Bioshock: Ken Levine Interview (Part 1)

NeoNemesis
NeoNemesis
Since 5364 Days
http://interviews.teamxbox.com/xbox/2007/BioShock-...


So, you’re in the homestretch. How do you feel it turned out?

Ken Levine: It’s very gratifying to see people get their hands on it. You know, you have all these theories every year about what makes fun and what’s cool and what’s exciting, and to see—from last year’s E3 to X06 to now—people playing it and confirming the things we’d hoped for it, is thrilling.


What was the timing of the whole process—when did you start?

Ken Levine: We’ve been dicking around with the idea for…forever—without a publisher, there was five years just playing around with the design concept. We really started rolling, I guess…about three years of really working on it seriously. It [went] through a lot of changes, but the core design principle never really changed.

It’s actually good you brought that up, because that was what I was going to ask next: Over the course of a project, a lot of times things change—“Hey, this would be cool to put in” or “We don’t have space for this” or whatever. If you don’t mind saying, how did BioShock, from start to finish, how did the original idea compare to what your final product is?

Ken Levine: The major changes were obvious story and setting—and I pulled that stuff out of my ass at the beginning. I didn’t really know what we were going to do. But the core mechanics…the thing that was always there was sort of the notion of player-powered gaming and a player-driven experience that’s different for everybody. And these three different types of AIs—the aggressor type of splicers, the protector notion and the protected notion…the resource protected notion. You know, the character who has the resources. We always had to make a psychology of AI—where there was an AI that has an interest in each other, as well as you—was always in the beginning. It wasn’t the Big Daddys and Little Sisters, and genetically altered 1940s people at the beginning, but those general notions were there.

The notion of environmental interaction, where the environment was going to be an important thing…that changed a little bit. We had a lot of ideas about changing the pressure and stuff like that in the beginning, which we couldn’t just get people to get. And then when we went like, oh, electrocute water, I get it…okay, light people on fire. We just sort of made things more like, “What would the player expect to happen?” and then building up on those things and all the simulational elements.

In terms of a believable simulation, I think we’re in a totally different place from what any other game is, and we really put our focus there. It’s a lot of work, but that’s one of the advantages of having what we required…you know, it’s not a cheap game. And it’s all on the screen…that’s our hope.

You’re giving the players a lot of freedom. How do you create a game where there are multiple paths? It seems like that would be difficult for you.

Ken Levine: It is really hard in some ways, and it makes your life easy in other ways. A lot of gameplay comes emergently, and people are constantly surprised with the things they can do. For instance, you saw very briefly in the demo—it’s kind of hard to see—that you fired proximity mines on objects, and then you can toss those objects at people. [The] testers came up with that, because we have a basic simulation. Those tripwire mines…you can actually grab them with telekinesis and reposition them—they’re these long cables with electricity running through them. You can grab them—even the preset ones—and drag them around the world, and then they’ll cling to a surface.

Those are things that just came out of the simulation. That makes your life easier, because you get a lot of gameplay out of that—but it also…there’s lots of crap that isn’t desirable that comes out of the simulation that you have to fix. You have to watch out for exploits…you’re constantly worried about exploits. It’s not as bad as in a multiplayer game, obviously, but that’s something we needed to be careful about. It makes your testing life…very difficult.

That’s one of the reasons we got an additional two months on the game was primarily—not for features—it was for polishing up. You can play the game and it’s not exactly crying out [that] it doesn’t have enough features. [smiles] It’s just making sure they all work.

And any kind of surprising results, like, “Wow, we didn’t even thought that you’d be able to do that here”?

Ken Levine: There were these great little moments that happened. I was playing the other day, and I am waiting for an enemy—I knew the enemy, because we have a few scripted sequences in the game in which he’ll be coming down a flight of stairs. And I’m like, screw him, I’m going to set up a tripwire for him. Even in this game, because it is what it is, my plans got screwed up, because a chump splicer—and these are expensive, these tripwire mines, to set!—starts running down the stairs with a pipe. Like the chumpiest guy in the game is going to waste my tripwire mine! So, AHH [slight, but agonized cry], I turn to him and I head shot him…he slides down and “limbos” underneath the tripwire by like this much [holding his fingers as close together as possible without touching].

