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Ken Levine on Studio Culture: From Looking Glass to 2K Boston
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Ken Levine on Studio Culture: From Looking Glass to 2K Boston

July 17, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

You talk about working with people with different tastes,or different perspectives, or different interests. Is that something you consider important? Because that's not exactly something you put on your resume, right? But to foster that kind of environment, where people can talk about things, and bounce things off one another, and have that creative tension, is really important.

KL: The way you do that, usually, when we do the interview, is we just start talking about other topics, and then it's not so much like you have a list and, "Have you read this book? Have you read that book? Have you seen this movie? Have you seen that movie?" I'll talk about whatever they've seen. I'll ask them about what they've seen; whatever they've read; what they've played recently.

And I'll just start talking to them, and see how they think about those things. Will they just be like, when they play a game, do they just play a game and go, like, "It was awesome!" Or are they able to analyze, and think about their experience from a creative standpoint, and say why was it awesome, why was it cool?

Are you able to see a movie like Armageddon, and see where that came from, you know, in the narrative history of storytelling?

It doesn't have to be Shakespeare; it can be a very mass-market product, and if they're able to analyze why it works, and why it hits people emotionally, then that's going to be a candidate that we're really much more interested in.

If they're able to tie that stuff into the larger history of art and history and music and film and literature over the years, and see connections between those things, and understand why things work -- because things work in art for a reason.

You know, there are things that are consistent, if you look at the history of storytelling and art, that worked in BioShock, that worked in Half-Life, that worked in Aeschylus. And they worked in a little different ways, but they worked. They worked for many of the same reasons.

I was talking to my wife the other day about detective stories, and about why they work, and we started tracing it back to that the detective basically is the modern day hero who gets a quest to go on. Because who in the modern day gets quests? Woah, detectives get quests, in these stories! Somebody comes in and gives them a mission to go on, and that ties back into the classic hero archetype of somebody being given a quest and they go off and they're changed by that quest.

And somebody who can make those connections between even the most mass-market types of media, is someone we'd be really attracted to.

Obviously, I don't think anyone really expected a game to come out with Ayn Rand as the catalyst. And that became really surprising. But I think that -- and you've talked about this -- if you don't know anything about her writing, you can still understand the story that is built on those foundations.

KL: Well, you know, in reading Rand, I just thought she spoke very clearly. Generally when you read philosophy, it's very boring, and very dull.

And one of the great things about Rand as a philosopher was that she was able to speak her message in a very clear and entertaining fashion. You read The Fountainhead. For all of it, it's got a fair amount of bombast, but for all its bombast, it's a great read. It's a great story, and it's got great characters.

When she talks, and you read her interviews, she speaks like -- I grew up reading Fantastic Four and Spider-Man -- she speaks like The Green Goblin, or Doctor Doom. Not necessarily evil, but in terms of her vision for the world, and she's so convinced of that vision that I just, when I read her, it was like, "Oh my God, this would be a great character!" because of that certainty that she has. That moral certainty. I just wanted to write a character like that.

And, yeah, so it's out of 1930s, and '40s, and '50s philosophy, but I thought it just would speak to a modern audience because that stuff's universal. The ability to just have a vision and be so committed to that vision -- it's just the classic makeup of any great antagonist.

The thing is that Objectivism became culturally relevant in the financial meltdown. Alan Greenspan was an Objectivist.

KL: I know; wasn't that odd? To watch Greenspan say -- what was the quote he said? "I may have made some mistakes, but my belief that people would act in the interest of the common good may have been naive," or something like that.

I remember that quote. I know exactly what you're talking about, and I was like,"Holy shit."

KL: Yeah, you're seeing a guy -- he was one of Rand's handmaidens, basically. And to have somebody who had that experience, to basically observe history and say, "You know, I may have been wrong," was interesting.

When I wrote Andrew Ryan, Ryan was never really able to say he was wrong. And I think that certainty is what led to his downfall. If he was ever able to modulate his views, based upon reality -- because he had some really powerful ideas, and he had some great ideas -- you know, maybe things would've gone differently. And it was interesting to watch Greenspan [do that] -- albeit too late to have any modification of his view.

But I think on the other side, you've got people with different points of view than Greenspan. You've got people who come from a different school who are just as certain that they have the absolute prescription for what to do. And I imagine those people that are completely inflexible can do just as much damage. And I find those people fascinating.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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