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Ken Levine

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Reviews Elsewhere: BioShock Infinite


Ken out of Ten
Mar 25
// Jim Sterling
BioShock Infinite reviews finally went live across the board today, and while I'm sure we all expected a positive showing, we maybe were not quite prepared for the veritable outpouring of critical acclaim.  Of course, De...

PAX: Voicing Elizabeth meant collaboration and abuse

Mar 24 // Alasdair Duncan
Courtnee then recalled a particular recording session that involved Elizabeth being upset after Troy berates her for still being unable to control her powers. We were shown a short video in which Ken briefs the scene and Courtnee suggest that Troy (as Booker) just berates her under Ken's direction, which he does and you can really start to see her get more upset before finally delivering the line. The video ends on a funny note as once the line is complete, Courntee regains her composure and suggests they try the process again. The real challenge came with combining Courtnee's vocal performance with Heather Gordon's motion capture performance. Heather recalled her theatre background as being especially useful: "I had to physical have it exude through me as it happened to Courtnee. So I had to emotionally get myself to the place that she got to at the same time. It had to be timed perfectly." The attendees at the panel were shown some rough footage of Heather in the full mo-cap suit performing a range of scenes with plenty of gusto. "After getting into it, I really just started to connect deeply with what Courtnee did and she became a person."
Becoming BioShock's Liz photo
BioShock Infinite actress Courtnee Draper recalls how she dug deep to find the voice
One of the main things that Irrational Games has really pushed in its marketing for BioShock Infinite is the relationship between the player-controlled character Booker DeWitt and the young woman Elizabeth that he's tasked wi...

BioShock Infinite photo
BioShock Infinite

PAX: Ken Levine: Players can be psychopathic alcoholics


Irrational Games creative lead on the challenges of player freedom
Mar 23
// Alasdair Duncan
At the Irrational Games panel at PAX East today, the team behind BioShock Infinite talked about the challenges of player agency in the game specifically when interacting with Elizabeth, the player's constant companion. "The p...
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Ken Levine denies $200 million BioShock Infinite budget


"Did someone send checks to the wrong address?"
Mar 22
// Jim Sterling
Yesterday, it was suggested BioShock Infinite was among the most expensive videogame projects of all time, costing a rumored $200 million to produce. According to director Ken Levine, such a catastrophic amount certainly wasn...

Ken Levine talks multiplayer in BioShock Infinite

Mar 20 // Tara Long
"I was the first guy who said, 'Look, let's try [multiplayer]' ... but it was tough, because it had to be something unique to us," said Levine. "The first game we made that didn't have multiplayer was BioShock, and it was by far our most successful game. And so, I think the last thing we wanna do is throw this thing in the box just so we can put a bullet point." The mode was eventually nixed due to a lack of proper time and resources, but that didn't stop vitriol from spewing out of every corner of the internet. Comments like "Good riddance" and "nothing of value was lost" were littered in the comments section of every article, and Levine - a lifelong gamer himself - seems to bear an understanding of where it all came from. "People, especially I think with the BioShock games, they have this sort of emotional connection to things," he said. "I think that's where you see some of the various scandals and outrages... because people feel an attachment to it. And if you don't respect that attachment, you reap the whirlwind." I wouldn't be the first person to denounce the recent trend of tacked-on multiplayer modes (BioShock 2 and Tomb Raider both come to mind), but when developers begin to feel as though they have to include one, for no other sake than simply adding something new, it doesn't instill a whole lot of confidence in their game. Thankfully, based on what I've seen of Infinite so far, I think it'll manage just fine without. Look for our review next Monday.
BioShock Infinite video photo
Warning: Raw sexual energy approaching maximum capacity
With BioShock Infinite mere days away from release, I sat down with Irrational Games' Ken Levine this week to discuss exactly how the game has changed over the past five years of development, and what he envisions for t...

