In 1997, three former Looking Glass employees Ken Levin, Jonathan Shea and Robert Ferminel co-founded a new studio and named it Irrational Games. In a sense, this is indeed an “irrational” decision, because only one of them has participated in the whole process of the game from development to release, and in that era, small studios had no way to distribute the game independently. , Have to rely on the publisher.
Just three weeks after the establishment of the studio, Irrational’s first collaborative project fell through. Irrational originally reached an agreement with French publisher Cyro to develop a single-player campaign for the “counter-strike”-style tactical shooter “FireTeam”, but Cyro later changed his mind and believed that “FireTeam” didn’t need a single-player campaign at all.
In desperation, the three co-founders had to seek help from their former employers. Looking Glass not only provided Irrational with a budget and office, but also gave them the development of System Shock 2. The first generation of “Network Shock” was released in 1994. It is a sci-fi RPG well received by players.
Looking Glass’s work has a series of iconic features, such as focusing on immersion, atmosphere, and non-linear narrative from a first-person perspective. These features have also been continued in “Network Shock 2”.
What’s interesting is that from the perspective of company development, Irrational seems to be more rational than Looking Glass. Looking Glass has always insisted on self-funding to develop games, while Irrational is willing to do OEM for publishers. However, whether it is in “Freedom Force” (Freedom Force), “Tribes” or “Thunderbolt Team” (SWAT 4), players can feel the same style as the works of Looking Glass.
This is not surprising. Levin was one of the key designers in the early development of “Thief”. Instead of guiding players to play, the game forced players to explore, experience, and feel the tense atmosphere of the game. The same goes for “Thunderbolt Team”: the in-game minimap is incomplete, and players have limited vision in many places, which will increase the player’s tension…In a sense, “Thunderbolt Team” proves France The publisher Cyro’s decision that year was wrong: Irrational has the ability to make an excellent single-player tactical shooter.
Irrational knows that the Dark engine of “Thief” (Note: Looking Glass is an engine specially customized for “Thief: The Dark Project”) has limited performance and is far from the Quake engine, so it took a different approach and designed the characters in the “Thunderbolt Group” With a career-based ability and a set of economic systems, players are required to carefully manage character development and resources, making it one of the first FPS-RPGs in history.
For Irrational, “BioShock” is the first real masterpiece in the company’s history. Compared with “Network Shock”, the “BioShock” series is easier for players to use, but it has led to the development of Irrational in the other extreme… “BioShock: Infinite”, which came out in 2013, has triggered players There are huge differences of opinion, and many fans of immersive simulation games think that this work too emphasizes formulaic shooting pleasure. Irrational Games has forgotten its original intention.
In fact, Irrational’s core team may also miss the past. The official release version of “BioShock: Infinite” comes with a “1999 mode” similar to “Network Shock 2”, which makes players scarce. In the second part of the “Sea Burial” DLC, Irrational is almost like using the “Bioshock” engine to build a “thief” style game.
Irrational didn’t seem to want to cater to mainstream players blindly, until in February 2014, Levin announced that the studio would be disbanded. “We will go back to where we started.” Levin said at the time, “I want to play games with a small team for the core players.”
What is Levin doing now? Earlier, there were rumors that Levin was leading the team to develop a small open world game with “narrative Lego” as the core concept, which would provide a more repetitive experience and a mixed storyline, and encourage players to play freely like the Looking Glass works. But so far, no one knows when this project will bear fruit.
Original address: https://www.pcgamer.com/the-story-of-irrational-the-studio-that-shut-down-to-rediscover-its-roots/