Posts Tagged ‘Ken Levine’

Ken Levine Hearts The PC

Blessim. As part of Kotaku’s ‘PC gaming week’ (so does that make it okay for them to largely ignore the PC for the other 51 weeks of the year?), BioShock/System Shock 2/SWAT 4-brain Ken Levine has penned an impassioned paean to the humble IBM compatible. The source of the greatest developers, the undying home of innovation, the bright, ever-changing future of videogames: that sort of thing. “Magic can happen when there are no middle men, no marketers, and no naysayers,” quoth he. He’s absolutely right, y’know.

Plus he name-checks this cool PC gaming site you might have heard of, which is very sweet of him. And means he might be reading this. Hmm. Hi Ken! Please make sure Infinite’s PC version is the best version!

Shock! Irrational’s New Game Looms Close

That’s the studio formerly known as 2K Boston formerly known as Irrational to you. As in Ken Levine’s original-name-reclaiming bunch: the developers who made System Shock 2, SWAT 4, Tribes Vengeance, Freedom Force – and, of course, Bioshock the first.

And there’s that Pandora’s box opened. The important news, though, is that Irrational are finally taking the lid of whatever their new project is next week. Several years in the making, massively mysterious: whatever it is, whatever it’s like, it’s bound to be a big old chat-magnet.
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Gaming Made Me: Ken Levine

As we mentioned last week, after hurriedly deciding to do the Gaming Made Me feature we hurriedly sent a mail around to those RPS-correspondents and famous-folk we didn’t feel too bad about hurriedly asking to hurriedly write a little thing about the games that made them who they are. 2K-Boston’s Ken “System Shock 2/Freedom Force/Bioshock” Levine didn’t write a little thing, instead giving us a thousand words on the games who made him who he is today. And you’ll find it below…
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Ken Levine at PAX


Bioshock’s big daddy, Ken Levine, took some time to talk to the masses about his life at the recent PAX. He tells a familiar tale of growing up with geek-tendencies, and then finding games as his place in life. It’s a story that wouldn’t have been out of place in this year’s most exciting book about videogames.

Anyway! PAX keynote beyond the jump.

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Levine On His Next Game, Bioshock 2 & Rumour

Kieron’s currently out at the Develop conference for us, so expect exciting missives soon. Or, more likely, incoherent booze-addled rambling about Kenickie. So, while he struggles manfully to work out what a wireless internet is, we can instead harken to reports from elsewhere in gamingdom. Specifically Videogaming247‘s coverage of Ken Levine’s bravely-named “BioShock and Awe: Immersing the Gamer in an Alternate World Without Drowning Out the Gameplay” lecture and some quotable interview gobbets they tickled out of him afterwards. Tempestuous Mount Bioshock never quite goes dormant, it seems.

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X-Comeback

I wish I still had my savegames from 1993.

I had it in my head that this had been properly confirmed ayyyyyyyyyges back, but apparently it’s still stranded in rumourland. Furthermore, it’s a rumour that seemingly had yet to reach everyone’s ears, as evidenced by the internets suddenly talking about Bioshock creators Irrational 2k Boston reportedly working on a new X-COM game as though it’s some sort of ‘news.’ Still, might as well give you fine folks a chance to talk it over here.

2K – the publishery bit – picked up the X-COM rights last year, so it’s pretty much a dead cert to happen at some point, so the mystery remains which dev will make it. That Ken Levine has handed over Bioshock 2 development to a different 2K team further supports educated guesstimation that he’s off working on a super-exciting project like this.
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The Thursday Papers

HAWX: probably buff, sweaty men

Hell, any day can be round-up day. Rather than Kieron’s regular Sunday collection of notable word-sciences though, instead this is a one-off, rather more hotchpotch grab-bag of happy happenstances that have caught my eye today, as I fight the urge to pretend this has any relevancy whatsoever to Space Week.

First up, we’ve got the announcement of Tom Clancy’s HAWX, which totally sounds like a group of male strippers, but is actually an aerial combat thingum set in the GRAW universe. Which, for all the oppressively heavy branding, is actually kinda appealing – we don’t get too many dogfighters these days, so it’s nice to see a new big-money attempt at making one for a broad audience.
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Making of: System Shock 2

Yeah, see what we did here.
[Since it’s Space Week, it’s a good time to pull my Edge-commissioned Making Of System Shock 2 feature out of Stasis. The material for this was drawn from the lengthy conversation I had with Ken Levine last year. So, yes, before Bioshock. I’m quite fond of this piece, if only as it reveals the secret origin of the Psychic Monkeys…]

The lights are low. Everyone’s panickedly fighting against a seemingly impossible, oppressive deadline. At every turn there’s a crippling lack of resources. Viewed by any objective criteria, the small inexperienced team doesn’t have the skills to achieve their aims. They’re all crammed into a single room – in fact, half of one, since it’s one room bisected with screens. When you look at where and how Irrational worked on their first game, it’s easy to think of the claustrophobic horror of RPG/Shooter System Shock 2 as a pure product of its environment.
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Keeping Up With Ken Levine

Sometimes, we like to race. Today, John won, throwing up his thoughts on Ken Levine’s recent post-mortem natterings about Bioshock’s narrative before I could lay my oafish mitts to a keyboard.

