Hey everybody thanks for the questions, compliments, and painful reminders of my various failures and inadequacies. This has been great. If I can I might peek back in later and answer a few more.

Hey Reddit,

I’m Ken Levine, co-founder of Irrational Games and Creative Director/Lead Writer of System Shock 2, Freedom Force, BioShock and BioShock Infinite. Here’s verification.

Right now the Irrational team are killing the last bugs on BioShock Infinite, which comes out on March 26. You can check out the first five minutes of it here.

Want to talk underwater dystopias, cities in the sky, or beard-care? You’ve come to the right place.

Comments: 2709 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

Fathead_0091437 karma

Hold me.

IGken1467 karma

This was submitted by Adrian Murphy, one of our producers. Should I hold him?

Aquaman52963 karma

Only if we get pics.

IGken1303 karma

Oh, there will be pics. And you will be AROUSED.

check @iglevine later on today/tonight. (it's up now).

lawlshane1072 karma

Assassin's Creed 3 broke ground with the feature to pet dogs, cats and even sheep. How do you react to this

IGken1878 karma

Our dog petting technology is way behind the curve.

McSneak845 karma

The first bioshock game had an extraordinary soundtrack, I was awestruck the first time I heard Cohen's Masterpiece. Garry Schyman did some great work. Will there be a big focus on music in BioShock Infinite?

IGken1628 karma

All right, here you go...

We're proud to announce that Garry Schyman, composer of BioShock 1 and 2 has returned to the composer's chair 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.

IGken633 karma

All right, Reddit. Do you want some fresh news here?

Crustis808 karma

system shock 2 scared me as a kid. thanks for the nightmares. edit: ermagurd karma

IGken1480 karma

making it scared me as an adult.

Ohnoescomputers765 karma


If we throw more money at you will Bioshock Infinite come out sooner?

IGken1918 karma

Just tell me I'm pretty.

Legosora728 karma

  • Considering Bioshock Infinite has very little in common with the original game (Ex. Splicers, Rapture, Big Daddies, the underwater theme to it) what do you think makes a Bioshock game a Bioshock game?
  • Assuming that Bioshock Infinite is supremely successful (Here's to hoping) how do you think you'll make another Bioshock game? Will Irrational Games still be able to come up with amazing environments without starting to rehash old material?
  • What things about Bioshock 2 would you change if given the chance?

Thank you for doing this AMA, I love Bioshock more than any other game sitting on my shelf and have recommended it to countless friends.

IGken790 karma

I think it actually has a lot in common with the first game. I've said in a bunch of interviews that we had to step back when we started working on this game and say "What makes a BioShock game?". 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.

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.

I didn't work on Bio 2, so I wouldn't change anything.

WesPaugh678 karma

One of the top moments of my career so far has been reading that you played and liked my first indie game, 100 Rogues. Thank you very much for playing and for the public mention.

I'm currently re-coding the game for stability and crossplatform ports. Is there anything you would like me to change / add? Any advice for the game or team, moving forward?

IGken692 karma

One of the reasons I loved your game because it was so hard core. As much as I like endless running and bird flingage (which I actually do enjoy) I would love to see more hardcore games specifically designed for IOS. And I'm fucking old, so the turn based nature is an extra win for me.

boadcow515 karma

What was you initial reaction when Bioshock was named to the Smithsonian's Art of Video Games exhibition? Did you feel like you accomplished what you set out to do?

Also: you broke my pen there, but it was nice meeting you.

IGken939 karma

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.

L3ED508 karma

Where does the replay value in BioShock Infinite come from? Would you say the game is suited for multiple playthroughs?

IGken944 karma

I'd say it's very much like BioShock 1 in terms of length and replay. Perhaps a bit more, because we have this very large selection of gear and vigor and weapon upgrades. There's another kind of replay value which is more story oriented, but I can't really talk about that without spoiling shit SO DON'T ASK.

DocNarwhal479 karma


IGken670 karma

My goal is to become a Big Daddy sized little sister. I think there's a tumblr for that.

Salacious-463 karma

One of the best parts of Bioshock was finding the relics of what the city had once been and exploring the path that it had gone down toward its ultimate collapse. Will Bioshock Infinite have the same type of hidden backstory for Columbia?

IGken761 karma

Yes, but the backstory 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.

TheDaaaave341 karma

Do you see the Bioshock Infinite world open for sequels? Or do you see it as a one off game and then going to another world?

IGken689 karma

You want the truth or a lie?

