Develop 08: Ken Levine: 'We hire less virgins'

The man behind BioShock opens up on the game's influences, his hiring policy, and the upcoming movie.

BRIGHTON--Delivering the opening keynote at The Develop Conference & Expo 2008, Ken Levine and members of the team at 2K Boston opened up on what it was that made BioShock--and the studio behind it--successful. Lead artist Nate Wells, technical director Chris Kline, and level designer Bill Gardner also made the trip to the UK seaside town to talk about the development of the game, the upcoming movie, and the studio's hiring policy, to a crowd of primarily British developers at the Hilton Metropole.

"We hire less virgins, you might say," Levine declared, talking about the studio's mix of staff. "We're hiring designers at the moment, and we want the guy who's buying Dungeons and Dragons on the first day, but we also want to hire the guy who's into the movies of Truffaut. Bringing that mix of people in is really important."

Levine and the team also talked about the game's transition to the big screen, a project currently under the direction of Gore Verbinski and writer John Logan. "Those guys are going to be respectful of what we did, but it's going to be a movie. Gore and John go for walks and they talk about things, it's an integrated process. It's amazing to see a guy like Gore, who has an amazing vision, and John, who's got experience writing The Aviator... It's interesting to see people who aren't gamers see what they do with it. It's not like, 'Someone threw me this game to make into a movie.'" It's not just one-way traffic, either: "So much of BioShock was inspired by movies... The twist was inspired by Fight Club," he concluded.

He also talked more generally about the relationship between games development and Hollywood. "The junior [movie] execs and agents are hardcore gamers, but to old Hollywood it's like 'We're going to get into games now.' It's the easiest thing to do for us to assume it's easy for them to make a good movie, and for them to assume it's easy for us to make a good game. It's like having kids, you have to forget about the pain you went through the first time. A healthy respect for each other's challenges will make for better games and better movies."

The team spent much of their hour talking about artistic influence behind the much-vaunted game. "In BioShock we tried to make the most engaging horror movie of all time," Levine said. "But two years before release, it would never make it through a focus group," he added. "I mean, try asking people if they want to play a first-person shooter in an objectivist art-deco dystopia." And of the original game's lack of multiplayer mode: "If you're not going to come to the ball ready to compete with Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 then just don't do it. Every marketing dept always says 'What about multiplayer?'...Take Two was a unique company because they'd been through the wars and they understood the artistic importance of something. The audience is not a bunch of mouth-breathing Neanderthals. The audience is ready for this sort of thing."

"Social, game, and film literacy is really important. At the end of the day, extruding a polygon will only get you so far. Going art deco was not an obvious choice. You have to be more interested in the visual style of the game rather than satisfying gamers."

GameSpot UK will be bringing you coverage from The Develop Conference & Expo in Brighton over the coming days.

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133 comments
ElderGamer1
ElderGamer1

I have been waiting for any news regarding an Outer Space Sequel to BioShock. Rumors.... BioShock continues to amaze me! I love how you mixed an RPG killer storyline! (Fear, Anger, Revenge,and then many tears!) As for the Shooting which took skill and intelligence to survive and Graphics from beyond this solor systems technical knowledge! (As far as I'm concerned (56yrs and counting!) I've played the best of them! I keep watching for your news. With the excellent modding these days, have you ever thought about a Construction-Set (CS) as Bethesda did? I have been playing Oblivion since last Aug/07 with a break to only play BioShock about 8 replays or so. (Open-Ended???) PS Thank-you for the experience!

quantumtheo
quantumtheo

Um.... If you haven't.... Go play System Shock 2.... NOW. Someone asked about another game Levine worked on... go play that! You'll think Bioshock is as dumbed down as Deus Ex: IW was....

trystkl1826
trystkl1826

This article, explaining the inner workings of creating the game, was done well. I understand how the company hired persons whom were already versed and quite literate in the areas required to make this game a success.

connor52
connor52

i dont get why bioshock was rated M for sexuall themes all i heared was the sexual content

AceCometh
AceCometh

Ya, there was no sexual meaning behind his words. I also agree that this shouldn't be made into a movie, despite the fact that BioShock was excellent! And for the record, the last movie Gore did that I saw was the 3rd "Pirates" movie. It was horrible. Hopefully he doesn't screw this up as badly as he did that one.

goskateboard
goskateboard

all games are ruined by movies... dont ruin bioshock

Pete5506
Pete5506

WTF....and why make a movie?

