Irrational Games founder and BioShock creator Ken Levine has developed the reputation of a master storyteller during his two decades in the video game industry. ‘Would you kindly?’ is likely to go down in the video game history books with ‘Your princess is in another castle’ as one of the most memorable and iconic pieces of gaming dialogue. Despite his hot streak of success, Levine is ready to switch things up.
Throughout Irrational’s recent downsizing, in which 75 employees were laid off, Levine has assured fans that he has plans to get to work on a new game. Up until recently, all we’ve known about Levine’s next project is that it would be narrative-driven and that it required a smaller development team. This week at GDC, Levine used an open mic panel to drop a few new hints about how his future projects will vary from his trademark story-telling style.
Levine discussed his ambitious plans for delivering a narrative experience unlike anything he’s done before with his next project. According to the famed dev, his goal is to create “narrative elements that are non-linear and interact with each other” and intends for “all narrative elements to trigger off player action.”
Levine shared plenty of reasons why he is ready to leave the linear-narrative structure in the rearview mirror. Not only do linear games tend to be very expensive — thanks to the need to get bigger and bigger with each new installment — but they also offer very limited motivation for replayability. Levine vocalized his appreciation for seeing the BioShock cosplayers around the convention scene, but explained that he longs for a more constant engagement with the audience than a 12-hour long game tends to provide.
“Linear narrative puts a boundary between the developer and the audience.”
Although we love much of the work Levine has been a part of during his 19-year tenure in the video game development world, his complaints are valid. The real question is whether or not he will have as much success with whatever new narrative formula he comes up with.
During the panel he gave an example about a player choosing which NPC to have a romantic relationship with. One player might choose based on personality, while another could decide solely based on in-game bonuses. We’ve been down this road for the last few years in multiple BioWare and Bethesda games, so we really hope Levine has something more exciting up his sleeve than branching dialogue trees and alternate endings.
His talk suggested that he wants to create games where every NPC has unique loyalties and players must navigate that landscape without crossing the wrong people. The developer compared his vision to a world not unlike Westeros and the Game of Thrones universe. We look forward to seeing what Levine comes up with and finding out more about his strategy to make his upcoming project stand out from similar decision-focused nonlinear games.
Are you going to miss the tight, linear narrative of games like BioShock or are you excited to see Levine branch out like this? Let us know in the comments.
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