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2K opens Cloud Chamber to build "another unforgettable BioShock experience"

We speak to the publisher's first female studio head Kelley Gilmore about continuing Ken Levine's acclaimed franchise

2K Games has founded a brand new studio -- and its first task will be reviving the hugely popular BioShock series.

The first-person shooter has been absent since BioShock Infinite's release in 2013 (technically since 2014, if you include the Burial At Sea DLC), but now the newly formed Cloud Chamber has begun work on a new entry in the franchise.

The team will be based across two locations: Novato, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, and Montréal, Québec. Its formation marks a number of firsts for the publisher. This is the first-ever Canadian office for a 2K studio, and the first development studio in the company's history to be led by a woman.

Global studio head Kelley Gilmore has already spent 22 years in the industry -- most of which was at Civilization studio Firaxis Games, another 2K-owned team -- with more than 40 shipped games on her portfolio. Based in Novato, she will be leading the team, which she tells GamesIndustry.biz was formed specifically for this project.

Kelley Gilmore, Cloud Chamber

"My evolution to this post came through the many opportunities I had at Firaxis to grow and learn, along with the support and encouragement of the tremendous people I've worked with over the years," she says. "I'm thrilled and honored to be the first woman at 2K to lead a studio and excited to build a world-class team."

As promising as it is to see the publisher finally putting a woman in charge of a development team, it does inevitably raise the question of why such an appointment has taken so long. Gilmore notes that she is one of "many other women in leadership positions throughout the organization", and hopes to be the first of many female studio heads.

"Embracing diversity and inclusion in all sectors of the industry will surely make us better at delivering titles that resonate with our global audiences," she says. "One of the most exciting things about building a new studio is the opportunity to place diversity at the forefront of our culture. We're very focused on finding the most talented game makers from all walks of life to help us deliver the next amazing BioShock experience."

The industry's diversity (or lack thereof) at a management and leadership level has been widely discussed in the past few years, and arguably puts pressure on Gilmore, making her a potential role model for anyone hoping to one day hold a similar position. But the Cloud Chamber boss doesn't quite see it that way.

"Making the next BioShock game is a responsibility that does not fall lightly on any of us"

"I'd love to be a role model for other developers, but that's ultimately up to them," she says. "I'm passionate about my work and dedicated to creating a studio of world-class developers that puts people first and is a great place to come to work every day."

Inevitably, there are no details on the next BioShock -- in fact, the publisher has stressed the game "will be in development for the next several years." But fans can be assured that narrative will, of course, be central to the whole experience. The Cloud Chamber announcement is littered with bold promises of as "creating yet-to-be-discovered worlds" and "pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the video game medium" -- clearly an important goal for Gilmore and her team given the acclaim the original BioShock garnered for its storytelling.

Cloud Chamber is also in an intriguing position. While the first two games limited the series to the famous undersea setting of Rapture, Infinite's finale expanded BioShock far beyond the floating city of Colombia that it introduced. Almost any world imaginable could now be a valid part of the franchise, although (naturally) Gilmore is unable to say much about the possibilities her studio is exploring.

"We can't get into our development plans just yet, but we can agree that the narrative in any BioShock game is a popular and much-discussed topic for fans and critics alike," she says. "Our team is very focused on this aspect and well poised to deliver another powerful story.

"Making the next BioShock game is a responsibility that does not fall lightly on any of us. What's great is [that] there are many directions we can consider. Listening to everyone's thoughts -- including those of our fans -- will continue to be important as we shape our vision for this game."

BioShock Infinite's finale means the next entry could be set in any world imagineable, but Cloud Chamber's game will be in development for several years so don't hold your breath waiting to find out

There will be a tough balance to strike when it comes to letting feedback dictate, or at least inform, the direction forward. By the time Cloud Chamber's first BioShock releases, an entire console generation will have passed without an entry in the series (Longer, in fact, given that PS5 and Project Scarlett will be on shelves this time next year). Video games have changed in that time, as have player expectations.

It's also worth noting that series creator Ken Levin is not involved in the project, since he and his team at Ghost Story Games are concentrating on their own vision for the future of narrative-driven games. But there are a number of developers who played key roles on the previous BioShock titles who are now at Cloud Chamber.

These include: creative director Hoagy de la Plate, who worked on the environments for the original and was lead environment artist on BioShock 2; art director Scott Sinclair, who served in the same role on both BioShock and Infinite; and design director Jonathan Pelling, a designer on BioShock and creative director of Infinite.

Additionally, Gilmore says the team also features staff who have worked on some of the biggest AAA franchises, including Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, Star Wars, and Battlefield.

"I'm confident that the depth and variety of game dev experience at Cloud Chamber will lead to another unforgettable Bioshock experience," she concludes.