When Ken Levine, the main man behind Bioshock and System Shock 2, drops you a line asking if you want to do an interview, you say "yes."
Levine's a fascinating figure – articulate, driven, passionate. And, no, I don't want to have sex with him. (Denial’s not pretty – Ed) It's worth stressing how this interview came about. Levine – a major developer – mailed me for no other reason than that he wanted to talk. No-one does that. He's played the PR machine on Bioshock enormously hard, clearly very aware of the enormous stakes he's playing for. And he is, in a real, fundamental way. Levine sold the company he co-founded in order to get this game done. Irrational no longer exist in name thanks to selling it to 2K, but without their money Bioshock wouldn't have been made in a recognisable way. It was only possible because of the Faustian deal, and he needs to make the best of it. It has to do what none of its peers and precursors (The Thiefs, The System Shocks, The Deus Exes) have done – become not just a hit, but a enormous HIT. If Bioshock does anything short of changing our world, he's failed.
So, yes, he likes to talk. As he should.
Anyway – Bits of the interview end up being cannibalised for features in PC Gamer UK, Wired and Edge. If they come online, clearly, I'll be linking to them – the PC Gamer one has lots of stuff on designers’ ethics and needs, while the Edge one is a making-of look at System Shock 2 (The Wired one's up now, and you've just wandered past its link. And I've edited the PCG one in now too - Ed). However, even with all that, there were still several thousand words of interesting material left spare. In the days leading up to Bioshock's release, Rock Paper Shotgun seems the perfect place to share them. I've included narrative bridges for the bits which have gone into the other pieces to give context. Oh – and this feature was written before I'd played the finished game, having only experienced the first couple of levels in preview.
We start at a fairly obvious point, but I was fishing for quotes for the more general-readership Wired feature. Bear with us, and read on for Ken's thoughts on the legacy of System Shock, how Little Sisters were formerly insects, the nature of superheroes, objectivism and, of course, much more.