BioShock Infinite Q&A: Ken Levine’s PlayStation Moves

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BioShock Infinite Q&A: Ken Levine’s PlayStation Moves

It’s always a pleasure to speak with Ken Levine, creative director for the award-winnging BioShock and the PS3 dystopian epic BioShock Infinite. Ken’s been good enough to drop by the PlayStation.Blog before, bringing news of PlayStation Move support as well as an upcoming PS Vita BioShock game, but we’ve never been able to immortalize him in crisp HD video.

Until now. In Rey’s lovingly produced video feature, Levine lays out his plan for Infinite domination, starting with creating a convincing relationship between lead characters Booker and Elizabeth as they seek to escape the crumbling city of Columbia. Levine also touches on the origins of Songbird, a biomechanical beast that has jealously locked Elizabeth in the depths of Columbia since her birth. Songbird completes a warped sort of love triangle between Booker and Elizabeth that promises to play out in the game in a big way. “There’s a lot of mystery around Songbird, and I think people will be surprised by his relationship with Elizabeth — it’s a complicated relationship that has elements of light and elements of darkness.“ Levine also muses on the PlayStation Move motion controller and Killzone 3’s much-praised FPS implementation, as well as his instincts on PS3 gaming as a whole. “I think the platform is really hitting its stride right now,” he told me. “The exclusives have been great and it’s been a really interesting platform to watch develop.”

PlayStation.Blog: How is work proceeding with the PS3 version of BioShock Infinite?
Ken Levine, President and Creative Director, Irrational Games: Look, I’m not blowing smoke here. We were Xbox-first for the original game, and now we have something to demonstrate to the PlayStation 3 audience. We love the platform. I have three PS3s at my house. It’s a great game system and I love the kinds of games that are coming out on PSN.

The PS3 has a different architecture than we had encountered before, but because we helped port BioShock to the PS3, we’ve become very familiar with it. And we have a new engine for BioShock Infinite, so we started the game knowing we’d be on PS3. We started thinking about how to leverage the multiple cores from the start of development, so we’re in a much better place this time on PS3.

PSB: Are you working anything into BioShock Infinite that you wanted to include in the original game but couldn’t?
Levine: Combat, for one. In the original BioShock, we gave people this huge tool set but never demanded that they use it. We want to expand the player’s gaming vocabulary — I think that’s one missed opportunity with the original BioShock.

So now we have these traditional BioShock spaces, but also big, expansive areas where enemies are hundreds of yards away. You’re fighting one guy, or 15 guys, so crowd control becomes meaningful. Long-range weapons like sniper rifles become very meaningful.

PSB: What’s been the most challenging aspect of creating BioShock Infinite?
Levine:With this game we got behind this idea of building this relationship between Booker and Elizabeth. We’re really focused on a relationship that is earned, a relationship that is believable. Our focus is, what forms a bond between two people? Making sacrifices for each other — that will build a relationship very quickly. Not just, “these two people are drawn together because they’re attractive.” The same way that in BioShock, I didn’t want Atlas to betray the character so much as the gamer. When Andrew Ryan tells you that you’ve been manipulated the whole time, you think, “Screw you, man!” In the same way, I want the player to build this relationship with Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite. That’s the challenge of what we’re doing.

Bioshock Infinite: Ken Levine InterviewBioshock Infinite: Ken Levine Interview

PSB: Replayability is a hot topic for single-player-focused games. Have you been thinking about ways to encourage replay, maybe a New Game Plus mode? Is that up for debate?
Levine: I’ll just say that yes, we do think a lot about this topic. I can’t talk about what we’re thinking specifically. If we’re going to do it, we want to find a BioShock way to do it. People will see more as time goes on.

PSB: Are you intrigued about any gaming applications for stereoscopic 3D?
Levine: For me, it’s all about having something interesting to say with it. I’m never interested in technology in terms of checking a box. We didn’t do multiplayer for BioShock because we thought we would be checking a box if we did. Anything we do has to be unique, interesting, and be appropriate for the game.

So we’re thinking about that stuff now. So if we have that, then that’s a road we may go down.

PSB: What’s your secret for building mystique and mystery in a game like BioShock Infinite?
Levine: I think it’s an issue of detail, of the creators not being satisfied until they really understand their worlds, which takes time to develop. Some creators carry these things in their heads for a long time, or have had a lot of time to make a lot of mistakes.

It’s about consistency, having a consistent aesthetic. It’s difficult. It requires that you not be satisfied with any old thing. It’s the difference between some guy making a crappy action film versus the Coen brothers. They care about the details, they care about the consistency from frame to frame. Each Coen brothers movie feels like a full world. Look at A Serious Man versus True Grit versus Miller’s Crossing. They’re such different worlds, but they’re so rich. There’s no magic formula: It comes down to sweating all the details.

PSB: Based on your Tweets, you’re pretty positive on PS Vita. What do you like about the concept?
Levine: I’m a gamer, right? I like playing games on iPad… but deep down I want that level of control. What’s cool about PS Vita is that it seems to have all the benefits of an iPad-type device with the touchscreen and motion controls. But it has dual analog sticks….and I love shooters. You can finally play a shooter, a real shooter, on a handheld. Seriously, that’s a hole in my soul right now. Now I’ll have something I can play real shooters on, and that’s really important to me. It’s awesome.

