BioShock‘s other shoe just dropped. Take-Two announced today that BioShock 2 is in development for release in Q4 2009. Those are the only hard facts that exist with respect to the sequel, but the prominent rumor / speculation is that the next game will actually be a prequel.

But first, some background.

There’s no small amount of backstory to the development of BioShock, and the tale directly impacts the sequel. Ken Levine was the project lead, conceptualizing (or getting credit for) most of the gameplay design. But the consensus is that Levine isn’t the best guy to work with and much of the development team subsequently split off to form a new studio in California. This outfit, now called 2K Marin, is the unit that will develop the sequel.

(Some of the details about devs being unhappy working with Levine is rumor only, but was part of the same rumor reported last year that had 2K Marin being formed out of ex-BioShock team members to develop the sequel, which has turned out to be true. You decide what to buy.)

So Ken Levine, credited for “Story, Writing and Creative Direction” on the first game, probably won’t be involved this time, as he’s still at 2K Boston. The interesting thing about Levine’s possible non-involvement is that he’s admitted that he considered the third act of the game to be the weak link, as he hadn’t figured people would be as into the narrative as they were.

So if Levine is out of the picture, what’s going to happen with BioShock 2, especially if the prequel rumors are true?

The formation of Rapture is not something we need to play; that story has been told perfectly already. And while there are obviously possible storytelling avenues to explore during Rapture’s existence, they seem now more like apocryphal ‘Tales of Rapture’ digressions than something deserving of a full game. Give me sidelines in Rapture as ten-dollar DLC and I’ll be thrilled. But any full sequel that focuses on Ryan’s story and the Rapture we already know seems doomed to a Lucas-like fate.

There are any number of gameplay refinements that can be made to the game model, but we (and hopefully 2K Marin) realize that the story is what will make this sequel a true successor to the original. I’m frightened that Take-Two could try to exert release date pressure on the team, forcing them to execute a plan that isn’t fully formed. With BioShock Ken Levine had broad freedom to make the game he wanted to make and release it when it was done. Without him at the helm, I’m hoping the new team has the strength and independence to do justice to the newly minted franchise.

EDIT: MTV Multiplayer quotes more extensively from today’s Take-Two conference call, in which CEO Ben Feder  said that, while a lot of the work will be done at 2K Marin, Levine would be involved in the game, and that his work is “critical to BioShock.”

Hard to say what that means. Levine is also working on a new IP at 2K Boston, so how deeply can he be involved in the BioShock sequel? He might be a consultant, he might have an executive producer role with definitive say in the story arc, or any number of other roles. Until we know more, feel free to speculate wildly.