History seems to be repeating itself in dramatic fashion: Bloomberg reports that the new game from BioShock creator Ken Levine at Ghost Story Games has spent significant time in “development hell,” and an optimistic estimate pegs its release date at still two years away. It has already been in development for more than seven years for publisher Take-Two Interactive, and a lot of the difficulty seems to center on Levine himself.
Ken Levine reportedly originally pitched his new game to Ghost Story colleagues as “narrative Lego,” where every player’s experience would feel unique. However, the problem quickly became that Levine’s ideas were as monstrously ambitious as they had been while developing BioShock, a series developed by massive teams, but Ghost Story Games started out as just 12 people and was supposed to feel more “indie.” The game was originally supposed to be a sci-fi shooter with three factions of malleable allegiance set on a space station, aimed to launch in 2017, and those plans evidently didn’t work out.
Ken Levine reportedly kept changing his mind about what he wanted the new game to be; when he played a new game he liked like Dead Cells or Void Bastards, he would want to add features from those games to his game. Weeks or months’ worth of work could be discarded if Levine changed his mind about a feature, which was demoralizing to the development team. Additionally, as has been noted in the past, Levine is reportedly prone to lash out at employees when things are not proceeding how he wants.
Basically, the only problem that has not plagued the development of this new game at Ghost Story is crunch: Despite the extremely long development cycle, Ken Levine reportedly quipped that the expense of keeping the studio running is merely a “rounding error” for the behemoth that is Take-Two. If Levine can deliver another BioShock-caliber seller eventually, that will be good enough. Additionally, one Ghost Story employee speaking anonymously believes the game is finally on track and is the one who suggested a release date is two years away.
Ultimately, it sounds like many of the same issues that plagued Levine’s former studio Irrational Games during the five-year development cycle of BioShock Infinite have recurred at Ghost Story Games. BioShock Infinite was a smash hit in 2014, but the development was troubled due to, among other factors, Levine’s perfectionist tendencies and his difficulty conveying his vision to colleagues. Levine then shocked the Irrational development team by announcing the closure of the studio, so that he could start the smaller, more agile studio that is Ghost Story Games.
And now we have come full circle at Ghost Story, with Ken Levine and a new game that is thrashing its way to the finish line. (Meanwhile, a totally different developer is making BioShock 4, which is apparently set in 1960s Alaska.)