BioShock film photo
BioShock film

Ken Levine killed BioShock film due to Watchmen's failure


Universal decreased budgeting altered project
Mar 12
// Allistair Pinsof
Ken Levine has come out about the BioShock film, first announced in 2008 with Pirates of Caribbean director Gore Verbinski attached, admitting to personally cancelling the film. After the poor box office reception to The Watc...
BioShock Soundtrack photo
BioShock Soundtrack

BioShock Infinite characters perform duet on soundtrack


Rest of soundtrack detailed as well
Mar 06
// Brett Zeidler
Who among you is picking up the "Ultimate Songbird Edition" or "Premium Edition" of BioShock Infinite? If you're in either one of those camps, I'm sure you know that there's a shiny (digital) copy of the soundtrack waiting f...
BioShock Vita photo
BioShock Vita

BioShock on Vita hasn't begun development


Deal is out of Levine's hands
Feb 26
// Patrick Hancock
Despite championing the device back in 2011, Ken Levine and the folks at Irrational Games have made seemingly no progress towards a handheld BioShock game. Apparently all the talk about what the game is was conjectu...
System Shock photo
System Shock

Is System Shock being revived on Steam and GOG.com?


Brave SHODAN once more...
Feb 11
// Alasdair Duncan
While it should be taken with a grain of salt, a website is reporting that the System Shock franchise will be available on Steam and GOG.com in the very near future. Flesheatingzipper.com is reporting that Night Dive Studios ...
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Here's what you get for pre-ordering Bioshock Infinite


The Industrial Revolution pack
Jan 24
// Chris Carter
If you're a fan of pre-orders, you can gain access to the "Industrial Revolution Pack" through pre-ordering at select retailers (basically everyone). You'll get access to three in-game items, 500 bonus currency, five lock pi...
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BioShock Infinite PC won't have SecuROM or GFWL


Levine says game will feel "right at home" on computers
Dec 21
// Jim Sterling
During his Reddit AMA, Irrational Games saucepot Ken Levine promised concerned PC gamers that BioShock Infinite would not repeat the mistakes of the past, claiming it'll be "right at home" on computers. Most crucially, Infini...
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Toga! Toga! Toga!
Ken Levine is is one of the most honest guys in the games industry, which is what makes his explanation of BioShock Infinite's box cover so fascinating. In the video above (taken from Sunday's interview), Levine addresses fa...

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Don't like BioShock Infinite's cover? Download another!


Irrational Games will compile internal and fan-made alternative covers
Dec 09
// Allistair Pinsof
Despite novel, arresting box art being a rarity these days, the internet lashed out against BioShock Infinite's decidedly safe and macho cover. Creative director Ken Levine heard the cries and decided to do something about it...

