Ken Levine's Ghost Story Games cover

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Ken Levine's Ghost Story Games Has Major Problems, Employees Say

January 3, 2022

By: Robert N. Adams

 
 

Ken Levine's Ghost Story Games has been working on a major project for over half a decade, and a new report based on accounts from anonymous employees says that it's still a long way off.

There are quite a few good RPGs that have been created under Levine's watch, most notably System Shock 2 and the BioShock games. Although the BioShock games ended development with the closure of Irrational Games back in 2014, a new developer called Cloud Chamber is working on a sequel.

 

As for Levine, he has been working on a new project since the mid-2010s. Unfortunately, that project is taking quite a while to get things done -- and according to reports from several anonymous employees, it's got a lot to do with his management style.

Ken Levine's Ghost Story Games slice b

 
 

Employees of Ken Levine's Ghost Story Game Speak Out

Speaking to Bloomberg, a number of anonymous employees have detailed the downsides of Levine's perfectionism -- a philosophy best encapsulated by a quote he gave in a 2013 interview with Grantland.

"But you have to understand that everything you do along the way is a tool toward achieving a product," Levine said in the 2013 interview. "If it fits in the box of what you’re trying to make, it stays. If it doesn’t, then you should happily throw it away."

 
 

"Now, as the president of Irrational, I think that’s probably easier for me to say, because I’m the one who decides what stays and what gets thrown away. But I certainly throw away my own stuff with abandon. If it’s not right, it goes. It’s not without cost, but I find that the people who are the most experienced at Irrational tend to be the most comfortable with throwing stuff away."

The consequences of that philosophy, unfortunately, mean that a lot of work ends up getting tossed out. Current and former employees would spend weeks or months building out a feature only for it to ultimately be scrapped. These issues were exacerbated by Levine's personality according to some accounts. Employees would get into an argument and then disappear, either due to being terminated or quitting on their own.

One of the biggest issues of all, however, appears to be the lack of a deadline. Levine himself had said that a looming deadline is what would finally drive him to finish a project.

"In almost every game I’ve ever worked on, you realize you’re running out of time, and then you make the game," Levine said during a panel discussion at EGX. “You sort of dick around for years, and then you’re like, 'Oh my god, we’re almost out of time,' and it forces you to make these decisions."

 
 

However, Ken Levine's Ghost Story Games has a special relationship with Take-Two Interactive that affords him unprecedented creative freedom and no apparent deadline. According to some employees, Levine described his studio's expenses as a "rounding error" to the company that publishes GTA 5, so it's likely that he'll be given however much time he needs to actually finish his game.

Some of the more optimistic employees figure that it will be another two years or so before Ken Levine's Ghost Story Games actually releases its mysterious title; it's rumored to be set on a space station with three distinct factions and an evolving storyline based on player choices. Whether or not it holds to that deadline -- or any deadline, really -- remains to be seen.

What do you think of the reports on Ken Levine's development process? Do you think creators need a deadline to succeed or is it more often a hindrance to the artistic process? Let us know in the comments below!