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Levine on endless replayability for narrative

by William Schwartz

ken-levine

There has been one conundrum that has puzzled Ken Levine, creative director and lead writer for Bioshock Infinite. As he sees it, games go one of two ways. The narrative games are played once and, due to their linear nature on telling a story, lack replayability to be played multiple times. Systemic games, such as Civilization, can be played endlessly due to their replayability. He wants to bridge that gap, to have narrative games be, in essence, endlessly replayable.

As Levine puts it in an interview with Polygon, “Look at [Bioshock Infinite leading character] Elizabeth. There are scenes when she performs the same way for everybody who plays the game, every time, always the same. Then there are scenes where we build lots of different narrative content for her. There might be 15 variations of that.”

I spend five years [working on a game] and 12 hours later the player is done with it. It’s heartbreaking

He continued, “That’s why I think this is important. There will be cost issues [with narrative games] and you need to find ways to build stories so that they are not just one story.”

As he explained, from his position as a creator, he wants to create games and worlds that gamers will visit time and time again.  “I spend five years [working on a game] and 12 hours later the player is done with it, and that is heartbreaking. There are some fans who will replay it but you can’t expect that from the average gamer because it won’t be meaningfully different the second time, and that is an important challenge.”

However, as he points out, this idea of his still has a long way to go before we see it come to fruition. “This is the ideal. I have no idea how to do any of this. But we have to figure out what we want to do and then how we get there. But I have been thinking a lot about it and a lot of other people are thinking hard about this too.”

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