I Tweeted a while ago that it did everything but make me an omelet. It sort of has everything and the kitchen sink in it, which is great as a gamer.

Bioshock InfiniteBioshock infinite

PSB: Andrew Ryan thought free enterprise was the solution to the world’s problems; the citizens of Columbia seem to think it’s purity. What does Ken Levine think?
Levine: [laughs] I don’t like to say what I think. It would just get in the way of what the games are saying. I love that some people play BioShock and think that I’m an Objectivist, or that I’m a rabid anti-capitalist. I don’t really Tweet much about politics, not because I don’t have opinions but because we make games that touch on politics.

If you’ve played the games, I think you can probably suss where I’m at. We tend to make games about characters caught between larger forces. They’re just trying to get by, and they’re surrounded by ideologies and incredibly powerful people. I think a lot of people feel that way. I sure do. I have strong feelings about this or that…but the only thing, politically, that I come out about is gay marriage, which I feel so strongly about. People should be able to marry who the hell they want, and it affects so many people that I care about. I’d rather not have a career than not talk about that.

In general, I get very nervous when people are absolutely certain about anything.

PSB: Are you looking forward to UNCHARTED 3? Are you a fan of the series?
Levine: Yeah, of course! How can you not be an UNCHARTED fan? They’ve managed to make characters that are so appealing, you just love being around them. There aren’t a lot of interesting characters in video games, and that’s why Amy and Evan and their team are so good at what they do. The technology is so competent, the controls feel responsive, the characters are great…how can you not love UNCHARTED?

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6 Author Replies

  • looks so good, adding elizabeth (although not sure if she will be in the entire story) is a nice touch and just leaves me wondering if there are more “friendly’s” that will be met along the way, but what i do know is that im a huge bioshock fan and if im not mistaken some of the developers that put bioshock to life are from/worked out of my area and its just been a total pleasure having the bioshock exp, it is by far one of the most unique and creative games ive played, thanks and i can not wait for this game !

  • had to watch this 3 times,lol.. sorry bout the double post

  • Nice interview, but come on, you don’t need to shoe-horn an Uncharted 3 question in there. That’s kinda pathetic ^^

    • Oh, it wasn’t THAT bad! ^_^ He makes story-based games so I was curious if he liked UNCHARTED. Sounds like he does!

  • Ken Levine’s a pretty awesome person1

  • Ken seems like a great person too talk too. Cant wait to hear more about the PSVita game there doing!

  • Great interview, Ken is always well articulated and insightful. Mr. Levine, I know your reading so im curious. Is PS3 lead platform, what’s your favorite Blu Ray and PSN game? BTW, the interaction between Booker and Elizabeth is soo compelling and utterly impressive, I can’t wait! Thank you and please bring System Shock to PS3!

  • @ icmnick , lol.. was waiting for some one to throw the flag on that one.. i had to lol when i read that. but a plug buy a ken levine is like a 2 thumbs up by martin scorsese rating another persons film, high caliber plug.

  • Dear Jeff, Sid or Rey please patch the Blog to work better with iPhones, it’s taking forever to type this.

    • Are you on the mobile site? If not, scroll to the bottom of the home page and look for the “mobile theme” button. Slide it to On!

  • This game is so SOLD it’s not even funny lol!!! 8)

  • they asked about ps vita to whats wrong about asking about u3?

  • I can’t wait for both games. I love the BioShock series!

  • @butchi1324 absolutely nothing, its a great question to ask to a great mind. it was just funny to me how someone pointed it out as being pathetic and maybe “tacky” is a better word but to me its crazy not to capitalize on an endorsement ,for a lack of a better word, on ken’s thoughts about ps3. its encouraging to see that he is a fan of this platform but it was funny to me when some one pointed that out. we need everyone to love playstation ,lol..
    not too many ken levines out there so it was a a brilliant question and an even better answer. but everyone has their opinions and i thought it was funny and was just waiting for a comment to pop up in regards to that and #3 had a fast draw. it was just a comment, and a good one but i thought it would be crazy not to ask such questions to the wizard. # 3 just pointed something out that is like a “between the lines’ observation/response.

  • hey Sid and Rey congrats on the awesome interview and video! I am so exited about this game and cant wait to play it when it comes out. I hope the vita game will also be as incredible as infinite is looking up to be.

  • hey Sid,rey, or sid. I agree with comment 8. i visit the blog mostly from my iphone and it totally sucks trying to type a comment from it. it takes forever and it gets kinda laggy. this is the only site were that happens. can you guys tell the tech guys look into it or patch it.

    • Yeah, good point. The mobile theme (if you scroll to the bottom of the home page you can turn it on) is much better on a phone, but doesn’t allow you to comment. I’ll bring this up. Thanks for mentioning!

  • This is going to be awesome. I love BioShock!

