Ken Levine Discusses Writing and Directing 'BioShock Infinite'

Ken Levine On Writing BioShock Infinite

It may come as a surprise that the BioShock series has only been around for a little over four years now. The creepy little survival first-person shooter horror franchise is coming upon its third release, BioShock: Infinite and is easily one of our most anticipated games of 2012. In a recent interview, creator and director of BioShock and the president of Irrational Games Ken Levine described his writing process, how he has developed the story and the character relationship between Booker and Elizabeth.

Levine has previously spoken about the inception of Infinite and how he wanted to get away from Rapture, as compelling a locale as it was. This story will be very different from what we have seen before, especially with more varied combat and the new setting of Columbia. But the real emphasis in the story will be placed on the two main characters of Booker and Elizabeth — the previous featurette with the voice actors of BioShock: Infinite can attest to that.

But having two characters on screen for a majority of the game means giving each their due is a tall order, so the practices used for the original BioShock just wouldn't cut it this time around. Anyone who has played their way through some of Uncharted knows how successfully that challenge can be handled, and Naughty Dog's work has influenced more than a few designers.

In speaking with Gamasutra, Levine revealed how much BioShock: Infinite was inspired by the way the characters in that series interact:

"I think I was really inspired by the sort of scenes that Drake would have with other characters and just the sort of banter between them, and the kind of ease of that banter, and thinking that could work even in a period piece, and a first-person shooter. There's a lot of difference between the two. Our game is a lot more serious in a lot of ways, in terms of the themes and what the characters are going through. It's not nearly as lighthearted."

When asked about dealing with the writing of Booker and Elizabeth as opposed to BioShock antagonist Andrew Ryan, Levine went out of his comfort zone. The game's director revealed that if it wasn't for his incredible voice actors — Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper — his writing wouldn't have worked at all.

"[Before BioShock] I'd done a game with audio logs and radio messages, so I was very comfortable with the form. I had a lot of practice writing that form. Andrew Ryan, because he's much larger than life, I found him very easy to write. Also, I always had Ayn Rand in my ear while I was writing him, and she is quite articulate in her viewpoints. So he was a pretty easy character to write, for me.

"Booker and Elizabeth, because there's a very different constraint set, because I haven't done this kind of writing for a game before, where you sort of have all this dynamism with a character you're walking around the world with, that you're speaking to, as Booker... just the mechanics of it!"

Dynamism is the right word to use, and the gameplay footage we've seen is testament to that. Not just in terms of fast-paced combat, but the depth and potential that the two main characters can make possible.

There is a great back story to the characters, but Levine holds off from telling Baker and Draper every detail in order for them to be fresh in recording. He feels that it is important to the process and by doing so the actors realize truths along with the characters.

"I don't tell them a lot of backstory. I don't want them to know that. I know a lot about these characters, I know their arc, I know where they're going. I haven't told them where they're going yet, but there are parts of the game they haven't recorded yet, and they have not recorded the later parts of the game, and I withhold what's going to happen. I don't want them to know until the last possible minute. I want them to be fresh off of that.

"I know a lot about these characters. I need to be able to answer any questions [Draper and Baker] have, but I try to tell them... I give them a lot of the outlying archetypes of what the characters are like. Elizabeth is this much sort of darker, more sinister life story of Rapunzel. And Booker having gone through what he's gone through... What I've described to them is that Elizabeth is a person who sees nothing and wants to see everything, and Booker is somebody who's seen everything and wants to see nothing. They're at opposite ends of the spectrum."

After so much emphasis has been put on the voice acting and the story between Booker and Elizabeth, gamers should expect nothing less than the best of the franchise. With a new change of scenery and a refreshing pair of characters, BioShock: Infinite should be a more than satisfying crowd pleaser.

Be sure to catch the latest BioShock: Infinite trailer from the Spike VGAs. Also, check out the full interview over at Gamastura with more details about directing Troy and Courtnee and the emotional ride they had to go through to get into character.

Ranters, what do you look forward to more when it comes to a BioShock game, the depth of story or the creative gameplay?

BioShock: Infinite will be released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC this Spring.


Source: Gamastura

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