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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » Bioshock - Ken Levine Interview @ Evil Avatar

Default Bioshock - Ken Levine Interview @ Evil Avatar

December 5th, 2006, 15:45
Evil Avatar has posted a great two-part interview with Irrational's Ken Levine. The first covers a little of his background and wanders into some interesting territory:
Jonathan: I've always wanted to ask: Is Thief suppose to be an allegory for capitalism?

Ken: Why do you say that?

Jonathan: Well, the acquisitive nature of the thief, his ability to take what's not his and make it his own (from which all great fortunes are amassed), and his invisibility whilst taking it.

Ken: Well, what's interesting about thief is that Garrett is more moral than the powers that be. Because at very least, he's honest about who he is. Everybody else hides behind a moral proposition or an ideology to cover up their greed and cruelty. Garret just puts it out there.

I like to think that we were creating of one of gaming's first anti-heroes.

Jonathan: As in a modern hero with a high degree of negative capability?

Ken: Most heroes in games just take on the tasks given to them because, they're, well, the heroes. I wanted Garret to be motivated by things that every day people could understand: money, women, and a sense of ownership of his own body.

Jonathan: Right, really the only different between the hero and villain in most games is that the hero is better at violence than the villain.

Ken: Whenever I write a scene and it's terrible, it's usually for one of two reasons. 1) I suck or 2) the charactersí aren't motivated. What makes Lord of the Rings great is not the heroism of the characters, it's their doubts.

Jonathan: Of course, humanism.

Ken: When 10 zillion game writers copy Tolkien, they only remember the orcs and the dragons, they forget about the most compelling elements of the story: the seductive aspects of power – something we can all relate to.
…while the second gets more specificially to Bioshock:
Jonathan: But we've had non-linear shooter going 6-7 years now, what makes BioShock so accessible to the mainstream, like the other titles you mentioned?

Ken: Yes, Shock 2 was a non-linear shooter. Deus Ex was a non-linear shooter. We learned a lot from making/playing those games. There are certain expectations the modern gamer has that those games didn't fulfill.
From the Shock 2 perspective, a) it was too hard to get into b) it didn't make the choices clear to the average player and c) it, frankly, wasn't visually competitive.

The key is giving the player a huge amount of expression, but giving him access to understanding that expression and those choices. If the player doesn't understand he has a choice, why bother giving it to him?
More information.
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December 5th, 2006, 15:45
That interviewer is an idiot.

Bioshock worries me whenever I read interviews about it nowadays. I wasn't too impressed by the demo video that they showed off at E3 either. The gameplay is looking very DeusExInvisibleWar-ish to me. The story looks very cool, but I think that it's going to be totally inacessible to most people.
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December 5th, 2006, 20:06
Thanks Dhruin, great read.

doctor_kaz
I don't know if I agree on either point.
First we have all kinds of reviewers is it wrong to have a different style, to ask about philosophy when your talking to a dev that makes some of the most philosophically intriging games?

To try to learn what movidates KenL make the kinda of games he makes, where he gets his ideas from how they apply to current culture?
Speaking of Tolkien still today people deabte how much was based on WWII, even though Tolkien says it had nothing to do with Lord of the Rings Series.
Why not ask now?

Secondly I don't know what you actually refering to as I see no comparison from the Demo to DX2, unless you mean being caught between struggles of power which I don't see DX2 as defining.
As KenL puts it, "what makes a player want to continue?"
How about survival or their very humanity?

Maybe that is too much for most causual gamers, though it seems to be the perfect for great gamming.
Of course I could just have misunderstood yoiu.
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December 5th, 2006, 20:19
I like Ken
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December 5th, 2006, 20:21
I like Barbie better.
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December 5th, 2006, 20:24
Originally Posted by Moriendor View Post
I like Barbie better.
You're Riiiiiite !

But no really, Levine ist really a cool guy.
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December 5th, 2006, 20:29
Originally Posted by Acleacius View Post
Thanks Dhruin, great read.

doctor_kaz
I don't know if I agree on either point.
First we have all kinds of reviewers is it wrong to have a different style, to ask about philosophy when your talking to a dev that makes some of the most philosophically intriging games?
I was thinking more of just the guy's first question. "Thief is an allegory for capitalism because in capitalism you get rich by stealing from people and then calling it your own". If capitalism is all about stealing from people then Ken Levine must be a thief too, because he has been successful in the capitalist system. The same could be said for the guys at Bungie, Gabe Newell, Sid Meier, or John Carmack. That was one of the dumber interview quetions that I have read in recent memory.

The gameplay in the Bioshock video looked DX:IW-ish to me. And by that, I mean simplistic and dumbed down for consoles in a similiar way, with mediocre implementation of action elements. The role-playing system appears to consist only of replaceable upgrades, like what Invisible War had, and every time that I see an interview with Ken Levine he uses the same language that Harvey Smith and Warren Spector were using back in 2003. He's right about System Shock 2 being an inaccessible game for a lot of people, but I still cringe when I hear that word expression "making the game more accessible". It's just a bad sign.

