Ken Levine: BioShock gameplay innovates well compared to Portal, Call of Duty and Medal of Honor

Thursday, 31st July 2008 09:39 GMT By Patrick Garratt


Speaking to VG247 at Develop yesterday, 2K Boston’s Ken Levine said that he didn’t understand why gamers had leveled criticism and the scope of innovation in BioShock’s gameplay compared to the steps forward the game made in terms of narrative.

“Honestly, I’ve been very open to criticisms in terms of narrative, etcetera – you’ve probably seen me talk about that, and I’ve tried to acknowledge things about it – but I’m not exactly sure I understand the complaint,” he said.

“If you think about the Big Daddies, if you think about the plasmids, if you think about the hacking, if you think about the security system, if you think about being able to upgrade your powers, compared to the Call of Duties, the Half-Lifes and Medal of Honor, I don’t understand [the complaint].”

He added: “Look at BioShock compared to Portal and other first-person shooters that came out last year. Portal, outside of the narrative, the gameplay’s innovative but on a fairly narrow axis, right? They do their one thing and they exploit it very well. I don’t mean ‘one thing’ in a derogatory sense: it’s a great thing.”

BioShock lead designer Bill Gardner, however, did concede that gameplay innovations may have lagged behind those made in the game’s storytelling, but that the stance was intentional.

“I think there’s an element of not wanting to throw too many curve balls at the player, and I think we knew early what the advancements were that we were going to make in the narrative, and we didn’t want to alienate people,” he said.

“That’s not to say we weren’t trying to do anything different… Certainly emergent gameplay’s been done in other games, but I like to think that things like the one-two punch and the way the plasmids work with the powers with the weapons, the environmental stuff [meant] we brought a lot of new things to the table.”

Develop concludes today.



  1. Blerk

    I think the point is that your Medal of Honours and your Half Lifes and your CODs aren’t claiming to be revolutionary new experiences, they’re just straight-forward refinements of what came before. Portal certainly DID do something different – it (mostly) took the shooting out of the first-person shooter.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily more gameplay innovations that were needed (because that makes it sound like he thinks we wanted more mini-games) but rather a shift of the gaming balance away from the ‘every problem can be solved with gunplay’ model. A game with such a strong narrative should also be prepared to think outside of the box when it comes to what your first-person protagonist can actually do within the game world.

    imho. Of course. :-)

    #1 6 years ago
  2. Blerk

    I should really get a blog. :-D

    #2 6 years ago
  3. patlike


    I think he felt the criticism was unfair. Bless them, they really do take it on the chin, but he was pretty firm about this.

    #3 6 years ago
  4. Whizzo

    Did he really think hacking in Bioshock was innovative? Pipe Mania came out in 1989 and the hacking in Bioshock got bloody tedious fairly quickly.

    #4 6 years ago
  5. Blerk

    It sounds like a general misunderstanding of the complaint. He thinks we wanted more things adding to the FPS model, when actually it’s the basic FPS model that is the issue, not the additions.

    #5 6 years ago
  6. CastellanSpandrell

    An FPS with pipemania hacking???
    It’s a marvellous game with a really nice art-style carried by some sweet ass technology but gameplay innovation???
    Step away from the crack-pipe!

    #6 6 years ago
  7. patlike

    There’s more on this subject, which I’ll do either today or next week. He said he was clear the game was an FPS. We talked about the possibility that the problem was down to gamer expectation rather than a problem with the game itself.

    #7 6 years ago
  8. Blerk

    You might be right there, Pat. It did seem to change over time, though. Initially it sounded very ambitious and varied, gameplay-wise, but as time went on it became more and more shooty. I seem to recall people murmuring about publisher interference to make the game more mass-market at the time.

    Regardless of the truth of all that, is an FPS really the best place to aim for new standards in narrative and back-story building? I can’t help but think if they’d aimed for a more survival-horror type of game rather than a vanilla shooter they’d have been able to do so much more with it.

    #8 6 years ago
  9. wz

    pat: The problem is that Mr Levine sounded like BioShock was a game-industry- and gamer-changing experience. Which for me and some others, as it seems, it was not.

    (Oh, and as a side remark: Weapons are weapons are weapons, no matter if they are good old guns, magic, powers or pies.)

    Edit: Maybe I should add that BioShock is a great shooter, easily among the best, and that it’s “visual integrity” is awesome. The story is adequate, at the end, it’s a bit too shootery especially when you already know what’s going on, but it is easily one of or the best shooter of it’s generation.

    #9 6 years ago
  10. patlike

    I think FPS is just their “thing,” to be honest. I should have asked him about genre though, Blerk, you’re right.

    wz: Yep, agree, but that said there’s no way it could be said it’s a run of the mill game. It may not be the gameplay advance he suggested it might be, but it is still innovative on lots of levels. I think his quotes above are perfectly valid, really.

    #10 6 years ago
  11. Blerk

    It’s a long-standing bug-bear of mine that 99 times out of 100 if a game features a first-person perspective it’s automatically a shooter. I really don’t understand why should this be the case.

    #11 6 years ago
  12. absolutezero

    Even thinking of it as a straight FPS, to me it was seriously lacking.

    The shooting, the core of an FPS, was lacking. The enemy AI was terrible, little opportunity to actually use alot of the plasmids because all the enemies just charged towards you. Endless respawning splicers all the way through. Urgh making ammo.

    #12 6 years ago
  13. SticKboy

    The fact is, the game *deserved* to be so much more than just an FPS. I was having this conversation yesterday – I ended up having far more fun exploring, hacking and taking photos than blasting bad guys.

    #13 6 years ago

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