Irrational Games was formed in 1997 by Ken Levine, Jonathan Chey, and Robert Fermier. Their first project was the single player campaign for Fireteam, an isometric shooter by Cyro Interactive. However, this proved to be a false start when Cyro decided to concentrate on the multiplayer aspect and dropped Irrational's project.
Soon after, Paul Neurath, Head of Looking Glass at the time, contacted them with an opportunity. This eventually led to Irrational's first published product - System Shock 2. The sequel to the much beloved System Shock, was adored by critics for its tense atmosphere, exquisite sound design, and its faithfulness to the original while making drastic improvements. While the critics and fans adored it, the game went largely unnoticed by the larger gaming audience. Ever since, System Shock 2 makes recurring appearances on many "Greatest Games of All Time" lists in publications. This reputation for producing high quality, but poorly-selling PC titles would follow Irrational for years, earning them a cult following of fans.
Irrational opened a second studio in Canberra, Australia in 1999. Co founder, Jonathan Chey a native Australian and was in charge of the new studio. Irrational Canberra developed their own superhero IP and released the RPG Freedom Force in 2002. The game was an homage to silver-age comic books and received universal critical approval. Their next two major titles were both sequels in disparate genres: Tribes: Vengeance (2004), the final game in the Earthseige sci-fi franchise, and SWAT 4 (2005), a tactical squad-based first-person shooter. In between, they also managed to squeeze in an expansion pack to Freedom Force in Freedom Force vs the Third Reich.
With the success of SWAT 4, publisher Vivendi wanted another SWAT game. Creative director Ken Levine didn't want to do another straight forward cop simulator. An existing concept set in the zombie apocalypse that had previously pitched, was then combined with the shooter squad tactics of the SWAT games. Vivendi was willing to go along with the project, but both parties agreed that zombies didn't fit the SWAT franchise. The title of game became Division 9. The project was canceled after the acquisition by Take-Two.
On January 9, 2006, Take-Two interactive announced that they had purchased Irrational, and would publish their games under the 2K Games label, 2K Boston and 2k Australia. 2K Boston would use the extensive funding from 2K to begin development on BioShock: a spiritual successor to System Shock 2. In August, 2007, BioShock was released to critical and commercial success far exceeding any of Irrational's prior titles, thanks in large part to 2K's substantial marketing budget and the greater audience exposure that came with releasing on consoles (Xbox 360 and PS3).
On December 17th 2007, five members of 2K Boston broke off to form a new studio called 2K Marin, who immediately began work on BioShock's sequel, freeing 2K Boston to begin work on another project. A January 10th, 2010, viewing of programmer Shane Matthews's LinkedIn profile showed his current project as "Project Icarus" though his profile was made private shortly thereafter.
On January 8, 2010, 2K Boston announced the return of their previous moniker, Irrational Games. The reason for the renaming was they observed that references made to 2K Boston persistently included "(formerly Irrational Games)" which demonstrated the value that the old name still held in people's minds. In celebration of their renaming, Irrational also relaunched their website using the old URL of irrationalgames.com with the goal of using the site to better engage with fans. The site features behind-the-scenes tidbits from old Irrational Titles like System Shock 2, Freedom Force and BioShock as well as insights into the game creation process.
In addition, Ken Levine and Co. started a new podcast named Irrational Behavior exploring the ideas and inspirations that make them "tick".
Currently, Irrational is working on Bioshock Infinite, due to be released on March 26th, 2013.
Old Message from 2kboston.com
Some of you might remember us as Irrational Games, the studio that brought you titles such as SWAT 4 and Freedom Force. Our name might have changed but we're still dedicated to creating evolutionary and immersing experiences for gamers.
A lot has been happening at our little studio since BioShock launched and we became a part of the 2K family. We can't tell you exactly what we're working on just yet, but when we have some news, we'll announce it here, so stay tuned.
2K Boston continues to expand, and we need more creative talent than ever before to help with production. Click in our careers section to see what jobs are currently available, there might be a role to suit you!
Thanks for stopping by and we hope you look forward to the announcement of our next big title.
In the meantime, check out our PowerPoint Presentation on The Art and Technology Behind BioShock's Special Effects as presented at GDC.
-The 2K Boston team