PutU2REM
PutU2REM

godzillavskong: Levine is vintage Looking Glass Studios (may it rest in peace :sniff:) so he's worked on some of the greatest games ever. Pretty much any intellectually stimulating action game out there has his mark on it.

godzillavskong
godzillavskong

It seems like these posts are heading in the wrong direction. As for Kev Levine, does anyone know what else he has worked on besides Bioshock? I loved that game but thats the first I heard of him, honestly.

sandshark8
sandshark8

GangsterJC: Wrong choice of words, my bad. When I said nameless, I meant that you never really saw what you looked like. I don't want the movie to define how I see Jack.

KnightwingX7
KnightwingX7

@BewilderedRonin I couldn't agree with you more. I don't deny the full extent of the statement you speak of. What I was concerned about was that everyone in this forum INCORRECTLY thought the comment had absolutely ZERO sexual connotation. That is why I put so much emphasis on my previous statements. That cliched stereotype you speak of is the type of person that has no life experience. For example, the "Make Love, Not Warcraft" episode of South Park, where the "loser" that has no life goes around in the game and gets his kicks off of killing every other character to exploit it, (until Cartman and the gang finally beat him at his own game) is the EXACT stereotype that Ken Levine was joking about, and sharply contrasted in his statements. Thank you for being another person in here that knows what is going on.

BewilderedRonin
BewilderedRonin

I play DnD and I'm not a virgin. I know plenty of people that are virgins and don't play DnD or even video games. I think it's high time we dropped the idiotic cliche of the "scared of cooties" gamer and roleplayer. Even though I think the virgin reference carries a bit of a double entendre (clarified later). That aside, I enjoyed that Rapture was built around Ayn Rand's absurd and ill-formed Objectivism philosophy, which is based on egoism and pure self-interest (Objectivism flat-out rejects altruism). The way the game featured such heavy and authentic Art Deco design principles, though there is also a lot of Art Nouveau in there as well, made the setting much more cohesive and believable. The musical choices helped a lot too, with Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardt (very awesome choice), and Bing Crosby adding a wonderful period score. All of these things are probably barely noticed, if at all, by most gamers. But those of us that know and understand these things, these features made the game just that much better. For example, the highly prevalent use of the Futura typeface stood out for me. As a typophile and graphic designer, it was instantly noticeable. If they had gone for Arial, it would have felt odd, out of place, and left me wondering, "why didn't they use a period-oriented typeface, like Futura or Avant Garde?" As for the virgin comments, I believe many of you are missing the point. Yes, he is referring directly to sexual experience, but using it as a greater elusion to life experience. What Levin is saying is that hey want people who have lived life a little and also have a sense of art, philosophy, and literature beyond normal pop-fluff and common geek-fodder. In other words, they want intellectual geeks, not geeks that have dedicated themselves to knowing everything about Naruto at the cost of knowing little of anything else.

Dmitheon
Dmitheon

In the interview..... "Oh her? Oh she's part of my resume.. I f---ed her." She nods in shamed agreement.

Thing2
Thing2

Zippy, I'm honestly curious and I admit that I never finished SS2 but, in what way is Bioshock lacking polish? Also how was left trigger = left hand, right trigger = right hand a cookie cutter control scheme?

bochap76
bochap76

Unlike others have stated I think that the author is making a veiled reference to sexual experience in his statements. Of course his purpose isn't to demean virgins, but rather explain the chemistry behind the creative staff. The statement"...hire the guy who's into the movies of Truffaut," refers to French director François Truffaut's, whose fans are attracted to the sexuality that many of his classic films are imbued with.

SPYDER0416
SPYDER0416

I like Fight Club, and I sorta get the twist similarity but it took a half minute. I mean, its not like Jack (which is oddly what people call the fc narrator and the bioshock protag, despite no confirmation) from bioshock had DID or Schizophrenia.

bochap76
bochap76

I wish insted of ratings on games, ESRB would insist that only non virgins could buy mature titles, then I could play online late at night without wondering if a gamer is a hot 18 yr old chick or a 12 yr old pre pubescent dude asking if anyone would allow him to get some achievement.

ldonyo
ldonyo

Ken needs to go back to English 101 on grammar day.

