Infinite Possibilities: Ken Levine Talks About the New ‘BioShock’

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You are not going to do the battle scene where the player’s just wearing a fiction suit and going through a pre-ordained set of motions.

In BioShock 1, you were a cipher. But we tried to leverage the fact that you were a cipher in the storyline with what happens to you. We can’t do that again. We are not going to go back to just having you be a cipher. So, we started playing around with characterization and player agency.

You know I worked on a game called Thief a long time ago. I always enjoyed that Garrett could say, “Here’s what I’m going to do now.” Instead of somebody telling him in his ear what to do, he just said, “I’m going to go do this.” And there’s moments in the scenes where Booker goes, “Comstock house. Let’s go over there.”

But there also seems to be that one moment where Elizabeth was like OK, do we go there? This path? Or that path? Was that guided or was there choice there?

What we were trying to show is that Elizabeth can help you. That’s not a branching moment, like a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s more like “here’s part of the level” and “here’s another part of the level.” We’re just having Elizabeth point that out rather than a sign. In BioShock 1, we would’ve had signage that said that. Elizabeth, if you look at the demo, there’s a bunch of places where she’s just informational for you. And we want to do that without her making you feel like, “How do I clip it?” Like the paperclip from Windows, from Microsoft Office. You know, so, that was an important moment but it’s a subtle moment. But it’s an important moment because we’re just using the characters to inform the player of the possibilities.

Ok, so let’s talk about Elizabeth. It’s apparent from even that small sequence just how much work is being put into her. There seems like there’s a lot of things going on. There’s Stockholm Syndrome, and definitely some fear and naiveté. She’s like the ultimate sheltered child. What are the dangers that you’re coming across in fleshing out a character like that? If you can make her too naive and then she’s a cloying damsel in distress…

Well, one of the first things we did in the course of making the game was to figure she has that moment where she’s trying to be an angel. “Oh, the horse! We have to save the horse.” And then she sees what happens. And for me, when it comes to dealing with moral consequences, I never wanted Elizabeth going, “Booker, do the right thing.” Booker and Elizabeth go through this world together and they are both like, “What the fuck do we do here?”

You see shitty thing after shitty thing, and there’s even a moment when Booker stops the lynching, as you called it, he goes, “Hey, leave him alone, he’s just a postman.” Elizabeth kind of turns and goes like, “Oh, fuck. Here we go.” Because I don’t want a character to be judgmental of you. And I don’t want there to be clear right and wrong choices. I want them to be constantly scratching their heads. Because, look, BioShock games tend to be about unintended consequences. In all these choices you make, you are going to see unintended consequences. I didn’t ever want Elizabeth to be that voice of “do the right thing,” because that’s a pill, that’s not a person.

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