BioShock’s Creator Mourns His Forgotten Zombie Survival Game
In a tweet made up of twelve words, BioShock’s creator – Ken Levine – opened up a path that leads straight down memory lane, talking about his abandoned, long-forgotten zombie survival game, Division 9. It was in response to another Twitter profile talking about the game and sharing an age-old trailer, dipping for a moment into history and remembering what might have been.
In this tweet, Levine stressed that Division 9 is ‘the best game we never got to make’. If we probe through publications of days gone by, we can see interviews with Levine taking place around fifteen years ago, with him talking about the cancelled project, and it truly sounds like it could have been something special.
‘There was really only Resident Evil at that time’
I went on a fact-finding mission and dredged up articles from 2010, in which Levine and art-based developers Shawn Robertson and Nate Wells were talking about Division 9.
The reason we were frustrated with zombie games at the time was they never had the sense that you got for Dawn of the Dead, because there was really only Resident Evil at that time. (In Division 9) There was this group of survivors and they had to gather resources. They’d lock themselves up in the mall, and then be like ‘Oh, s—. We don’t have any food. We have to go out into the world and take these risks.’ And that was the game design, basically. You have a group of survivors, and these resources. You’d have to take on risks to get more supplies, ammo, and people. You sort of build up your group of survivors.
– Ken Levine
It smacks of Dawn of the Dead. Reportedly, the game would have been released around the same time as BioShock, which dropped in 2007 – meaning this game was canned almost twenty years ago.
Here’s a 13-year-old trailer for the game:
It had strategic elements, too. Like getting the power back on for a certain section of the city. From then on, any missions you’d do at night would be lit.
– Shawn Robertson
As an avid fan of the zombie survival genre, I am head over heels in love with the idea of Division 9. However, it would have launched around the same time as Dead Rising (2006), meaning it would have been ‘another’ zombie game set inside a North American mall, and that might have been awkward.
We also had some really odd notions of base-building mechanics. At some location, you could get a transmission from a doctor who was trapped. If you went out and got him and brought him back, you would have a doctor installed at your base. Or you’d find an engineer who could make new weapons. There was going to be a whole RPG-style base-building mechanic. But the real innovation was the concept that the zombies never stop. The zombies are infinite. And now, just a few years later, there are plenty of games that treat zombies that way.
– Nate Wells
It was before its time, that’s for sure. It was written that Division 9 came ‘to the edge of production’ before it was shut down as a result of ‘unfortunate timing’. Levine explained that the demo for the game was sold to Vivendi, who was ready to secure the rights to the game, but around the same time, Irrational Games (Levine’s firm) had been sold to Take-Two Interactive, who didn’t want to float it.
It’s one of many games now lost to the abyss that is the ever-advancing crawl of time.