Return to BioShock

Interview

Friday, March 15, 2013

While the most visible evolution in video games has been in the realm of graphics, resolution, and processing power, another kind of progress has been taking place on the level of narrative. Ken Levine, the creative director of Irrational Games, has been in the forefront of that development.

Levine tried his hand at theater and screenwriting before, in the 1990s, he found his calling in gaming. In 2007, Irrational Games released Levine’s BioShock, a game that turned the first-person shooter format (familiar from games like Grand Theft Auto) into something like art. With a rich, complex story, philosophical provocations, immaculately detailed settings, and skillful voice acting, the game felt more like going to the cinema — or being inside it. BioShock was a critical and commercial success, and ended up in a Smithsonian museum exhibition and on an episode of The Simpsons.

BioShock Infinite, to be released this month, has been highly anticipated. It’s not a sequel to the earlier game. While both are set in dystopian alternate histories, they go (literally) in opposite directions. The first game was set in Rapture, an underwater city, and the new title goes to Columbia, a city in the sky with many similarities to America in the early years of the last century.

Ken Levine gave Kurt Andersen a sneak peek at the gorgeously realized world. Peek being the operative word, because while Kurt enjoyed the gameplay, his favorites moments took place when he stopped to enjoy the scenery. Levine, though, is modest about how far video games have come since the birth of the medium in the 1970s. “It’s not Birth of a Nation,” he says “but it’s not Casablanca, either. We’re somewhere in the middle.”

 

Video: The opening scenes of BioShock Infinite
(Warning: May contain content inappropriate for children. In-game footage contains spoilers.)

    Music Playlist
  • Shine On, Harvest Moon (Edison Cylinder, 1910)
    Artist: Ada Jones and Bill Murray
    Album: Radio & Recording Rarities, Volume 20
    Label: Lowlights Publishing
    Purchase: Amazon

Guests:

Ken Levine

Produced by:

Posey Gruener

Comments [4]

Shavonne Conroy from San Antonio

While performing in NYC I was lucky enough to be hired as a voice actor for the first BIOSHOCK. I'm the freaky woman with the baby carriage for one. Working on this game was wonderful! I'm glad to see the tradition continues!

Jun. 12 2013 10:08 PM
Brady Dale from Brooklyn, NY

Video games aren't really my thing (I am not good enough to enjoy them), but I am still glad you are working to get art forms not really given the proper respect as art more credibility. Obviously, mountains of effort goes into these things and they deserve respect.
Good coverage.

Mar. 20 2013 07:12 PM
Tiresh

That metallic voice at 3:00....It's sooo creepy that I wanna get it as my alarm... I love it O:!

Mar. 15 2013 02:27 PM
Manoko

The Grand Theft Auto games aren't first-person shooters... They are third-person shooters...

Mar. 15 2013 02:12 PM

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