It's surprising to us that we're not Ken Levine's girlfriend. Not just because we're hot, obviously, but also because we share his love of good ideas that have fallen apart. Then again, there's an obvious reason we'd never work together: for him, it's the worlds of Orwell's 1984, and Logan's Run; for us, it's the worlds of games like System Shock 2 and Freedom Force. In other words, we'd only be sleeping with him for his work.
What a good time to sleep with him, though! With BioShock just a few months away from its 24th August release on PC and Xbox 360, the world of Rapture must be reaching completion - and we're keen to dive in, and work our way through the broken underwater home of the corruptive "Adam", a substance whose regenerative and mutative properties proved too much even for the heightened minds of Rapture's once-Utopian society to handle sensibly.
Stalking the streets, where "Little Sisters" gather Adam from the dead under the ghoulish protection of their biomechanical Protectors, is top of our list of priorities this August - and with that in mind we managed to track down Ken Levine for a few quick words about how it's progressing, how it's been influenced, and what drives him to make games in the first place. And, as you'll see, he propositioned us. Filthy man.
I wouldn't say System Shock 2 is preying on our minds any more than an earlier album of any recording artist preys on the mind of the same artist when they find themselves back in the studio. All of our previous successful games give us confidence: "Hey, we're not total idiots! Maybe we have a shot of making this work out!"
Irrational has always tried to break traditions, and BioShock at heart is this: a great shooter that gives the player more that what he expects when he plays a shooter. There are a million features in the game you won't find in other shooters but they all revolve around one thing: giving the players more ways to take control of the world and do horrible things to his enemies.
I don't believe moral choices in games have a huge amount of meaning if they don't go hand in hand with gameplay choices. BioShock ties the two together. The game asks the player: "How are you going to deal with the Little Sisters who've been enslaved by the city of Rapture? Are you going to help them? Or exploit them?" And the choices the player makes will directly tie into not just elements of the plot, but with how the player's character's abilities grow and develop over time.
All of the above. Here's a partial list of the inspirations that BioShock begs, borrows or steals from: Atlas Shrugged, Logan's Run, The X-Men, The Shining, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, etc. etc. etc. I watch a lot of movies.
I provide sexual favours to the press.
Games should be about entertainment. If you're going to be profound (or try to be), you sure as hell better know what you're doing, and you better be fun. Any "profundity" in BioShock is in service of making a great game experience. Look at Lord of the Rings. What separates the book/movie from, say, any crappy run of the mill Elf-a-thon? Lord of the Rings is mediation on the nature of power, and how seductive it is. Most of the special effects of LotR really come from the acting, not a 3D shop. But if the battles weren't amazing, if the monsters weren't cool, if the explosions weren't incredible, the whole thing would fall apart.
In other words, get your monsters right, and then worry about being profound. If you can do both, you're cooking with gas.
Considering what happened to comics in the '50s and the ridiculous hysteria applied to certain games going back to when I was a kid (anybody remember the uproar over Mortal Kombat or the arcade game Death Race?), it doesn't really matter what we do as game developers. If somebody wants to go after you, they'll go after you.
The challenge. The ability to work with a team. I'm a gamer at heart. It really is the place where all the things I love (stories, gameplay, aesthetics) converge. Videogames are the love child of movies, comics and war games.
The best thing about DX10 and Vista for me is not better graphics. It's the push Microsoft is making to make PC games easier for the user to buy, install and understand. The new rating system for system requirements is going to go a long way to broaden our market. PC gaming needs to grow up in this regard, and Vista is a great start.
Questions by Tom Bramwell and John Walker. BioShock is due out on PC and Xbox 360 in August.