BioShock’s creator plays with metaphorical Legos in his first-person sci-fi game

Ken Levine
Interlude
BioShock creator Ken Levine let loose on Twitter about the new project in the works that was first teased following his departure from and the shutdown of Irrational Games. In a series of tweets answering questions from followers, Levine laid out some tantalizing hints about the untitled PC game that is already under development.

True to his experience as the designer of BioShock and System Shock 2, the game will be first-person science fiction “or sci-fi ish.” Levine describes a “large-ish” scope that encourages replayability with “re-useable ‘lego’ narrative and game systems, which are re-combineable.”

Levine previously laid out his theory of “narrative legos” in a talk he delivered at the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference. In fact, he kicked off the Twitter announcement by suggesting people watch that presentation as a “starting point.”

Levine speaks to his lifelong love of games like Civilization, XCOM, and hex-based table war games. They’re all experiences driven by many different moving parts, or systems, which influence the flow of the game and, in turn, the story that plays out in the player’s head.

It’s an approach that hearkens closer to Irrational’s work on open-ended games like Freedom Force or SWAT 4, as opposed to the scripted storytelling of the BioShock series. In the talk. Levine goes on to lay out a theoretical fantasy game in which narratives dynamically emerge based on your interactions with different NPCs and factions.

He cites Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor as an influence, which comes as no surprise to anyone that read his glowing review of the game on Medium in 2014. Levine is encouraged by that game’s success, and how it “validated that people would care about narrative replayability.” He also mentions the formalist films of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson as stylistic inspirations.

The new game is being developed by a small team of veterans from Irrational Games, the BioShock studio that Levine founded in 1997 and shuttered in early 2014. In the GDC talk, Levine mentioned wanting to strip down to working with a small team that has room to experiment and fail. Development is moving along, as the team has gone from creating narrative systems to actually filling those systems out with gameplay and content. The new studio, based around Boston like Irrational, is close to having a name.

Don’t expect news on the game at E3 in June, since Levine’s team is not interested in sharing their work like that. They prefer instead to “find ways to be more direct” in interacting with their audience. Announcing the new project with a Twitter Q&A session is certainly a step in the direction of open development. Levine has previously expressed fatigue about needing to police spoilers for his games in development, and so an open process for a game that resists spoilers by virtue of its narrative flexibility seems like a natural progression.

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