Bioshock Infinite: Gillen vs Levine

Since abandoning sitting in my underpants writing games journalism for the glittering world of sitting in my glittery underpants writing comics, it takes a lot to get me out of bed. That said, it always took a lot to get me out of bed. I’m lazy. However, a chance to chat to Irrational’s creative director Ken Levine about all things Bioshock Infinite counts as something that’ll have me tearing the duvet asunder. So when I was asked to do it, I – er – did it.

Gillen: The feeling I got from my friends coming back from E3 was that they were genuinely impressed with Bioshock Infinite. As impressed as they hoped they were going to be, which is a good place to be. How general was that? What did you take from it?

Levine: We felt good. Our goal was to put forward the things that we were most nervous about, not in terms of what were excited about, but in terms of the things that were simply going to be the hardest to pull off, like Elizabeth. Have you seen the demo?

Gillen: Yes. I don’t follow many games in development, but I have been following Infinite.

Levine: Okay well the skyline stuff, Elizabeth, the bird, the notion of enemies acting around you without necessarily acting on your, and all the complications that yields. The audience at RPS is a hardcore gaming audience, so they can imagine what this means: it’s a lot easier when people are just shooting you. It’s much harder when the roles are unclear to the audience. What we want to do is create a world that is continually in tension, but not necessarily place you in combat all the time. Having a woman with you who has to behave believably is an extremely challenging task.

We use these demos to promote that and say, well, this can’t be something we have in our office that we can say “that’s good enough”… because it has to be something that people respond to. We have raise the standard of where these systems are for us. Demos like the E3 one are helpful for development because we can no longer say “oh it’s fine, so what if she walked into some walls?”. She can’t. We have to get all that stuff fixed up.

Gillen: I interviewed Doug Church about System Shock and the logic behind it almost a decade after the game came out, and the thought underlying a lot of the design decisions was: “We’re just not very good at doing people”. So they stopped trying to do people for that game. What makes you feel confident about going back and doing people now?

Levine: Doug’s completely right, and that was the brilliance of System Shock 1. His brilliance was to keep people out of the world, but keep them in the audiologs. Our team certainly benefited from that through System Shock 2 and Bioshock 1. But you know, now it’s almost twenty years after System Shock 1, and oh my God….

[There follows a brief nervous breakdown where interviewee and interviewer realise it’s 20 years since System Shock 1.]

Levine: 20 years. We have to move on. We bit the bullet. It was along the way into the game that we decided that. Initially we said, well, everyone you meet is going to be crazy like in Bioshock. But then we began to think on that and…. what if you have someone with you? Someone who isn’t crazy? What if you don’t know how crazy anyone is? What if they’re not behind a glass wall? We just kept working on that. It’s a really hard problem, and so that’s why the game is taking as long as it is. To do it in a shooting environment, that’s hard.

It’s a Bioshock game, so people expect a certain level of polish and visual oomph that you don’t expect from an RPG necessarily in moment-to-moment. Our action sequences are much more custom, much bigger. We have this opportunity to create this great level of consistency, like the scene in the doorway where she puts your hand around her neck, that’s so specifically animated. But then when she is in the world her actions have to be roughly on a par with that, consistent with that, even though we have no control over what the player is doing, or where he is going to be. It’s really complicated and really challenging, but we thought “it’s time to make it happen”.

Gillen: So what’s the real challenge? Apart from “everything”, what have you had to push and pull at to get that stuff working?

Levine: Okay, so, because we have these very specific moments – we know you’re going to go through that door and Elizabeth and that’s a scripted moment – then when you’re just walking around the city, we don’t know what the player is going to be doing. So the rest of the stuff in the store’s demo is not intended to be scripted in the same way – like the part where she puts on a Lincoln mask. She’s just goofing around. She’s using her own systems to do that. We build in these little moments, like the Lincoln head moment, and we build them where they can happen in a variety of play-throughs, and we have to have some redundancy, and we didn’t want them to repeat, or to stack up. So we had to build this system where the game is watching: Has Elizabeth done anything interesting for a while?Is there anything interesting that she could do here? Ah, there’s this Lincoln head, let’s do this. It’s walking an interesting line between scripting and emergence. Because you can’t just have pure emergence, you have a semi-emergent system where things like the Lincoln head can happen, if the situation is right.

Gillen: That’s interesting. I am comparing that in my head to Portal 2, which was great, but highly ritualistic. It set things up with dialogue when you walk into the room, then punchline when you get out of the room, and silence in between, and it’s interesting to see how scripted that is. Trying to walk a line where the scripting is much more situational is a more lively solution to the same problem. That strikes me as a potentially better solution to creating character.

Levine: Right, and also we do no have these custom, contained rooms. Wheatley and those other characters in Portal 2 are so well done, but by contrast we can’t always know when things are going to happen in the same way. We quite often don’t know where and when things are going to happen. So what we are doing now is working to figure out this very complex problem. But if you are not challenging yourself then you are probably not going to end up rewarding your audience. So that is what we are trying to do here.

Gillen: Keeping with the Valve theme, one of the most interesting explanations of their craft was them talking about Alyx, and specifically the things she says and how that makes the player feel. What considerations did you bring to Elizabeth? What were the concerns you had for crafting her personality and behaviour?

Levine: Our goal with Elizabeth was to get players to feel like there was a connection. There’s obviously a connection between Booker, the character, and Elizabeth, but we want the player to feel a connection between themselves and Elizabeth. How many hours were you with your wife before your relationship really started off? Probably a lot of hours.

Gillen: Well we were drinking! So that helped.

