Debunking the Myth of Ken Levine


Underneath all the praise and acclaim, BioShock creator Ken Levine is just a guy doing a job.

As the brain behind one of the most inventive shooters in the last ten years, Irrational Games’ Ken Levine has developed a reputation as some kind of grand visionary. While others around him are making games about bad aliens and chainsaws, he’s producing long screeds about the folly of objectivism. In Issue 277 of The Escapist, Dennis Scimeca speaks to Levine, who says that he is given a little more credit than he deserves, and wouldn’t be where he is without his team.

“I’m not going to pretend I’m some omnivore of art,” Levine said. “I was fortunate enough to go to a liberal arts college, where I was exposed to some stuff that I never thought I’d be interested in. I bring that stuff, hopefully, into what I do as a game developer, and mixing the dragons and the machine guns and the laser pistols has been interesting for me as a career.” That may be the truest statement about Ken Levine’s identity as a videogame developer that we’ve ever heard.

The artistic direction of the BioShock games could be argued as being incidental to the work of creating the most kick-ass shooters Levine can deliver … “I find the gameplay to be harder to get right than the other stuff,” Levine said, “so I tend to put a lot of focus on it at the beginning because it’s the part that causes me the most anxiety. I can sit down and write Andrew Ryan speeches all day long. That’s relatively easy. Making sure the weapons feel good and balanced is a much tougher thing for me to do, so I need to spend a lot more time thinking about that problem. Working with my team on those problems.”

Levine talks about the the difficulty in finding the right balance of good story and good gameplay, when the former is largely optional, but the latter is vital. You can read more in Scimeca’s article “Shooting for the Sky.”

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