BioShock Infinite Coming to PS3, First Video and Ken Levine Q&A

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Before you do anything else, watch the premiere video of the next game from Irrational Games that will land on the PlayStation 3 in 2012. The less you know before watching, the better!

We’re pleased and excited to welcome Irrational Games to the PlayStation.Blog to reveal their latest project to PS3 fans. I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes to chat with Ken Levine, Irrational Games’ creative director and a key force behind BioShock, in order to delve deeper into the details and inspirations behind the studio’s latest creation. Welcome to the PlayStation.Blog, Ken!

BioShock Infinite for PS3: Columbia

Sid Shuman: So… you guys know how to make an entrance, huh?

Ken Levine, Creative Director, Irrational Games: There’s been so much speculation, we wanted to play with people’s expectations a little bit. Coming out with a press release isn’t very interesting. One of the reasons there’s been so much secrecy is that we want people to see the trailer (above) prior to knowing what the game is.

SS: Your new game is quite a dramatic change from BioShock, isn’t it?

KL: I think the mission of this studio is to make games that other people couldn’t or wouldn’t make…when it comes to a BioShock game, the obvious thing people think about is the location. My sense is it’s more about mystery. It is about location, but that location isn’t Rapture.

We wanted to start this game with a sense of, “there are no sacred cows.” Anything from the existing franchise that would go into BioShock Infinite had to earn its way there. So there are obviously some similar elements. But there are also elements that you don’t even know what to make of. That’s important to us. There are so many things that are tropes of the BioShock franchise — Big Daddies and Little Sisters wandering around, for example. But even something as primal and central as that, we thought…is that the right thing for this game? Or do we want to take it in a totally different direction?

So “Project Icarus” is turning the page on the franchise and exploring a different direction.

SS: On that note, you couldn’t really consider BioShock Infinite to be a sequel to BioShock. Do you think of it as a re-imagining?

KL: In the game industry, people have a particular sense of what a sequel is. You know, they’re going to follow the story, it will be the same world, a lot of the same weapons…

I guess “re-imagining” is a good way to describe it. Anything that was in the previous game has to earn its way into this game. We’re open to explode any ideas, change any ideas, re-imagine any ideas. That’s why we’ve been quiet for so long. That’s a question we’ve had to wrestle with for a long time, and it took us a few years to get to the point where we were ready to talk about it. Now the team is super excited about it.

Once you make a game like BioShock, the audience expects to be surprised and amazed the same way they were by Rapture. We wanted to make sure we had something that felt familiar in some ways, but also felt different at the same time.

SS: Would you say that BioShock Infinite is in the same universe, or the same timeline, as BioShock?

KL: That’s a good question. That’s something that people should keep their eyes on — once the gameplay footage comes out, there will be some things that will make people ask questions along those lines, and wonder about any of those kinds of connections.

Ken Levine, creative director of Irrational Games Ken Levine, creative director of Irrational Games

SS: BioShock was highly notable for its Art Deco environments. But BioShock Infinite, with its flying city of Columbia, is something else altogether. What’s the inspiration for the game’s look?

KL: The feel of the game, as I described it to the team, is “Fourth of July, 1900.” The game is set in 1912 and has this feeling of an idealized America, a Norman Rockwell version of America. As with Rapture, there’s a fantastic component — the city is suspended in the air. But we wanted this feeling of this… memory of a summer’s day. Not even a real summer’s day, because there’s no summer’s day with a sky that blue, or trees that green, and the flags waving, and the popcorn popping. That’s the feeling that we wanted in this game, and it defines a lot of the look.

On a lower level, you have elements of Art Nouveau in the city, elements of colonial architecture styles in the city, and a variety of things. But they’re all in service of this “feeling.” BioShock was the same way — Art Deco gave us the “feeling” of what we wanted for that game.

SS: What brings the player to the airborne city of Columbia?

