Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Ken Levine on BioShock's Narrative Drive
View All     RSS
March 17, 2018
arrowPress Releases
March 17, 2018
Games Press
View All     RSS

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Ken Levine on BioShock's Narrative Drive

April 25, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 7 Next

MK: There's a part that stands up to that in the design, where you'll see the shrine to the dead.

KL: We wanted to talk about... me, I saw these scenes on the highway. It's very haunting, where you have an accident and there are flowers and everything. It's so sad, it's touching. We wanted to make sure that would happen in this world. It's terrible. People respond in a human fashion, and that memorial was a response.

It's that human part. Diane McClintock, her purpose is to show the human face of all this as the woman who risked her life. That's her purpose -- to show the impact of the war and the Little Sister experiments on the average man. Without that empathy, you don't have horror. I mean, if you're complaining about Cloverfield, you didn't feel the empathy for the characters.

MK: Yeah, at all. Like, they were yuppies who were living in a flat that's ten times better than what I live in, so I'm like, "What do I care about them? I want these guys to die."

But when it comes to establishing empathy in your game... I see the empathy in the scene with the baby in the carriage. I see she's frightened, and I see these people are warped and damaged. But what interests me is that within the space in which the player controls the rhythm in which he sees things -- horror in cinema is always based on a beat, almost. How do you control that with the player?

KL: You can't. You have to give that up that to some degree. I talk about trusting the player a lot. Information is not your friend with horror. It's missing things. One thing that people on the team kept saying was, "Shouldn't we lock the player in place? What if they miss it?" I said, "That's okay if they miss it. The thing out of the corner of your eye is way scarier than the thing in front of you."

There's this great moment Paul Hellquist did in Medical when you go to pick up a goodie, and you sense somebody's behind you, and you turn around and there's a doctor standing right in your place. That was the only jump out of your seat moment in the game, and I really... I never jump out of my seat. I remember having that moment of, "I think there's something behind me," and turning and having this thing so close to you. The scariest moment was "I think there's something behind me."

I know that you can't control it. I don't know if everybody had that feeling, and we can't control that, because we don't cut to your own face going [Levine makes a scared face]. There's a lot of trust in the player, and a lot of faith in yourself that you're going to point the player in the right direction.

It's still a lot of work underlying when you want them to look at something. Great example: the theater where you first see the Big Daddy and the Little Sister, the Big Daddy rescues the Little Sister, and pins the Splicer through the wall and puts a drill through him.

Originally, the background in that scene was way more crowded with detail, with all this stuff going on. It's like, "Take out all the detail. It's in a theater." We put the spotlight magically on the Little Sister. It happens to be on the Little Sister. There's a lot of artifice in BioShock, but that artifice, like in theater, is to point the eye without literally pointing the eye -- you're not specifically grabbing the player's head, like in cutscenes, but pointing the eye as much as you can.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 7 Next

Related Jobs

Jam City
Jam City — Culver City or Carlsbad, California, United States

UI Artist
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — Troy, New York, United States

Lecturer, Senior Lecturer or Professor of Practice in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences
Deep Silver Volition
Deep Silver Volition — Champaign, Illinois, United States

Senior Character Artist
Disruptor Beam, Inc.
Disruptor Beam, Inc. — Framingham, Massachusetts, United States

VFX Artist

Loading Comments

loader image