BioShock Interview, Part One

The Official Xbox Magazine is offering up the results of an interview they did with BioShock lead designer Ken Levine about the game's success, the upcoming sequel and film adaptation, and more.
Bioshock was a success and praised for its story, and now most new games are playing up their storylines. Do you see Bioshock as an influence, or were you just ahead of the curve?

KL: It's hard to say. I think that we had some games last year that had a focus on that and certainly the reviews focused on that, like Portal and Bioshock, Mass Effect, and I think that to some degree they're about games embracing what they are, particularly with Portal and Bioshock. They're not movies, they're not things to be watched, they're things to be played, and the story has to bow down to that. And I think that sort of counter-intuitive thing about making it less about story - I got a lot of heat after giving that talk at GDC.

To some degree, counter-intuitively, the fact that we weren't wanting to tell this story god dammit, and the viewer better see every second of it, and hear every audio diary was one of the strengths of the story-telling. And I think... different strokes for different folks. Some people like their long cutscenes. They aren't to my tastes, or the team so much, so I feel there are lots of ways to go. But I couldn't tell you why there's a new focus, it's a combination of things. It's a combination of the attention of Hollywood, our ability to tell - we couldn't tell the story of Bioshock in our earlier games because we didn't have the polygons to render all the visual stuff we told the story with. All those amazing scenes are still - you couldn't tell the story back in the System Shock 2 days, you didn't have the tools.

System Shock 2 was one of those games that the critics adored but nobody bought. I think with Bioshock you set out to make something more commercial. Is that fair?

KL: If you can call game about an objectivist underwater utopia commercial. [Laughs].

Well, you did sell two million copies...

KL: It's commercial in retrospect, I would say. There was nobody in the world who said to us "oh my god, you guys are going to sell millions of this." People said "oh, it's going to be another great-reviewed game". My brother used to joke at me, "you going to get really good reviews, enjoy that." I get to make fun of him now. Nobody looked at Bioshock and thought it was going to be a huge seller. It took a lot of work on our part and on the publisher's part to get the word out on it.