KnightwingX7
KnightwingX7

@ murfrey Finally, someone else grasps the concept!

murfrey
murfrey

He did mean virgin in the sense of being inexperienced. That is, being inexperienced with girls and, more broadly, real life. Everyone else who thinks otherwise needs to brush up on basic comprehension skills, or otherwise stop lying to themselves.

-HaloHitman-
-HaloHitman-

I cant wait for the second game, and the movie seems like it is gonna be good.

KnightwingX7
KnightwingX7

And if you disagree with my last post (and still feel I am WAAY off-base), here is some insight into the man's character, as said by HIMSELF. A person as self-admittingly crude as this would definitely have the crassness to make a snide remark (JOKINGLY and to be funny-of course!) in the manner I am describing. Anyone still not convinced yet? http://kotaku.com/5030944/ If you noticed the LINK is quoting him from the SAME SHOW at Develop Conference 2008 In Brighton, England. If THAT doesn't put it into context, I don't know what does!

KnightwingX7
KnightwingX7

@tenorio_rotc I actually do think he meant vrigins in the sexual sense. Right after that he is talking about the type of people to elaborate. The guy who buys D&D the first day. I think you can clearly assume thats a virgin. Seriously, I don't see anywhere in that where he is talking about experience ____________________________________________ I have been saying that the whole time. And to further his thought process, he then CONTRASTS the stereotypical DnD playing "virgin", with a sophisticated movie connoisseur. And finishes the thought by saying, "Bringing that mix (of people) is really important." That mix of people is MEANING THE YOUNG, SHELTERED, INTROVERTED, VIRGIN, contrasted by THE OLDER,WELL-ROUNDED, INFORMED, WORLDLY, MOVIE CONNOISSEUR. I got called an "@sshat" for being able to read a continued thought process "IN CONTEXT", but everyone in this forum thinks he is talking about experience. Explain one thing people. YOU'RE SAYING THAT THERE IS NO CONNECTION AT ALL BETWEEN THE GUY THAT PLAYS DnD FROM DAY ONE AND STEREOTYPICALLY BEING A "NERDY" VIRGIN? - If you deny the connection, then you are lying AND poorly in-touch with gaming as a culture. If you admit the connection, then the paragraph absolutely correlates the meaning of Virgin to have a sexual connotation.

PaleAmI
PaleAmI

Deffinitly would love to see a Bioshock movie come out!! =]

Sugamama9944
Sugamama9944

Good luck to them. I hope the movie is amazing. Plus I wanted to know where they got the whole Great Chain ideology plus the worker and the parasite. Practically Andrew Ryan. I know they got some of it from Ayn Rand??? Not sure about the last name though....

asad_azam
asad_azam

Bioshock - the movie seems a very promising act ,but the makers have to live up to the quality of the game.

ineedanap
ineedanap

Oh how I hope this will be awesome.

Bradman984
Bradman984

Loved Bioshock 1 As long as Uwe Boll isnt directing its fine with me

gangsterjc
gangsterjc

Sandshark:His name was JACK! he wasent Namless if u read what the present says at the start it says To:JACK on it! Either way im excited for the movie...

Static-7
Static-7

GORE VERBINSKI HELL YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is going to be an awesome movie no matter what anybody says. Cant wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

knux15
knux15

Actually your character does talk at the very start of the game... *sigh* what did you do buy a save? lmfao sorry been playing WoW too much...

SpartonGhost
SpartonGhost

I believe I read somewhere on IGN that this movie won't take place in Bioshock 1, nor Bioshock 2, but in Bioshock 3....so we'll see where they go with that. Loved Bioshock 1 and can't wait for the next game, plus looking forward to this movie. Even if they don't do it the way everyone wants I'm still a fan of it and I will still go to see it.

