Gerritsen: 'Bioshock was the highest-rated game ever, so our job is pretty simple. Don't screw that up.'
In the mid-1990s, he was one of the faces of a Madison company that recreated Asgard, hosted a smokin' six-shooter poker game and saved the world from an alien attack. Today, he's hanging on the East Coast, helping to guide a company that's busily building a troubled utopia in the clouds.
We're talking about Tim Gerritsen, who's now the director of product development for Boston-based Irrational Games, developers of the forthcoming Bioshock Infinite, the third installment of one of gaming's most popular series. For nearly 10 years, he was the chairman and business director of Madison-based Human Head Studios, the guy the company's six founders hired to help them guide their games from the hard drive to the store shelf. Gerritsen oversaw the development of games like Rune (2000), Dead Man's Hand (2004) and Prey (2006).
Isthmus caught up with him by phone last week. "I still keep tabs on Madison," says Gerritsen. "I'm still on the mailing list for the Madison chapter of the International Game Developer's Association." He still has a strong fondness for the Badger state -- last fall, he was able to indulge his Wisconsin jones by taking his kids to the Packers-Patriots game in Foxboro.
His outlook for Madison's game-development scene remains bright, despite recent staff cuts at Raven Software and the fact that his last Madison game company, Big Rooster, ended up folding up shop with several projects still in limbo.
"I still think all the ingredients are there for Madison -- the creativity and the technology there are huge," he says.
Most of Gerritsen's attention these days is focused on Bioshock Infinite, which is slated for release late next year, and managing the staff at Irrational, which has grown from 40 to more than 100.
"It's daunting," he acknowledges of being responsible for the next installment of one of gaming's flagship franchises. "Bioshock was the highest-rated game ever, so our job is pretty simple," he laughs. "Don't screw that up."
It's not exactly a slam-dunk task, given that Infinite moves the locale from 20,000 leagues under the sea, where the events of Bioshock and Bioshock 2 took place, to a city in the clouds, where a different type of political strife is threatening to tear the world apart. Where the Bioshock series previously took on big-ticket philosophies like objectivism and collectivism, Infinite has its sights trained on a different "ism" -- the jingoistic concept of American exceptionalism. In other words, some of the folks living in Columbia, that city in the sky, have become just a little too high and mighty, even for their own good.
Managing fans' expectations for what's sure to be one of the most anticipated games of next year has been both challenging and rewarding, says Gerritsen.
"Plenty of people came up to us and said, 'I want to go back to Rapture again,' or 'I want to find out what happened to this character.' That's too easy. We wanted to do something crazy, something that nobody has thought of before. At the same time, we didn't want fans of the original games to feel we'd screwed them over."