Q&A with Ken Levine: Head in the clouds

Dec 09 // Allistair Pinsof
Could you finish this sentence: BioShock Infinite is a game about … Ken Levine: BioShock is game about putting you in an amazing world that couldn’t exist in any other form of media because you get to explore and interact with it, with an AI we believe does things that haven’t been done before. Ideally, you will build a relationship with her, within this context of giant explosions, vigors, skyline, and all that great stuff. Yeah, that’s a pretty long-winded answer to that question. We try to make the elevator pitch on the box because that’s all you have but to the Destructoid audience that pitch won’t likely resonate so I give that long winded one. There’s a lot of stuff in the game that I can see being misconstrued by the media and public. There are a lot of bold choices. Did these make things difficult when it came to promoting the game? Let’s be honest: in BioShock 1, infanticide was a theme in the game. That was very, very dark but also very -- can you imagine BioShock without the little sisters? It’s necessary to the story, but we didn’t go beyond. The sequence of harvesting a little sister was done with just enough information so that you know what is happening, but we didn’t glorify it with gore or anything. It is only used for telling this story. We struggled for a long time trying to figure out what the exact right approach for that was. In this game, it’s the exact same thing. There is a story we have to tell and I don’t think games should be different than any other media, in the sense that, “Why are we limited to certain topics?” As a storyteller, I feel a responsibility to treat topics that are painful to people thoughtfully and tell a story that isn’t exploitative of those topics, but I don’t think we should feel restricted because we make games. It’s an M-rated game and people who buy the game should have their intelligence respected, just like any other media. You recently released the box cover of the game and some BioShock fans felt strongly against it, even though it may or may not be indicative of the game. How did you take the reaction? There was no new information available because we felt we had shown the game at E3 and didn’t have anything new to let loose. We could have gone into a bunch of stories of “Well, here are the new type of gear you can have,” but we felt that would be much better after people have played the game and journalists had some context. We had a lot of people questioning, “Oh, what’s going on? Is it falling apart?” Is it a disaster?” because they didn’t have any other news. I knew that was going to happen and it was more painful for the team than it was for me, because I’ve been through enough of these. But, that’s just part of life. There is a whole part of being a game fan that involves speculating about games, not just playing them. I love to think about games ahead of time and imagine what they are going to be like and worry about them. I get it, but I knew the only thing to do was to hand those people the controller and say: “You tell me how it is. Why should you believe me?” That’s why I’m so happy to now give the controllers to people. After reading the recent interview you did with Wired, it came across to me that you really want to reach a wider audience with this one -- It’s not that we want to. We HAVE to. With that intention, I have to wonder: with an intro so long and with very little shooting dudes in the face, how do you approach that? What I won’t do is compromise the product. People say the cover seem to be – there is an article that says “Look it’s important because it must say something about the game. The game is dumbed down!” [Kotaku] I’ll count on you guys to report on the validity of that. It’s a fairly calculated marketing decision that is based on making these games continue to get made. I can understand the reception from fans. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. You always want to please everybody. The price that I think I’m asking those people to pay is that that the cover that you pick up off the shelf may not be your favorite cover in the universe, but hopefully that cover will help make this game successful, so we can keep making more of them and not compromise in anyway; right now, no one asks us to compromise. They are like “Yep, big complicated directed sequence with no Taliban shooting you in the head. Yup go make that game” and Take-Two has done that so far. There are two things we want to do with the fans. We are definitely doing one of them. We want to communicate with the community and generate a whole pile of alternate covers for the game that we can put on the website so people can print out. And key art, traditional concept art and weird doodles and sketches. You know, so we can really get them arranged. There is another thing I’d like to do but I’m not sure we can for production reasons, so I guess I won’t talk about it yet. But, in the very least, we’ll do that. I found a lot of pop culture references in the game, from film to music such as an acapella group singing The Beach Boy’s “God Only Knows.”  Are these connections intentional? Part of the BioShock guidebook -- there is no guidebook but in my head -- there are no references to pop culture that are outside what the experience is presenting. That song that people are hearing in the world is an anachronism. It’s not that we didn’t just know the date. It’s part of the story and generally we are highly influenced by pop culture. I’m sure there are many moments where you’ll see the influence that films and other games have on us, but we don’t shout out to them in a way that would take you out of the experience. So many scenes in the beginning are so detailed and have a specific vision. How much of that is you, the writers, and art team? I’m the creative director and lead writer on the project. I came up with an idea and go, “Hey, I would like this.” What happens at the beginning: there is a specific notion – avoiding spoilers here – I described to the artists. It’s one thing to describe it to an artist, but it’s another thing for a level artist like Mike Snight to build that and for the optimizers to make it run properly on all the platforms because it’s a complex scene full of things that engines don’t like to do. Then there’s the guys that do the character models, the people