You’re Going To Suffer: Levine On 1999 Mode

By Alec Meer on January 23rd, 2012 at 5:45 pm.

Not Ken Levine. At least, I don't believe so. Haven't seen him in person since Freedom Force days.

Late last week, Irrational announced 1999 mode for BioShock: Infinite – an attempt to recapture the sense of binding decisions, permanent consequences and hard-as-nails challenge that we perhaps associate with a lost era of gaming. In this first of a two-part interview, I nattered to avuncular Irrational bossman Ken Levine about why they came up with 1999 Mode, what it entails, why it’s a very different prospect to simply a ‘hard’ difficulty setting, why he doesn’t want non-hardcore gamers playing that mode, and whether or not it’s a reaction to disappointment about BioShock from System Shock fans.

RPS: So, 1999 mode. Bit of a surprise, that one. Why do it?

Ken Levine: Primarily, I think after we finished BioShock, we tend to be a company that does a lot of self-review and soul-searching, and we had made this game that was very popular, but there was a segment of the audience, and also a segment I think of people at Irrational, who felt there was something there that wasn’t at the level they wanted it. There was a sort of dissatisfaction, from the hardcore, old school gamer audience.

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So recently I talked at my old college and feeling like Mr Successful, then this guy says “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Levine!” He’s giving me a hard time, he says “the problem was none of the decisions I made had any permanence to them. I didn’t have to commit to any decisions.” And I was like “oh!” The clouds parted for me. Except for the Little Sisters, there’s no permanence in your choices. It hadn’t really crystallised for me before, the difference between games we had made before, like System Shock 2, and BioShock.

In System Shock 2 it was the OS upgrades, this sort of this perk system, and you made these choices; I remember staring at it even as I played it and agonising over that decision, worrying that if I made bad decisions I was going to get screwed. And I kind of miss that. Last night I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I went and played Deus Ex: Human Revolution for a while, then I went back to bed. And I still couldn’t get to sleep, so I picked up my iPhone and started playing Bejewelled. People often ask me “what kind of gamer is your game for?” but I think there are different kinds of gamer in all of us, especially in old-school gamers. There are things we like in modern games, and things we miss from games of yore.

It is tough to have your cake and eat it too, but it occurred to us that there was a real opportunity here to address that old school gamer in a way that was not going to break the bank. I don’t want to oversell what this is, I don’t want “oh my god, it’s two games in one!” because it’s not. It’s a bunch of very carefully, I think pretty well thought-out changes to the way the game is played that is going to make a real difference to how it feels.

RPS: It’s very interesting that it came about from talking directly to a fan – is that the only way a voice can be actually heard from all the noise of online feedback and criticism?

Ken Levine: Yeah, for some reason this guy was able to articulate the dissatisfaction in a way that… I won’t say that nobody had done it before, but maybe they hadn’t said it so clearly or maybe I didn’t hear it or understand it. But I made a connection during this conversation that I hadn’t made before, and it was really exciting to do that. I’m sure there were many other things that gamer A, B or C may not have liked, but this was something that I as a gamer really tuned into. Because at the end of the day game developers make games that they want to play, so BioShock was very much a game that I wanted to play, but when it occurred to me that this element was missing, I realised that was the kind of game I liked to play as well, where you make these permanent decisions.

So even in vanilla BioShock: Infinite there are some permanent decisions – the Nostrums, which are very similar to the gene tonics in BioShock 1, the decisions you make about those are permanent. You make those decisions and you live with those decisions. But the difference in 1999 mode is that there are decisions which become quite mutually exclusive. You tend to specialise. If you’re really taking a lot of Nostrums that are designed to improve your pistol skill, you’re really going to suffer in other areas – other weapons, hacking… You’re going to have times in the game where the thing that you’re really good at isn’t that relevant.

You’re not going to have the ammo for it, or there won’t be much hacking you can do in that area, the opportunities for [your skills] aren’t going to be very present, and you’re going to be struggling, really struggling to progress. You’ll have to count every bullet and think very deeply about every encounter, because if you just run into things you’re going to find yourself really in a bad place that’s going to be very hard to get yourself out of.

RPS: Are you guys at Irrational going go through the entire game and see where those kinds of situations occur, and whether there’s ever a point where it’s impossible to progress if the player has made certain choices?

Ken Levine: The goal is never to have an absolute brick wall, but I think there has to be places where some gamers will be “oh, guess I’m going back to the savegame” because they really put themselves in an untenable situation. I think that’s okay, because this is not a mode for a guy who only plays two or three games a year, who goes home in the evening and wants to unwind and play for half an hour, shoot a bunch of stuff and forget about it.

Our goal with BioShock: Infinite was always a way to bring those people into this kind of game, but I think the plan right now – my thinking, anyway – is we’re going to hide this mode behind an old-school up, down, left, right, left, right, start button combination on the console to unlock it. You’re not going to have to finish the game to unlock it, but we’re going to hide it because the last thing I want is some guy who’s not an old-school gamer stumbling into this thing, because he’s going to think “alright, this game sucks, I’m never getting into this because it’s so brutal and so punishing – forget it!”

RPS: On PC, instead of the up down left right thing it should be the old Looking Glass, Deus Ex keycode…

Ken Levine: Oh, 0451? Yeah. Or we could put a codewheel into the box, or a cloth map…

RPS: Heh, but what about the guys on Steam? They’ll have to print out a PDF or something.

Ken Levine: Remember when you had to go find five words in the manual? And then you’d lose the manual… Yeah, I don’t want non-old school gamers finding this, or they’ll take the game right back to the store.

RPS: Why are you calling it 1999 Mode instead of simply ‘hard’ or ‘ultra’ or something like that?

Ken Levine: In terms of figuring out the name of the mode, we already had difficulty levels in there, but they don’t really change the way you play the game. That’s more how committed are you and what level of challenge you want. This, you really have to play the game differently – but again, the last thing I want to do is oversell this, because I don’t want people thinking “oh my god, two games in one, Irrational spent 40 years making this…”

It is a difference in balance, a difference in specialisation, a difference in how you die, and there are a few new Nostrums to support it, and really does make a profoundly different experience. If someone selected it expecting a traditional BioShock experience, I think they’d be surprised and confused and dismayed, because they’re going to have to make decisions. They might get really stuck and have to go back to a savegame.

RPS: You keep mentioning that you don’t want to oversell 1999 mode – how much is that a reaction to perhaps getting a bit burned with the BioShock 1 ‘spiritual successor to System Shock’ hype?

Ken Levine: Something I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t let my enthusiasm for something overwhelm me when I talk about it. When Irrational makes a game, I’m absolutely convinced that we’re doing the thing that we want to make and everyone’s going to be really excited about it. It’s very easy to get excited about what you’re doing; the thing with making BioShock is you often have to step back, look at it and be careful about what you’re saying, because either you might be speaking in a way that will be misinterpreted or is unintentionally confusing, muddies the water a bit. So I’m really trying to step back when I talk about Infinite, as often as I can, and say “how can I speak about this as objectively as I possibly can?” And it’s a challenge, because you obviously have a lot of emotion tied up in what you’re doing. It’s very hard to talk about our baby objectively.

But I think that I feel a responsibility to speak as objectively about the game as I can – which is a weird thing for a guy who is out to sell something. I mean, that’s why I’m having these kinds of conversations, trying to get people excited about the game. But I’m trying not to set expectations that are going to end up being confusing or people are going to be disappointed. This [1999 mode] specifically, because the audience is specifically a group of people who are extremely discriminating, and will read every word very carefully, and say ‘okay – I want to understand what I’m getting.’

So I want to make sure that those people get a very specific understanding of what’s on offer here. I’m not speaking to a general audience, I’m speaking to a very specific audience that is going to take a real deep dive in thinking about this. It’s an audience that thinks very carefully about their purchasing decisions, and I don’t want that audience to ever open up one of our games and think ‘this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.’

So this mode especially, I want to be careful about how we talk about it: because this audience is so attuned to thinking about games on such a deep level, I feel like I can talk to that audience in a way that you can’t really talk to a more general audience. I can use a certain kind of lingo, I can use design concepts that I can’t use for a general audience.

Tomorrow: Ken Levine on the importance of clarity, why you shouldn’t trust previews, why “If you’re a reader on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, you are sophisticated enough to not listen to what Ken Levine says” and on the problem with out of context quotes just like that one was.

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153 Comments »

  1. Sunjammer says:

    What I don’t understand is that I replay Shock on a regular basis, and it doesn’t seem antiquated in the slightest. I don’t understand how “the distant past of 1999″ makes sense from a game design point of view if all that really means is to make choices irreversible. Also, thanks for making me feel old, Ken, that’s real cool of you.

    • DocSeuss says:

      There are elements of it that feel dated. The game’s intro, by itself, is pretty painful, and not pausing the game while you’re in the inventory can be a tad irritating.

