So long, Irrational Games. Ken Levine’s announcement that he was winding down the studio behind BioShock sent a shockwave through the industry, or at least the parts of it that hadn’t already heard the rumours. It’s not too surprising, though. Levine is a storyteller, not a game maker, at heart. The six-year wait between the original and Infinite was no doubt as frustrating for him as it was for the players anticipating the sequel, and the programmers and designers who had to build the game to support the script.
Amid all the confusion over why Levine so publicly took the fall for firing almost an entire studio, one thing was made clearer: the future of videogame storytelling doesn’t lie with 200-person teams. Even Hideo Kojima is turning his back on cutscenes, and we hope audiologs won’t last much longer either. Innovation in this area tends not to come from studios labouring away on a project for six years, but from smaller teams instead.
One such studio is The Astronauts. In our first look at The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter (p38), Adrian Chmielarz – himself a veteran of protracted big-budget development – explains the need to balance how narrative is delivered with agency. He wants to give players room to work things out for themselves without leaving them completely clueless. It’s especially important for a game in which you play a detective, but it’s a concept that applies to many more genres than this.
Levine says he will focus on “narrative-led games that are highly replayable”, which is surely the author’s Holy Grail. He has spoken of his interest in procedurally generated storylines, and at GDC this month will discuss what he terms “narrative Lego”. Perhaps he will deliver on his promise. Hopefully, it won’t be six years before we find out. But can Levine, or anyone else, deliver anything as rich in story potential as Rust (p50)? An ever-growing number of players have no need for an auteur’s story. They’re too busy making their own.