KL: One major difference from BioShock is that we felt it was really important that you are an actual person with an identity, with a mission that was clear to you. In this game you play a former Pinkerton agent named Booker DeWitt, who is known as a guy who gets things done, but maybe not in the most forthright manner.

You’re contacted by an individual who wants you to go to Columbia, a city which has disappeared into the clouds. Columbia was founded as sort of a shining city on a hill, an example of American ideals — Jeffersonian, Democratic ideals — and the city would move around the world like the White Fleet. Like the Apollo space project, it was an example of what American ingenuity and ideals can do. The city, as it moved around the world, got caught up in a violent international incident that was shocking to the world. And then Columbia disappeared into the clouds, and nobody has known where it is for quite some time. The man who has contacted you knows where the city is, and he wants you to go there to find a young woman named Elizabeth. She’s been imprisoned in a tower there since she was five years old, for 15 years, and your mission is to get Elizabeth out of the city and back to Earth.

When you arrive in Columbia, you sense this is going to be a different kind of mission. You also learn that Elizabeth is squarely in the center of a conflict that’s going on in the city. And you get more than you bargained for.

SS: Some people might call Columbia a sort of “New Rapture.” Is that accurate?

KL: One is a city floating in the air, another lies at the bottom of the sea. But the feel of the cities, and the beliefs of the populace, are things that you can sink your teeth into. It’s relatable: politics and culture. Like Rapture, Columbia is a city of ideas – very strong ideas! And those ideas are represented by how the world is visually constructed. We don’t always want to use words — I think the visuals are the strongest element we have to communicate what Columbia is.

BioShock Infinite for PS3: Columbia SkylinesBioShock Infinite for PS3: Saltinstall

SS: In BioShock, the player enters a devastated environment and picks through corpses in order to find out what happened. But Columbia appears to be a very “alive” city…

KL: This is very important to us, Sid. Going back to the System Shock 2 and BioShock days, we’ve given ourselves an out, which is “everybody’s dead.” There wasn’t much character interaction, and when there is… I think I’m the guy who invented the [gameplay convention of the] player interacting with a guy on the other side of a glass. [laughs] I say that with dubious pride, because that idea is getting really long in the tooth.

Our concept in this game is that there are lots of characters who don’t necessarily attack you right away — they may not be interested in getting in a fight, either. The feeling we want is somewhat like the Wild West, where you go into a room and everybody has their hand on their gun because it’s a scary place. Part of your challenge in this world is figuring out who is a threat and who isn’t. Or, if you’re in a combat situation, if there’s a way to bring another person to your side somehow. We sort of pioneered this with BioShock with the notion of the Big Daddy, who didn’t attack you right away, and here we’ve extended this idea throughout the world. We realized quickly that this is much more like the way the real world works. In shooters, we’re not accustomed to that — we’re used to everyone seeing you and shooting you. From a narrative perspective, this gives us a ton of freedom.

SS: Based on the ultra-nationalistic posters I saw in the trailer, it would seem that the citizens of Columbia don’t take too kindly to strangers?

KL: There’s a mix in Columbia, and that’s part of the conflict there. The city was designed as sort of an envoy of America…it parallels some of the conflicts in America, not just back then, but other times during our history. There are some strong viewpoints in the city; it’s taken on a certain character in regards to the role of America and Manifest Destiny, and the city’s role in the world.

SS: Will we still see returning staples of the genre, such as the audio diaries from BioShock?

KL: I’m a fan of the voice recorders for a couple of reasons. Our goal is always to see how much story we can tell in the world. Some things stick out like a sore thumb — like the guys stuck behind glass windows. But some things are important tools that can flesh out narrative in a way you can’t do any other way.

I like audio diaries, and I think we’ll be continuing with those, but our goal is to expand upon that vocabulary. Another thing we thought that was getting a little old was the idea of someone in your ear, radioing you your mission. In this game, Booker will say, “I need to find Elizabeth.” Your character can define his missions, and interpret what’s going on around him, and give feedback and drive his thoughts using his own voice. It makes you feel more active in the world.