      That said, I do find it frustrating that people seem to think that because something was done in the past, it is dated, and thus not worth exploring. It’s a bit like if someone were to suggest that because email is a newer form of communication than telephones, people should stop using telephones to talk. I mean, look at Call of Duty. That kind of health system works great for the game because it’s all about shaping the atmosphere and style of play. But… just because it’s newer doesn’t mean that a system reliant on resource management, like, say, Half-Life’s, should stop being used. For some reason, though, the “it’s old, so it sucks” mentality prevails.

      Actually… hm.

      I wonder if there are people like Gira (see the Alan Wake and Sunday Papers threads) who are so focused on the idea that games must be rules-focused things and so hellbent on insisting that story shouldn’t be a part of the game that they totally miss out on why certain mechanics go well with certain types of game stories. They fail to understand how the narrative and gameplay are intertwined, and can only see games in terms of a system of rules. This would definitely lead to utterly shitty design and the misuse of certain mechanics. It would explain why people have been imitating Call of Duty’s health system rules without understanding its implementation. Hm. I’ll have to think more about this.

    • John Brindle says:

      Not letting you pause the game is a design decision! It makes sure that you are NEVER SAFE. The biggest mistake of Amnesia was to pause the game whenever the player reads a diary or consults her documents. Shit should have played right on.

      (also, I suspect you’re barking up the wrong tree with the idea that the people who made CoDBLOPS are all hyper-hardcore ludologists…)

    • Cael says:

      Agree with John Brindie, not pausing is one of the best parts of System Shock 2.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yes. Nothing like scrabbling around for the one round left in a broken shotgun to load it into your working one while you can hear a mutant shambing about around the next corner. Tension!

    • admanb says:

      Ken Levine designed System Shock 2. I’m pretty sure he feels older than you do.

    • John P says:

      I wonder if there are people like Gira (see the Alan Wake and Sunday Papers threads) who are so focused on the idea that games must be rules-focused things and so hellbent on insisting that story shouldn’t be a part of the game that they totally miss out on why certain mechanics go well with certain types of game stories. They fail to understand how the narrative and gameplay are intertwined, and can only see games in terms of a system of rules. This would definitely lead to utterly shitty design and the misuse of certain mechanics. It would explain why people have been imitating Call of Duty’s health system rules without understanding its implementation. Hm. I’ll have to think more about this.

      Are you suggesting Call of Duty’s health regen is somehow tied to its narrative? Its health system is purely a product of its linear design. A regen health system suits a ‘game’ that’s structured as a linear passageway with predictable setpieces strung along it, railroading players into precisely the place where the developer wants them to be. That’s why people should be suspicious of any game with health regen: it’s usually dull, predictable, with minimal player agency and results in nothing but transparent spectacle. And it has nothing to do with the story.

    • noobule says:

      Health regen is also important if you want to construct a space where players never experience consequences for bad decisions, where the challenge of the game itself is an illusion carefully constructed and controlled by the developer.

      Hey don’t set it if you fuck and put yourself in a bad position, just sit here and heal after everyshot. And don’t worry about the fact you have no other option but to push forward at this point through this corridor – health regen means you can always make it! It’s CINEMATIC

    • Chiller says:

      “…a ‘game’ that’s structured as a linear passageway with predictable setpieces strung along it, railroading players into precisely the place where the developer wants them to be”

      *ahem* Half-life *ahem*

    • noobule says:

      well, exactly. Half Life 1 and 2, have a lot to answer for: if not the first in the genre, definitely the inspiration for every lousy boxed in ‘asset tour’ since. That said, both Half Lifes did it with far more actual ‘game’ than anything seen since

    • Baines says:

      Health regen can suit an open game as much as a linear one. You could argue that health packs suit a linear game as well.

      In a linear game, health regen allows the developers to build battles that can push the player with knowledge that if the player escapes, he can face the next battle at full health. Without regenerating health, a player may enter their next battle with any amount of health. Also note that you can still punish wastefulness with health regen by limiting the availability of ammo. (Though most games with regenerating health seem to be quite happy giving the player more ammo, or at least plentiful gun pick ups.)

      Without health regen, linear games allow the developers to place health and armor packs in prime locations to guarantee that the player is able to recover before key encounters, and to keep the player at some minimum expected health. Even if these health packs are hidden. Think about some games with health pick ups and where they were placed.

      In an open game, health regen means that if a player can get out of a situation, then he can recover. Health regen means a developer could be even more free in what he allows to be thrown at a player. As long as the player can get out, he’s still in a winnable game. This is not guaranteed with an open game, even with health and armor scattered around a map. Some consider this a challenge, but it actually restricts to a degree what the game can be allowed to do. (It also makes beating levels in some games as much or more about learning a level through repeated plays as it is about learning how to handle yourself in battles in general. Like “I died last time to snipers, so this time I’ll look for them. Ow. Okay, next time I know to look at that specific location for three snipers. Ow. Okay, when I reach that spot, an alarm will sound, so if I’m injured I need to double back for that health pack before grabbing that gun.”)

    • 4xis.black says:

      As others have said, regenerating health does a bunch of things for you. Yes, it can make games ‘easier’ by allowing the player to use cover cautiously and in some cases avoid any reasonable chance of failure (assuming cover is plentiful and enemies don’t chase you too much). This has nothing to do with ‘linear’ vs ‘non-linear’, however; you are simply making a design decision about the degree and duration of risk players incur during play.

      It can also be used to make health ‘encounter-based’, encouraging players to take MORE risk during combat rather than try to cheat every fight so that they conserve maximum resources. Borderlands does this; Baldur’s Gate is sort of in the middle on this. STALKER does the opposite of this because it has a very different aesthetic.

    • John P says:

      ‘a different aesthetic’. Christ. Does game design seriously mean nothing to you people? You could as sensibly say health regen is there to match the soundtrack.

    • 4xis.black says:

      ‘Aesthetic’, as in Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics, as in a formal game design framework developed in part by Marc LeBlanc (as in a guy who worked on System Shock and Thief). Christ, does game design seriously mean nothing to you? :P

  2. povu says:

    I don’t understand why he thinks this 1999 mode needs to be hidden so thoroughly. Surely if you explain the option (‘this is very very hard, because of X Y and Z, probably best if you don’t select it!’) then people won’t accidentally select it and complain that the game is too hard right?

    • CaspianRoach says:

      These are console “gamers” you’re talking about, mate.

    • Stevostin says:

      I agree with Povu. KL doesn’t show a very positive way to look at the casual gamer – like the poor chap is hopeless. It’s like hidding the director cut version of LOTR movies behind a cheat code in the menu. You’ve got it wrong, Ken ! This is a selling argument ! It’s more bang for the bucks !

      Also think : it’s not Bioshock I era anymore, when the only really big sale for that kind of game was Deus Ex. Since Bioshock there have been several AAA game for action adventure FPS – and if you ask me, Skryim can even be seen as one of those : several solution to all problem, commitment to build choices… Considering the huge popular success of Skyrim, I’d be more worried about the new bio shock to be seen as a small rollercoaster adventure by the masses. They’re not really going to be impressed because basically there’s a mod where you can have a hard time in some places depending on your build : Skyrim is full of that. And Fallout New Vegas, which sold plenty too, has choices and consequences for nearly every quest in it. Gamers are growing up. Don’t give a preteen movie to full grown teenager : they won’t like it =)

    • DickSocrates says:

      It makes sense because it is a mode that only some people will want. And those that want it will know about the code.

      If you just have it out there, even with a warning label, someone who really shouldn’t be touching it will pick it. Plus it’s just a fun way to lock it away so only those that looked for it can get it. It’s a clearer way of saying ‘Here is the real game out of the box and locked away is the secret version that most mainstream gamers shouldn’t bother with.’

    • DocSeuss says:

      @CaspianRoach: Console gamers–the kind of people who think they know what hardcore games are, then blame the games when they suck at them. It absolutely amazes me how many console gamers I know do this. “I didn’t like Halo. The enemies were really cheap and I died a lot so it got boring. Oh, yeah, I played it on Legendary.”

      I think the belief that old-school console games were hard (and not the cheap hardness that comes from a game that’s trying to pad its length by killing you a lot and/or is a holdover from arcade design) makes console gamers feel like they’ve GOT to try the hardest difficulty, like it’s a pride thing or something.

    • Baines says:

      Hidden modes were fun back in the late 80s and early 90s, often because they weren’t intended to be found.

      By the mid-90s, they simply became annoying. They were no longer debug codes that were meant to stay hidden from players, or the rare special feature that someone snuck into a game against policy. They were “fake” hidden things, intentionally placed in a game by developers who wanted people to find them. Debug codes were left in on purpose. Extra levels, alternate modes, parts of the actual game were being “hidden” for popularity and marketing reasons (because spreading such codes caused renewed interest in titles).

      It became so annoying writing down button codes to unlock stuff, particularly in multiplayer games where these unlocks typically weren’t saved. (Fighters are a prime example, but not the only one. Games like Twisted Metal 2 had both vehicles and stages hidden by code, and in-game codes not listed in the manual for both cheats and regular extra abilities.) Or you’d beat a game, and only months later find out that it had stuff hidden in it. Or you’d go back to play a game, and you’d have to look online first to find the code you remember existing, but don’t remember the details of?