In the meantime, I think that the game's unique setting and weird story will keep mainstream and casual gamers away from it. Hardcore gamers will be unsatisfied by the dumbed down gameplay and casual gamers will stick to Halo 3 or "button mashing fantasy RPG #38". Irrational is one of those companies that I'll give a chance on anything based upon their track record, but I'm not very optomistic. I thought that Ion Storm couldn't fuck a game up but I was wrong. I think that any studio can.
Last edited by doctor_kaz; December 5th, 2006 at 20:58.
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December 5th, 2006, 20:46
Originally Posted by doctor_kaz View Post
I was thinking more of just the guy's first question. "Thief is an allegory for capitalism because in capitalism you get rich by stealing from people". That was one of the dumber interview quetions that I have read in recent memory.
QFE! I wish that people would stop trying to intellectualize games. Games are entertainment for fuck's sake. That Thief question is right on par with someone asking the creators of 'Desperate Housewives' whether they were inspired by the Puritan influence in American society and the possibly related sexual deprivation of the average American housewife when they came up with the idea for the series. Gimme a break…
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December 5th, 2006, 20:51
Perhaps the reviewer wanted to check out if Levine is a comi.
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December 5th, 2006, 20:56
Well, to be fair on that end, Ken Levine has said that Bioshock is somewhat of a political allegory. (Is allegory the word that I'm looking for?). I'm not sure what you call it, but there's a very intellectual political theme to Bioshock's story, supposedly. That's one of the reasons why I'm so interested in it. Also, that's one of the reasons why I think that lots of casual gamers won't get into it.
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December 5th, 2006, 21:04
Well, i have to say that Bioshock is the game i'm anticipating the most atm.
I like political allegories too. It will certainly be a game for adults and not for the immature audience.
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December 5th, 2006, 22:11
Allegory for capitalism? Bloody hell. Can something be allegorical when it simply shows the antithesis of the thing it's supposedly an allegory of?
Surely thievery isn't allegorical to capitalism, it's one of the main things opposed to it. If you violate laws regarding personal property then you're pretty much violating and/or denouncing capitalism. That's not allegorical, it's obvious, in plain sight.

Odd shoe-horning of meaning aside, I'm not sure I like the direction Levine seems to want to take.
I understand he needs his games to sell as much as possible, that's how business works, but all this talk of simplification and hand-holding worries me. Some things are irreducibly "complicated" or "difficult". That's the nature of challenge and depth, and of learning.
If you over-simplify or babysit too much then the thing you originally wanted to convey or create becomes something else. The sense of learning and accomplishment is reduced or trivialised. Some things can't, and shouldn't be given on a plate.

He seems to be in a general state of contradiction anyway. On the one hand he wants his product to sell well (who doesn't?), so he's aiming to make the game mechanics easy to grasp for everyone. On the other hand, he sees Bioshock challenging us with social commentary on the nature of man and the "hero", politics, power etc. If you can't grasp game mechanics that could today be considered, I don't know, "intermediate" difficulty to learn and understand, why would you want to/be capable of engage/ing with a story that operates on a number of levels? He seems to believe the market can grasp deep political satire/commentary, but can't grasp "choose your skills, they dictate your character type and the way you can approach challenges", or whatever.

I mean, the person who can play the game and go "Ahhh, I see the actions of this character are clearly derived from Machiavelli's work 'The Prince'. And look here, the foyer scene is clearly an homage to Bosch's seminal 'Hell'." is unlikely to be phased by the challenge of PC skill development or fork-roads in the plot.

In contrast, the player who sees the above and just thinks "that guy's selfish…this place is weird" isn't served by Levine's ideas on narrative and subtext. It just comes off to me as him wanting to present iconoclasts and idealogues, morals and all that challenging stuff; wrapped in a game that he wants to make simple so it'll appeal to everyone. Which could compromise the whole thing, as the gameplay might not appeal to those who can grasp these narrative themes, and the narrative themes don't appeal to those to whom the gameplay appeals.

Of course I could just be reading too much into a fun little interview, and be completely wrong on all my thoughts
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December 5th, 2006, 22:21
I think its a fair question since it seems like, especially in sci-fi or modern rpgs, corporations are the devil. From Kotor to Bloodlines, business is bad. I can't think of one game that had "the good" corporation.

But who cares? As long as the hippies are killing things or making games where you can kill things, they'll have less time to protest.
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December 5th, 2006, 22:35
Yeah roqua you're riiite. For example in System Shock I and II TriOptimum is the big bad company, or let's say in Resident Evil it's Umbrella. Corporations are rarely or never good in games. But in Bloodlines i really don't know what you are meaning with corporation. I'm playing Bloodlines atm after a long time again and i'm enjoying it like if i would play it for the first time.
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December 5th, 2006, 22:53
doctor_kaz, ahh I see more of what you mean but I hope you are just overly worried.
I sence that KenL is smart enough to avoid the obvious (even back then) pitfalls commited by Ion Storm.
This would be easy to accomplish with a Tutorial/Hint helper on and off switch.


