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Interviews

2K Boston

Ken Levine and co on the successes and failures of an underwater adventure

One year since the release of BioShock, we find 2K Boston's creative director Ken Levine, lead programmer Chris Kline, and lead designer Bill Gardner, sunning themselves on Brighton beach. Steve Hogarty shoots the breeze with the creators of 2007's game of the year.

It seems people like to attribute the success of BioShock to Ken Levine - it's become Ken's game in a way, don't you think?

Ken Levine: Yeah, some people don't see it as a team effort, that's why I bring these guys out here and make sure Chris and Bill are talking. You've got to make sure people are aware of the contributions of the team.

Zoom

Chris Kline: I don't think anybody on the team thinks Ken is hogging the limelight, we're happy that somebody can go out there and effectively communicate with the press. You need one person with one message if you want something to get through clearly.

Bill Gardner: Frankly Ken does a fantastic job with it all. But we all rally behind him and believe in what he says and does. He does drive us, and kicks our ass a lot of the time. The feedback he gives us sometimes makes you want to bang your head on the keyboard it's so simple. You know like, just talking about the way we lay out a corpse, or moving it a little bit to change the entire scene. Just look at the results, and you see it's worth getting behind that vision he has.

KL: With great power comes great responsibility right? When we had the copy protection issues come out, I was out there talking about the product, I didn't run away from that. And frankly I got some nasty fucking threats. I think it's important that somebody takes responsibility, and at the end of the day my job as creative director is to sort of be the arbiter of taste.

When I talk about the narrative problems in the third act, I don't say it's Bill's fault. I'd be wrong to take credit for the good stuff and not for the bad. Sometimes my taste needs readjustment too, and Bill or Chris will come to me and say "Dude, seriously, this section of the game is messed". So I have to listen to these guys. Outside the work they're doing, their taste comes into it heavily. But at the end of the day, if you like it or hate it, the decision for it to be in the game was mine.

Having worked on the Thief games, what's your current perception of the stealth genre? It seems the Splinter Cell series is beginning a spiral into obscurity.

BG: I'm interested to see what Ubisoft do with Conviction. And certainly Metal Gear is stepping away from stealth, it's a lot more action oriented. I think the stealth genre's due for a big shake up to be honest. I don't know who, when, where or how it's gonna happen, but I do feel it's due for a reinvention or re-imagining.

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KL: It's funny because despite working on Thief, I'm not a huge fan of stealth games. As a gamer I don't really enjoy it that much. Not to speak badly of the Thief games, I think they were amazing products, with Eric Brosius' audio, the cutscenes and the tonality of it, it was gorgeous - especially knowing the limitations we had. Stealth gameplay is really tough to get right. You always end up with a stealth sequence in so many videogames, and that fills me with a twinge of regret because when those are thrown in, it has to be a really seamless part of the product.

For stealth games to work properly, you almost have to not know it's a stealth game. It has to be integrated into some larger gameplay element. Like, my backstabbing druid in WOW has really good stealth, it's very simple.

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