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Since its debut to the public in August 2010, Bioshock Infinite has had fans enraptured with its potential. (Get it? enraptured?) Eager fan of its predecessor have been patiently waiting as developer Irrational pushed back the release date from Fall 2012 to Spring 2013. Still, the more we saw of the game, the more excited we became. The city of Columbia is a fascinating setting, the characters seem captivating and believable and some of the gameplay mechanics introduce whole new, unexpected wrinkles. But this game has had its fair share of trouble throughout its development. So should we be worried about it?
The most obvious problem is that Bioshock Infinite has lost some key talent in the crunch time of its development. This is the time when all hands are on deck for hundred hour work weeks and non-stop polish and refinement. Losing a key figure during crunch is a demoralizing blow to a development team and can have a hugely negative impact on the final product. Just losing one key figure can have that kind of impact, but Irrational has lost (by my count) five important members of the development team. Let's run down the list:
Look at the titles for each of them. Three have the word "director" in their title, one has the word "lead" in his title and the fifth has the not-so-unimportant job of "producer". That's quite a blow. As far as we know, the only talent Irrational has gained through this period is former Director of Production at Epic, Rod Fergusson. While his skill and knowledge can't be understated, he's still only one man. To lose five key members of the team at such a critical time for your game, has to leave a mark on production and direction.
We also know that Bioshock: Infinite was slated to have a multiplayer mode. Little was known about this mode and it seemed unlike Irrational to try to shoehorn a multiplayer mode into a game whose single player wasn't even yet up to par. Ken Levine has said in the past that Irrational will not put multiplayer into a game unless they feel it is just as innovative and integral to the experience as the main single player campaign. If this multiplayer mode is the thing that's extending the development time of Bioshock: Infinite, then I trust that Ken Levine, Irrational and 2K see huge potential there. Otherwise, they wouldn't pursue it.
Not to mention, that Irrational is the type of company that has no problem burning sacred cows if they're no longer pulling their weight. They have a track record for throwing games out and starting again from scratch. Years ago, a survival horror game they were working on called The Lost was just about finished when Ken Levine decided it wasn't good enough. So they tossed it and started fresh on a new project. Could this still happen to Bioshock: Infinite? Yes, but chances are, if Irrational didn't think they could turn it around and release an excellent product, they would've given up on it by now.
That is unless pressure from 2K has made that almost impossible. A lot of people have a lot of money and investment riding on the success of Bioshock: Infinite, and therefore, a lot of people are likely pressuring Irrational to fix whatever it is that's wrong with the game. This is just speculation, but that kind of pressure from the publisher is something that Irrational isn't very accustomed to, and could have contributed to the departure of the aforementioned employees.
There is precedent for this kind of thing. In 2003, Valve was a month away from releasing Half-Life 2, when Gabe Newell decided to push the release back another year. The game wasn't ready, and it didn't meet Valve's high standards. It released in 2004, and is now widely accepted as one of the greatest games of all time. Similar examples can be found throughout the industry. I Am Alive, Spec Ops: The Line, even Mass Effect all had tumultuous development cycles, but ended up releasing to at least some acclaim. The same could certainly happen with Bioshock: Infinite.
Like the city of Columbia, much of Bioshock: Infinite's future is up in the air at this point. The A.I. for Elizabeth has been rumored to be causing some problems for the team. The title is a much larger production than the original Bioshock, and one that the indie-minded Irrational may not be equipped to handle. And it's not hard to imagine the concept of tears in the time-space continuum causing some frustration for play testers and engineers.
Who knows. Bioshock: Infinite might not turn out to even be worth all the worrying in the first place. But I doubt it. I'm worried, but still optimistic. This game has been my most anticipated for the past year and a half, and I know I'm not alone. There is still a very talented bunch of people working on the title up there in Boston, MA, and with the direction of Ken Levine, I have faith that Irrational can pull this off. They will debut a new trailer on Sunday, so we'll see how it's looking then. It may no longer be the same game we've been expecting, or it may be totally awesome, but at least we can all take solace in knowing one thing for sure:
At least Dishonored turned out to be great! ...So there's that.
Stay classy Game Informer!