      And Levine wants to return to that mistake?

    • buzzmong says:

      It’s because console gamers really have been shafted by developers by their pandering to the lowest common denominators, although it sounds harsh to say that, sadly it’s the truth.

      Take for example, the son of my older brother’s friend. In his mid teens, plays on the console only. Returned Battlefield 3 and got COD:MW3 instead because BF3 was “too complex” and he found it too hard to get kills.

      Same BF3 which people like myself and the rest of my gaming community slate for being too like Modern Warfare and lacking the more tactical elements that BF2 had.

      So I can fully understand why Levine wants to hide it for the console crowd, they’re gamers, but a completely different breed to those 20 y/o+ who experienced the hard games of the late 80′s and early/mid 90′s.

      Or as someone pointed out later in the comments thread, S.T.A.L.K.E.R’s gameplay systems would frighten the shit out of the console crowd.

    • sqparadox says:

      Take for example, the son of my older brother’s friend. In his mid teens, plays on the console only. Returned Battlefield 3 and got COD:MW3 instead because BF3 was “too complex” and he found it too hard to get kills.

      Was he playing it on (the not hidden behind a code wall) Hardcore Mode?

    • Maktaka says:

      Ever played Killing Floor? That right there is a game that doesn’t have the difficulty filtering it so desperately needs. It doesn’t matter how much CoD, BF, or TF2 you’ve played, you WILL NOT be a useful contributor to Insane or Hell on Earth difficulty maps until you’ve leveled up your perks on the lower difficulties, learned what to shoot, more importantly what not to shoot, and how to get the most out of your 9mm pistol. The players that join those games promptly get told they’re not going to be helpful. Then they get defensive. Then they get kicked. Then they stop playing. They didn’t know they were joining the wrong server, the game didn’t tell them not to, a bunch of players yelled at them, and now they’re no longer a customer of Tripwire’s.

      As a game designer, if you made a design decision which caused someone enthusiastic about your game to stop playing, you made a bad decision. If that means hiding the option to enable a difficulty mode that someone uninformed of its effects shouldn’t be enabling, do it. Better to have an option hidden so that players new to gaming, players who just game to have a nice SP experience to relax, and the hardcore can all play the game in a way that they enjoy without an errant button press performed in ignorance turning things into a ragefest.

    • Brun says:

      @DocSeuss: 100% what you said. It’s hidden to avoid alienating and frustrating the console dudebros that always play the game on the hardest setting because years of playing on modern “hardest” settings have made them believe they’re “hardcore pro gamers.”

    • Enso says:

      It’s definitely a good move to safeguard against pride and stupidity. Ever leant a cartidge game to someone and it comes back with your 100% savegame deleted? Anyone who works with tech support must have encountered similar people who click yes to everything.

    • SiplNico says:

      I’ve been a PC gamer for some time now, and I just don’t understand why so many people degrade console gamers.
      I’m not saying hiding this mode is a good/bad decision, but many are justifying it stating “Console gamers are stupid and will complain about it” (CaspianRoach, DocSeuss), which is an idiotic generalization, if you ask me.

    • Urthman says:

      Just like if you’re Crysis, and you include a super-high graphics mode that is clearly marked THIS IS FOR THE FUTURE, YOUR COMPUTER CAN’T DO THIS YET, no one will select that mode and then complain that the game is a poorly-optimized resource hog.

    • thesisko says:

      “So I can fully understand why Levine wants to hide it for the console crowd, they’re gamers, but a completely different breed to those 20 y/o+ who experienced the hard games of the late 80′s and early/mid 90′s.”

      I don’t agree with your logic there – hardcore gamers aren’t necessarily into demanding games because old games were “hard”.

      Popular console games in the 80/90′s were no more demanding than today’s “AAA” titles. Sure, they were “hard” – i.e. you died a lot and had to start over, but that was just a way to make them last longer, the actual gameplay was simplistic and easy to learn.

      Rather, hardcore gamers are enthusiasts, and just like film or book enthusiasts many of them will be attracted to more demanding titles that lack mass appeal. Your brother’s friend’s son is the equivalent of a kid who played SNES games with his friends in the 90′s, not someone who spent his evenings with XCOM on the PC.

      • Kokatsu says:

        PC gamer’s are the only hardcore gamer’s?
        It doesn’t matter if it’s PC or console.
        I’m not going to start looking down on someone just because they play on console or a PC.
        Heck I have always been playing games on the highest difficult settings, both on PC and console.
        I played Deus Ex, System Shock 2 and a ton of other games back in the days on PC on the highest difficulty.
        Yesterday I finished Bioshock infinite on 1999 mode on my first run. And it was on Xbox. So stop judging all PC and console gamer’s alike.

        Sorry for any/if spelling errors. English isn’t my native language(I’m japanese).

        Edit: might have replied to the wrong person.

      • aldo_14 says:

        What is a ‘hardcore gamer’, anyway?

    • Premium User Badge ffordesoon says:

      Anyone – console gamers, PC gamers, platform-agnostic gamers, anyone – can be an idiot. There’s a reason they call shoring up holes in your security “foolproofing” and not “smartproofing”. The limitless capacity of human stupidity is underestimated at one’s peril.

      It’s also a truism that no system is foolproof, and there will undoubtedly be at least one person who will unlock the mode regardless and throw the game out the window twenty minutes in. Levine’s a smart cat, and I’m sure he knows that. He’s just trying to minimize the risk. Google “Dean Takahashi Mass Effect” to see an example of why that’s a good idea.

    • 4xis.black says:

      He is trying to do three things:

      1) Flatter you;
      2) Prevent the kind of players who spend 2 hours max with a game from having a bad experience;
      3) Do this without forcing you to play through the game once/do some config messing just to unlock ‘super hardcore mode’.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Back in the day Quake did both, it hid the nightmare mode behind a secret in the start area and then said “warning, this skill level isn’t remotely fair” if you tried to go into it. Even hard mode made you jump over some lava before playing…

  3. pupsikaso says:

    Really? He thinks difficulty is what has been “lost” to gaming from the 1990s era??

  4. Vinraith says:

    Yeah, I don’t want non-old school gamers finding this, or they’ll take the game right back to the store.

    I do believe Mr. Levine, in a single sentence, just summarized everything that’s wrong with the AAA gaming industry. God forbid we should show the mainstream customers anything new, anything different, or anything challenging, they’ll probably take the game back! Mind you he’s got little enough choice, in light of his publisher, but it’s a general way of thinking in the industry that is absolutely toxic to any kind of innovation.

    • whatisvalis says:

      Same problem in every sector of the mainstream entertainment industry, yet people still support it

    • InternetBatman says:

      I absolutely agree with you. I think many designers feel that their audience either doesn’t want or is afraid of conceptual depth, but also feel the pull of old game design as something they liked better. Remember the wild divergence between the way Bioware advertised the first Dragon Age and the PR speech they gave about it; one was Marilyn Manson and bloodspatter and the other was “Bioware doesn’t think you’re stupid.” There’s nothing wrong with either, but the difference is astounding. I think it’s the natural result of very intelligent people constrained by very active publishers and the amount of success their works need to achieve just to break even.

      What I do find weird is that there are frequent examples of harder games succeeding just because they’re harder, developers/publishers keep dumbing games down. It’s gotten to the point where some people are so starved for complex difficulty that they think sadism is a virtue of good game design.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Well, in the case of something like Dark Souls, I think sadism IS a good virtue. However, that game is part of a lineage of extremely tough games that have little to do with the difficulty in games like the System Shocks and other old school “toughies”. From Software has always had a unique take on how difficulty should affect gameplay, and it’s pretty brilliant.

    • noodlecake says:

      None of my friends are gamers. I mean a few of them have consoles that they play every now and again but I know for a fact that they wouldn’t enjoy playing anything too challenge. My cousin would just turn the game off if he died more than once on the same section of a game. He basically just wants a slightly interactive movie.

    • Premium User Badge Nogo says:

      Slow down there. AAA games are meant to appeal to a wide audience, which is exactly what this 1999 mode is about. I personally face enough stressful choices during my day, so when I get home I don’t want to sit there and fret about specializing in a pistol or shotgun when all I want to do is experience a colorful, imaginative story and world.

      That doesn’t mean challenge and choice are alien to me, but that’s not really what I look for these days when I want to unwind. The Irrational guys clearly understand this and are including both groups of players, so I don’t get what the problem is.

    • Enso says:

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s not just about the ‘dumbing down’ of games. It’s that gaming means different things to different people. If this mode is pulled off well I think it could be a great comprimise.

    • Vinraith says:

      My comment, to clarify, has absolutely nothing to do with this mode, or indeed with Bioshock Infinite. It’s entirely about the mentality driving the AAA gaming industry, as encapsulated by that quote. There’s a reason we’ve been overrun by “cinematic” rail shooters. If that’s the only kind of game you ever want to play, though, I suppose you’re exactly the audience they’re after.

    • Premium User Badge Nogo says:

      I don’t think there’s nearly as much wrong with “the mentality” as you do.