Okay, I'll give you a lie. No, the truth. Here it is:

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.

CNUCaptains314 karma

What would you say are current chances of the Bioshock movie happening?

IGken740 karma

I don't know. I'm thinking of taking a pass on the screenplay during my time off.

Ratzaroonyy297 karma

Hey Ken, can I have one of those Murder of Crows bottles?

IGken737 karma

If you're a dude, take a photo of yourself with no shirt on, covering your breast like Janet Jackson on the cover of that album.

If you're not a dude, I'm going to have to figure out a challenge that won't end with me calling my lawyer.

Lkr721993288 karma

If you could work with any acclaimed developer, who would it be?

IGken1197 karma

There's a bunch, but I will tell you a true story:

Todd Howard once tweaked my nipple, and I liked it.

firsthour285 karma

Did the development of Bioshock 2 being out of your hands bother you at all?

IGken538 karma

I was pretty caught up with Infinite, so not so much. At first maybe a bit.

k0alaFRESH265 karma

What would you say is the biggest fear/pressure that comes from creating a game/series such as Bio Shock?

IGken465 karma

Besides this?

I'd say it's making sure the team who didn't work on the first one isn't overwhelmed by the pressure they feel coming to the company. BioShock games are the hardest kind of games to make that I've ever worked on. I think sometimes people on the team look at the old timers and wonder "Do these guys have any idea what they're doing?" because we know part of the process is not knowing, but discovering.

But that's hard for people who haven't been through it before to always understand.

Tiep0245 karma

What is your favorite part of working in Videogames development?

IGken601 karma

The people. The free games. And most of all, the loving embrace of the fans on the internet.

Shabbro218 karma

Hey there! Are the Bioshock universes in anyway related? By that I mean, will we see anything from the first two games, history wise, incorporated into Bioshock infinite, or will it be a completely new experience?

IGken520 karma

That would be telling.

Cycospree198 karma

Thank you for coming onto Reddit, you are a big inspiration for me and many other writers.

I would just like to ask what are your recommendations for aspiring writers in the game industry and if there was anything you would be looking for in a portfolio what would it be?

IGken390 karma

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 its 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 sodebergh has ever made.

Levit0162 karma

Hi Ken!

In your recent interview with Rev3 games you stated that Comstock was a far more difficult person to write than Andrew Ryan, because you are not a religious person while Comstock is. I'm wondering, when you and the rest of Irrational first started working on Bioshock Infinite, was the goal of Comstock to be a character that would be both similar to and yet the complete opposite of Andrew Ryan?

Can't wait for Infinite, good luck to you and the whole team at Irrational!

IGken253 karma

Honestly, in the beginning of Infinite, the conflict was between a group of technologists and a group ofLuddites, so Comstock wasn't even a glint in our eyes.

It really wasn't until I finished writing him till I realized how similar he was in many ways to Ryan, while being his (in many ways) polar opposite. Go figure.

planetexplorer2143 karma

I just want to start by saying that I am a huge fan of Bioshock, and I have had Bioshock Infinite on preorder since the first E3 trailer was released. Bioshock was one of my major influences when deciding to enter the game industry for my career path. So thank you and thanks to Irrational Games and the many talented people working there.

I have a few questions to ask you:

  • What are the responsibilities of a Creative Director?

  • I am studying to become a writer for games. What are some basic skills for the profession that you would recommend I learn while I'm at college?

  • What are some games you would recommend studying as examples of great game development aspects (e.g. art, level design, story, etc.)?

Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA!

edit: formatting error

IGken310 karma

At Irrational, I guess my role is similar to a film Director. Outside of the writing where I'm actually sitting behind the word processor and then directing the actors, my role as creative director is to say "That looks great" and "That could be better/different, and here's my stupid idea of how that could be done!"

As you can imagine, that job can endear me to people on the team :) The truth is there is no "right" or "wrong" to making aesthetic decisions, at the end of the day, it's pretty arbitrary. So I do the best I can with the skill set I have.

I think i answered the second question elsewhere, but 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.

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.

Poetic_Spark123122 karma

Where did you get the idea for the little sisters? P.s. My father a I are huge fans, so a lot of thanks for creating a game for father daughter bonding!!

IGken260 karma

The original idea came to me when I was watching a show about ants. ( I think it was ants). There were the worker/gatherer ants, the army ants who protected them and other bugs who ate ants. I remember thinking that those roles read very clearly even if you didn't know anything about the story and how cool it would be to be in a game where you could watch that ecology around you. It took some time for the ants to anthropomorphize into Big Daddy and Little Sister.

