Ken Levine is buzzing. He's just spent the past two hours watching a group of journalists take control of BioShock for the very first time. And this is a game where taking control becomes a more profound, complex process than simply guiding a character through its world.
BioShock is the latest in a growing line of games where your decisions and actions are said to shape the world around you. One of Levine's favourite refrains has been that 'no two players will ever experience BioShock in the same way'. Tonight he has been able to see his vision play out for real across flickering banks of screens in a New York warehouse. That would make anyone a little perky.
BioShock's sub-aquatic dystopia of scientific endeavour gone horrifically wrong has created one of the most enduringly fascinating development cycles of any game in the past year. Each carefully orchestrated demo has amazed through both technical proficiency and narrative possibility. It's looked the bollocks, basically.
Finally, it's our turn. And you can read exactly what we made of our first excursion in Rapture elsewhere on the site today. First, we have a brain to pick...
Eurogamer: From the intro to the game we saw tonight, the ideological extremism of Rapture seems clearly linked to real 20th Century regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Is that how you see it?
Ken Levine: I grew up loving books like 1984 and movies like Logan's Run - I was obsessed with that movie. And I always loved the idea of this great world, but there was a catch - that was the slogan. And I looked at a guy like Andrew Ryan [Rapture's creator] - and a lot of guys that have a strong belief in a philosophy - and they always have great ideals. The trouble is philosophies are these ideals and people are not ideal. And what happens when people mix up with these ideals? That's what Rapture is - really interesting ideas screwed up by the fact that we're people.
The things that bring down Rapture, you'll find out, are the things that bring down all endeavour. There's no evil overlord - it's greed and sex and stupidity and jealousy and all these things. I want to create these three characters - and you met them all tonight - Ryan and Atlas and Tenenbaum. Totally different points of view on the world; and none of them come across as total villains. The player is thrown into this place, right in the middle of them.
I think we all kind of feel like that. We're in this world with all these powerful forces and we're stuck in the middle, and these guys are saying: 'No! This is the way!' And another guy is saying: 'No! This is the way!' I don't buy any of what you're saying; I'm in the middle here. And that's where BioShock came from, from a story perspective.
Eurogamer: The name 'Rapture' - is the theological connotation intentional?
Ken Levine: It's ironic because Ryan doesn't believe in God. He believes in man as a god. So when he built this city, all the best people got taken away to this place. The notion of The Rapture is that all the believers will be taken up to this ideal place. Well, this is his Rapture; this is where all his ideal people got brought to and were spirited away from the rest of the world. So it's his little joke.
Eurogamer: Science is a major theme in the game. Science was hijacked by the Nazis, who used biology to justify mass-murder. Are you suggesting something similar with the genetic modification and stem cell themes of BioShock?
Ken Levine: With Tenenbaum [one of BioShock's three main NPCs, alongside Ryan and Atlas], if you read her early diaries, you find out that she was in the [Nazi] camps. And she was a scientific savant. She says: 'the Nazis always cared about colour of eye and shape of forehead; I care about, why is this one smart and this one stupid? Why is this one strong and that one weak?' The Nazis interest in that was moronic - it was about forehead shapes and eye colour. It was always about their ideology; it wasn't about the science.
Rapture's a place where they take all limits off on science and all restrictions; but they also do some incredible things. A lot of people ask me, is this a game where I'm condemning stem cell research? Absolutely not. I'm condemning not thinking about things. The game is commenting on believing in things without scepticism. I'm a big believer in scepticism.
Eurogamer: It's a truism, of course, that science isn't obliged to produce morally acceptable outcomes. And that its discoveries are invariably used for nefarious ends...
Ken Levine: But they also get used for incredible ends. It's always a yin and a yang; and the question is: do you take it to the extreme or do you step back and go, 'wait a minute'? Whenever someone goes, here's an absolute, I wanna go: 'Hmmm...' And that's a theme of the game. But the game has a lot of ambiguity in it.
I hope that, if there's anything people take away from it besides it being a great first-person shooter, they go: 'This guy was saying this thing that sounds really great; maybe it's not so great after all, this politician or whatever.'
Eurogamer: You've stated before that you see Rapture as a 'character' in its own right...
Ken Levine: It is a character in the sense that it's an expression of 'we can do this', that man can make this incredible place. We're going to build a city at the bottom of the ocean and we're not going to compromise. It's going to be the most beautiful city in the world. And the water pouring in is reality.
It's great to be able to tell the core theme of the game just by looking at it.
You don't need to hear a word; you just look at it and go, 'I get a little bit of what's going on here just by looking at it'. And it's a great period, it's a great look, it's a great style, it's a great feel. The art team did a great job in bringing all of that together.