Interview: BioShock's Ken Levine

Ken talks games and gadgetry

A lot of work has gone into making the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth come alive through the gameplay of Infinite itself instead of relying on cut-scenes. What famous game companions did you look to for inspiration?

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KL: I think one of the strongest examples of the in-game companions I've seen is Half-Life with Alex. And the guys did a great job making a different kind of companion in Ico, which was sort of more of an iconic companion rather than a person. That was really cool because you really felt a connection. But then you start getting few and far between, certainly with those with any sort of emotional connection. And that's why we decided that there was a real opportunity to push on this. BioShock had been such a solitary experience, but the place it was most emotionally powerful was where you watched these two characters [Little Sister and Big Daddy] together, and we really wanted to bring that to the centre this time.

Morality played a huge part in the first game, giving the player the chance to make a series choices along the way. But the endings were still quite distinct - you either came out as the good guy or the bad guy. Are the lines a little more blurred this time?

KL: The thing I was least happy with in the first game, and the only thing the publisher really pushed on, was multiple endings. I like ambiguity. I just watched The Master, and the ending is like 'what the fuck?'. I'd rather somebody shoot for subtlety and ambiguity and miss a little bit than somebody going on the nose. I like directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Soderbergh who are okay to use ambiguity. The Limey is one of my favourite films because you walk away from it with a very strange feeling. But I don't like the idea of good endings and bad endings…

The first BioShock also had a killer twist which was a comment on the agency of gaming itself. Did you feel the pressure to pull the rug out again this time?

KL: With anything related to the story, I just need to let people find out. If I had told you anything about the first BioShock story before it came out, it would have taken from the experience (laughs) so I'm going to take the fifth on that one.

Fair enough. With a growing distinction between 'Blockbuster' and 'Indie' games, the middle space in gaming seems to be falling out, but do you think industry has changed for the better or for worse?

KL: It's true that the middle space is disappearing. This happened before. We used to be a PC-only developer and we were developing in that middle space and all of a sudden there wasn't one. And we realised we either had to evolve or become extinct. So we evolved and sold the company and got the resources to make BioShock on different platforms, and that was a good thing for us. You always have to be ready for tomorrow to be different than today.

I'm not a person who thinks I have a really good sense of what's going to happen tomorrow. I know that certain things tend to be consistent. People generally want quality. They don't necessarily want to pay for it or have it be delivered in the way they have it delivered today. They may want it wrapped up in a different type of game.

In what way?

KL: They want transportability. The great thing about Netflix is that you have a movie and you can take it anywhere you want. When going to sleep at night I like to put it on my iPhone. That portability is exciting.