      When players are forced to make choices that lock out other content they need to make a judgement about the future benefits provided by their choice. The problem with this is that games don’t follow a known logic or pattern. At best we can use our experience in the real world or within other games, but at worse we’re just guessing at the developer’s intent and competency for balancing.

      This is a serious problem with resource heavy games that they are still struggling to solve. The medium is trying to evolve into something that feels reactive, but we’re just not there yet. And frankly I’d rather devs allow me more freedom then less if it means never having to wonder if JC Denton should beef up swimming or not.

    • Bhazor says:

      Transformers Dark of the Moon
      Box Office Gross: $1,123,746,996

      Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1
      Box Office Gross: $701,262,457

      Davinci Code
      Book : Millions sold
      Box Office Gross: $758,239,852

      There is nothing you can say that will express quite how dumb the mainstream audience can be.

    • wererogue says:

      Ed: reply fail

    • stillwater says:

      I agree. Treat people like idiots for long enough, and eventually they’ll start to behave like idiots. Respect people’s intelligence, and they’ll eventually start behaving intelligently.

    • Premium User Badge ffordesoon says:

      @Vinraith:

      I’m on the fence. I do think AAA developers tend to overcorrect for the kids at the back of the class. I’ve seen a lot of casual gamers play AAA games for the first time, and their questions to me are inevitably of the “Why can’t I do this?” variety. I think they want far more depth than they’re getting. The problem is, how do you introduce them to all the systems in the game without overwhelming them?

      I mean, I’ve been gaming my whole life, and I’ve just started my first proper, non-”I’ll roll a character and walk around for an hour or two” game of Fallout. And it’s great. But it was designed to be played after careful study of the 150-page manual, a.k.a. that thing nobody reads anymore. I read the whole thing, and it still took me several abortive attempts to start a playthrough of the game to figure out what all the different cursors are, how to switch between them, how to use skills, etc. I’ve been conditioned to wait for the tooltips to pop up before I use stuff! And I’m still having trouble remembering to save manually!

      These aren’t complaints about the game, you understand. I really dig the game. I’ve just grown accustomed over the years to certain design conventions that Fallout lacks due to its age. And I’m the sort of guy who pre-ordered Dark Souls a year in advance and loves stuff like Dwarf Fortress, so I can’t imagine what Fallout 1 would be like for someone who thinks of Fallout 3 as “the first Fallout”.

    • drewski says:

      Levine’s got to 1) make a game he’s happy with; and 2) sell it.

      If a game is costing a Bioshock budget, it has to sell like Bioshock, not Demon Souls. Hiding the hardcore mode is a pretty easy way to achieve maximum sales whilst still providing hardcore gamers – whether new or old – a bigger, more involved challenge.

      And, like it or not, AAA-playing gamers generally prefer relatively consequence free gaming.

      (I don’t like it either.)

      @ ffordesoon – a largely impenetrable mess, from what I can gather from my younger, Fallout 3 gaming friends.

      @ stillwater – if you’re prepared to give Levine $100m a year to run his studio for “intelligent” gamers, perhaps he’d design for them, rather than the “idiots” who actually buy his games and pay his salary.

  5. Zwebbie says:

    “You’re going to suffer”

    Well, you don’t need difficulty for that; BioShock was piss easy and felt like suffering too ;) .

    • Red_Avatar says:

      No kidding – terrible respawning already ruined it and the repetitive combat even more (ah, irony – we were told combat would be brilliant and then they give us respawning generic enemies that would die if you winked at them).

    • MajorManiac says:

      I loved the combat.

      Though I played it like Skyrim; melee weapon in one hand and an exotic collection of spells in the other.

    • Bhazor says:

      Ahh so you either played it on easy mode or spammed the revita chambers.

    • chargen says:

      Well I tried it with difficulty at max and without the vita chamber silliness. It wasn’t really difficult, just tedious. Toward the end I was standing in front of a super leatherhead, both of us standing in front of each other firing our tommy guns. I unloaded an entire clip of AP rounds into him without killing him. That was boring.

      Toward the end of SS2 I had 6 rounds of AP left for my assault rifle, the next area had maybe 3-4 rumblers in it, and it takes 3-4 shots of AP to kill each one. That was tense. Fun even. I remember panicking when I accidentally used an extra shot on one. It was a waste I couldn’t afford.

  6. martinrivasacosta says:

    What we really need to know is if we are going to be able to carry more than 2 guns at the same time: in the gameplay video at 9:40 you can see that he has to swap his current weapon with the rpg because he can’t carry both at the same time. It’s a shame, my 1999 games didn’t have this restriction and Bioshock 1 & 2 didn’t have it either.

  7. Nixitur says:

    Why exactly is “OMG, we’re gonna have a hard difficulty!” newsworthy?

    • InternetBatman says:

      There’s a difference between hard difficulty and a separate game mode. Hard difficulty normally just fools around with monster levels, health bars, and money gain. This, like New Vegas’s hardcore mode (especially with J.E. Sawyer mod) sounds like it offers a significantly different way to play.

    • thesisko says:

      The difference being that Sawyer doesn’t hold such a low opinion of the “average” gamers intelligence level, and instead tries to challenge gamers to encourage them to move beyond their comfort zones.

    • drewski says:

      If Sawyer had as much faith in the average gamer as you think he does, the new mode wouldn’t be a mod, it’d just be the game.

      Sawyer did exactly the same thing as Levine is – design for the general, AAA playing gamer, then created a separate, more involved and challenging mode for those who are prepared to go and look for it. Modders are, by definition, people who aren’t happy with the default mode.

  8. noilly says:

    “You’re not going to have the ammo for it, or there won’t be much hacking you can do in that area, the opportunities for [your skills] aren’t going to be very present, and you’re going to be struggling, really struggling to progress. You’ll have to count every bullet and think very deeply about every encounter, because if you just run into things you’re going to find yourself really in a bad place that’s going to be very hard to get yourself out of.”

    how far games have fallen!

  9. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Even not being a programmer, I’d be extremely interested in knowing why these things can’t be handled via a simple toggle on an options menu instead of creating a conceptually self-defeating mode (it’s not a “return to our roots” when said roots had none of this kind of compromise), then burying it away.

    • nullward says:

      Because gamers like to have their achievements “canonized” by the game/developer. This is why achievement systems exist. Why put a gnome in a space rocket if there’s no fancy little emblem and “Ding!” sound for you to receive?

      I’m honestly looking forward to this difficulty mode. It sounds nice and punishing. I liked the original BioShock enough to try re-playing it in my own personal Iron Man mode, meaning that I only saved the game when I reached a new cloning tank, and only ONCE per tank. Really added a new level of intensity and survivalism to the game. So, I guess you could say I am part of the target audience, because this gives me an actual context under which to punish myself with challenging situations =)

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      I’m not criticizing the idea of a harder difficulty, or added challenge, or irreversible choice and consequence. On the contrary, I wish these were more rampant, and beyond the “higher difficulty? just make that guy take 200 rockets to the face as if they were mojitos”.

      The way it’s being handled, however, just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I just need a good rub, but I’m not going there.

    • Baines says:

      It probably can be handled by a simple toggle in an options menu. At the least, it could be handled by an on-screen choice at the New Game option. It might not be too difficult to even allow a player to revert from “1999″ mode to the regular game during gameplay, even if the opposite isn’t possible.

      It isn’t about the coding, it is about psychology.

      Basically, people will buy the game, see “Hard Mode” on an option screen, pick it because they don’t want to play “Casual Mode” or to miss part of the game (which sometimes happens with easier modes), and then complain that it is too hard. Then they’ll return the game and complain online. Reviewers will do the same. They’ll pick what they think is the “real” game difficulty, they’ll find it isn’t a hand-holding “Everybody wins” experience, and then they’ll write negative reviews about the game.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      People always complain, no matter what. I complain – even about myself.

      I know it’s about psychology, it’s just staggering to see people still letting themselves be fooled (or fooling themselves). But I also wonder about in-game psychology, of sorts: game experiences where you’re so very near the limit, moments that stress players or has them thinking they’ve made a bad choice, and it turns out everything’s (relatively speaking) safe. If this could be worked with the ability selection, for instance, or enemy encounters, I guess I’d take prefer that to a different mode.

    • drewski says:

      You complaining about the way the Hardcore mode has been implemented probably won’t cost Levine thousands or more in sales and tens of millions of dollars, though…

  10. InternetBatman says:

    I think he’s a little overly dismissive of Bioshock in the interview, but I never played System Shock (I have two copies but it just does not like Windows 7, and you just have to give up after the fourth hour of trying) and I reloaded with every death in Bioshock (I assumed that no FPS would have unlimited life at the time). People like to trash it a little, but it was a really good game. Then again, that kind of attitude is a good thing in creative fields.

    Columbia looks really cool. Bioshock Infinite is a dumb name. The harder difficulty of games in the late 90s (than now) didn’t feel like suffering. It felt like good balance. He should stop being so dismissive of console / new gamers. You don’t become discriminating without being introduced to new ideas; just give them the option, explain the added depth, and let them decide.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      I’m puzzled by this myself – 1999 games weren’t nail hard. Only System Shock 2 was tricky because you never had enough ammo. Other than that, I’m hard pressed to think of many FPS where I constantly ran out of ammo … even on hard.

      No, games back then were generally great because they didn’t jam the game full of scripted sequences that hurt the flow of the game. No-One Lives Forever was the way games should have gone, combining great combat with clever thinking. Instead they went the other way with CoD games that a braindead chimp could play. Lots of explosions, lots of brainless shooting, lots of scripts. Fuck you, game publishers, FUCK. YOU. *exhales*

    • LionsPhil says:

      Funnily enough, System Shock 2 was one where you could die without needing to reload—as long as you’d found and activated the resurrection machine on that deck. There was a tiny penalty in nanites for it.

      In SysShock 1, you needed to fix the machinery on that deck, but there was no penalty at all for death once you’d done that. A particularly pragmatic h-h-hackkkerrrrr could chew on a live grenade to take get themselves back to the medical sector with half-health if they found themselves on their last legs next to something they wanted blown up…

      …the flipside being that the cortex reaver cyborgizing you is a remarkably unnerving death screen. You really, really wanted to get that resurrection machinery fixed. Also on harder difficulty you could lose if you didn’t get a move on and stop SHODAN in time.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Lionsphil God I want to play those games. I imagine sooner or later I’ll just torrent them and see if that works.

    • LionsPhil says:

      For System Shock 1, google about for System Shock Portable, which I think even has the mouselook patch pre-applied these days to try to avoid that old “I can tell this is a classic but the interface really is truly alien to my post-Quake sensibilities” syndrome. Since it’s DOSBox’d, it should run on anything. (You could even try ripping out their bundled DOSBox and substituting your own copy if you’re afraid of dubious EXEs.)

      For System Shock 2…well, I’m lucky enough to have an eBay copy and am typing this right now on my trusty old WinXP box from early 2002-ish. It’s in that awkward crack of mid-early Windows 3D games that are between emulation and native hardware. :/ If you’re really lucky you might have luck running it under VirtualBox or something, but that requires a spare Windows license, plus it might all be a huge waste of time.

  11. Persus-9 says:

    I hope 1999 mode comes with different difficulty levels. I love the idea of permanent important decisions and being able to screw yourself over if you don’t think about it. It is that sort of possibility of failure (or near failure) through poor decision making that I miss. I’ve never been one for “hard” difficulty though when that is translated to harder combat, enemies with more hit points etc, so I hope I can play with the different decision structure of 1999 mode and normal combat difficulty apart from that.

    • Matt-R says:

      I kinda feel the same, not really due to the challenge though, just with bioshock in particular I found fighting the big daddy’s to be a massive chore as the “difficulty” level rose, because they’d just become black holes into which bullets would disappear.

      Hp bloat and the like isn’t very interesting so unless 1999 mode (which sounds great) somehow avoids hp bloat I’ll be put off somewhat. But it’s still probably better than a none-1999 mode anyway.

  12. Nixitur says:

    “Hard difficulty normally just fools around with monster levels, health bars, and money gain. This, like New Vegas’s hardcore mode (especially with J.E. Sawyer mod) sounds like it offers a significantly different way to play.”
    It’s a bit sad that “hard mode” is generally understood only to dick around with levels and damage and all that. “Hard mode” could just as well mean smarter AI, tougher boss fights (not just because of health or damage, but different attacks, different strategies etc.) or locations of upgrades or ammo.
    And, in fact, there’s plenty of games where “Hard” is exactly that. You have to play the game differently in 1999 mode? There’s plenty of games where you have to play the game differently on Hard mode.
    So, really, “1999 mode” is just a flashy name for “Hard”.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      It’s marketing – and you’re right. Too big a deal is made of this, and this is very blatant pandering. I read here that people say he dismisses “regular” gamers but, come on, he’s really mocking our intelligence by being so transparent about why this mode got added: hype, marketing, good PR.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      But then, when your target audience thinks a hard mode:

      (…) is something new in gaming … or acction and consecuetion..thats is fantastic..to see how we devolope or gaming ..and this will give us replayable value…i love it .

      intelligence doesn’t really seem to factor into it.

  13. 2late2die says:

    “I nattered to avuncular Irrational bossman…”, what?? Can you please write articles in proper English, i.e. the American kind. Not all of us speak fluent cockney.

    J/k :)

    I actually enjoy these kinds of quintessential English terms. Although these two honestly stumped me,

  14. Howard says:

    “15 minutes of gameplay footage”?
    So its going to give MW3 a run for its money in the un-game rankings? 15 minutes of pointless cut scenes interspersed with boring shooting. Like watching someone play Virtua-Cop…

    • Walter Heisenberg says:

      The rail system will make or break the gameplay, iif it allows fast tactical freeform combat all around the map like the heavily guided demo’s suggest it will be awesome, if the rails are tightly designed to fake a sense of player choice then it will fail.

  15. Fox89 says:

    I quite like the sound of this. And not JUST because everyone else seems to hate it for some reason. What’s wrong with a mode that takes what looks to be a great new game and make it “A bit more like the good old days you keep going on about?” Seems pretty cool to me.

    I’m also a fan of hiding it behind a hidden code. Just because that would make me feel like a part of a secret club! The secret club who looked up a code on the internet. OK, it’s not the Illuminati, but still!

  16. circadianwolf says:

    It took a fan to point to a man who claims to represent immersive simulation that choices without consequences aren’t choices?

    I am honestly immensely confused by the respect Levine is given within the game industry. In every interview I’ve read about BioShock it’s clear that he fails to understand what made either the gameplay or the narrative successful in that game (and of course the utter failure of the last act demonstrates that as well).

    (Of course, most of the Looking Glass designers have shown they didn’t really “get” the games they were making–they’re very smart people, of course, but in retrospect it seems, for all their frequent theorizing, they were mostly just following their instincts or throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. Which was understandable at the time, since no one else had done what they were doing, but in the present it’s weird and sad that very few of them have progressed any, and some, like Levine, have demonstrably regressed. My hopes lie with Dishonored.)

    • Acorino says:

      Yeah, it really isn’t rare.
      Just because you’re able to do something great doesn’t give you the analytical understanding of what made it so great. Like you said, they may have just followed their instincts.
      Cat Stevens probably never understood either why no one like his later albums…

    • LionsPhil says:

      What this man said.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      You’re expecting good artists to be good critics. I’ll give you that some talented artists are more introspective and self-critical than others, but that doesn’t mean all or even most of them are. Looking Glass didn’t sit down one day and say, “We’re going to make the Immersive Sim” — they couldn’t have, because Immersive Sims didn’t exist yet. They were floundering in the dark and doing exactly what you said, “Seeing what sticks.” That’s all any artist really does.

      So what if the last act of Bioshock sucked? The rest of it was one of the most superb video game narratives ever crafted. The last act of Huckleberry Finn didn’t keep Hemingway from calling it the beginning of American literature, so I think Levine can be assured of his contribution to gaming even if he done fucked up a few times on the way.

    • circadianwolf says:

      “You’re expecting good artists to be good critics. I’ll give you that some talented artists are more introspective and self-critical than others, but that doesn’t mean all or even most of them are. Looking Glass didn’t sit down one day and say, “We’re going to make the Immersive Sim” — they couldn’t have, because Immersive Sims didn’t exist yet. They were floundering in the dark and doing exactly what you said, “Seeing what sticks.” That’s all any artist really does.”

      Yes, that’s normally true, but in general the Looking Glass guys especially have been quite open about speaking about their ideas and acting as critics. Especially since when they were working there really wasn’t a serious critical sphere for games (and what exists today is still quite small and fragmentary), they stand out.

      Which isn’t to say you’re wrong, of course. But they specifically put their ideas out there, and developers and press seem to take them seriously, when a cursory analysis demonstrates immense contradictions and startling naivete. (Or maybe I’m just sad because I spent the better part of a year studying immersive sims and constantly found myself strongly disagreeing with everything Levine, Spector, Smith, Church, et al. have written. Clint Hocking, their modern inheritor, is much better, though.)

      “So what if the last act of Bioshock sucked? The rest of it was one of the most superb video game narratives ever crafted.”

      No, it’s not. BioShock is the anti-immersive sim–it uses the principles of immersive sim, but in the end it amounts not to a celebration of choice or agency but a nihilistic rejection of any possibility of agency. In effect, it uses the unique nature of video games (interactivity and agency) to argue that video games can’t offer anything more meaningful than linear media… despite the fact that its argument only works because of the interactivity of the game. It’s a contradictory mess, an initially beautiful promise of something better that collapses in on itself not due to failed execution but due to a fundamentally rotten core (much like Rapture itself). And that’s directly traceable to the fact that Levine (and his design team) didn’t and don’t understand immersive sim on a basic level (also why I have very little interest in Infinite).

      It’s an extremely compelling game, but I don’t think it’s actually a good game. Interesting, yes, but in a tragic way at best and at worst pernicious.

