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Levine admits faults with BioShock story

Advocates "really f***ing stupid" plots.

Ken Levine, creative director on BioShock, has said he believes the gameplay in the third act is some of the strongest in the entire game - but that the storyline peaked too soon.

Levine's comments came in his speech at the Game Developers Conference, titled 'Storytelling in BioShock: Empowering players to care about your stupid story'. He discussed the importance of mystery in plots, telling the audience, "Asking questions is more interesting than answering them. Think of Lost - what is their entire stock-in-trade? It's basically asking a bunch of questions they don't answer for a very long time. Think of Cloverfield, what is that? It's Godzilla with less information.

"We call it the mystery balloon because we're pretentious," Levine continued. "Think of a half-filled helium balloon that's naturally going down. That's mystery, or your story, and your job is to tap it back up again before it gets too low. The problem is if you tap it up too high, as with season three of Lost, you start losing your audience. They want some questions answered, but not all of them."

Turning to BioShock, Levine said he understands the reaction from some critics and gamers who were unsatisfied with the storyline later on in the game. "I think the last levels, as for gameplay, were some of the strongest levels. But when we answered the whole question about Ryan, the mystery balloon hit bottom and people were left hanging. I underestimated the impact that would have on the game and people's perception of it," he admitted.

"You have to be very careful because the hand that gives can also taketh away, and that's what happened in the third act of BioShock. We learned a big lesson there."

Along with the negative criticisms, BioShock was also highly praised for the depth of its story. According to Levine, not all gamers will appreciate such complexity - but that's just something developers have to accept and account for.

"We understood people would just want to come into BioShock and blow stuff up," he said. "The sales numbers reflect we were able to hit those people. If you don't hit those people, you're going to be making those beloved games we at Irrational have made many of that sell 150,000 units."

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Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.