that lit the space, and our music director that lead the recording. Yeah, that initial portion comes from me but I’m just a small part in a large team that makes it work. I’ve never seen so much original art in the first hour of a game before. How large is your art team and how do you all work? The team, compared to other modern big games, is relatively small. It is led by a  group of guys that have worked together for a very long period of time. I worked with our animation director Shawn Robertson and our art director Scott Sinclair since the Looking Glass days. I met them both in probably 1996, maybe. That’s a long time to know each other, so we know each other's cues really well. Then we have new guys like Mike Snight that came on board. I don’t know how old he was in 1996 but probably not too old. We hired a little kid but he understood the aesthetic we were trying to do and very quickly became a part of that group. People oversee that process like Jamie McNulty, who was part of BioShock 1, Stephen Alexander who makes the narrative sequences happen. It takes a lot of people but it’s pretty small compared to something like Assassin’s Creed or something like that. The biggest change to combat is the mobility you get from the skylines that you can latch onto. Was a greater sense of speed and mobility a goal from the start? We made the decision to put the game in the sky and there are a lot of reasons we did that. I thought it would play off that vertical element -- Bioshock 1 didn’t ever play off the water element in a gameplay way. We used puddles of water but you don’t need to be under the ocean to have puddles of water. It was really just a thematic setting and visual. We really wanted to play off the verticality of its space but we struggled with that, like what would that be? Jetpacks, para-sailing, flying – none of that stuff worked because it had all been done before and it wasn’t unique to Columbia. So, we struggled with it for a long time. I have always been a fan of roller coasters and I always found the theme of them, being controlled and not controlled --  why do people scream on a rollercoaster? The odds of you actually being hurt is so infinitesimally small that any rational thinking of it would mean you just sit there and be unmoved by it but there is a thrill that is indescribable. I thought, what if we got into these fights on these roller coasters that can you detach from and reattach to. It’s something that is very easy for me to pitch and describe, but people actually have to go and make that work. Make that feel right and run smoothly and figure out all those crazy edge cases. We spent so much time figuring out if you can dismount from it and how you land in the world. What If you land some place but we don’t want you to be there yet? It took us a million conversations to get it right, but hopefully we solved all those problems. BioShock changed the way a lot of players play games, as it demanded players to pay attention to the audio and environment for story details. Infinite seems to take this even further, expecting players to pay attention to what’s going on around them. That seems like a lot to ask of players. I think people underestimate gamers of all stripes. Like it or not Inception is a film that is not about a bunch of meatheads punching people and it was hugely, broadly popular. The Dark Knight is not just the lowest common denominator superhero story. It was about a man that believed in order and a man that believed in chaos and the struggle between them. It was a thoughtful film and it was also a blockbuster. I don’t believe the two aren’t compatible. The Matrix is also a film that is not just about people shooting each other. It’s quite an existential piece and an interesting science-fiction piece that had amazing visuals that drew in a mass audience and kept their minds engaged, as well. I don’t believe the two aren’t compatible. I think a lot of the public does and probably the publishing community. I like all sorts of games: I like smart games, I like dumb games, I like blowing things up -- and BioShock lets me have it all as a developer. There are a lots of big explosions there but I also get to have my cake and eat it too. What’s going on with the Vita and Move? The Move: We have it and will have it at an event at some point. How do I talk about the Move version? Once it’s ready, I hand it over and say, “Here’s the Move version. Go play it!” It’s ready. we just need to plan a place for an event where It can be there. As for the Vita, the honest answer is that we still have the same idea and we still really like it, but it’s in the hands of the business people so Take-Two and Sony are discussing that. I’m happy to do it and hopefully they’ll find a way to let me do it. Any news on the Wii U front? We never had any news on the Wii U. I bought one and I like it. I play games on it! But in terms of development, nothing is brewing right now. What happened with the multiplayer that you recently announced was cancelled? I’m uncomfortable with saying, “it’s cancelled.” You have to first announce things before they can be cancelled. There are a million things with that game that I loved but left on the cutting room floor. You’ll see the art book and think, “Oh my god! I can’t believe how much was left on the cutting room floor!” The experiments we did with multiplayer is just one of those things that wasn’t what we thought it could be. With the time period we had, we decided to focus our resources elsewhere. Right now, is this where you thought you’d be back in the Looking Glass days? Dude, I don’t even know where I’m going to be in the morning. I just barrel ahead. If I thought about how much writing this game is going to be and how much work it's going to be, I never would have made it. If I knew about building a company for ten years only to then sell it, I don’t think I would have done it. There is always more work than you think there is going to be and things are always harder than you think they are going to be. I don’t know what's going to happen but I just sort of work instinctually.
BioShock interview photo
More than meets the eye
There are a handful of game designers I admire but none of them are as handsome as Ken Levine. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Until my interview, I always looked on at him with a layer of skepticism. Surely, he ...

