I quit my job in March.
I worked at 2K Marin for over five years, and I quit my job in March.
I didn’t make a lot of noise about it at the time, in part because I was still figuring out what I would do next, and in part because I didn’t want to draw any negative attention toward 2K Marin and the nascent XCOM project (now re-revealed as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which I’m thrilled to see is getting a much warmer reception this time around).
Making XCOM was a long and strange journey, and I hope to share some of those stories after the game is released; but today, I want to reflect on the early days at 2K Marin. Making BioShock 2 has been the highlight of my career so far, and I can’t imagine a more passionate and supportive team than the people I worked with on that project.
I had less than a year of professional experience under my belt when I applied for a job at 2K. I hadn’t yet shipped a game. I had a borderline stalkerish knowledge of the BioShock team. In retrospect, I don’t quite understand how I got the interview, much less the job, but I am eternally grateful to Alyssa Finley and Carlos Cuello for taking a chance on a huge BioShock/Irrational fanboy.
I was introduced to Jordan Thomas on my first day, but I didn’t actually know him by name. Only later, after coworker Johnnemann Nordhagen (now of The Fullbright Company) reminded me of Kieron Gillen’s fantastic PC Gamer article “Journey Into the Cradle,” did I realize that our creative director was the same man who designed Shalebridge Cradle and Fort Frolic.
I geeked out a lot in those days.
The early days of 2K Marin were a surreal experience, far removed from the norms of AAA game development. We were a tiny team, focused on bringing BioShock to the PS3 and full of heady ideas about a sequel. It felt more like a garage band than the newest branch of a multi-million dollar corporation. I was outside my programming comfort zone, maintaining Ruby scripts for a fragile build process, and I didn’t even care. The vibe was amazing.
We soon moved into a larger space and began growing the studio to develop BioShock 2. We hired a couple of fantastic AI programmers, Matthew Brown and Leon Hartwig, who I would later be fortunate to join on the AI team. I got to learn from an incredible design team: Jordan Thomas, Zak McClendon, JP LeBreton, Steve Gaynor, and Kent Hudson, to name a few.
I learned as much as I could. I gave as much as I could.
A tangent: I anchor the years of my life with particular events and use that to contextualize everything else. I guess everyone does this, but I feel like I’m particularly conscious of the process. I moved to Great Falls in 1992 (the year Super Mario Kart launched). Our apartment caught fire in 1998 (the year Unreal launched). I got married in 2007 (the year BioShock launched).
I don’t remember a lot of 2009.
I mean, I do. I remember drinking Anchor Steam and playing Persona 4 in a hot apartment. I remember jocular AI team meetings with Matthew Brown, Kent Hudson, Harvey Whitney, and PJ Leffelman. I remember staying late at work, gorged on bad Chinese food, trying to solve some elusive bug in the last level of the game. But I don’t have an anchor. When I try to contextualize events around that time, that entire year is simply the year I spent making BioShock 2.
And I’m okay with that.
Because that experience is everything I ever imagined game development could be. I loved the game I was making. I loved the people I was working with. I loved the work I was doing. What more could I ask for in a job?
I played BioShock 2 again this week. The last time I played it was the week it launched, in February 2010. Three years later, I still clearly remember the shape of the thing, but I’ve forgotten the details. Some parts are better than the version in my memory. Some are worse. I try to imagine what it would be like to have played this game as a fan, as someone who loved BioShock but wasn’t involved in the creative process for two years.
I can’t do it.
The game is inseparable from my memories of making it. I see the room where the player is first taught to use Electro Bolt to shock multiple splicers in a pool of water, and I immediately recall a bug that made splicers interrupt themselves halfway through a sentence. That room was my test case for that bug—it gave me an easy way to observe enemy AIs using dynamic VO barks without ever attacking the player. I am certain that if I revisit the game in twenty years, that bug will be the first thing I remember when I see that room.
I’m okay with this, too.
I loved BioShock. I loved it as a fan. I loved System Shock 2, as a fan. I wanted to work at Irrational because I was a fan of the games they had made. Years later, with older and wiser eyes, I can look back and be glad I never worked at Irrational. But I will never regret working at 2K Marin during 2008 and 2009. I think I appreciate BioShock 2 more as a developer than I ever could have as a fan. I will never have to question whether it was too similar to the first BioShock, or whether another visit to Rapture was really necessary. It doesn’t matter to me. I was a part of something special, the transient convergence of a hundred or so brilliant people, and that is more important than any video game could ever be.
(RIP Eden Daddy)