BioShock creator Ken Levine has handed publisher 2K the keys to his fantastical video game universe to work on something new.
Levine announced he was "winding down Irrational Games as you know it", the studio he co-founded 17 years ago. His new venture will be "a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor" at Take-Two, 2K's parent company. All but 15 at Irrational have been let go.
"There's no great way to lay people off, and our first concern is to make sure that the people who are leaving have as much support as we can give them during this transition," he wrote on the Irrational Games website.
"Besides financial support, the staff will have access to the studio for a period of time to say their goodbyes and put together their portfolios. Other Take-Two studios will be on hand to discuss opportunities within the company, and we'll be hosting a recruiting day where we'll be giving 3rd party studios and publishers a chance to hold interviews with departing Irrational staff."
Levine was vague about his next game, but he will stay with Take-Two to make it. Whatever it is, the goal is to create "narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable". Levine added: "To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally."
"When I first contemplated what I wanted to do, it became very clear to me that we were going to need a long period of design," he explained. "Initially, I thought the only way to build this venture was with a classical startup model, a risk I was prepared to take. But when I talked to Take-Two about the idea, they convinced me that there was no better place to pursue this new chapter than within their walls. After all, they're the ones who believed in and supported BioShock in the first place.
"Thanks to Irrational and 2K's passion in developing the games, and the fans who believe in it, BioShock has generated retail revenues of over a half billion dollars and secured an iconic place in gaming. I'm handing the reins of our creation, the BioShock universe, to 2K so our new venture can focus entirely on replayable narrative. If we're lucky, we'll build something half as memorable as BioShock."
The announcement comes ahead of the release of Episode 2 of the Burial at Sea downloadable add-on for BioShock Infinite, which fans expect to wrap up the series that began with 2007's stunning BioShock.
Explaining his decision, Levine said he wanted to make a different kind of game than he had done at Irrational.
"Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one," he said. "And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I've ever had. While I'm deeply proud of what we've accomplished together, my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we've done before.
"To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience."