BioShock Creator Ken Levine Teases New Game

"The goal is to make a flexible narrative that is broadly replayable and strongly adaptive to player choice."

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While we still don't know for sure what the "smaller, more entrepreneurial" project BioShock creator Ken Levine and his team are working on, we now have somewhat of a better idea as to the direction it will take.

In a piece for Medium, Levine wrote about his love for Lord of the Rings game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, specifically the way in which it offers a flexible narrative. This is at the heart of what Levine wants to do with his current project, which remains unannounced.

"Two years ago, I started thinking about how to build a system to let story be as variable as gameplay and still be awesome in the way story can be awesome," he said. "Could you have characters, conflicts, and dialogue that could end not in 100 states, not in 1,000, but in X to the Y states? Goodbye linear, hello geometric!"

"The goal is to make a flexible narrative that is broadly replayable and strongly adaptive to player choice" -- Levine

"And that's the new big thing that my colleagues and I have been working on at our yet-unnamed new studio. In March, I gave a talk at the Game Developers Conference about some of our ideas. We called it 'Narrative Legos.' The goal is to make a flexible narrative that is broadly replayable and strongly adaptive to player choice."

Levine went on to say that, at one time, he wondered if anyone would care about a game of this nature. Then Shadow of Mordor, with its ambitious Nemesis System, came along.

"Even as we've made huge inroads into our design, even as we work on our prototype, there are days when I wonder: Will it be fun? Is there a there there? Even if there is, will the audience give a sh**?," Levine said. "And then Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor showed up."

Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System, which essentially "remembers" player behavior so that the story can unfold in numerous ways, is a huge breakthrough in games--and all of storytelling, Levine said.

"By breaking down the elements of character into small chunks and re-combining them based on randomness and, more important, responses to the player's choices, Shadow of Mordor tells a story that could never exist in another medium. If the audience could somehow change a plot point in Death of a Salesman, the narrative would break. If they could change something in BioShock Infinite, the story would break.

"But you can change the narrative in Shadow of Mordor--kill an important character, fail an important mission -- and the story heals itself, because the system can create new characters on the fly," he added. "It does so without a 'game over' screen or a request for the player to try again. Players can choose their own paths, not by selecting from a list of three or four predetermined options, but by making decisions in an endlessly combinatorial gameplay system. It's chess meets Hamlet."

"Okay, maybe not Hamlet. But it's a start."

Levine's Irrational Games effectively shut down in February 2014, though a recent job listing at the company suggested it may live on.

What would you like to see Levine do next? Let us know in the comments below!

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