TrashCanKitten118 karma

Do you see the possibility of an open world BioShock game?

IGken266 karma

I'd have to think long and hard on how to do that.

lake_troll113 karma

What's the best shaver to use?

IGken410 karma

I use my TEETH.

djm199199 karma

Have you preferred creating a game where the protagonist has his own voice, in comparison to the silent protagonist in Bioshock?

Also, do you ever stand outside game shops waiting for people to leave empty handed, before telling them to "Come back when you get some money, buddy!"?

IGken193 karma

It was MUCH harder to have a speaking protaginist. Way more than I expected.

Do I ever stand outside of game shops and shout at people? That's pretty much all I do.

Shablahdoo85 karma

Is there anything more in store for us before the game is released? I really loved the trailers so far and would love too a cinematic that is more story driven than gameplay.

IGken266 karma

I promise enough videos to really fucking enrage people who hate game trailers.


IGken158 karma

We were just talking about that today. So, yes.

x70x82 karma

I am an aspiring game designer and you are a huge inspiration for me. What games did you play in your youth that helped to shape your design sensibilities?

IGken129 karma

Adventure on the Atari 2600. Castle Wolfenstein on Apple 2 Ultima UnderWorld System Shock 1

Aquaman5273 karma

If you’ll allow me to go full fanboy on you for just a quick moment here: your attitude towards unique design, balancing marketability with the vision you want the game to ultimately fulfill, and the potential of video games as a popular and artistic medium is something I wish every creative mind in popular media adhered to, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that you are, quite literally, the person I want to grow up to be. And... okay, I’m done. Down to business. Here’s the stuff I’d love to pick your brain about.

  1. How much of BioShock and BioShock Infinite’s story and design were you personally responsible for? That is, how much of the games was a product of your mind, and how much, if any, was delegated to individual level designers and/or other writers?

  2. Judging by what you’ve said in previous interviews, I get the feeling that you would only pursue making another BioShock game after Infinite if you really felt you had an idea worth centering a game around, and that kind of artistic integrity is one of the things I truly respect about you. That being said, are there any ideas you’re kicking around for another BioShock game, or for a different game entirely?

  3. Speaking as an aspiring writer myself, I’d absolutely love to get a chance to write for or help design a video game. If I were to attempt to enter that field, what kinds of background knowledge and experience (and how much of it) would you recommend I have (i.e. programming, architectural design, business management, anything you’d expect a designer to know)?

And finally, I just have to ask:

Are any of the rumors I’ve heard about a BioShock movie at all true?

EDIT: I accidentally half a phrase.

IGken107 karma

1) 12.73 percent. Who the hell knows? Games are a soup. Whoever has the initial idea has that filtered through the creative input of a zillion brilliant people, and whoever puts the thing in the game is standing on the shoulders of giants. The collaboration is everything. In terms of the story, even though I wrote a majority of the text, the story was broken down by a team of us through many, many long hours, screaming and hair pulling.

MercilessBlueShell67 karma

You appeared in a Nintendo developer interview video back in 2011, which I saw as quite the door-opener to many possibilities.

I know that you've said that you didn't have plans for Wii U development as yet, but is there an idea you had that would work with what the console offers (second screen experience, Miiverse, etc)?

IGken144 karma

My plans for the WiiU right now primarily involve me dloading Darksiders 2 and play it on the second screen this weekend.

randallnoisloke66 karma

Which philosophy in life and politics do you follow?

(wanted to ask this question sooooo long, thank you reddit for opportunity)

IGken230 karma

I long for the Pon Faar, and spend most of my time preparing for its sacred rituals.

pockets81764 karma

You have a really nice beard, how do you manage to take care of it?

And I suppose my real question is...well Objectivism obviously plays a huge role in Bioshock, and I suppose I just want to know what your personal interpretation of Rand's philosophy is? And will we see anything similar to that in Infinite?

IGken143 karma

Note to self: get security to protect me from beard stalkers.

In terms of Rand, I've got to say there are certain aspects I find very appealing and certain aspects that are bat shit crazy. But that applies to most philosophies. The most crazy part, really, is the certainty that it's a one size fits all solution for every conceivable problem.

DrTestBender61 karma

Can we talk about Shawn Elliot instead? That man is a delight.

IGken129 karma

He smells like luscious strawberries. Don't tell him I said that.

thrawn_207160 karma

Thank you for Bioshock! Personally, the social commentary the game showcases is a large reason why I love it so much. How important was it to you to differentiate the themes of the new game from the old? Was it difficult to come up with a villain(?) that has different views than Andrew Ryan?

