to make or break alliances with your worst enemies. Will you work together to fix what you broke – or will you leave it to burn?”

It also doesn’t look like it’s scaled down in terms of triple-A ambition, featuring visuals on par with the biggest blockbuster games of 2022. It may have been in development for close to ten years, but there’s a good chance the 35-person studio is bolstered by outsourced contractors too. It begs the question: why close Irrational?

Anyone can understand the urge to clean up their room by sweeping everything into the bin, but it’s hard to swallow when the debris on the floor is made up of people’s livelihoods.

It’s a complicated thing to process. Judas looks like my kind of game, and I trust the team at Ghost Story to make something good. I just struggle to understand why people had to be pushed aside to make it happen.