It was so thrilling—and I thought I knew what was going to happen, because I’m like, “Oh, I know this AI comes down the stairs”—and I got totally surprised. It was awesome—like he went just under. But that’s both simulation physics and ragdoll, but then in just how we spawn monsters in the game, how he comes into being and how they patrol and how they pursue things that are of interest to them—and it surprises me all the time.

In talking about giving freedom to the player, how hard is it for you to develop for that? It seems like it’s a see-saw: You want to give them a lot of things to do, but it’s more of a nightmare for you.

Ken Levine: Yeah. Well, if you want to tell a story, you have to find the places where you can…it’s like a big field [pauses], then a gate to go through, then a big field, and then a gate, then a big field and then a gate. And that’s where you have to bring the story in—at those gate points. In the beginning of the game, you see it’s more “gated” than later in the game…because we’re training the player and introducing them to the story.

By the time we get to Arcadia, it fully opens up…to a point where there’s multiple quests going on at once, and it’s up to you where you go. But at the beginning, we do gate the player a little more, because we have a lot of story to tell and a lot of things to teach them about—because we don’t have a regular tutorial. “All right, marine…here’s how you walk now.” We don’t have that, so we do it a little differently.

This is a tough question, but anything you’re disappointed about? Anywhere you were really let down—“Oh, I really wanted to do this…”?

Ken Levine: It’s going to sound like a politics answer: We got more time, and that let me not be disappointed by things. You always underestimate, and then we underestimated…and then we got more time, so it kind of worked out well for us.


Are you worried about being up against some big games? It’s a big year…though I think you’ll be one of the big games.


Ken Levine: Certainly by our preorder numbers—and we track all the sites’ traffic—I think for a new franchise, we’re just about at the top. Especially with Halo, because Halo is a big behemoth and it’s an old franchise…and generally breaking through after you do your TV ads and all those things, you’re not going to break through to a critical mass of people who are just going to the store and seeing what’s new. And then you have word of mouth, but certainly we’re on track to be one of those big games.

The primary reason I care about that is, I want these kinds of games. I’ve been a proponent of these kinds of games for a long time, and I think BioShock finds that formula of how to make a game that has all that depth, but is viscerally, immediately impactful. You compare that to System Shock 2—which a lot of people loved it and it was a great game—the combat and the environment and the art…it’s just a different category.

We have the best of both worlds now. Frankly, the way you get that is you throw a lot of money at the problem—and a lot of talented people. There’s no magic solution, that we can both do this kind of game that we wanted to do for a long time, and do it in such a triple-A fashion that your average gamer is going to be drawn in. Then hopefully they’ll like that kind of depth and want more games like this.

It’s always about, can you popularize certain genre? And we’d like to popularize this sort of genre—the shooter that has more—and hopefully BioShock will be a good start for that.
In reply to

Wii60!

"We've said that Gears of War was graphically the best game have ever been made, well it looks like Pong compared to Crysis and some of the DX10 titles."

-Gary Whitta (Venting on the NG podcast after Coming back from the Games for Windows)

szaromir
szaromir
Since 5408 Days
There's no point in pasting here the interview if you don't bold questions. I have to say I'm already tired of all these Bioshock interviews, I want to play the game already! But I understand that they're making a lot of media buzz to be noticed at all.
In reply to

"That just happened 'cause that was awesome" - Randy Pitchford, Gearbox

GriftGFX - He can also<br>ban your ass!
GriftGFX
Since 5652 Days
Posted by szaromir
There's no point in pasting here the interview if you don't bold questions. I have to say I'm already tired of all these Bioshock interviews, I want to play the game already! But I understand that they're making a lot of media buzz to be noticed at all.
Yah NeoNemesis.. please post a summary or a portion of the article instead of the entire thing. I know it's hard work and all, but we've asked other people not to post entire articles in the past. If that's too much work.. hell, just post a link and I'll do it.

There are a couple of reasons for this.. partially out of respect of the other website.. and partially because it's a bit hard to read when it's not formated.
In reply to
NeoNemesis
NeoNemesis
Since 5364 Days
There, I bolded the questions.
In reply to

Wii60!

"We've said that Gears of War was graphically the best game have ever been made, well it looks like Pong compared to Crysis and some of the DX10 titles."

-Gary Whitta (Venting on the NG podcast after Coming back from the Games for Windows)

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