An excerpt from journalist Jason Schreier’s new book on game development, published on Polygon, tells a familiar story of triple-A game development: BioShock Infinite was a mess for much of its development, and many of its developers had to crunch for months to ship the game in 2013. Developers who spoke to Schreier talked about how “challenging” it was to work with Ken Levine. Many called the BioShock director a creative “genius” but said he often had trouble communicating his ideas or leading the 200-plus developers at Irrational. Since the excerpt’s publication, other former Irrational developers have shared their experiences on Twitter, offering more personal stories from their years working on BioShock Infinite.
“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 back—that the last year had felt like a divorce. I looked at my wife and asked if she felt the same… ‘yes'” tweeted developer Mikey Soden. “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.”
Soden tweeted that the way Irrational developed BioShock Infinite wasn’t sustainable. In the excerpt from Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, producer Don Roy said that when he joined the studio in March 2012, a year before release, he was shocked at the lack of organization. That summer, the studio brought on Epic Games’ Rod Fergusson (who later ran Gears of War studio The Coalition before moving to Blizzard) to act as a “closer,” building a schedule that would actually let them ship Infinite.
A key part of Fergusson’s role was working with Levine, a challenging task. Xbox accessibility program manager Tara Voelker tweeted, “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.”
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/vcQEwqr9XYMay 10, 2021
Voelker wrote that it was hard to do her real job while spending so much time in those meetings, and remembered how difficult some of the cuts made to BioShock Infinite during development were for the team. Multiplayer was cut on the same day Voelker submitted a QA report that, for the first time, they were able to run through all the maps without a single crash. The multiplayer team was sent to one of the staff’s regular bars “to have a wake.”
“I remember the day remappable controls got cut. The feature was buggy & we didn’t have time to fix it,” Voelker tweeted later in the thread. “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.”
Other former Irrational developers replied to Voelker’s tweets to highlight the friendships they made at the studio, but also to speak to how Infinite’s development had affected their mental and physical health. “It hurt when the studio closed but it also started the recovery process,” Soden tweeted.
The excerpt of Press Reset quotes multiple developers on working with Levine and the long days of Infinite’s final months. As on Twitter, they remembered some of the good, like becoming more skilled game developers, with the bad, as summed up by artist Chad LaClair: “I’ve never crunched on a game as much as I crunched on BioShock Infinite.”
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