After literally seconds of consideration, I’ve decided to do so anyway, as a) John’s kindly gotten the hard labour of summary and quotation out of the way for me and b) I’ve got some slightly different feelings about what Levine’s said/is maybe trying to say/perhaps failed to say. This isn’t at all a rebuttal to John’s piece, though there are inescapable elements of point-counterpoint.

Apologies, by the way, if we’ve gone a little September 2007 today: Bioshock’s one of those games that never quite goes away.
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I Can’t Keep Up With Ken Levine

The man confuses me. It comes down to this.

Mr Levine

When Ken Levine was interviewed by Kotaku’s Brian Crecente earlier this month, he explained to the site’s editor,

“I underestimated, way underestimated, the impact the story was going to have on people. I didn’t realize it would change people’s perspective on what to expect from gameplay. I didn’t think they became that invested in what was going on. You have this great mystery of your own identity and once it is solved the story is over. I think it was a miscalculation on my part.”

So why did Levine announce in his GDC speech,

“The bad news for storytellers is that nobody cares about your stupid story.”

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Making Of: Freedom Force

MAN BOT!

[Considering Mr Levine’s turned up in the rumour mill today, I thought turning an eye back at one of Irrational’s other games would be a worthy endeavour. This interview with Ken was done in the run up to the second Freedom Force game.]

“We had a lot of internal arguments at the time. Some people wanted it more dark and gritty, and others preferred it in a lighter style,” recalls Irrational head-honcho Ken Levine, “I remember waking up in the middle of the night, before we shipped and going “What did I do? Why did I go and make it so it was retro? What was I thinking?””. Read the rest of this entry »

Filthy Rumourmongering: Bioshock 2 sans Ken?

“A good chunk of the BioShock team did not want to work with Ken [Levine] ever again, and 2K definitely understood the sentiment and let them set up a new studio so that they can make Bioshock 2, leaving Ken with Project X. A good chunk of the other senior 2K Boston people who were sick of Ken but didn’t move to San Francisco ended up scattering to other AAA developers instead. In Quincy, they’re essentially rebuilding a team from almost scratch again.”

So claims generally reliable industry insider Surfer Girl, based on her own insider tip-off. ‘Project X’, incidentally, is the upcoming X-COM remake, a game I’m personally desperate to hear more details of. But the Bioshock stuff’s depressing if true. Read the rest of this entry »

Bioshockier and Bioshockier

I'm drunk on the floor again, yeah?.

Still-Irrational-To-Us’ Ken Levine has been talking to America’s Games For Windows about possible downloadable content for Bioshock. 1UP have only lobbed up a couple of teaser quotes. Here’s the big one…

“Diablo II, to me, was a great model for an expansion, because it enhanced the original game, but also extended the game, too. I’m not a really big fan of expanding things just by linearly adding to the experience, adding a new campaign, as much as I am of enhancing the original experience and adding replayability to that experience,” said Levine in a post-release interview in the latest issue of Games for Windows Magazine. “I think that certainly BioShock’s combat experience is great, but it could be broader. I’m a little more confused as far as how to expand the narrative experience.”

They also reference the Plasmids that were cut from the game as possible extras. May RPS also remember the other Big Daddies that disappeared in the development route, and suspect that introducing new Splicers would be a welcome addition to Rapture’s ecosystem of Biff.

Anyone got any other ideas for extra content they’d like to see?

Levine: “…opposed to multiple endings”

Okay, this is intriguing. Gamespot have done a large interview with Ken Levine of The-artists-previously-known-as-Irrational about Bioshock. In it, he’s getting grilled about a number of issues to do with the whole what the game means thing. One of them gets an interesting response – regarding the fact the game, after all this complexity, the endings are a harsh Manichean dichotomy (i.e. You’re either Jesus or Mr UltraBastard of Shitsville). He admits that it was never his intention, and the request came from “somebody up the food chain from me”. Later, he elaborates…

“One of the reasons I was opposed to multiple endings is I never want to do things that have multiple digital outcomes, versus analog outcomes. I want to do it like the weapons system in the combat in BioShock. There are a million different things you can do in every combat; you can play it a million different ways. Looking into the future for the franchise, that’s something I want to [figure out], that by the time you get to the ending of that choice path, you have a sense of your impact on the world through lots of little permutations rather than like a giant ending piece, if you follow my meaning.

And I think we did a reasonably good job with [the endings], but there are just two of them. And this is not a game about A and B. This is a game about one through 1 million, and all those permutations of choice. And as I think about the future of the franchise, that’s where I want to take that.”

