Levine on BioShock and “what makes a story”

Perhaps more than any other element, story is central to the BioShock franchise. Ken Levine and the team at Irrational Games proved as much with the original entry, and now they’re out to do it all again with BioShock Infinite. But how does Levine plan to make players care about characters this time? That’s something he’s discussed with Kotaku.

“Stories are about people going through changes,” he said. “That’s what makes a story.”

He then spoke of the game’s main characters, “Booker and Elizabeth meet and they’re sort of very much opposites. When Booker encounters Elizabeth and has the experience of being with this person who has not been jaded by the world, not become cynical, that changes him and his opinion of himself.

“They change each other in very profound ways. Their experience changes them in very profound ways.”

Booker himself is something of a first for Irrational; a playable character with his own voice and personality.

“You have to be respectful, I think, of the player,” Levine said on the matter, “and making sure—this is always challenging—but you have to make sure that the character is not dictating to the player.

“There’s always that tension between the player and the character. I’m learning every day. It’s something to think about every day. How do you walk the line—how do you give Booker a character but how do you make that character sort of not stopping the player’s intention?”

“I think if you go through the game and the player doesn’t feel a connection to Elizabeth, I think we failed,” Levine said. “That’s one of the key missions of this game.”

But at the heart of Infinite is the simple desire to do what most videogames don’t. “How often do you feel anything about a game character?” Levine asked, referring to Elizabeth.

“I just want you to have some sense of ‘I get what she’s going through.I think her story, the story of someone who’s locked up for her childhood and sort of gets out, and is free, and able to control her own destiny, is an interesting, very universal story. Of course it’s set in this crazy world with all these crazy powers, and she’s got insane powers, so it’s heightened. But I think—like all great sci-fi stories or fantasy stories—it’s rooted in something very real.”

Infinite is (finally) out in October for PS3, 360 and PC.