Ken Levine wants to make story games “replayable”

Friday, 1st November 2013 18:12 GMT By Phil Owen

Ken Levine, mastermind behind many narrative-driven games that contain no meaningful player choices, such as BioShock Infinite, is tired of making titles for which there is little reason to revisit. And so he told Dave Cook he’s trying to figure out in his head how one might make a game that would be worth playing more than once.

As part of an exhaustive two-part interview feature that will appear on this very website on November 11 and 12, Levine relayed these thoughts to Dave:

“The next challenge is not a particular story, it’s more of a meta-challenge. One thing that’s tough is that narrative is – except for the Fight Club or BioShock notion of going back and revisiting things once you have more knowledge – not very replayable. I’ve been going through this thought experiment in my head of what, technically, you could do from a development and design stand-point to make narrative much more replayable and much more dynamic.

“Right now it’s just a thought experiment in my head, I’ll probably do a talk at GDC about it, but I have some really interesting experiments going on in my head. That’s not a story, that’s not a game, that’s a piece of narrative conceptual technology which may turn out to be absolutely nothing, so I don’t want to oversell it. That’s what I’m thinking about. That’s frustrating when you work five years on something, people play it once and they’re done. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.”

There’s much, much more coming on November 11.



  1. Clupula

    Well, a good first step in that direction is what Dragon’s Crown does, where it actually has a narrative reason why you’re playing again on a harder difficulty.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. DSB

    Deus Ex (the good one). That is all.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. DeVitowned

    Bioshock: Infinite was very much unreplayable in my opinion. I have played Diablo III and Uncharted III more than any other game this gen because the system was designed to encourage such dedication. When something is made so linear, without reward for repetition, it is no surprise some things make for one good, yet soon to be forgotten, experience.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. kadu

    Ken L drifts towards choice based RPG. Wow, such a piece of news :>

    #4 1 year ago
  5. TheWulf

    I think The Stanley Parable beat him to it in a very, very special way.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Gekidami

    ^ Nah.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. themadjock

    I think he did a fine job with Bioshock and infinite? I have played them both multiple times due to the various plasmid/vigor tonic combos.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. BrahManDude

    Well good luck?!? he can’t even make a decent sequel in 2-3 years or an ending that makes sense

    #8 1 year ago
  9. HauntaVirus

    Infinite would have been brilliant with a NG+ mode.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. YoungZer0

    Allow for more gameplay variations. Simply more choices.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. zinc

    Less story, tighter gameplay & virtual rewards for completing challenges.

    Horde mode for MP & a schedule of reasonably priced dlc that expands on story, gives new stuff & offers more challenges for virtual rewards.

    Not too difficult Kev.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Hyperx64

    #8 @BrahManDude The point of Infinite is their is no definitive answer. It really is about asking more questions than answers – always leave them wanting.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. fihar

    You’re missing the point.
    He wants to design a narrative structure that could be played over and over again, not giving you more gameplay options to keep you attached to the game.

    Meaningful narrative choices are the only thing I can think of but that kind of thing is usually restriced to a certain point in the game and I end up creating multiple saves whenever possible to overcome it.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. RussellGorall

    Just make Uncharted Zombies, call it a new IP called “Last of Us”.

    Wait. Sorry. That has been done.

    How about Grand Theft Horse Trifecta? Wait, that just came out…

    #14 1 year ago
  15. themadjock

    @8 The storyline made sense and was very well conceived and thought out, one of the best in the history of gaming. It may need a second playthrough or a google to pick up on all the concepts but if you really think about each point and explore the game enough to pickup the lore it’s mind blowing.

    I perhaps expected a bit more from Elizabeth than just a money,ammo looter but maybe the DLC episodes will provide some of this?

    #15 1 year ago
  16. archaven

    Lol wut? Ken Levine going the path of choices, branching story and consequences? Witcher 3? Well for one it’s great since it promotes replayability. But i want such game re-playability rely on gameplay mechanics such as what weapon specialization, skilltrees? upgrades?


    #16 1 year ago
  17. Clupula

    I have to admit, when people tell me they don’t understand what happened in the ending of Bioshock: Infinite, I tend to think of them as dumb.

    @13 – This is why they need auto-save, without a manual option.

    @11 – Not every game needs MP.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. zinc

    I was being sarcastic people -_-

    Even Levine states he is struggling with the concept of a genuinly repeatable narrative.

    Hope he succeeds :)

    #18 1 year ago
  19. karma

    Getting back to the more simulative world, System Shock 2 style of game design would help. Less hand holding and story tunnel vision. Make the experience more dynamic so that immersion and dynamic interactions within the setting does what scripted linear narrative cant > Create a unique experience for each individual player.

    For me, BS Infinite felt far too on-rails and choiceless. I loved the story but hated the gameplay. It felt like a huge step backwards from its predecessors in the emergent gameplay and replayability departments.

    I think Obsidian did a great job with Fallout New Vegas when it came to story telling because they included so much story content that it was literally too much to experience the first playthrough and only by subsequent playthroughs or really taking your time and exploring every nook and cranny did you get to see all of it. I dont think any other single player game this gen has held my attention for as long as FNV has.

    Still, once that content has been experienced once, it is always going to be less enjoyable the second time around. So again, back to the dynamic, simulative interactions within the gameworld.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. infernalism

    Um…The Witcher 2, anyone? At least two different playthroughs with entierely disparate quests (in act 2 & 3) and locations (in act 2, and in a small part in act 3).

    Yeah, I agree with you about FNV. I think I finished that game about four times including all of the DLCs, which are quite good in my opinion, and achieving all of the endings, but it’s not really a game that can be an example of replayablity on the merit of seeing something else story-wise, the next time you play through it. I still love the hell out of that game and I hope they get to make another Fallout entry into the series. Their expertise in storytelling is high above bethesda’s. In my own opinion of course.

    #20 1 year ago

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