Levine: Right, and drink is an accelerant for a relationship. And we can’t get the player drunk, so what do we do to accelerate the relationship? I started thinking about how a very sick patient often rapidly feels an intense bond with their doctor, because they’re in danger. The same is true of people in combat. This tuned us to the nature of sacrifice, and to what a character wants and will sacrifice to get it. Elizabeth wants to control her own destiny and she’d rather die than not control her own destiny. We thought that this was something people could empathize with, but we also thought that sacrifice rapidly builds connections between people. People sacrificing for one another creates strong bonds quickly, and the demo is a microcosm of the whole game in that sense. It’s about what the characters sacrifice for each other.

Then of course she has to be nice and funny and charming, she can’t be a bore. So there’s levels of macro and micro decision making to make this stuff work. She’s there to help you throughout the game. She makes your life better. She can toss you ammo, point out enemies, to bring in the tears, and she’s a very you-centered AI. You are not obligated to take care of her in the way that you are in an escort mission.

Gillen: Okay, that mention of the tears is a useful segue. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that? It sort of reminded me of the Amber books with all the cross-dimensional stuff there?

Levine: I haven’t read the Amber books, but what I can say is that the notions of alternate realities has always fascinated me. I’m sure with us both being comic book fans you can appreciate that!

Gillen: Hell, yes.

Levine: I always love “What If?” The comic when I was growing was great, I loved it, but I was disappointed by the endings. It always ended with the characters dying! That was what always happened in What If. I was always interested in those notions, of course, and we had these notions in the last demo, these ideas of tears from a narrative standpoint, but they weren’t really leveraged in a moment-to-moment gameplay example. So we really thought about that. We don’t want Elizabeth just coming into play in these big narrative moments, we want her impacting on what’s going on all the time. We kicked around a tonne of ideas for this and eventually we started thinking about, well, you have all these tools in Bioshock games, and we wanted another way you could impact on the world that wouldn’t be too complicated – your hands are already full! – what if we took this narrative notion of things that don’t exist in your world and connect them to gameplay elements? How would that work? Well it’s essentially like a summoning spell, where Elizabeth has a number of summons, or desummoning! It can change geometry, it can change the number of enemies, what weapons you have, if there are turrets, you having some degree of control over that, we thought, was really interesting.

Gillen: One of my old rants is that the theme of “what is reality” is one of videogames’ natural themes, as in there’s something about games nature which makes exploring the nature of reality, and their reality, really powerful. The fact that so many people have played with that theme a little… well, how much was that in your mind?

Levine: If I really talk about the theme I am working on it would be a spoiler, so I am going to avoid that. The notion of that, the vehicle we are using to express the theme, I can’t give that away right now. But anyway, you know Andrew Meyer, right?

Gillen: Yup.

Levine: I was talking to him about Inception, so spoiler alert, and what we were talking about was the top spinning at the end, and what Drew said was really interesting: “Well, it’s not a dream, it’s a movie.” Which is a comment on how we need things to be “real” in fictional spaces. That’s fascinating to me because none of its real, but there are layers of reality that we apply to fictional experiences.

Gillen: It’s been interesting dealing with the Marvel stuff because one of the questions the audience will ask is “is this a real story, or not?” Did this really happen to Spider-man?

Levine: And that’s so important to the audience. People require a degree of consistency for their suspension of disbelief. It’s fascinating to me how fudgeable the word “real” is.

Gillen: Okay. Returning to more prosaic themes: How did you decide what was Bioshock? What mechanics did you bring across? The respawn tube? What matters?

Levine: Well we are still working on our approach. Some things will exist as they do in Bioshock but in modified forms, but others will not appear. We’re not talking about respawning yet because we’re still finalising how that will work. We want to make sure we get that right. Other things that will be the same will be having weapons in one hand and something like plasmids in the other hand. Also similar are what were called gene-tonics in the first game and are called nostrums in this game, one of the things we looked at was how much we liked having all those character decisions, but it was interesting how you never really stuck with those decisions.

The gene-tonics – nostrums – in this game can be found in unstable form, and we kind of were inspired to that from Heroes Of Might & Magic. In that you choose from one of four powers when you level up, and we’re not going to slot out the passive powers in this game, they’re just going to go on the pile. Once you make a decision about what talent to take from the unstable nostrum, that skill is attached to you for the game. And there’s a tonne of them, I don’t even know how many, maybe over a hundred. So you are making these micro-decisions all the time, and you have to make these a lot of them during the course of the game. If you can find a specific nostrum in a vending machine or whatever, then you have to pay more for that, because you’re selecting it specifically. When you choose these things they become part of your character sheet – you do actually have a character sheet – and you can see how these skills make that up.

Gillen: A thought I had about the city being in the sky: when co-developing for console and PC, one of the issues that gets raised is that when taking a game to a gamepad you tend to lose the vertical. As in, it’s more problematic to look up and down with thumbsticks than it is with a mouse. But Infinite seems to have a lot of verticality to it…

Levine: Obviously the goal is to make a game that is not frustrating for the player. There are two ways to do that. One is the space you make, and we’ve chosen to make quite a vertical space. Then there’s How Does The World Work. People think games are these giant skinner boxes in which you have no real say about what spawns where, but of course as developers we do have control over that. The goal is to put the game in front of people and you tweak your controls, and tweak your controls, and tweak some more until it feels right for that space, and then ask: What combat experiences do we want to have and how should those feel? Within that you are configuring how you move, how the character accelerates and so on, and also you are configuring how your enemies spawn and how they behave. And in that you are trying to create an interesting experience for the player. I wish I could say that there is some kind of magic formula for that, but it’s just a lot of tweaking.

Gillen: A magic formula would be useful in game development. “Don’t worry, just follow this graph.”

Levine: Right, it really would, and there’s no magic formula because what it comes down to is smart decisions

Gillen: Okay, this is a question Jim asked me to ask you: “How important is it for games to challenge genre tropes?”

Levine: Ha. Well. I try not to be the guy who says “all games should do this” or “all games should be made like this”. And honestly I think there are a lot of developers out there who think that the way they make games is the way games should be made. And I think that would make for a very dull world. I like lots of different types of games. There’s an advantage to challenging genre tropes, because you can end up creating something that feels fresh, and there’s also a challenge there because you’re working without a net to some degree. We like doing it because for whatever reason people pay us to do that.

It’s more fun to work without the net, but I think publishers are often quite nervous of that because, well, there’s no safety net. We’re very lucky, Irrational has been very lucky, because people will pay us to at least try to challenge some of these tropes. Whether we succeed is up to the audience, but we do like to try. Of course I totally see that there’s some comfort in saying “oh those guys did that and it was successful, let’s do that,” because you can see the path. The hardest things in games are where no-one has really done that before. The Big Daddies, for example, no one had done anything quite like that, or if they did we missed it, which is a shame because we could have copied it! The skylines are similar in Infinite because no one has done anything quite the way we are doing it. Elizabeth – there are examples of companion characters, Alyx for example – but we’re doing other things with space that is challenging.

Gillen: What’s interesting though is that as soon as you start going outside familiar tropes you are “Original By Default”, which was something I talked about with Doug Church back in that System Shock interview – a lot of the systems in that were controversial, but the point was that they had no idea what they could make, because no one had done a game like that. It was original by default because they were working in an unexplored area. They weren’t working inside a construct of a pre-existing genre.

Levine: So you know the scene in Apollo 13 where their oxygen scrubber breaks down and the engineer has to recreate the system? That’s why I love engineers. They have what’s in front of them and they have to make what they have to make out of that. You have limited time and limited resources, and you have to make it work, so you figure it out. We had some real problems with technology right before the demo, and it was really broken, like Elizabeth was walking into walls and her dress was flipping up around her head. The engineers rallied around to fix it, because we had to, because the date we had wasn’t going to change.

Gillen: If you hadn’t been able to fix it you should have just given her a bottle of booze and explained that she was drunk.

Levine: You joke, Kieron, but that’s often the way you end up solving these problems. “No time to rewrite it, I guess she’ll just have to be drunk.” Sometimes that’s how you do it. Gotta keep those astronauts alive!

Gillen: Have you moved on your reading and your research from the period that Infinite is set in? Are you still reading around that?

Levine: Oh I am just interested in the period. Although recently I made a rare foray into fiction, because I really don’t read a lot of fiction. I read the young adult games, Hunger Games. Read the first one, it’s really sharp. For fun I usually read social histories. I’m that kind of nerd.

Gillen: I suppose what I was getting at was what books should people read if they want to follow your thinking?

Levine: Have you read Stephen King’s book On Writing?

Gillen: Yes, it’s one of the two books I always recommend to people interested in writing. Great book. [The other is Robert McKee’s STORY. I recommend them together, because both are true and they’re almost entirely contradictory. This tells you something important about Writing.]

Levine: I re-read that.I read Hunger Games. I’ve read Team Of Rivals, which is about how Lincoln took all his political rivals and put them into his cabinet, so I am usually reading three or four things, and that’s what I am on.

Gillen: Okay, last question. John was wondering whether it was going to be problematic to call the game Bioshock Infinite? Surely that’s like naming all the sequels at once?

Levine: He’s exactly right, and that’s why after this I am going put myself aboard a Viking ship, light it on fire, and send myself into the great beyond.

Gillen: Thanks for your time.

The full E3 demo for Bioshock Infinite should be revealed across the internets later this evening.


  1. Will Tomas says:

    We’ve missed you.

    • tomeoftom says:

      Aye. Great interview.

    • Temple says:

      All you hopefuls just had your dreams dashed.
      Maybe you entertained dreams of your not being as good as Quinns as still being enough.
      But Keeron comes along and shows you how it’s done.
      That man(?) put on pants over his pants to go and talk to someone.
      You cannot match that.

      [You did put on pants right?]

    • yutt says:


    • Rii says:

      Err, meant to post elsewhere. Sowwy.

  2. Diziet Sma says:

    The ‘amber’ books? Like the Amber Spyglass/Northern Lights by Pullman or is it another reference?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Going to add some links.


    • Evil Otto says:

      That would be His Dark Materials… Great books though.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Pretty sure he’s referring to the Roger Zelazny (?) Amber Chronicle books. Read the first one in the Fantasy Masterworks series – exceptionally good. Will now go buy all the others on my kindle…

      EDIT: Not on Kindle. Bitter.

    • Jake says:

      Are the Chronicles of Amber books a good read? I have had them recommended to me before but only by someone I generally ignore. Can I get a mark out of ten?

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Jake: 7-9 depending on late 70s pscyhedelia resistance.

      They’re pretty slim volumes, I’d suggest grabbing the first and sucking it and seeing.

      That does tend to be my answer to most things though.

    • The Dark One says:

      No credit for the Amber idea, Gillen? For shame.

  3. Vinraith says:

    I’m a little disappointed that no one’s asked about Elizabeth’s character design. You’ve got all these big ideas flying around, all this talk about making an emotional connection, all this talk about altered realities and deep philosophical topics, and right at the center you have this ludicrously cartoonish barbie doll. I find it rather difficult to take any of the rest of the game seriously when I see those screen shots.

    Edit: If you don’t see it, have a look at this: link to

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      Is this the website where we say “Would”?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I think she looks great. Just the right side of stylised.

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      I think the EDGE article about it mentioned that she is deliberately a bobble head because it made it easier to read her feelings from her expressions from a distance.

    • Rii says:

      I honestly don’t see what the problem is wrt Elizabeth. Her appearance is perfectly in keeping with the rest of Infinite’s art design.

    • Nighthood says:

      I’d say it’s just an “ideal” sort of figure, much like the little sisters were in Bioshock. The little sisters all seemed to be the ideal picture of a young girl, from the movement to the facial features to the adoration of their “daddy” and so on.

      This is just an idealised vision of a woman of that sort of age. The Bioshock games have always been pretty stylised.

    • Vinraith says:

      The picture with this interview doesn’t make the case nearly so strongly as the “whole body” image from the last Infinite piece. It’s the 40 inch chest, 5 inch waist, 40 inch hips that really get me. However, if no one else sees it then no one else sees it.

      Edit: Specifically, I mean this shot: link to

    • Rii says:

      @Cunzy: “I think the EDGE article about it mentioned that she is deliberately a bobble head because it made it easier to read her feelings from her expressions from a distance.”

      Exactly. Unlike in film you can’t cut to a close-up every three seconds. Realistic proportions work in games only when you don’t care about the manifesting the character’s internal state during gameplay, which is most of the time in most games but clearly not the case here.

      Incidentally, this is one of the reasons Nintendo went with the cel-shaded aesthetic for Wind Waker: the cel-shading allowed them to give Link an oversized head without it looking ridiculous, which in turn allowed Link to be a far more expressive character, the importance of the visual element being magnified by the fact that Link is a silent protagonist.

      The alternative, of course, is to drop to a cutscene for every notable character interaction and to reserve interactions of note for those cutscenes. See: BioWare.

    • Cunzy1 1 says:


      @Rii What I want to know is who has been buying her clothes if she’s been held captive? If it is the bird, then that is a pretty pervy birdie.

    • DiamondDog says:

      “ludicrously cartoonish”

      Oh come on.

      Edit: Vinraith, that’s the whole point of a corset, surely? Tiny waist, big looking boobs and all that. The cleavage is very in your face, so to speak. I do agree with others that it’s the right side of stylised, though.

    • skinlo says:

      Because nobody cares.

      She looks fine to me.

    • Nallen says:

      The rest of Infinite’s art design is boobies in yo face?

    • Rii says:

      @Cunzy: “What I want to know is who has been buying her clothes if she’s been held captive? If it is the bird, then that is a pretty pervy birdie.”

      Just because Elizabeth sees herself as a captive doesn’t mean that those holding her do. I recall reading somewhere that Songbird sees itself as her guardian. From its perspective you’ve come along and kidnapped her.

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      @Rii Well if she dresses herself like that she’s asking to be kidnapped.

      EDIT: Oh no I didn’t….

    • yutt says:

      I find it difficult to take you seriously when exposing the upper 20% of a woman’s breast causes you such trauma. Can you explain to me how having an attractive female, who is rather modestly dressed, prevents you from “taking the rest of the game seriously”? Do you have trouble communicating with women in real-life, when a virtual depiction of stylized femininity causes you to hit such a reactionary mental roadblock?

      You never hesitate to vociferously share your opinions on how you will allow women to be portrayed in games (they can never be popularly attractive or provocative), but for some reason you are silent when men are. Where are your incessant comments of concern over Duke Nukem’s inaccurate and stereotyped depiction of masculinity?

      Or are only women so weak as to need your protection? If the world views a female form that isn’t androgynous or masculinized – it may be the end of us all!

      It seems to me your only complaint is, at its heart, that she looks too feminine. Her features are well within the realm of the normal (especially wearing the clothing she is), and nothing at all like your Barbie hyperbole. Have you heard of shapewear, pushup bras, etc.? Just because you are ashamed of the female form and clothing, doesn’t mean the rest of us need to share you arbitrary Puritanical views.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Just for the record, while the issues are serious in the game, the character design is quite consistent.
      See yourself : link to

      All characters look kinda “cartoonish”, unreal, from what I see. Her look is rather coherent in the middle of the others.

      The Bioshock series has quite “exaggerated” character design. While not surrealistic, characters are not “common” either, in my opinion.

    • Esc says:

      I guess I’m the only one who feels like a creep when I look at Elizabeth’s boobs then?
      Listen, we can split hairs like a sophist about “cartoony character design” or “DUH she’s wearing a corset so of course it isn’t sexist,” but the real problem I think is how utterly manipulative this whole thing is.
      Elizabeth is designed from the ground up for you to like her, to care about her, even though she’s just a bunch of pixels following some programmer’s semi-random AI subroutine. She has a bombshell figure that is enticing, large doe eyes that are endearing, and a pretty heart shaped face. She is engineered to manipulate my emotions. With her huge tits. With her cute and funny “jokes” that they talk about programming in so I’ll like her more. They talk about how they try to forge a bond with her sacrificing for you, but that’s a complete lie, she can’t sacrifice anything because she has no free will.
      I have no idea if this is a “good” or “bad” thing. You can argue that other mediums try to do the exact same thing, so this must be ok. I just feel slightly disturbed by it. I also feel disturbed that I’m attracted to a bunch of well endowed polygons, but that is life I guess.

    • Gnoupi says:

      @Esc – on the manipulative aspect I agree, however. It seems like the whole character is a cry of “please like me”.

      The comparison with Alyx from HL2 was interesting in the interview, because what was memorable with this character is that she was likeable, but in a “natural” way. The character felt like a normal “person”. A nice, likeable one, for sure, but feeling normal anyway.

      Here, it seems they are indeed doing everything to make the player feel attached emotionally to her. And from the extracts I’ve seen from the game, it seems indeed like trying too hard. Now that could be because these are “chosen moments”, especially for the short presentations. I guess that in the full game, there are longer, more empty moments. I hope that the character feels more “normal” then, and not like a desperate call for emotional attention.

    • Vinraith says:


      The cleavage isn’t the problem, her breasts could be completely covered and she would still be a Lara Croft wannabe. The issue is not exposure, it’s proportion. She’s something on the order of 42 – 6 – 42, and that’s just incredibly silly looking, to say nothing of the bobblehead.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Elizabeth makes me conflicted. Because from an aesthetic standpoint I love her character design – it’s stylised, caricatured, and I like it because it appeals to my personal tastes which are a bit early-mid 19th/early 20th century. The dimensions are pushed a little further than I like usually but it doesn’t ruin it for me. However from a feminist standpoint it’s typical huge breasted big eyed damsel (even if it’s a damsel who can tear open spacetime you’re still rescuing her) designed to look fragile and in need of rescue, which sucks, big time. I find it difficult to reconcile the two.

    • Rii says:

      The rationale for exaggerated proportions has already been covered. As for their relation to each other, well, there’s little more to it than the fact that the corset did in fact exist and the fashion was widespread up to and including the era (~1910) in which Bioshock: Infinite is set.

    • Rii says:

      @Esc: “Elizabeth is designed from the ground up for you to like her, to care about her, even though she’s just a bunch of pixels following some programmer’s semi-random AI subroutine. She has a bombshell figure that is enticing, large doe eyes that are endearing, and a pretty heart shaped face. She is engineered to manipulate my emotions [….] They talk about how they try to forge a bond with her sacrificing for you, but that’s a complete lie, she can’t sacrifice anything because she has no free will. ”

      And did you know that the people you see in films aren’t actually who they appear to be? They’re actors paid to perform a role. And their lines usually originate from someone else entirely! It’s madness, madness I tell you.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      That is not what any human with a corset looks like.

    • Jake says:

      I agree with Vinraith, I find it really distracting. But I found the character design in Bioshock distracting too, it’s the slight cartoony, exaggerated look that prevents me from being able to take it seriously and eventually meant I gave up on that game.

      I just think that the game would be more effective if the character design was realistic, but I concede that it’s just personal preference. I don’t think there is anything wrong with stylised graphics but it’s like they have taken a character from a Pixar film and it just seems out of place here.

    • Rii says:


      Glad to see you’re keeping up with the conversation.

    • Vinraith says:


      Her proportions are exaggerated so that you can more easily read the emotions on her boobs. :)

    • metalangel says:

      @Esc: Alas, it’s completely backfired with me. I hate her stupid simpering face, ridiculous tits and “spunky yet vulnerable” personality. Considering the game is focused around her it’s enough to put me off the game altogether.

    • molten_tofu says:


      I had to do some seriously NSFW googling, but here are a ton of examples of women from the period actually wearing corsets, not like a lot of the images in wikipedia, which are sketches or drawings:

      link to

      And if you have nothing else to do the rest of the afternoon:

      link to

      I mean honestly, f*ck it, I don’t know why Elizabeth has to be attractive at all.

      I agree that it’s such a minor thing, i.e., the actual wireframe of the character. But it’s so damn minor in such a quintessentially egregious way it really just turns me off from the whole game.

    • molten_tofu says:

      Congrats on more C- debating skills. Seriously, a rehash from link to – only you used more words this time.

      First you just attack @vinraith instead of his arguments, then you try to tell us we’re wrong because we haven’t tackled every single gender issue in every game that’s come out recently? How does that logic work? Does that mean statements against starvation in Sudan are empty without addressing hunger problems in rural Indiana?

      You then try to say that @vinraith essentially wants to replace one stereotype with another, which is patently untrue. None of us want to replace one stereotype with another, you are completely botching our argument: we want variety. A variety of stereotypes is a fine start, as far as I’m concerned.

      You round out with kind of a frenzied recombination of your previous attack on the author, not the argument (“shame”), botched interpretations of our argument (don’t like “feminine” forms), and throw in a priceless little nugget of idiocy: that the existence of shapewear and pushup bras somehow PROVES that Elizabeth’s characters figure is not indicative of the sexual objectification of women. You’ve got that one ass backwards, friend! Lol!

      Here’s what I’ve learned from you: you’re a fomenting, illogical, dramatic human being. Maybe YOU should play Elizabeth! The feminine stereotype is a perfect fit for you.

      EDIT: honestly dude, you’re arguments are just too uninformed. Again, “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler.

    • Rii says:

      @molten_tofu: “I don’t know why Elizabeth has to be attractive at all.”

      Personally I don’t think she is. In any case my problem isn’t with folks being uncomfortable with her appearance – that’s just an involuntary response – it’s with folks blaming Irrational for their discomfort. For my part I don’t know what to think of Elizabeth, her depiction in Bioshock Infinite, or how that depiction contributes to the broader game experience for the simple reason that I know almost nothing about any of those things. What I do know is that her wearing of a corset is unremarkable, and that other decisions concerning (the stylisation of) her appearance cohere with developer statements regarding their intent for the game. Will it work? Who knows.

      For my part, given Irrational’s continued silence on this matter I’m beginning to suspect that we’re actually brushing up against parts of the game that they don’t want to talk about, in the Sucker Punch sense. Elizabeth has demonstrated the ability to manipulate time and space… who says she’s anything like she appears to be?

    • yutt says:

      The visual concept of Elizabeth seems to clearly represent an interpretation of the pure, the perfect, the innocent yet desirable. She is a early 1900s pin-up girl reinterpreted to fit a 201Xs male’s mind. Obviously what was borderline risque in 1910 would not directly interpret to our current concept. It is a representation of what a pin-up girl was, through a lens that allows us to come closer to imagine something between innocent and sexy.

      link to

      I’ve gathered as many screenshots as I can find of Elizabeth that include her bust, waist, and hips (surprisingly few). While I don’t feel like doing the elliptical circumference estimate calculations that you will ignore as interfering with your gut-felt diatribe, suffice to say it is clear your “42 – 6 – 42” is nothing but deliberately fabricated, dishonest, hyperbole. It is common for “hourglass” figure classic-bombshell women to have 0.6 waist-hip ratios, so Elizabeth is nothing outside of exactly what she is supposed to be. Not “cartoony” at all, but deliberately designed representation of what a modern male would find attractive in a extremely conservative pin-up style.

      link to

      I’ve spent far more time researching this than your reactionary, sexist, Puritanical, repressive whiteknighting deserves, but your mentality is all the rage in the RPS comments, so it seems unfortunately necessary. You don’t want to have a rational discussion, you want to react, rant, and rationalize your prejudice.

      I am glad that you people who think you are “defending the image of women” do so by demonizing portrayals of women that fall outside of your ideals. Yes, wonderful, instead of teaching young women to appreciate their own healthy bodies, we will vilify people who don’t fit into our new, politically corrected, vision of how women are allowed to look.

      We don’t even know what Elizabeth’s personality is, but that doesn’t matter to you. A woman is nothing more than her physical appearance. Yay regressive-faux-feminism!

      1. Oh my goodness – men found women sexually attractive even in the past!

    • Jake says:


      “Elizabeth has demonstrated the ability to manipulate time and space… who says she’s anything like she appears to be?”

      Yeah and really she is giant cockroach like a Psiren from Red Dwarf. It’s quite plausible, except maybe she doesn’t want to suck your brain out with a metal straw, she just wants you to help her. That could explain the slightly anachronistic revealing clothing, body shape and big eyes etc, but I would still take issue with the extent to which it is exaggerated, I just think it looks too cartoony and I can’t get that to mesh with everything else I know or see about the game, it sticks out.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      “I mean honestly, f*ck it, I don’t know why Elizabeth has to be attractive at all.”

      Why are leading actors almost always attractive?


    • skalpadda says:

      I don’t see any reason why it’s suddenly a horrible thing to create a (subjectively) beautiful depiction of a woman, realistic or not, nor is it wrong to do your best to make a fictional character who’s supposed to be likeable, well, likeable. Just because the story of the game has some thought behind it doesn’t mean everything about it has to be super serious and photo realistic.

      If Elizabeth just turns out to be eye candy with no other purpose in the game then sure, that’d be a shame, but it hardly looks like that’s the case, does it?

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Just want to throw my hat in with Yutt. You guys are being ridiculous.

    • Jake says:

      I don’t think anyone has a problem with her being intended to be attractive really. I think some people have a problem with the fact that she looks cartoonish and freakishly proportioned. Not really in an over-sexualised Lara Croft way, but in a strange bobble-headed puppet way. I’m all for her being attractive but I’d be happy if she just looked normal. It’s all I can see when I watch this game, watching her revive the horse in the video reminds me of Thunderbirds or something (specifically the episode where Lady Penelope resurrects a horse).

    • bwion says:

      On one hand, I think it’s a little telling that virtually every single image I have seen of this character (and about 90% of the images I’ve seen of Bioshock Infinite have featured her) has been one which shows off her extremely ample cleavage. I certainly don’t object to beautiful women, nor to sexily-dressed examples of same (and her wardrobe is the classy sort of sexy) but it’s clear we’re getting Yet Another Game That Is Made Specifically For Guys Like Me. Not, I think, a reason to condemn the game (yes, we’re on the internet, but there *are* other positions than ‘wholesale acceptance’ and ‘BURN THE HERETICS’), but not a thing to ignore, either.

      On the other hand, I have a sneaky suspicion that her design isn’t a coincidence, and that it’s not just a design decision in the service of selling videogames to dudes. These are games that at least try (and in my opinion, largely succeed, other peoples’ opinions clearly vary) to have more philosophical depth to them than KILL EVERYTHING IN SIGHT.


    • sebmojo says:

      I look at her and I think BOOBIES.

      Seriously, girl, put a cardie on.

    • Rii says:

      @bwion: “On one hand, I think it’s a little telling that virtually every single image I have seen of this character (and about 90% of the images I’ve seen of Bioshock Infinite have featured her) has been one which shows off her extremely ample cleavage. I certainly don’t object to beautiful women, nor to sexily-dressed examples of same (and her wardrobe is the classy sort of sexy) but it’s clear we’re getting Yet Another Game That Is Made Specifically For Guys Like Me.”

      The game and the selection of screenshots for the marketing of the game are two distinct and possibly very different things. One can hardly dispute that the marketing materials take pains to place Elizabeth’s cleavage front-and-centre, but that says nothing about her presentation in the game itself.

      For my part I don’t expect that the game will sexualise Elizabeth in the least, and that any hang-ups players have in that regard will rightly be considered Not Irrational’s Problem and, if anything, a cue for players to re-examine their own assumptions. “Oh, well she shouldn’t have shown so much flesh if she didn’t want me to think of her that way!” Sound familiar?

      But maybe I’m wrong and Irrational are the new Team Ninja. We’ll see.

    • Donjonson says:

      I don’t really care about either side of this argument here but I do think it would be interesting if a main character didn’t fall into traditional boundaries of aesthetic attraction and throughout the game we create a strong emotional bond with this fictional person. An idiosyncratic person, like people usually are.

    • Wraggles says:

      Ima side with Vinraith, considering that all they did when they did the redesign of her was changing her bust-waist-hip ratio, and giving her somewhat more moe features.

      I liked the slightly harder, more serious Elizabeth, she was believable, looked like a person who wanted out at all cost. This Elizabeth is just too “dawww” for her predicament.

  4. Cunzy1 1 says:

    Did this really happen to Spider-man?

    It is one of the big four questions we’ve all contemplated at one point or other.

  5. Rii says:

    Hello, I see RPS has a new writer!

    Interesting stuff re: ‘semi-emergent, semi-scripted’ design. It’s nice to see something finally being said on the matter.

    Another point of interest was the relationship between Elizabeth and Booker and the forming of bonds. It strikes me that this is something Bioshock 2 did exceptionally well between Subject Delta and Eleanor. Not that that was an improvement over Bioshock per se – it simply wasn’t in the latter’s remit – but it’s interesting that Irrational seems interested in exploring similar territory this time around..

    And whilst we’re on the subject of Bioshock 2: “Other things that will be the same will be having weapons in one hand and something like plasmids in the other hand.” So … at the same time like Bioshock 2 or the clumsy back-and-forth swapping of Bioshock?

    • Veracity says:

      What he describes seems to be more or less what Biow/idian games have been doing since Infinity. You put triggers on timers, in the environment and in the plot to set off one of several possible canned sequences. It’s obviously much harder here since, as he also says, people still just about expect less wretched production values from anything that isn’t an RPG, for whatever reason (tradition?). But I’m not sure it’s that novel when you drop the buzzwords, especially considering what’ll actually survive rationalization to eliminate skirt-over-head incidents before release.

      It’s tempting to look for something “wrong” that leads to every bugger reinventing eight wheels every other game, but I doubt anything actually is amiss. It’s probably just that video games routinely bash into some very difficult problems. “We can’t actually do people” is certainly a big’un. I suspect the System Shock “solution” of killing everyone before we get to them still has legs, but I’ll probably be playing Infinite to see what they end up with.

  6. Freud says:

    Good read. RPS should look into adding this Kieran Gilliam to the full time staff.

    • KillahMate says:

      Wouldn’t it clash with her Doctor Who schedule?
      (for old times’ sake…)

    • Gar says:

      He already was (2007-2010)… I believe he was one of the original 4 founders as well? See:
      link to

      Edit: Wait, is everyone here joking with these comments? I’m starting to feel like I missed something “woosh” over my head…

    • sebmojo says:

      Nah, different guy.

      You can’t cross the same stream twice.

    • honkyjesus says:

      I think they should hire him a grammar coach while they were at it, at times things get so weird that it makes following what I am reading hard. It’s never good to contrast pretentious thoughts on paper with such elementary drivel.

      I am going to cut off my genitals in protest.

  7. m3metix says:

    “Once you make a decision about what talent to take from the unstable nostrum, that skill is attached to you for the game. And there’s a tonne of them, I don’t even know how many, maybe over a hundred.”
    Hooray! Choices that matter. One place I found BioShock was lacking was in having to make real choices. You could get nearly enough ADAM to buy all the Plasmids and tonics and you could switch them at any time at a Gene Bank. There was no need to worry about making the wrong choices since you could always just change your mind later with no penalty. Now, I suspect that the choices in Infinite may not be very difficult (i.e., choosing between two items that give equivalent, though slightly different, benefits), but at least you will be stuck with the decisions you make.

  8. Darkelp says:

    That’s one of the best responses to the end of an interview ever.

  9. reticulate says:

    I concur with others here that this Kieron fellow looks to have a strong future in games journalism.

  10. Raziel_aXd says:

    Great stuff.


  11. Man Raised by Puffins says:

    The Accusatory Eye of Dead Horse Levine.

    (Good stuff, Carry on.)

  12. Acosta says:

    This Kieran guy sure is talented, you should pick him as the new Quinns.

  13. SMiD says:

    “And we can’t get the player drunk”

    …yet. It’s important to have goals Mr. Levine.

    All in all a wonderful interview. This Geron Killian shows promise.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    Uhm… so… could anyone recommend any good social histories?

    • Jackablade says:

      The one about Lincoln locking his political adversaries in a cupboard sounds interesting.

  15. p4warrior says:

    “Having a woman with you who has to behave…” I already like this game!

    • Freud says:

      In the next game in the series, Bioshock: Suffragette they are tired of behaving.

  16. SirKicksalot says:

    I love that screenshot where the dude is punching a crow.

  17. Ian says:

    No “WHY THE LONG FACE?” alt-text on the top picture? Shame.

    • lurk says:

      RPS seems pretty fond of using that picture in posts about Infinite. You might say they’re using it too much now that everybody’s seen it.
      If only there was an appropriate metaphor.

    • The Hammer says:

      Jumped the shark?

  18. Rii says:

    So … I’m just going to repost this.

    Comstock? Real guy.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Yes there have been people with the last name Comstock. Like the guy the silver lode was named after, and the guy you linked. So?

    • Rii says:

      If you think this is a coincidence then you clearly haven’t been following this game much. =/

  19. aethereal says:

    ” and her dress was flipping up around her head.”

    They should’ve kept this bit.

    • DiamondDog says:

      “No, that isn’t a bug. She’s just doing her Marilyn Monroe impression. Yes. And she’s drunk.”

  20. thebigJ_A says:

    Levine’s an American, so it should be “kicked around a ton”, not “tonne”, you silly Britishers.

  21. Pinky_Powers says:

    This is sounding most delightful, Mr. Levine.

    I still feel all Bioshock games are gimping themselves without pervasive dialog options and deep social interaction with the non-hostile citizens of your cities. The first game was severely hurt by it. Infinite is moving in the right direction, but still not where it should be for a living, breathing city.

    Making a game like this, with so much potential and freedom and atmosphere, and keeping it an action-centric game… it always feels like such a disservice to the player and the world.

  22. Urthman says:

    Love how Levine completely, utterly dodged your question about controllers and vertical gameplay.

  23. WJonathan says:

    So, Ken Levine is a playable character? No? Then why do I have to watch him talk for 3/4 of the preview?

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      I think the longness of Levine’s face offsets the roundness of Elizabeth’s so that on average, faces are averaged sized/shaped in that preview.

  24. molten_tofu says:

    This has spun into a pretty crazy debate, which is fun. But basically, I’m 100% with what @Donjonson said. I’m just burnt out on the tropes this game is relying on.

    And @yutt, you want a “early 1900s pin-up girl reinterpreted to fit a 201Xs male’s mind”? Try Lisbeth Salander. My point is this: yes Marylin Monroe is sexy. No, I don’t want every single last female video game character to have her exact figure down to the ratios – it’s tedious – I’m so much less likely to buy rehashed IP. Again, bored of “something between innocent and sexy.”

    One last time, discussing the relative truth, merits, or accuracy of ideals for a woman is a complete non-starter. Not only do ones “ideals” in no way reflect reality except by coincidence (some super models) or coercion (other super models), my ideal is probably completely independent from your ideal. So listen, elevate your thinking, because if you try to debate on ideals (too feminine, to masculine, to butch, to whatever), you’re already missing the point.
    Now the kind of post-modern-lite approach I’m suggesting is usually wildly unpractical, hence the imperfect but satisfactory alternative: variety variety variety. It may be a variety of stereotypes, but it’s at least a lot more entertaining than cookie cutter characters. And I demand entertainment!

    And, “reactionary, sexist, Puritanical, repressive whiteknighting” followed by “you want to react, rant, and rationalize”? People in glass houses…

    And not for want of ceaselessly arguing on the net, but I’m bowing out. I’d like to keep my rock paper shotgun priveleges…

    EDIT: And, reply button fail. No more, no more.

  25. Odessa says:

    Gota agree with some people here when they comment on Elizabeth’s unrealistic body proportions. Honestly, look at her. It’s like her chesticles have completely sucked the juice out of her thighs. Deflate those Quadriple D’s and add it to the waist and presto: We’ll have a relatable character we’ll actually look in the face when engaged in ye olde’ conversations.

    But hey, if they do that, internet innocent 12 year olds won’t buy their game, right? BAH!

  26. honkyjesus says:

    Levine has a tug on me, emotionally and rectally.

  27. Thiefsie says:

    I think part of the problem with Elizabeth’s image here is that we are shocked at the idea of a ‘smart’ Irrational game resorting to obvious dick hardening material to get sales (or some other ulterior motive), when the other smart game in the genre (almost the only one?) HL2, relies on Alyx, who was so godamned successful because she was still attractive and what not, without the bazoongas in your face all the time.

    I think the truth is much closer to what one poster suggested and Irrational will pull the curtain back for us and reveal something far more interesting for Elizabeth throughout the game, a nice switcheroo perhaps? Levine and co are almost predictable in their unpredictability and what pushes their buttons. (And ours). On the other hand, Bioshock was such a huge success because it successfully pandered to mouth breather consolites while successfully delivering to the PC hoity toity types. So perhaps a little trust should be thrown their way???…How about it huh???

    On the other hand – I don’t quite understand how a gamepad is any less able to look up and down as a mouse, the sensitivity is almost the same (at least x & y relativity), so imo it’s a concerted ‘brain malfunction’ that console players have been conditioned to accept (or of course hit the ceiling for without any prompts) and thus is so. Perhaps there is some science to a mouser being able to quickly flip up and down for spatial awareness, in a shorter time and thus became more used to looking in the Y direction. Then again aim-assist and perhaps the ability to not look directly up or down in certain games has hurt this also. Either way – I think it is a crutch for developers. There is no real disadvantage to up/down with a gamepad over mouse as the relative looking speed in x/y should be coded the same!! This is a legacy of pre mlook games a la Doom/Duke 3D?? – and hell D3D didn’t even have a y-axis/mlook andstill had jetpack monsters – imagine that on a console today!!

    Infinite is shaping up to be very interesting indeed, and I for one believe Irrational have been much more interesting in the last few years than Valve, who are becoming more like the Bungie ‘so streamlined it is bland and predictable’ mentality of game experience design.

  28. Thiefsie says:

    Also no ‘staring eyes’ looking into my soul :(