  • bioshock infinite just WOW!! and ken levine uncharted fan=awesome :)

  • Awesome interview and the games looks great! Wasn’t interested in the game until I saw the trailer. I will be adding this game to my wish list on amazon.

  • This game will be awesome! So far from what I have seen its looking a lot better than Bioshock 1.

    and I think 3D would fit very well with this game. The birds, the roses and riding that “pole” would all look incredible in 3D I think.

  • One of my favorite and most respected developers. Great interview and looking forward to more masterpieces from Ken, especially whatever he’s planning for the Vita :)

  • If this was going to be a “You know what” exclusive, that would be devastating. Very phyched we get an equal crack at it this time. If this was an xcrap exclusive I might have had to…you know…but then return it as soon as I was done. Sid, any word on multiplayer for Infinite? It doesn’t need it but how crazy would that be using the rails and fighting against other humans??? Too much. And why was there not an official announcement about Vita’s delay here? Seems appropriate there would be one.

  • Somehow Move support had slipped right past me. Very happy to hear I’ll have a good game to use the thing on.

  • This game is going to rock so hard. Move support, The First Bioshock on disc, and just the fact that it looks soo good! Is it 2012 yet?

  • thanks for the cool interview also thanks for the basically an announcement of a killzone game on PS Vita

  • I love Bioshock, this is one of my favorite series. Game looks Awesome can’t wait for 2012!

  • Its kinda funny, but there’s this guy that I see every once in a while at my gym here in Austin that looks very much like Ken Levine. Evil twin brother, perhaps?
    That aside, I can’t wait for Bioshock Infinite!

  • I think it’s awesome that people like Seth MacFarlane and Ken Levine are so strong in favor of equal rights. It would be even more awesome if BioShock Infinite included a non-crazy and/or helpful gay character.

    I didn’t mind Uncharted 3 question, but not to pair it with his opinion on Heavy Rain is disappointing.

    PS: When will we get confirmation on the amount of RAM in the Vita? Is it 320MB, as broadly reported? Also, any more details on the quality/performance of the front and rear cameras? (The PS Eye has sooo much noise, it’s ridiculous.) It would be great to record 720p/30fps video with better quality than iPhone (only 2mbit/sec, looks awful on HDTV).

  • If you noticed in the full e3 bioshock infinite walkthrough, it was recorded on the PS3 version. It is a hint that PS3 version very well is the console superior version.

  • Great work on the video for the interview. Always great to hear from Ken Levine and I can’t wait for Bioshock Infinite. Would be cool if he may be working in the Vita as a controller since that was reported as a possible feature in general or some interaction between Bioshock Infinite and what he is doing on Vita.

    PS is it just me or does he sound like Heath Ledger’s Joker? at least he did so at the E3 conference.

  • @26 Not really, there is no way that they’d allow him to play it on a 360 during a Sony E3 Conference. Don’t see why people need to have a “superior version” isn’t it good enough that they are both are graphically equal and for those who didn’t play Bioshock before you get that as an added bonus.

  • Should also bring up the fact that the PSP cannot load far enough to even switch to the mobile site. At least not for my moderate speed of internet it can’t. Always times out and says I lack the memory.

  • To Sid and the Playstation Team: What is the name of the musical piece that is in the background of this video? I can’t find it online, and it is stunning.

  • what happen to people around the world getting that free gamer tester avatar from uncharted 3 beta

  • Tell me more about Bioshock Vita please.

  • Ken is an awesome man

  • I love you guys.

  • By the way I wanted some info about the Bioshock game for the VITA please :D

  • I think Ken Levine is a rather smart and easy to watch (in an interview) kind of person :) Every time I see him interview for someone I smile.

  • That guy is what game developers should aim for

    Any chance of getting him into making a PS3 exclusive? you know, sleek graphics, full BluRay, unleash his creativity!!!!

  • Hi, Sid, I see you’re practicing your German (“uber”) for Gamescon, lol.

    I can’t watch vid. On my iPadd. I assume there’s a vid where I just see a big white blank spot. I’ve seen the BI trailer a few times & I’m going to pass for now. Will be too busy hanging with Sully & Chloe, & fighting dragons in Skyrim, but, I may eventually try this, just because of the Move support. Not enough good games with Move!

  • Bioshock Infinite should be a ps3 Exclusive (am just saying)

  • “Levine also muses on the PlayStation Move motion controller and Killzone 3′s much-praised FPS implementation”
    Did I miss something or was this part of the interview left out? I was looking forward to this the most. Also, why no mention of the inclusion of Bioshock1 with PS3 Infinite?

  • Ohh… I just realized there’s supposed to be a video. I happen to be using an iPad right now. Guess I gotta hunt down that mobile site link…

  • Really enjoy these updates. I don’t think i have ever anticipated a game release as I am this one.

  • As a gamer, I felt the developers betrayed me in bioshock, not ryan, and not atlas.

  • ken levine is a great guy….and yeah I agree 100% with ken…”how can you not love Uncharted”?…perhaps I have the answer…this person must be sick of mind.

    Bioshock Infinite is a must have since the announcement.

  • will there still be a bad, worst,good,and a better ending

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