SS: On another note, I heard you were at E3. Did anything catch your eye?

KL: I was only there for a day, and mostly in meetings, so I didn’t get to see a ton. But I’m definitely interested in seeing what you guys are up to with PlayStation Move…there was a PSN game that really caught my eye, too, some kind of Gauntlet type of game (edit: we think Levine was talking about Hoard). Another one was The Magic: The Gathering Tactics. It seemed like a good year, there are a lot of core games coming out.

For more details on BioShock Infinite follow @IrrationalGames and Ken Levine on Twitter. And keep your eyes on the PlayStation.Blog!

Comments are closed.


33 Author Replies

  • Dam this looks wicked! I have one question.. I didnt play one or two do I need to know the story in order for me to get whats happening in this instalment? I feellike I should get this its just so [DELETED] awesome!!!! Thanks in adavance! ^_^

    • It’s pretty much a fresh take, and not a traditional sequel, so you should be good! That said, I highly recommend you play BioShock. It’s a great game!

  • That really looks interesting, I’m guessing we’ll see this Fall of next year?

  • Crap, I didn’t see the 2012 part at the top, I just shot for the trailer and the interview. There goes my reading comprehension score for the day……

  • I really like the idea of more character interaction, moving a little closer to classic adventure titles, Heavy Rain, or even Deus Ex. I really liked BioShock’s commentary on libertarianism; it looks like this game may do something similar for patriotism. Very excellent!

    I’m also really happy to hear the PS3 is a primary launch platform. I was kind of disappointed by the visuals and low-quality audio in BioShock on PS3, so hopefully they can take advantage of SPU-assisted rendering and 24-bit HD audio capabilities to make the game more immersive and expressive. It would also be great to see 1080p cutscenes with 5.1 or 7.1 24-bit lossless audio, as on bluray movie releases.

    I’m a big fan of Looking Glass and Irrational Games, I even still have my original box, CD, and manual for System Shock! I’m looking forward to this next game from the team and would love to see a deluxe edition with a book of art from all the BioShock games. As soon as said deluxe edition is available for pre-order, I’ll be getting it.

  • Holy Criminy, Ken, you are a sick man!!! I can’t wait. If you can deliver on that trailer I’ll pay double. It’s like steampunk meats colonial-future America. BTW thanks for flying Old Glory in prominence. Our flag is iconic and makes the scene connect with the viewer.

  • why release a game in 2012 when the world is going to end :)

  • Still a long way off but definitely interested, cool trailer.

  • Art Nouveau only possible on PS3 ;^)

  • Looks strange, I’d have to see more gameplay before considering even taking a look at it.

  • HELL YEAH!!! Love Bioshock series, Ididn’t even know that you guys were working on a new adition to the series. LOOKS AMAZING, Cant wait to see more footage. Keep the GREAT WORK!!

  • I hope it is similar to Bioshock 1… other than that awesome cannot wait

  • I don’t like Bioshock but that video was Badass!

  • I didn’t beat Bioshock 2, still need to get around to that. But this game looks pretty cool. I liked the rapture model in the fish tank. I also like the idea of actually being able to talk to people. Before there where these brilliant worlds whipped up but it was more like being a spectator or someone who was just there to kill the rats. It was so empty. Looking forward to playing this. And I want to play it without hearing anything more about, learn things as the character does.

  • looks cool

  • This looks amazing. Loved the first two games and the new setting is refreshing. Can’t wait to see more.

    • Me too. But it’s worth mentioning that Irrational Games didn’t do BioShock 2, only the original game. This new game is the first game they’ve created since BioShock 1.

  • Is this PS3 exclusive?

  • Man these guys are the most cerebral game creators in the “mainstream” of gaming. This is just amazing looking, I love steampunk and this is just super cool. Something I must keep an eye on. Can’t wait too see more.

  • thank you for the working url :)

  • Ahh, yes. I’m so glad audio diaries are coming back. They are a great way to expand upon the world. Not to mention, they add a lot to the game since some of them are hidden.

