I just can’t shake this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Granted, I’m used to waiting years for a game to be released. I’ve come to accept that, as annoying as they may be, delays happen. And I agree with the old adage that “a game is late until it comes out, a bad game is bad forever.” Yet, even after assuring myself with those thoughts, I can’t help but be worried about the future of BioShock Infinite (opens in new tab) and its developer Irrational Games.
Announced with much fanfare in 2010, BioShock Infinite’s intended 2012 debut seemed dauntingly far away, but everyone was ready to give the devs as much time as they needed. Now, with the game pushed to a February 2013 release, it feels almost as distant as it did when I saw the first trailer. And despite the recent release of a bombastic new video for the title (opens in new tab), I’m having increasing trouble believing in that February launch date.
2012 has been filled with bad news for Infinite. The announced October release switched to February mere weeks later. After wowing crowds at E3 2011, Infinite skipped E3 2012 altogether, along with other prominent trade shows. And then there were a flurry of departures from the developer, as high profile staff (opens in new tab) left the project, along with reports of late cuts to the game design (opens in new tab). In spite of all the exits, you’d think a big name hire would ease my fears, but it's having the opposite effect. Rod Fergusson of Epic Games joined the team some months ago, and he has a reputation for making sure games ship on time, a skill Infinite could use right now. My worrying inner voice can’t help but say, “What cuts and compromises will have to be made to hit that date?”
The staff changes are even more frightening than they might seem on the surface. Even if the people that left had completed their portion of the game, many had been with the company for years, and apparently they don’t want to be around for whatever comes next. It’s a bad sign for any development house, let alone one as talented as Irrational. At my most pessimistic, I worry that these exits are merely precursors to Ken Levine ultimately leaving as well, following in the footsteps of similarly revered devs like Will Wright, David Jaffe, and Cliff Bleszinski. Is it possible that he’d quit the company he built after his current game ships?
With all those red flags, my biggest anxiety stems from the fact that, to my knowledge, BioShock Infinite has never been playable for the press. The game has rarely been shown publically since E3 2011, and back then, the only people playing it were the developers. This situation isn’t unheard of, but it’s certainly out of the ordinary for games on the scale of BioShock Infinite to not be playable at any preview event or trade show within a year of release. The publisher can release all the gameplay footage it wants, and announce all the pre-order bonuses it deems necessary, but it’s hard to believe a game is coming out in four months when none of my peers have touched it.
What’s going on? Having never developed a game before, I can only make severely uninformed guesses on something as complex and ever-changing as Infinite’s development cycle. As Kotaku reported (opens in new tab), if the devs are making very late cuts to the game, perhaps the last minute crunch leaves no to room to craft an attractive demo for the public. Or maybe Levine simply doesn’t want to share the game with the press, echoing Denis Dyack's distrust (opens in new tab) for the entire system of showing off playable demos. I’d like to think Levine is one of those rare people in the industry with enough power to have some say in when his game is shown.
I don’t think the developer “owes” people like me a demo, and if they don’t want to share it before release, that’s absolutely within their right. And in a perfect world, maybe the industry would be better off if games were never shown until completion. But this is the real world, and this unnatural silence is burning through what I thought was my bottomless well of faith in Irrational. They earned my trust with the original BioShock, a game that didn’t have the easiest time in development, either. And that fact is where I’m investing my remaining confidence.
BioShock faced big delays five years ago, when the game was shown much earlier than it probably should have been, and more than a few doubted its hype. We all know how that turned out, so I’m hoping against hope that the team can pull a rabbit out of its hat again. Of course, by this point in the original game's development timeline, BioShock had been shown playable multiple times.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that by next March, we’ve all finished BioShock Infinite and are eagerly anticipating Levine and Irrational’s next masterpiece. If and when that happens, people can pull up this feature and cite it as yet another example of a games journalist indulging in pessimism and negativity. However, right now there are just too many questions left unanswered, and, unfortunately, despite our dwindling patience for the game, we’re stuck waiting for answers.
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