  17. nblake42 says:

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Sorry, Ken. I’m sure some people will appreciate it!

  18. Bobby Oxygen says:

    Does that mean we get an inventory this time? Or would that break the bank?

  19. N'Al says:

    What I find most strange about all of this is that KL supposedly realised peoples’ issues with Bioshock’s non-permanence of decisions ONLY NOW, even though that was one of the first and most frequent things that was raised about the game once it was released. Not sure whether that’s just PR talk (“The clouds parted for me.”), or whether he was truly wearing blinders up until now.

    For the record, I actually quite enjoyed Bioshock, but the non-permanence of decisions definitely was its most glaring flaw, imo.

    • D says:

      I’m sure he’s been pondering on it for awhile. Understandable that he doesn’t come out to criticize his own game on such a basic point, before he is ready to talk about a remedy in the next.

      Reread edit: Scratch that, he does talks as if it was a recent occurrence, as you say.. What a load of bull.

  20. thesisko says:

    I really find the name of this mode condescending. There are a lot of good, modern games that are challenging and complex. They might not be “AAA”, but neither was System Shock.

    Just because AAA’s can’t afford to alienate their customers doesn’t make games geared towards a more hardcore audience, like Dark Souls or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. something old-fashioned. There’s nothing “1999″ about challenging the player or asking for some kind of resource management and strategy. Demanding more from your entertainment is a question of interest and dedication, it’s not an “old-school” thing.

    Imagine if we started regarding people who don’t feel intellectually challenged by Hollywood blockbusters as “old-school” film fans.

    • D says:

      Bioshock lead announces “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mode” for Bioshock Infinite.

      Yeah, that’d go well. (jk)

  21. SirKicksalot says:

    One of the things I liked about the BioShocks is the versatility. Being able to switch my playstyle on the fly.
    Some things in this 1999 mode sound great, but the combat specializations ruin it all for me.
    I like many games with this feature, of course, but I can’t force myself to use it in BSI when I know I have a better option.

  22. sinister agent says:

    Okay, fine, it’s probably a good idea. An alternative way to play is a nice bit of replay value if nothing else. But my word, that’s a punchably terrible name for it.

    • Acorino says:

      Well, it’s not like Bioshock Infinite is a well chosen name either…

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      Or Bioshock, or System Shock, for that matter. Frankly I’m not a fan of any Looking Glass/Irrational titles; they all strike me as sounding a bit tacky and — dare I say it? — 1999.

    • LionsPhil says:

      At least “Thief” is a solid, un-silly, un-dated name.

      (Obligatory comment about the fourth game’s title.)

    • Acorino says:

      But then, the subtitle of Thief is “The Dark Project”….
      In Germany the title was altered to “Dark Project: Der Meisterdieb”. So later on we didn’t get a Thief II, but a Dark Project II. Yeeeaah….

  23. Infinitron says:

    KEN LEVINE IS GOING TO MAKE YOU HIS BITCH

    Suck it down.

  24. Ridnarhtim says:

    I like the sound of it, so now I just need to be told one thing:

    There won’t be GFWL, right? RIGHT, KEN?

  25. Xaromir says:

    Giving a game a hardmode doesn’t make them better. If being hard was a very memorable aspect of a game, then the game usually was of good quality which justified playing it through and grind through the whole damn night in the first place. “Harder is better” is useless wash of pretentious people. Please make it good, then everything else kthxbai.

    • Acorino says:

      I wonder why Levine would want to make a hard, but bad game.
      I’m sure it’s a given that he does his best to create a great game.

  26. Optimaximal says:

    The only question I actually want an answer to about the game is…

    “Why wasn’t it justed called ‘Columbia’?”

    Saddling it with the BioShock name is just going to raise certain expectations that Levine is going to be spending the rest of 2012 explaining.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      Well maybe it will have crappy combat and badly respawning enemies too! We can only hope <.<

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      I entirely agree. I fear it isn’t called Columbia because rather than telling the compelling story of a Spanish Civil War-like conflict aboard this marvelous floating city at the turn of the century, they’re going to use the alternate-reality plot device to make a hackneyed connection to the old Bioshock universe. Which is depressing, if it’s true, and very video gamey at the same time.

      In any case, they really should have called it Columbia.

  27. ZamFear says:

    Avuncular. There’s a word you don’t see thrown around often. What qualities is that word even supposed to connote? Based on my own family, I can only guess that it’s synonymous with bald.

  28. Urthman says:

    This is so wrong. The problem with Bioshock was not that the choices weren’t permanent, it’s that the choices weren’t interesting.

    And the problem with the combat wasn’t that you had too many tactical options. If killing the same splicers over and over is boring with 4 guns and 8 plasmids, it’s not going to be more fun with only 2 guns and 3 plasmids.

    • Bhazor says:

      I’ll never understand how people failed to have fun with the combat in Bioshock. Seriously, play in hard mode with no vending machines and only “buying out” or autohacking security.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Probably because it was only fun when you artificially crippled yourself, and it never really quite paid off. The number of times I laid elaborate trap-bolt-and-explosives-and-turrets deathtraps for Big Daddies, only for them to stumble into two or three of them and fall over before the overly elaborate plan even got halfway…or you’d just kill them with the electroshotgun while luring them about. Bit of fun with the “I’m a little girl” plasmids on that one map where you could make two of them turn on each-other, mind, but it was always tainted by a certain feeling that you were just pissing about in desperation to have something interesting happen.

      It wasn’t that I played it on too easy, either. It’s simply that the straight-up-agressive route was the most efficient. On a harder difficulty, unless things scale in strange and non-linear ways, going for those extra advantages would have led to failure where just-shoot-them wouldn’t have.

  29. FlyingMug says:

    They left out the part where Liz’s outfit becomes 20% more distracting.

  30. Walter Heisenberg says:

    “Our goal with BioShock: Infinite was always a way to bring those people into this kind of game, but I think the plan right now – my thinking, anyway – is we’re going to hide this mode behind an old-school up, down, left, right, left, right, start button combination on the console to unlock it. You’re not going to have to finish the game to unlock it, but we’re going to hide it because the last thing I want is some guy who’s not an old-school gamer stumbling into this thing, because he’s going to think “alright, this game sucks, I’m never getting into this because it’s so brutal and so punishing – forget it!””

    This is Ken saying he thinks you or rather the gaming public at large are fucking morons, he knows even if he put a prompt that explains what the mode is is and who should play they anyway, get angry and stop playing the game because of it, they are also incapable of doing the rational thing and not play on that mode.

    I understand his reasoning here but locking it away with a code is still shameful in the same way that Elizabeth having giant cleavage is shameful, it’s because some people won’t care because of her through her personality, dialogue and actions so they must care about her purely through sexual attraction. Modern gamers are apparently cavemen…

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      RPS proves him wrong. But does IGN? And which is bigger?

    • Dominic White says:

      “he knows even if he put a prompt that explains what the mode is is and who should play they anyway, get angry and stop playing the game because of it, they are also incapable of doing the rational thing and not play on that mode.”

      The number of people who – even around here – said that Bioshock had terrible and monotonous combat because they just ran at enemies with the wrench, bashed them a few times, respawned and repeated endlessly until they won (and never considered any other approach) would suggest that he’s right. There’s a lot of people out there that’ll somehow hang themselves if you give them a piece of string long enough.

  31. pipman3000 says:

    where’s the mode that replaces elizabeth with grown woman instead of a big titted nine year old. i know nerds love their lolicon and other borderline pedo crap but jesus christ elizabeth looks young enough to be justin beibers daughter why do they have to put massive g-cups on a toddler

    • Walter Heisenberg says:


      In the first trailer she has a noticeably different design with more realistic proportions and a pageboy haircut, people apparently found this design “weird” make of this as you well :/

    • Optimaximal says:

      The problem with characters that need continued emotional investment is that a great deal of time needs to be spent on them to avoid the Uncanny Valley.

      Valve made a big deal about Alyx from HL2 having more time spent on her than the majority of the rest of the characters, along with many algorithms being programmed into Source to mimic human behaviour we take for advantage, such as where eyes focus during conversation etc.

      I guess Irrational went for the stylised design to avoid a lot of the issues a realistic counterpart raises.

  32. Yosharian says:

    This is fucking awesome. Levine just redeemed himself for every shitty design decision he made in Bioshock 1… providing this 1999 mode delivers what he is saying it will.

  33. Tychoxi says:

    What I want is games to stop using *only* predefined “modes” (easy, medium, hard, whatever). I want gameplay options, where I customize the settings myself. Sure give me easy, and hard and etc, but then let me tweak around if I so desire! Maybe I want to use the hardest AI but my skills to remain in “easy” mode. I applaud “1999 mode” or New Vegas’ “Hardcore mode” but they should let me customize. Let me choose and play around, this goes both for difficulty and features too. Again, New Vegas had 3 options for the feature “slowmo deaths”, that’s what I’m asking for.

    Let me go deeper into the mechanics and customize them to my liking, it wont break the game, and it’s not difficult to implement.