Shinkada
Shinkada

Really, there's only one thing that the development team needs to do for me to respect the Bioshock movie, and that's exactly what the game dev team did; make a game for themselves. I don't care if it sucks. I don't care if the budget is 6 feet under. I don't care who's acting. If the director makes a movie that HE thinks is good, rather than something he thinks VIEWERS will think is good, he's done good enough for me. I may even hate it, but I'll respect it. That's what makes a game art, and that's why I'm so pessimistic about this; Hollywood doesn't make movies for the directors, it makes them for the viewers, and that's when it immediately changes from art to product.

sandshark8
sandshark8

It would be cool if they made the movie from a first-person perspective. Hard to do? Yeah, probably, but it would stay true to the feeling that its YOU walking through Rapture. I liked the whole nameless hero sort of thing.

PieCrusher
PieCrusher

That will be a really cool movie if they get the transition right.

Zharak
Zharak

How about mentioning half of the stuff in Bioshock comes from Fallout?

keyser27
keyser27

Yeah. Gore Verbinski. Now there's a talent for you. Truffaut should not be mentioned in the same article as Verbinski. While I enjoyed The Mexican, and parts of the pirates movies were enjoyable, none of those movies are good; The 400 Blows and Day for Night are awesome... Kudos on Levine for bringing Truffaut up. I'm not a big France guy, but the French New Wave films are AWESOME. In the words of Jean Luc Goddard: "All you need to make a movie is a gun and a girl"

HOMIE_G64
HOMIE_G64

ROFL Nosnitsttam. I would bid Madden to live forever... but at the pace it is going, I don't need to.

Nosnitsttam
Nosnitsttam

@xfactor19990 - soooo the game sucked because you couldnt get it to run on your laptop? i'm not sure that counts. as for "The audience is not a bunch of mouth-breathing Neanderthals." Mr. Levine has obviously never worked at a game store on Madden day. But i loved Bioshock almost as much as i loved Metroid Prime 3 and RE4 and thats saying something. Sure it lacked the complexity of System Shock 2 but it was a great feat of storytelling and one of the more unique experiences i've had on a console to date.

xdeiri
xdeiri

Ahh I mess the real Hollywood, which has gone with the wind

BrunoBRS
BrunoBRS

his hiring policy made me lol :P

MKHavoc
MKHavoc

I'm not so sure how good this movie'll be. I mean your character never talks and most of the story is revealed to you through audio diaries and radio receiver. I loved the game and hope the movie is good too.

Telekenesis123
Telekenesis123

ZippyDSMLee They might say they hire less virgins but the lack of polish and development on their titles says otherwise *rolls eyes* HAving a bunch of skilled but washed up devs able to to dev a project fast is reat and all but if you do not push for creativity and gameplay improvement(and for gods sake I do nto mean streamlining) and control congiferation standardization(button mapping for most titels to comabt the lack luster cookie cutter control layouts) then all you are doing is pushing out packaged hey for the sheeple to nom on.... A hint SS2 is a better game than BS ever could be, BS is watered down game for the masses with a lack of polish and development thats nearly standard in todays games. --- Right on brother, Bioshock is just a dumbed down version of System Shock 2 and the gunplay in it is pretty poor. Another thing is an extreme lack of enemy variety, there are only about 4 in the whole game and the "bosses" are just the same old enemies with a new skin slapped on them and upped hitpoints. The only real boss in the game is the last one and he was really lame, boring and clunky to fight. The only thing Bioshock is good for is an immersive story and environment, if you want good gunplay in a FPS, look elsewhere.

ZippyDSMLee
ZippyDSMLee

They might say they hire less virgins but the lack of polish and development on their titles says otherwise *rolls eyes* HAving a bunch of skilled but washed up devs able to to dev a project fast is reat and all but if you do not push for creativity and gameplay improvement(and for gods sake I do nto mean streamlining) and control congiferation standardization(button mapping for most titels to comabt the lack luster cookie cutter control layouts) then all you are doing is pushing out packaged hey for the sheeple to nom on.... A hint SS2 is a better game than BS ever could be, BS is watered down game for the masses with a lack of polish and development thats nearly standard in todays games.

Nikalai_88
Nikalai_88

Bioshock was good but I wish people would stop acting as its something amazing (the shooter 2.0) Its also ironic to hear a man who dumbed down his own game state that 'The audience is not a bunch of mouth-breathing Neanderthals'

blorg13
blorg13

I can't believe people think the virgin line is referring to sex and I can't wait to see the movie end up sucking