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BioShock Infinite flies away to March 26, so far away


It's not like we are counting down the days or anything
Dec 07
// Allistair Pinsof
BioShock Infinite is now set to be released on March 26 for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Yeah, that's an extra month of no totally awesome fun times with BioShock. Bummer. It seems Ken Levine cares more about making great...
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A look at the BioShock Infinite Songbird Edition statue


Ken Levine professes love of collectibles while pimping his own
Nov 13
// Conrad Zimmerman
Irrational Games put out a new video which gives an up-close look at the Songbird statue which is putting the "Songbird" into the "Ultimate Songbird Edition" of Bioshock: Infinite. Director Ken Levine is on hand to express h...
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The DTOID Show: Boobs, Birds, and BioShock Infinite!


Aug 10
// Tara Long
Happy Friday, wonderbuns! Max and I totally hosted a live Destructoid Show today but forgot to post about it here beforehand and now EVERYTHING SUCKS. You'll watch the recorded episode though, right? To make me feel better? ...
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BioShock Infinite's Boys of Silence will upset your brain


Mar 20
// Jim Sterling
The mechanical George Washington was creepy enough, but the latest "Heavy Hitters" video for BioShock Infinite gives us something truly disturbing. The Boys of Silence are blinded to the world and hunt you down using sound. They're also made out of pure nightmare fuel.  Check out the video and see what I mean. It's really quite a gruesome concept.
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Hey guys! Here we are again! Today's show, we talk about how Kickstarter is the hottest thing on the web right now, and how Tim Schafer's Double Fine Adventure raised 3.3 million dollars, and how inXile's Wasteland 2 is in th...

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BioShock Infinite lets loose the Motorized Patriot


Mar 08
// Jim Sterling
Oh hey there, do you want to see a terrifying robot George Washington with a gatling gun? Of course you do. You'll be having clockwork nightmares for the next few days, so make sure you enjoy it! This is the Motorized Patrio...

BioShock mirroring history and Occupy Wall Street

Oct 28 // Fraser Brown
I think that because the original BioShock took place after the conflict in Rapture and the game was dealing with more abstract ideas like moral absolutism as well as an ideology that has fallen out of favor, Objectivism, it was more distant and less personal. But BioShock Infinite takes place in the middle of a conflict. One between two recognizable groups that hold a mirror to many groups throughout history. So it's easier to draw comparisons. Of course, the side effect of that is that there are plenty of people in those groups who take it personally. The games tend to be a Rorschach [test] for people, and I've heard both sides of the reaction [to the demo]. I had the displeasure of going to a while supremacist site that made a point of saying this game by "the Jew" Ken Levine was about killing white people. But then I went to this leftist site that said this is about discrediting leftists movements. Personally, I'm looking forward to people criticizing and debating the perceived message of BioShock Infinite when it comes out. It will give me an excuse to be a boring git and talk about politics after I've just fought a giant metal bird and opened a portal to another time. Best of both worlds. The full interview is here. Don't worry, it's not all politics and history, videogames do get mentioned. The tea party, Occupy Wall Street and 'BioShock Infinite...' [The Washington Post]
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In BioShock Infinite players are presented with a world, or rather a floating city, in conflict. Both ideological and physical. The conflict is between the dominant right-wing nationalists, the Founders, and a coalition of po...

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Bioshock's Ken Levine digs into some creative influences


Oct 20
// Liam Fisher
The Bioshock series is obviously an inspired one; the worlds of film, literature, and pop culture have left a very clear mark on Ken Levine and his creations. In this interview from Complex, Levine goes a bit ...
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Uncharted was once a bit more like BioShock


Jul 02
// Patricia Hernandez
Early in the game's development -- when it existed as nothing more than a tech demo, even -- Uncharted existed differently than what we've come to know. Evan Wells, the co-president of Naughty Dog, recently revealed that the ...

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