Yeah I disagree Dyne.
Capitalism is not about punishing thieves, like all soicalities there has been ways addressing or preventing theivery, thoughout history.
Capitalism is about (at least here in the US) about privatizing public asssets through bribery of officials and subversive deregualtion of laws intended to protect the public and the lands.
Laws like those of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Enviromental Law, Labor Law and Food and Drug Saftey to name a few, which are all under attack for the last 12 years as an example.

Political intrigue and corruption are huge targets ripe for story tellers.
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December 5th, 2006, 23:04
corporations have done far worse things in real life than in games. that aside their are no bad/evil corporations…just those in them who do such deeds. enron for example had plenty of "normal/good" people working in it who got used. a corporation is simply one of societies largests assets/tool/weapon that holds a lot of power over people and money. no corporation is benign, unless non-profit, so if a corporation is portrayed in a game developers have to push it towards the 'evil' side since an average company would not be intersting or have any 'power' urges that would lead it to do things that would affect the story.

but yes im not sure what corporation is in bloodlines either. comparing the camarilla to a corporation is kind of a stretch since it is a society of people/vampires. and there are 'good' people in the camarilla that don't have the same 'goals' as those in charge. just like there are people in the anarchs who aren't all that 'good' either.

these games give you actual choices. they don't say which is 'right' or 'wrong' like so many things try to.

@roqua-if people(not me) aren't able to make comments about christians, i think you should not talk about 'hippies' in a derogatory manner, or cheapen words like protest, simply since you obviously disagree with anything those stand for.

and yes ken levine has 'brainwashed' me into wanting to buy any game he makes.

bioshock bioshock bioshock
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December 5th, 2006, 23:33
Originally Posted by Dyne View Post
He seems to be in a general state of contradiction anyway. On the one hand he wants his product to sell well (who doesn't?), so he's aiming to make the game mechanics easy to grasp for everyone. On the other hand, he sees Bioshock challenging us with social commentary on the nature of man and the "hero", politics, power etc. If you can't grasp game mechanics that could today be considered, I don't know, "intermediate" difficulty to learn and understand, why would you want to/be capable of engage/ing with a story that operates on a number of levels? He seems to believe the market can grasp deep political satire/commentary, but can't grasp "choose your skills, they dictate your character type and the way you can approach challenges", or whatever.

I mean, the person who can play the game and go "Ahhh, I see the actions of this character are clearly derived from Machiavelli's work 'The Prince'. And look here, the foyer scene is clearly an homage to Bosch's seminal 'Hell'." is unlikely to be phased by the challenge of PC skill development or fork-roads in the plot.
Dyne you said it better than I could have ever done it. Why strip out some basic role-playing elements that appeal to the core RPG consituency if the plot is going to be centered around highbrow intellectual stuff like Ayn Rand that most people don't know much or care about?
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December 5th, 2006, 23:54
good doctor, ken levine doesn't make rpgs. he makes games that have some elements of them but he strives to make different games. personally i think the swat games let me 'role play' more immersively than a lot of 'role playing games'. a story has to be about something. i've never read any any rand myself (more than a chapter anyways) but i'm sure i will fully be engrossed in the story he tells. the thing about a great story/game is that it can have many depths/paths to it but also the option to forgoe all that if the person doesn't want to any just enjoy the 'surface' of the game. a good game story doesn't force these themes down your throat but if you 'get' them it can be rewarding and add to the realsim/humanism of the game. and like levine said, he doesn't plan on these things they just manifiest themselves into the game/story once its creation is underway emerging from the layers of consciousness of him and others in irrational games.
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December 6th, 2006, 00:11
Originally Posted by RatavuK View Post
Yeah roqua you're riiite. For example in System Shock I and II TriOptimum is the big bad company, or let's say in Resident Evil it's Umbrella. Corporations are rarely or never good in games. But in Bloodlines i really don't know what you are meaning with corporation. I'm playing Bloodlines atm after a long time again and i'm enjoying it like if i would play it for the first time.
The aristocrat vampire sect has corporate fronts, the "lead bad guy," or what Troika makes the least appealing person to side with, is in his corporate office downtown.

In kotor 1 they also have the evil capitilistic pig merchant in the undercity of the starting city, nevermind the big evil corp that is also in part 2 (where you have to be a good guy and side with the tree hugging race, or a bad guy if you side with them).

Plenty of examples in NWN and millions of other games. But who cares, game devs work for corporations for the most part, are anti-piracy for the most part, and make money through capitalism. The only game to come out of a communist country that I know before the curtain fell was Tetris. How many games come from Cuba and North Korea?

But I would much rather talk about how game mechanics now-a-days sucks, despite the political leanings of the game makers. ToEE could've been made as a combined effort by Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Bin Laden, and Satan with a theme of how everyone in the US should be raped and slaughter, and I would have still bought it and loved it.
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December 6th, 2006, 03:22
I enjoyed the interview, but I doubt I'll buy the game. I generally dislike FPS games, so it has little appeal!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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