    • Urthman says:

      One thing I appreciated about Bioshock 1 is it let you turn off the handholding that way — separate check boxes to turn off the directional arrow, the highlighting of important objects, the auto map guide, etc.

  34. wererogue says:

    I think this sounds awesome – the regen tanks in Bioshock killed the game for me, and I’ve never gone back and finished it (I know, it’s stupid, but that’s where I am right now).

    Fie on those who denigrate the new crowd of gamers – this approach is exactly what I’d love to see from AAA games. Build it for the masses, and throw a carefully balanced bone to us, the people who carried gaming to where it is today.

  35. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    I don’t understand some of the pretensions in the comment thread. I played and loved System Shock 2 when I was 11 and thoroughly enjoyed Bioshock when it came out. Sure I feel the latter could have been more difficult and the character customisation more sophisticated but that didn’t marginalise the achievement of the art design, story or wonderfully constructive gameplay mechanics and options in combat and the game as a masterpiece.

    Also I suggest the mode isn’t called ’1999′ due to some antiquated halcyon era, it’s just a reference to System Shock 2 and yet people are acting as if it’s a grievous slight.

    • thesisko says:

      He repeatedly states that it’s something strictly for “old-school” gamers – i.e. challenge and complexity are outdated and nothing a modern gamer would be interested in regardless of how dedicated or interested he is.

      It’s pretty much in the same league as “times have moved on” and “strategy games are not contemporary” except here he throws a bone by including a hidden “outdated” mode as a feature.

      It’s not the mode I have an issue with, it’s Levine’s (and the rest of the AAA industry’s) attitude. If he’d called it “Hardcore” mode and explained that it’s for any gamer who desires an extra level of challenge and depth I’d be totally fine with it. That’s pretty much what Sawyer did in New Vegas. Hell, there was even a popup during character creation that asked if you wanted to enable it.

    • Acorino says:

      Fair enough.

  36. Muzman says:

    I like what I’m hearing from Ken here. Particularly about words, and his particular words in particular.
    Good stuff.

  37. RagingLion says:

    I’m trying to work out if this mode is right for me and I’m really not sure.

    My question is whether this permanence only applies to skills and weapon abilities or whether also to the story elements because that’s what I care more about. (My impression was that it only applies to abilities – the fighting gameplay).

  38. stillwater says:

    I don’t like the whole “1999″ slant. Like so many cases where people bring up old gaming eras and compare them to the present one, there tends to be too much distorted memory, rose-coloured glasses, and pompous ‘I-was-there-at-Woodstock’ snobbery.

    I played a lot of games in the 90s (though mainly the early 90s to be honest….granted, I didn’t play much in 1999 itself), and while I remember a few things that made them difficult, I also remember a lot that made them easier than today’s games. I remember that enemy AI tended to be really dumb, with enemies not working together and having easily-exploitable weaknesses. I remember flat, 2-dimensional level design without much cover or dark corners or ceilings for enemies to ambush you from. And I remember unlimtted ammo, and health potions littered around the place that magically heal you in an instant.

    Though having said that, if there really is a brutal decision/consequence system, I’ll be intrigued. Most games nowadays that supposedly offer you diverging paths always give you fallbacks and backdoors. Your melee too weak to get through this room of enemies? No worries, here’s a back tunnel you can sneak through…..and an automated turret you can hack…..and an NPC you can charm/intimidate…..and a locked storeroom with a conveniently placed invisibility potion in it if your lockpick skill is high enough.

    I don’t know if this is really a recent phenomenon or has always been this way – I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  39. elnalter says:

    I hope 1999 is as good as he says it is. Bioshock just didn’t have the challenge I wanted in a game.

  40. DrGonzo says:

    “I think that’s okay, because this is not a mode for a guy who only plays two or three games a year, who goes home in the evening and wants to unwind and play for half an hour, shoot a bunch of stuff and forget about it.”

    Maybe not all games should be accessible.

    “because he’s going to think “alright, this game sucks, I’m never getting into this because it’s so brutal and so punishing – forget it!””

    Mr Plinkett voice – Ohhhhhh…

    • drewski says:

      Not all games have to be, no. This one does, because it cost a lot of money to make, and if Levine gambles wrongly on it, 2K won’t let him make any more.

  41. BrendanJB says:

    Far out, this site is filled with such a large amount of cynical elitists. Spew out as much hyperbole as you can, guys. Quickly, before somebody says they’re interested!

    THIS JUST IN! KEN LEVINE CALLS ALL GAMERS FUCKING RETARDED. DOESN’T UNDERSTAND GAME DESIGN AT ALL. EVERY GAMER OVER 30 KNOWS BETTER.

  42. bill says:

    As i mentioned last time, he’s completely missed the point.

    the thing missing in Bioshock wasn’t permanence of upgrade decisions… I want to be able to swap out my options so that I can have a more varied and fun game.

    What was missing was any actual reason to do so… because the gam essentially played exactly the same whichever upgrades or plasmids you picked.
    It’s true that by the end you could basically max out everything – and i’d be fine with them changing that – if i have the chance to change my setup and try other things.

    Bioshock with less options = less fun
    Bioshock with more things to use options for = more fun.

    Either way, I’m not gonna replay your game because you didn’t let me have half the fun things the first time.

    (Deus Ex 1 was great, but by the end I was a little fed up with stealth and sniping, and i’d have liked to try out something else. Deus Ex 2 wasn’t so great, but half way through they let me totally re-spec my character and it made things a lot more fun again.)

    Oh well, it’s just an option so I’ll ignore it. Hopefully the open nature and NPCs will address the real weak points of Bioshock, and this will keep the “hardcore” people quiet.

    • bill says:

      As another example, System Shock 2 was awesome, one of my favourite games ever. But I only played it one time, and I had to choose my character type at the start of the game, so that’s almost 2/3rds of the abilities that I missed out on. I never really got to play with the psyonics much.

      What was great wasn’t limited permanent choices, it was that they had an effect on how the game played out. I was often short on resources, and forced to use weapons I hadn’t upgraded because I was out of amo for the others, or because they were damaged. Finding a precious few shells was great. In bioshock I had full ammo for every weapon in every mode and most of the corpses were still coughing up shells by the dozen. I had a hundred ways to kill a guy, but nothing else.

  43. RegisteredUser says:

    Now someone just needs to tell them the game wasn’t shit due to lack of consequences, but due to the fact that guns felt crappy (what I identify either with low budget games or consoles), respawns that felt like a cheap godmode workaround and handling that felt extremely consoled as well. And damage models? What damage models? You kinda shoot at stuff, and at some point the enemy falls over.
    Oh wow.
    Combat just felt completely unsatisfying to me in Bioshock.

    In short – if you want to do a mode that directly implies PC-ness, too, maybe this time around actually make a PC game, too.

    • drewski says:

      People criticising the Vitachambers as being “consoley”, when Levine put them in System Shock 2 over a decade ago, cracks me up so much.

      “That feature you’ve been using for half a decade before you even picked up a console devkit is too consoley!”

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Its funny you have to belabour that game, because that series is literally THE one thing I never played more than a couple of hours and wasn’t even aware it did that.
      My overall awareness of other games is that which caused the consoley comment.

      Although, to be fair?
      Consoles used to have fuckhard games. I am thinking of the NES and SNES, Mega-Drive and Neogeo etc era.
      So, really, its not “just” a console logic. Its the mass market dumbification that has taken hold due a lot TO the success of the MODERN console and their way of doing things(wrong).

      So I guess you have a point insofar it doesn’t have to be called consolification; but given that a lot if not most of this dumb shit _is_ nowadays found on games either made purely for or foremost for console, it is simply a fitting shorthand and most people know what I mean by it.

      It doesn’t make it a better mechanic if a PC game did indeed use something as similiarly crappy before.

  44. thesisko says:

    What I’m hearing from this interview is that Ken designed the core game for an audience that he assumes are incapable to comprehend a menu option and would rather return the game instead of just switching it off or – shock and horror – maybe adapting and liking it.

    • Premium User Badge ffordesoon says:

      Thank goodness Ken’s designing it and not Kevin, huh? :P

  45. Jamesworkshop says:

    Interesting but I think I will pass on this 1999 mode in the same way I avoided hardcore in fallout new vegas

    modav carryweight 50000

    made both bethesda fallouts much less tedious, let me walk across the entire DC area reverse pickpocketing every non-hostile npc with enclave power armour

    http://i737.photobucket.com/albums/xx11/jamesworkshop/Random%20games/ScreenShot7.jpg

    unsurprisingly the attacking super mutants didn’t win that fight

  46. Premium User Badge The Sombrero Kid says:

    He’s convinced me tbh, I feel like he’s talking to me where in the other interviews i’ve read it seemed he was deliberatly avoiding talking to me, i suppose that’s what i come to rps for.

