Last week's announcement of the Video Game BAFTA nominees included a respectable four nominations for Irrational Games' skybound shooter BioShock Infinite, which was included in the categories for Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement, Original Music and Best Performer. At the time however, we speculated that the notable lack of nominations for Best Game or Best Story might have had something to do with the critical backlash that began a few months after the initial praise that followed the game's release.
One popular criticism of BioShock Infinite (partly because it gave journalists the opportunity to use the phrase "ludonarrative dissonance" with gleeful abandon) was that the story was undermined by the persistent presence of standard shooter gameplay. It's uncertain whether writer and director Ken Levine took these words to heart or whether he has been interested in doing something different for a while now anyway, but Irrational's co-founder has today announced his intention to move on from the world of AAA shooters.
In a post on Irrational's website, Levine recapped his fond memories of creating the studio's successes - including the original BioShock and its spiritual predecessor, System Shock 2 - and has said that he is "winding down Irrational Games as you know it" and "starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two." All but fifteen members of the Irrational team will be laid off, but the studio will give them time to put together their portfolios and also organize a recruitment day in which 3rd party studios and publishers will be invited to interview the departing staff.
This doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be any more BioShock games, just that there won't be any more BioShock games made by the Irrational team. Levine says that he is "handing the reins [over] to 2K," who may well find another studio to continue the franchise. The last time a BioShock game was made by a developer other than Irrational it wasn't very warmly received by fans, but perhaps a fresh set of hands can do something new with the formula.
The reason behind the change is creative rather than financial. Levine states that he wishes to take a new direction in his career, making "narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable." He's also saying goodbye to disc-based distribution and will instead focus exclusively on digitally-delivered content, since he believes that this approach will "foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible."
Levine and co. will still be working under the Take-Two umbrella, so this doesn't mean that he's going fully independent, but there is every indication that he wants to adopt a more independent model of production and distribution. Recent years have seen narrative-driven indie games like Gone Home and The Walking Dead gain increasing attention from both gamers and critics, and there's definitely plenty to indicate that there's a market for games with more to their goals than scoring headshots.
It will be sad to see Irrational (as we know it) go, but overall this announcement definitely sounds like positive news and it will be exciting to see what Levine is cooking up next. The fact that Irrational veterans will be distributed throughout other game studios and publishers probably won't hurt either.
Source: Irrational Games