BioShock creator Ken Levine’s next project won’t be a linear narrative

Friday, 21st March 2014 20:55 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

BioShock creator Ken Levine said during a panel at GDC 2014 that his next title won’t be a linear narrative as “narratively-driven games tend to have poor replay value.”


During the panel attended by Eurogamer, Levine said linear narrative also “puts a boundary between the developer and the audience.”

“Narrative doesn’t lend itself to systems,” he said. “I’m proud of what we did with linear narrative, but I’ve personally been doing it for over 19 years.

“The problem with narrative is that you sort of have to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. That gets time consuming. That gets expensive. And you’re devoting years and years of your life to this one sort of big moment. You ship the game, and it comes out, and people play the game and it’s 12 hours long and people have a great experience and you see cosplayers and fans for years like that, but you don’t have that constant engagement with the audience.

“Linear narrative puts a boundary between the developer and the audience.”

Levine he wants to create a “narrative-driven experience where the narrative elements are non-linear and interact with each other.” In theory, he wants all narrative elements to trigger off player actions – or narratively open-ended, if you will.

While this sounds a bit convoluted, Levine doesn’t want it to get to that point.

“You’re going to have to balance these things off one another, but they’re all going to be transparent to you. We’re going to have to have a limited number of them so you can track them all and it doesn’t become a giant spreadsheet that overwhelms you,” he said.

Levine announced in February he was closing down Irrational Games and 2K would retain the BioShock property.



  1. Panthro

    Is there an audience for non-linear hand holding games these days?

    Damn right, glad he is doing something different to the door to door shooter.

    #1 5 months ago
  2. karma

    Its good to see Ken and his core team getting back to what they did best, i.e. non-linear designed games. Though i’ll be honest, thinking about non-linear storytelling gives me a headache. I dont see how it can be voice acted, because you got to have chunks of narrative pre-emptively written and scripted. Unless he’s talking about narrative without traditional dialogue storytelling. /shrug

    I’d love to hear more details on what they’ve actually got in mind.

    #2 5 months ago
  3. DoubleM

    @2 Games like Dragon Age: Origins or the entire Mass Effect Trilogy have thousands of lines of dialogue, and they all have complete voice acting. That’s not a problem. I have faith in Levine to deliver a fantastic nonlinear game.

    #3 5 months ago
  4. Oni

    “narratively-driven games tend to have poor replay value.”

    Deus Ex would like to have a word with you, Ken.

    #4 5 months ago
  5. karma

    @DoubleM: Yeah gameplay is non linear in those titles but not the narrative. ME and DA provide a limited number of predesigned narrative branches. Its possible for a player to see all of them if they simply replay the game a few times. The problem is that narrative branches tend to grow exponentially. Developers are forced to put a cap on it, otherwise the game would never get finished.

    To me it sounds like Ken and team are attempting to solve that problem somehow.

    “narrative-driven experience where the narrative elements are non-linear and interact with each other.”

    Almost sounds like he’s talking about interacting with an A.I.

    #5 5 months ago

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