"We're still sort of in the paper design stage," Irrational Games head and co-founder Ken Levine told me this weekend. Sitting in a nondescript conference room four floors above Manhattan's Union Square, sipping on his second Diet Coke, Levine was referring to the new BioShock
game coming to PlayStation Vita, which he announced himself
on Sony's E3 press conference stage earlier this year.
Despite the naming convention, BioShock
on Vita isn't planned as a portable version of the upcoming game, Infinite
, or the former two games set in the underwater city of Rapture -- at least, not right now. "That's not the current goal for what we're doing," Levine explained. While he admitted that "things can change," he added, "I think for us, the idea we have is a really good expression on a platform like that [Vita]. It's a different goal. And it has to sort of have its own voice in the franchise. If it just feels like a quieter voice in the franchise, I don't think that works. For us."
Which isn't to say he derides other developers for taking the pared-down port approach. "I think there's room for every kind of game and every kind of approach. But just for what we do. That's not to say I won't play a lot of those games. I'd love to have that kind of game on a handheld." It simply means the development of the BioShock
Vita game isn't taking that route. "I'd rather do something that's an experiment and that's a little different. And is unique for the franchise," he teased.
But can the Vita title be handled internally at Irrational Games' Massachusetts studio? With around 110 employees and an infamously rigorous hiring process, the company has just barely doubled over the past four years (from around 45 folks in 2007). "There are never enough resources to do anything, you know?" Levine laughed. "We're always stretched."
And while he's open to working with folks outside of Irrational's internal teams ("Potentially, potentially," Levine allowed), the worry for him is maintaining the same quality that the studio's small handful of titles has established. "We have a Metacritic average of something like 88 or 89 percent [87.7 percent
]. And the way you do that is you're very careful with your bets ... we made that bet and now we're very carefully proceeding to make sure that it's a game that stands tall within the franchise."
He also explained that Irrational has spoken with some "extraordinary people" regarding the potential to outsource the Vita project, but he's not ready to commit to any one studio in particular just yet, if Irrational ends up going that route at all. "To keep quality level ... I wish I could say it was easy ... it just tend to be more time consuming," he said reservedly of working with external partners. "It's just hard to find the right partners or the right people to hire."