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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 5 of 6 Next
Something that's really interesting to me is studio culture, and how that affects thegames that a studio makes. Obviously, you guys have a strong creative culture,and a culture of strong creative vision. This extends all the way back through Irrational, and before that. So, can you talk about how you form a studio culture, and what that contributes?

KL: The culture, I think, started with the founders. The company was founded by myself and Jon Chey, and Robert Fermier; we were all working at Looking Glass at the time.

And the thing about Jon, Rob, and I is that I think we all had a real sense of games. We all came from a really similar place, game-wise. We all came, originally, from playing board games when we were younger -- you know, playing Avalon Hill board games, and loving reading comic books, and watching movies, and having this broad range of cultural influences.

And we were all quite different, too. I think Rob was sort-of the most traditional sci-fi fantasy nerd, I had a dorky theater background -- a lot of jazz hands, and things like that -- and Jon was a little more, I think, "cultured," in the sense of he had a PhD in -- what does Jon have a PhD in?

Joe McDonagh: Neuroscience.

KL: Neuroscience. Yeah, something made up like that.


KL: I think Jon was probably a lot classier than Rob and I, you know. He knew how to order wine, right? Where I would order a Diet Coke and Rob would order a chocolate milk.


KL: Both the similarities and the mix established how we make games, how we think about games, and what kind of games we love. We all ended up at Looking Glass for a very particular reason. We all loved those kinds of games -- that they made real worlds to inhabit. Ultima Underworld, System Shock -- games I didn't work on, but games that, as a gamer, just spoke to all of us.

Rob did work on some of those games. Irrational was created to create games that would make compelling worlds for people to inhabit, and just experiences that people could have, that would have influences outside of the traditional typical sci-fi fantasy influences that I think you see in most games.

How does that influence your process -- your creative process, as a studio? What's the key to getting it right?

KL: I think one of the key reasons that we've been successful is the fact that we don't really have a businessy-guy hierarchy here, in the sense that I work on every project.

I wrote the actual words and scripts for BioShock and System Shock 2, and Freedom Force, and Tribes. My desk is on the floor witheverybody else. I don't have an office. And we don't have any business people in the studio here who run stuff and are disconnected from the day-to-day.

[It doesn't work if] if [business people] don't understand when they make a decision on the business level that, hey, people they don't talk to are going to have to deal with that decision. I am one of those people that has to deal with those decisions when those decisions get made.

If you're anybody in the outside world that we have to deal with, that makes decisions like that, you're talking to me, and I know what impact that's going to have.

You don't have this chain of command where decisions are passed down and pain gets doled out without [an understanding]. Look, there's going to get pain doled out because production is tough. But the person in the middle, mediating that pain, is me, who is going to be one of the people who's going to feel the pain in the development process.

So I think that leads us to a more efficient process, because we don't waste a lot of calories on silliness. Everything comes down to -- you see it in the product. And that's why I think you look at a product like BioShock, developed with a relatively small team, [competing with games] in the scale of the 200 to 300 person teams that you see today.

It's going toe-to-toe with those products in polish and scale, because we are incredibly efficient; because we don't have a lot of people making decisions who don't have to deal with those decisions.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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