IGken78 karma

The world had to feel very different than Rapture than just as compelling. I think of all the narrative challenges, this was the biggest. And yes, developing Comstock was one of the hardest parts of writing the game. We had many meetings/lunches where the writers and I scratched our heads and said "How the hell do we write this guy?"

TheBakedPotato58 karma

How do you feel about the developers (e.g. Molyneux) who have left major publishers to work independently and with fewer restrictions through Kickstarter, when you yourself seem to be relatively unrestricted by 2K? Do you consider yourself lucky to be working for a less overbearing publisher, or is there an element of bandwagoning going on in games where Kickstarter is concerned? Sorry if that question's messy to read.

Side-question: If you felt that your creative ability was being severely restricted by a publisher, how likely would you be to create a game independently, funding it through something like Kickstarter?

IGken88 karma

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.

Yxz57 karma

When do you think A.I will become perfected?

IGken309 karma

You mean the movie? I too anxiously await the Director's Cut.

CormacOney56 karma

Without too many spoilers, who is your favourite character in Bioshock: Infinite. Also, will there be any twists like in the original Bioshock?

IGken194 karma

On the first, I'd have to say Elizabeth, but there's a fond spot in my heart for Lutece. On the second, I'll tell you if you give me sixty dollars.

BootyhunterzX44 karma

What can you tell us about beard care?

IGken215 karma

Find a barber shop with an old dude who speaks only Italian. Sit back and listen to Dean Martin and Louis Prima. Tip generously. Do not call soccer soccer.

MelodicDeathMetal42 karma

In Rapture, you were often confined to dark, creepy areas with shadows of Splicers lurking around the corner. Columbia seems much more open and brighter. How do you maintain that tense, light horror vibe that we loved in the original Bioshock in this new environment?

IGken86 karma

Two answers: 1, there are plenty of BioShock 1 style dark indoor spaces

2) One of the most common pieces of feedback from the press we got was that they were suprised how we evolved the horror to fit into the outdoor aesthetic of infinite

jasonpressX41 karma

Does Bioshock infinite take place over a long period of time? I ask this due to the difference in Elizabeths appearance early and late game

Or is that a spoilerish question?

IGken82 karma


The game takes place over at least a couple of days. Yes, Elizabeth has at least one costume change during it, as you've seen. And maybe a haircut, too.

Endymion8640 karma

Huge fan of your games, Ken.

May I ask, with all the back and forth news about people leaving the development studio, gameplay modes being ditched entirely, etc, are you as confident in Bioshock Infinite - its story, gameplay, and overall ability to enchant the player - as you were in the original Bioshock?

IGken112 karma

That's not up to me, it's up to the fans. Personally, I think it's amazing, but why the hell would you take my word for it? Read reviews, talk to friends who played it, etc. I will say that there are risks in there that nobody's taken before and the team is bursting with pride.

sometimesavowel38 karma

Are there any concepts that needed to be scrapped because they didn't fit, or anything that just didn't come together in time? Also, how much does the gameplay differ from what was shown at E3 a couple of years ago?

IGken83 karma

I'd say the gameplay/flow is VERY similar to what we showed at E3 (not the level layout per se, but the feeling and features of the game). Elizabeth has been substantially expanded in terms of her feature set (which you can read about in other previews from our recent press tour).

In terms of concepts scrapped, in this game, I'd say if you weighed the game vs. the cutting room floor, the cutting room floor is probably heavier. That's a GOOD thing. We cut things because they don't work.

g_e_r_i38 karma

Hi Ken, how did you try to incorporate dystopia's implicit warning? How do you get the player to think, fill in interpretive gaps and recognize negative tendencies in his own society by experiencing the world of Columbia? Do you think there is any difference of how we perceive this warning in interactive media in comparison to how it's done in a novel, or film?

IGken62 karma

Good questions. I cna't really answer any of it without spoiling a lot of the game. But the primary approach should involve making sure you're asking the player questions, not trying so much to provide him with the answers.

I think games have a better opportunity to engage people in this regard because of their interactive nature.

therealbighairy36 karma

Do you feel that fps games are well suited to your type of world building in games, as they allow you to direct the experience somewhat, or is there another genre that you would like to turn your sights on next?

IGken88 karma

I love first person because it gets you so close to the detail of the world. Infinite wouldn't work in any other perspective.