    Great interview, Sid!

  • Pretty damn kool. IG has got another winner on their hands i feel.

  • yes i won! it was bioshock i knew it! the trailer is amazing!

  • Love Mr. Levine’s work and a big fan of Bioshock. The original was great and the sequel was okay, but Infinite is what I wanted to be the next step in the franchise after Bioshock 1. A new world, new ideals, new characters, etc… It holds familiarity while throwing you into a place that is different from Rapture. I’m glad that Mr. Levine and Irrational are back making another Bioshock game. The trailer just amazed me and I can’t wait to play it, I know it’s going to be great.

  • zekececil14@ no it’s on the 360 too

  • nice looks like a must have any ideas on a release date?

  • Wow, very interesting!! Can’t wait to hear more about this!

  • Dang i thought this was bioshock at the beginning then the in the sky thing, and then……WOW OMG I WANT!!!!

    And i cant wait for minerva’s den to come out for BS2

  • So stoked by this new game! Maybe they should call it Aeoshock now lol.

  • I never dig Bioshock, i dont know it didnt appeal to me that much but this game is looking amazing by the trailer at least. I’m looking for more info in the coming months

  • It’s a shame such a really cool looking setting is being utilized for yet another first person shooter (I can’t play first person games period, and shooters are a dime a dozen and not really my thing anyway). A third person action/adventure game in such a place would’ve been so much cooler and original. :(

  • Loved Bioshock, and though Levine wasn’t incharge of Bioshock 2 I still loved. Therefore I can’t wait to play this one :). Good thing it comes out in 2012 though, I already have enough games to purchase as it is!

  • I’ve never had a big interest in Bioshock but after seeing that trailer, I’m all for a steampunk styled Bioshock game. 2012 can’t come soon enough!

  • i have one question that really matter!!!!!
    what the grey doth was standing for on the other teaser?

  • Once again Sid you get us a great interview, I’ve never really played Bioshock games but plan on getting 2 soon. But this looks awesome, can’t wait for some more info:) Hopefully it has co-op

  • Cool. Never finished Bioshock 1 because I got bored and bought new games. But I may look into this one.

  • Loved the first two, I’m actually playing Bioshock 2 at the moment, so consider this one SOLD!!! 8)

  • Wait, so Sid when you said, “PS3 the primary platform for the new game!” Does that mean PS3 is lead platform? That would be reassuring.

  • I just noticed that Xbox Live has this trailer up in 1080p. When is the PS3 getting it?

  • The wiiiiizzzzzaaarrrrddd.

  • I’m a big fan of BioShock and I am very excited about this new venture.

  • awesome Kevin is back!!

  • oh, yeah this game is going to kick ass!! Ken knows how to make his games

  • This game is awesome I have both bioshock 1 and 2 and this game reminds me more of bioshock one so I will definitely buy this first day it comes out. The bioshock games are the best Keep delivering these great games to us.

  • Bioshock didn’t need a sequel, why would it need a third one? So now the city is in the air instead of under water and that’s supposed to be “a new direction”

    …give me a break

    • It’s not a sequel. It’s essentially new IP — there’s no Big Daddies or Little Sisters. It’s a new world and a new story altogether.

  • I see this game and all I can think of is the Chums of Chance and the skyship Inconvenience. If Against the Day was at least a minor inspiration for this I’d be shocked.

  • Wow; I think I just pissed my pants!
    What an amazing trailer to show off a new game.

    And this is why I love 2k.
    And being exclusive on PS3 is even better!

    Now my friends might have a reason to go on PS3 now

  • Haha never mind; title was misleading a bit.

  • To #42 letherclad If you didnt read this has nothing to do with the first 2 bioshocks if im not mistaken its a whole new type of story. If I read correctly.

  • Must have more bioshock!

    You know what would be even more amazing? If they included a PS3 version of system shock on the disc as a reward for beating it on hard or something. I can wish cant I?

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