  47. fenriz says:

    If Mr. Levine wants a really old school feel he should just put adventure puzzles. That would impress me. But, some skill choices? That’s weak. I believe System Shock 2 featured interesting interaction with the environment, objects to dismantle and recombobulate here and there and everywhere. That’s what i call old school, in an old school game no door or lift or computer works unless you go searching for pieces somewhere. You pass by a corridor, you don’t see and pick a little bolt lying on the floor, and you’re stuck much later at 98% of the game complete, now that is punishing and manly.

    that is truly “i want it all! All the puzzles! All the work!” type of experience.

    ’99 experience? To me that’s still a sissy experience :)

  48. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m still a little confused by this. Is it a new difficulty mode or is it compatible with them (that is, could I play Easy 1999 Mode or Medium 1999 Mode)?

    I ask because while I consider myself fairly hardcore in the amount of time I spend playing games, I absolutely do not consider myself hardcore when it comes to difficulty. Giving the game consequences should not be the same as making the game harder, in the sense that challenge is not the same as difficulty.

    To clarify using a different game, Arkham City has a New Game+ mode which makes enemies tougher and offers more challenging enemy configurations (enemies with shields right out of the gate, for instance). However, it also removes the counterattack cues from above enemy heads. The game is simply too quick, too busy, and too visually monotonous to consistently spot enemies who are readying a strike. I didn’t find the game to be “too easy” for signposting these moves, and I died quite a few times over the course of the game because fighting was always more involved than “Hit Button to Counter.” Removing the cues turned the New Game+ from a challenge into a chore, and I was disappointed to find that it was a feature I wanted no part of.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      So you want a hard game, but not one that’s too hard?

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      If a game is hard, I want it to be fair. In the Arkham City example, I find the difficulty to be largely artificial, because they removed elements that compensated for weaknesses in the game design. Yes, the game is artistically true to the source material, but that unfortunately means that everything is muted and dour and hard to differentiate without assistance, which is compounded by the fast pace of the combat. The cues in that instance compensate for inherent flaws with the design–in an appropriately comic-book-like manner–rather than provide a crutch for the player. For a similar example, read some of the interviews floating about regarding the Diablo III art direction.

      Hard is fine as long as the game isn’t asking the player to just put up with its bullshit. If an enemy has a difficult-to-predict attack, OK. If the enemy’s attack is difficult to see because of the overall visual design of the game, that’s bullshit. If the enemy’s attack has no warning, that’s also bullshit. In the case of Bioshock Infinite, some obvious things to avoid:

      -Abilities and/or weapons that sound good or are fun to use but are ultimately useless because of enemy resistances, ammo limitations, whatever. Case in point: Resistance: Fall of Man. Some cool guns and no carry limits, but you spend 70-80% of the game using the two most basic firearms because the game doesn’t give you much ammo for the higher-end gear.
      -Cheap enemies. You know what I mean: guys that blow up, guys who latch on, guys who have pinpoint accuracy, etc. If the enemies are just baseline harder in 1999 mode, then there’s no reason to include that kind of headache.
      -No wiggle room. Hard to quantify, but “go back to another save” should be for the direst of situations. If a player has no room to learn the ins and outs of the game without restarting, then you’ve made some bad design decisions.

  49. HelderPinto says:

    I love the way Levine talks and expresses himself! No wonder his games are master pieces!

    And 1999 mode? Fuck me, can’t wait…!

  50. Jerre138 says:

    First off, yes this is my first comment on this site but I’ve been lurking here for about a year.
    I know this is a PC gaming site and I read it primarily to stay up to date with indie games.
    Most AAA games I play on consoles, which apparently makes me an idiot in the eyes of a significant number of posters here. Could someone explain to me why?

    P.S. with AAA games, I’m not referring to CoD or BF, if that was the case I wouldn’t need someone to explain to me why I’m retarded.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Hello there. It’s a good question, and I for one don’t think you’re an idiot.

      There’s a lot to be said for choosing consoles over PC for AAA releases. For example:

      1. You don’t have to worry if your console is powerful enough to run the game. Sure, a lot of console games have framerate issues, but if your PC is more than a few years old it’ll probably struggle even more, and many games may be unplayable, and so a waste of cash.
      2. Computers are technical, consoles are (mostly) more reliable. Maybe you don’t have the time or patience to learn how to perform all the weird techno-voodoo that you might need to get some games going. Or maybe you don’t like the idea that your computer might break inexplicably at any time, making all your games unplayable.
      3. Consoles are popular. Chances are you know some people who have consoles but not a gaming PC. They might shout at you or call you names if you buy BF3 on your PC instead of wanting to play with them.

      However, PCs are amazing for games, for the following reasons and more:

      1. Certain games, particularly RTSs, Indie Games, MMOs and less conventional RPGs are only released on PC.
      2. Similarly, PC-only games are often more complex or esoteric, making use of the more advanced (in most ways) interface afforded by a mouse and keyboard.
      3. Computers are technical. Learning about techno-voodoo is fun!
      4. Mods. Mods, mods, mods, mods. Mods.
      5. Consoles will never stack up technologically with the best (most expensive) PCs. This is currently thought to be the case. We shall see.
      6. The PC-gaming community is diverse and full of weirdos. This is good.

      As for why people here and elsewhere mock consoles or console gamers: Beats the hell out of me. Ideas anyone?

      Sorry for the stupidly long post by the way.

    • Jerre138 says:

      @LennyLeonardo

      Don’t get me wrong, I play quite a few games on PC, mostly RTS (Total War, Anno, etc.) and point &click adventures. I have a basic understanding of PC architecture, but there’s no way I could run games like gears and mass effect on my rig.

      It also seems to me that consoles are preferable for these games because they don’t force you to run spyware in order to play them (ME3)

      On the other hand, excellent classics are almost impossible to find on consoles, whereas GoG.com makes it a breeze.

      What frustrates me is the sheer amount of hatred towards console gamers for very stereotypical reasons. Not that everyone here is guilty of that, but I don’t doubt that the same folks who post such comments would be annoyed if I were to use their logic and claim that “PC gamers” pirate all their games. Which is of course bollocks.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      @Jerre. Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t up on PC stuff, just figured I’d put down my thoughts for the sake of discussion.

      Like you I find that most new AAA releases are beyond my PC’s capabilities so I go with the Eggbox £3.60 when necessary, and I’m just as baffled by the console hate as you are. I know it’s the internet so pinch of salt and all, but it annoys me no end, so I’m totally with you.

      It’d be good to be able to have a proper discussion on the subject with some anti-console people without it degenerating into a flame war, but that seems unlikely.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Your own gaming profile already reflects part of the issue. More sophisticated controls and complexity only work well with > 100 keys and and a precision device at the ready (kb+mouse) and thus the console is inherently limited by its mainly used input device, the gamepad.

      The real source for hatred really comes from:
      -developing a game that either was classically a PC genre or had all of its predecessors on the PC for the console instead, because it might sell better there

      -not making versions of every single popular console game in existance for the PC as well, given that 1. you can get 1:1 the same controllers for the PC as for consoles and 2. you could finally run them without low FPS, chugging in certain sections, more/infinite save slots, better texture exports etc pp, and, just plainly, at all

      -console “exclusives” which have 0 reason for being exclusive other than furthering a console’s choke hold on the consumer and that are used as blackmail chips in term of “I only bought the xxx for game yyy” => similiar vein as the argument above

      -bad porting efforts of the games that do get ported with 0 post-release support

      -the general “dumbification” and death of gameplay thanks to chest high walls, recharging everything and limiting available weapons to 2 due to quickswitch logic that has no place on a PC(this is a bit more complex, as 8/16 bit consoles used to be platforms where games were fuckhardtwats with only continues and almost none had saves, enemies and some games and levels were fucking tragically hard etc pp, thus it is not just the platform, but also a consumer base fault. They – the mainstreamish as in the bad evil sucky dumb mainstream folks – in turn mostly turned to consoles rather than PC, as they are just as simple as their user in terms of “just push one button herpderp”)

      -delaying ports or game releases on the PC due to wanting to further console monopoly/dominance/”exclusivity” etc pp despite vastly inferior and outdated hardware, options etc => more abuse of “power” and “PC turned into whipping boy” shit

      -I’m sure there’s a fuckton more, but these are some of the core grievances to me, personally. I just want more and better games and (yes I am aware of the fucking irony) not to be discriminated against by publishers/progammers/devs etc pp, with delays, least possible effort/support etc

      Bottom line is: I have throughout the last 10-15 years emotionally experienced what has happened as a continued discrimination and deterioration of the PC as a platform, both in the ways it is being talked about (not “down here” like on RPS, but “up there” where the idiot developers sit and say things like “nah we won’t port because we’re sure it won’t sell enough on PC, PC users are dicks, PC gaming dead etc”) and how it is actually treated (“Coming soon to Xbox, Playstation and Gamecube! PC? What’s a PC?” and then the generations after that accordingly).

      So, yea. And this is why I have grown to think that any console after the SNES can go fucking die in a fire, and everyone who has financially helped and supported the misery involving it as well. Not directed against you, the person, but against the objectified money figure you are commercially, that has enabled those “up there” pricks to have their egotrip “PC is shit, hand-holding console games sell so many copies lulalsopiracylul” BS.

      So stop giving those dicks who do all of the above things money please.