BrutalJones34 karma

Any Ken Levine voice talent in Infinite?

IGken151 karma

Voice, yes. Talent, no.

greymattersart32 karma

What classic writers, if any, would you say have influenced your work as a writer and story designer?

IGken115 karma

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious fuck, here goes: Sophocles Thorton Wilder Arthur Miller George Orwell Stan Lee

lthatguytherel28 karma

One of my favorite things in Bioshock was the aspect of planning the perfect attack and making sure that I would strike in the most effective way possible. Things like turning the wrench into a stealth one hit kill, setting traps, etc.

The gameplay from Bioshock Infinite that I have seen so far has been very fast-paced with an improvisatory feel to it. Are the aspects of stealth and pre-planning from Bioshock in Bioshock Infinite? Either way, it looks fantastic and I have absolutely no worries that you and your team will completely blow us away with whatever direction has been taken!

IGken53 karma

It's very important to us that there are many combats that are player initiated. More important than stealth to me is that the player can

a) get a sense of the battlefield before he's in a fight and b) have an opportunity to plan a strategy.

Sometimes its also fun to be ambushed, but we worked hard to make sure there was a good mix.

houseofbacon23 karma

In your opinion, how has the player's experience evolved the most from Bioshock to Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite?

Additionally, if there were no time/financial constraints, what further steps would you take in an ideal creative environment to continue to evolve that experience?

IGken56 karma

The gameplay experience (shooting, growth etc) was stronger in 2 than 1. I think Infinite's growth is in having living people around you and the kind of narrative that affords, as well as having a much more diverse playground (indoor/outdoor, skylines, etc) to play on.

ItWasASledge22 karma

Given the notable delays to the release of BioShock Infinite I'd like to know what sort of pressure are you/your team under to release the game 'on time'? And how difficult was the decision to release the game later than anticipated.

IGken57 karma

The game was delayed five months, which in the scheme of things isn't that long. I think it seemed longer because we announced it as early as we did (in 2010). The longer the game's in development, the more pressure there is because it simply is going to cost more money. But I would say Take Two has a view on quality which is hard to match. If you don't have quality, you don't have much, and they get that.

InDaFresh22 karma

From the Hammerites to The Many to the citizens of Rapture and Columbia, you often explore various flavors of extremism and the nasty things it can lead to. What keeps drawing you back to that well?

IGken44 karma

Blame Orwell.

doswillrule19 karma

How much of what you learned making System Shock 2 all those years ago has translated to the dev process for Bioshock Infinite?

IGken32 karma

There are some basic things to making a game that I learned on Shock 2 (which was my first shipped game) such as make sure the story suits the storytelling tools you have and keep the player in the world as much as possible.

But on every game we always manage to find a way to really make life hell for ourselves. On this game, the killers were (in terms of development challenges) Elizabeth, the scale and floating nature of the city, the skylines and pretty much everything else.

Thanielfoxx18 karma

What inspired you to make games with such complex themes in their stories? As an English student, what I love most about the Bioshock games is how deep and varied the stories and characters are.

IGken40 karma

The key thing is to never forget that if you're story doesn't impact the viewer via sound or pixels, it doesn't exist. That's why we don't keep a story bible or anything like that. On Infinite, I had to remember there were a couple of things I had said about Booker that actually weren't in the game a few months later, and I had a holy shit moment because in my head it was there because I had talked about so much in interviews.

When I was working on Thief with Doug Church, we used to joke that if people didn't understand the game, we'd ship a video of us explaining why it was fun.

That's a very dangerous trap one can fall into.

aidsbrain16 karma

What character from any of your games do you consider to be your favourite? Why?

IGken28 karma

In Infinite, Elizabeth. In Bio 1, hmmm...Ryan or Tennenbaum In Freedom Force, ManBot In System Shock 2, Prefontaine (I didn't conceive SHODAN, so I can't count her, but she's my favorite adopted child)

micahmanyea16 karma

Do you feel that the themes and artistic expression in Bioshock are often overlooked because it's a video game?

IGken46 karma

I think it's mostly overlooked in the places we can go to promote the game...when's the last time you saw a game developer on The Daily Show? That will change as the bookers of those shows move on and younger people take their place who grew up with games.

colin-stewart12 karma

Hey Ken, how important do you think it is for a team of people working on a game to be constantly talking to each other sharing ideas etc? code speaking to art about what they like the look of, art feeding ideas to design? Even better how do you guys work it at irrational?

IGken26 karma

It's not important, it's EVERYTHING.