There’s lots more in the interview, including some impressions of the way his thoughts are going for the inevitable sequels. Especially worthwhile is his final statement where he notes “If the sales success of BioShock means anything, it means that we can trust our audience a little more”. And Amen to that.

To Err is Human. To forgive, Levine.

I’m not sure what I was trying to do with that title.

In the big ol’ interview with Ken Levine which we launched the site with, I mentioned that other bits of the transcript found homes elsewhere. The biggest chunk of it has emerged, as PC Gamer republishes online my interview with Levine which is in their current print edition. It deals with controversy, developers reflecting culture, the price of a legacy and a splash of Randian philosophy. And here’s a quote.

“If you look at the ’60s, you’ll see Vietnam movies like John Wayne’s Green Beret being made. And you go to the ’70s, you have Apocalypse Now. From this ultra-patriotic unquestioning thing, we’re moving to a stage where games are getting mature enough to reflect the zeitgeist a little. BioShock is reflecting the confusion I have.”

The rest is here. Consume essential information. Consume!

Rapture, unwrapped

Okay, there’s obviously a lot still being said about in the gaming space about Bioshock. Being a crazed obsessive, I’m still reading most of it. But, if you have to read one thing after completing Bioshock, this is the one. It’s Chris Remo’s extensive interview with Ken Levine, which goes through all the elements of the game and is pretty damn good. And let’s have a non-spoilery aggressive quote, eh?

“Honestly, any writer could write a 20-minute cutscene. I hate those as a gamer. I skip them. Those games, I don’t know what the hell is going on. I’m not going to sit through those. But in Half-Life, I know everything that’s going on. That was a big inspiration. I know more about City 17 than I know about any Final Fantasy world.

Even a great game like Okami, it has 20 minutes of “blah blah blah” and I just want to kill myself. It’s not fair to our medium, it’s so self-indulgent. I think we have to work harder. Trust me, it’s a lot harder to do what we did in BioShock than to do a 20-minute cutscene. I could write that stuff all day long.

For God’s sake, don’t read until you’ve finished the game. For God’s sake, do read it when you’ve finished the game.

Rapture’s Required Reading

I love things like this. I’ve got into some of my favourite things via creators of things I’ve loved recommending them – following the trails to interesting places. Because if they’ve inspired something you’ve loved, they’ve got to be pretty good, yeah? That thought process has lead me to everything from Vonnegut to the Buzzcocks to Nethack.

Anyway, Gametap asked Ken Levine for his list of works which kept the Irrational team’s creative engines fully stoked up. For example…

Animal Farm: (Book, 1945)
“You really only need to read this one book to understand power and what it does to people; it’s the ultimate story of what happens when ideals slam into less than ideal people.”

Miller’s Crossing (Film, 1990)
“My favorite film of all time. It’s all dialogue, style, and more interconnected plot threads than you can possibly comprehend in one viewing; probably why I’ve seen it 20 times. A huge inspiration when trying to create the slang and language tonality of the city of Rapture.”

More in the full article including the music-inspiring Sweet and Lowdown, the Rand double-combo of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, the entire city of New York and Gilliam’s retro-sci-fi opus Brazil (For the record, which is in at least half of RPS’ staffs’ top 5 films ever).

Levine meets Objectivists

This is an odd one. I haven’t seen it linked in any of the other blogs – it’s possible I just haven’t been paying attention to the right places though – but I found it when researching something.

(That is, entering random Bioshock related phrases into google.)

Basically, Andrew Russel, an objectivist gentleman drops Mr Levine an e-mail. And Mr Levine replies, and talks candidly about his beliefs regarding objectivism and world politics and hints at his intentions with Bioshock. And then Andrew posts the replies to the objectivist forums he frequents. To briefly set the stage – and it’s worth doing so, as in the UK, Objectivism and Ayn Rand are a lot less known than they are in the States – Bioshock’s setting of the isolated city of genius founded by one Andrew Ryan is clearly a riff off Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and not necessarily a complimentary one. You may have seen Objectvists turn up in some Bioshock comments threads, voicing concerns (at best) and voicing anger (at worst).

As Andrew puts it…

What I am hoping is that BioShock treats the theory of individualism with proper respect. It would be very disheartening if BioShock were to equate individualism with an endless desire to prove oneself superior to others (this being a form of conformist parasitism Rand referred to as Second-Handing), free-market capitalism with making profit as an end-in-itself, or advocate the fallacious notion that laissez-faire is a zero-sum game. As you are obviously aware, Objectivism is often assumed to be wrong, evil, or an engine of societal collapse and disintegration, regardless of the historical evidence in favor of many Objectivist-approved principles.

Ken replies at length, but a couple of bits stick out. Firstly answering Andrew’s questions regarding Shock 2…

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Exclusive: Ken Levine on the making of Bioshock

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.

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