BioShock Infinite has a lot in common with the first game of the series, says creator Ken Levine.
During an expansive Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Levine broke down the common elements of the celebrated franchise.
“We had to step back when we started working on this game and say, ‘What makes a BioShock game?’,” he said.
“If it was Rapture, there would be no Irrational BioShock game coming out now.
“After a lot of soul searching, we determined it was (a) The game takes place in a world that is both grounded in reality and fantastical at the same time. That world needs to be more detailed than any other game world out there. (b) The combat has to have a strong improvisational nature, with a suite of player tools that lets everyone approach combat differently.”
Infinite would share BioShock’s deep backstory, but it “won't be about a collapse, because when you get there, the city is very much alive and kicking.”
“I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say the past matters in a very serious way in this game. Shawn Elliott said that where the last game was about Archeology, this game is also about Anthropology, in other words, you get stories from both the living and the dead in Infinite,” he said.
During the AMA, Levine announced that Gary Schyman, composer for BioShock 1 and 2, was returning for BioShock Infinite.
“His score is very different from the first two games, yet very much guided by the same aesthetic principles. We were lucky to have him and I can't wait until you get to hear some of his stuff. He's working in a different, sparer style, but it's awesome.”
He also revealed how his team was approaching the PC version of Infinite.
“We have a dedicated group on the PC version. Our first priority is making sure that it feels like a game that is at home on the PC.
“Chris Kline our director of tech, has been driving this process. We're very sensitive (after getting a well-deserved reaming once before) on the issues of widescreen and mouse acceleration. We also want to make sure that the fans have effortless access to the game, so we're using Steam's standard DRM.
“People have asked before if we're using GFWL and/or SecuRom, and we are not. I also have to say, the game looks beautiful on PC.”
Regarding sequels, Levine said: “If a large corporation has a property that can make a lot of money, they're going to be interested in making sequels to it. With Take Two, they understood what we wanted to do with Infinite, in other words make a sequel that in many ways felt like it wasn't a sequel.
“I think that's the most common thing we've heard from the press who played it. ‘It's just like BioShock, and it's totally different at the same time.’ (I'm paraphrasing).”
“We knew BioShock is really a hard game to sequelize. There's no real standard formula, and if you use a standard forumla, the fans are going to be turned off. So, in other words, we invented a franchise that is nearly impossible to sequelize. But we figured it out last time so who knows.
“In terms of more Irrational BioShock games, it's way too early to say. It will ALWAYS be dependent upon us having an idea that we're in love with and excites us. IF we don't have that, I suspect it would be another studio making one, if there was one to make. But I can't imagine doing it if we weren't in love with the idea.”
He said that one tough part of following up a game like BioShock was “making sure the team who didn't work on the first one isn't overwhelmed by the pressure they feel coming to the company”.
Some of Levine's other answers:
On writing games:
“I think there's lots of different ways to write games. I have a particular style that doesn't rely heavily on cutscenes. That tends to be super tricky for a lot of writers and a lot of good writers who have applied here didn't make it because of that issue (despite their work being excellent otherwise).
“The most important thing to remember is that games aren't movies. I've written both and I find games much harder to write for. If you were applying at Irrational, I would write something that it’s clear you've thought of the five thousand ways a player could break the scene.”
“I'd also watch every film the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick and Soderbergh has ever made.”
“I'd add that you should read great books, and watch great movies, and play great games. That's really the best thing you can do. Also, read On Writing by Stephen King, Screenplay by Syd Field, and Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. None of them are about video games per se, but they were hugely helpful to me.”
Regarding the status of the Bioshock movie:
“I don't know. I'm thinking of taking a pass on the screenplay during my time off.”
Games he would recommend studying as examples of great game development:
“In terms of great examples, I'd say Valve is a great company for the merger of action and storytelling. And Chet and Erik's Old Man Murray's time to crate article made me think about every fucking crate I ever put in a game, so they can go fuck themselves and see if THEY can write a good video game. Oh, yeah. They did.”
“I can see the appeal of the kickstarter thing because it really is a level of freedom, not so much in publisher doing creative control (Which take 2 does NOT at all, they're great about that) but just the nature of releasing a very large, very expensive game that either has to a) recoup it's costs or b) be the last one of those games you ever get to make.
“There is an appeal in doing something that can be successful if it sells 100k units, but I also like the fact that our games really impact a lot of people. Grass is always greener.”
On his reaction to Bioshock making the Smithsonian's Art of Video Games exhibition:
“It was fun, but I never felt the need for games to have mainstream recognition as a form of validation of them as an art form. I generally prefer stuff like this than going to award shows or fancy events. I'd rather stay home, tweet, eat ice cream and play Xcom.”
On whether BioShock would come to the Wii U:
“My plans for the WiiU right now primarily involve me dloading Darksiders 2 and play it on the second screen this weekend.”