Interviews

BioShock Infinite: 'Combat has evolved in a very substantial way'

Irrational's Ken Levine on combat improvements, 1999 mode, measuring success and more

A few months ago we interviewed Irrational Games boss Ken Levine about BioShock Infinite's Heavy Hitters, a series of "mini bosses" new to the franchise designed to add more variety and strategy to combat.

We also had the chance to chat about other aspects of the game including its "demanding" 1999 mode, its then-planned October release date, and the measures Levine will use to judge whether it's a success, plus we picked his brains on next-gen consoles. Here's the second part of our chat:

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Like BioShock, Infinite allows you to wield a combination of firearms and more exotic powers, but how has the combat most notably evolved?

Combat is one of the things that has evolved in a very substantial way. The reason I feel that way is that in BioShock the combat got a little bit samey along the way because of what we demanded of the player. You'd generally come across an enemy and the right way to deal with them - almost all the enemies - was to use the Electro Bolt, which was incredibly effective across the spectrum.

With BioShock Infinite, one of the opportunities of having the large, vertical spaces is the ability to include weapons that are effective at short range versus those that are effective at long range. You have certain weapons that are extremely effective against you on the Skyline and weapons that are more effective against you on the ground and vice versa in terms of how you interact with the enemies and which weapons you use, so you have to be thinking all of the time. 'What should I be doing now?' 'Which weapon should I be using?' 'Should I be on the Skyline?' 'Should I be on the ground?' 'Should I be in cover?'

And a lot of that also has an impact on the powers you get in the rest of the game. We're really putting a lot of effort into making more demands on the player in terms of combat choices. We're really making them think about the toolset, how they want to approach the combat, and how they want to build their character.

And some of those choices are going to be permanent in 1999 mode.

Even in regular mode, some choices are going to be permanent, but in 1999 mode not only are they going to be permanent but players are going to have to really specialise. It's going to be much more difficult to be a jack of all trades, so you're really going to have to choose some powers at the expense of others in a substantial way.

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Apart from the differences in play style and challenge level, can you tell us about any extra incentives to play 1999 mode, such as custom content?

I think there'll be a few custom nostrums [not the equivalent of, but similar to BioShock's tonics], but 1999 mode is really about a feel and a style of play, and the player's experience in terms of difficulty. Really I think the most interesting thing about 1999 mode for me is being, for example, 'I'm really a melee guy', 'I'm really a ranged weapons guy', 'I'm a guy who's great on the Skylines', 'I'm a guy who should never go on the Skylines'.

It's having to make those different types of choices that I think will offer a different style of play to what you've really seen in a BioShock game before, and they really hark back to the olden days when games were... when making it immediately accessible to everybody wasn't always the watchword. With this mode we have the luxury of being able to have our cake and eat it too by providing something that's brutal and punishing for players who want that type of experience, but not just in terms of difficulty, but also in saying that you really need to find a play style and go with it.

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