GDC 2014: Ken Levine on Life After Irrational
Written Friday, March 21, 2014 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Ken Levine discussed his plans for the future at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today.
Speaking during a session called “Narrative Legos,” the former Irrational Games boss spoke about the constrictive nature of linear narrative games, while giving a broad overview of his new direction.
Modern gamers want to be part of the development and evolution of a game, said Levine. They want to be involved with early access and have a voice in the game’s direction.
But with Levine’s previous games, starting with Thief in 1998 and continuing up until last year’s BioShock Infinite, that wasn’t possible.
Because Irrational made games with linear narratives and twists, the team had to keep secrets. Levine called these twists the “secret sauce.” If the audience learns about the secret sauce, then the players experience is ruined.
Levine and Irrational didn’t enjoy keeping these secrets. They found it stressful. So while Levine says he is proud of his previous games, he’s excited to make systemics-based games that players can become involved with more intimately.
It’s about reducing the barrier between the player and the game, said Levine.
During the session, Levine didn’t discuss the specifics of his next game, but he did provide a broad overview of the direction. He and the surviving 15 Irrational staff are going to make games with “repayable narratives built out of lots of tiny pieces.”
Levine referenced systems-heavy games like Civilisation and XCOM, while highlighting the ability to enhance these experiences in different ways.
With linear narrative games, you can only add to the experience with DLC set prior or following the core game, said Levine. However, with systems-based games you can enhance those experiences with more mechanics, more gameplay options and more systems.
It’s Levine’s ambition to create games of this nature, with systems that play off against each other in such an intricate and shifting way that each playthrough will be different.
The example he gave was of a fantasy game in which the world’s inhabitants react to each other according to systemically designed relationships. In this way each of the player’s actions has several consequences, impacting on the quests, story elements and relationships available to the player.
As the game progressed, it could be supported with extra content, shifting motivations and further characters to make these systems more complex, while also introducing new narrative elements.
In the session, Levine made repeated references to Game of Thrones, and the way in which the story’s cast shift in their allegiances. However, he was keen to point out that he isn’t necessarily making a fantasy game.
Last month, Levine revealed that he was to disband Irrational Games following the release of BioShock Infinite's last chunck of DLC, in order to make games with a small team.