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BioShock Creator's Next Game Features a "Small-Scale Open World"

"The AAA, single-player narrative game is starting to disappear."


BioShock creator Ken Levine is still not ready to talk in an official, specific capacity about his next game, but he's now shed some new light on the approach it's taking.

Speaking on NPR's "On Point" today, Levine said one of the main design goals for his next game, which hasn't officially been announced and doesn't have a name, is for it to be highly replayable.

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Gamers are, generally speaking, growing tired of AAA games that are single-player only, not unlike Levine's BioShock series, he argued. Of course, there are some examples of big-budget single-player games that have found success (Skyrim and Fallout 4 are two examples), but not every game is as fortunate.

"The AAA, single-player narrative game is starting to disappear," Levine said. "Kind of games like BioShock. There's fewer of them being made. The real reason is they're very expensive to make and I think gamers are saying pretty loud and clear that if they're going to spend $40, $50, $60, they want an experience that lasts more than 10-12 hours. That's a lot to ask somebody to spend."

About a year after BioShock Infinite shipped in March 2013, developer Irrational Games effectively closed down. Levine and a small team stayed on board and started work on a "smaller, more entrepreneurial" game. Levine said in the interview today that the goal for this project was for it to retain what made BioShock great, but also layer on elements that would make it replayable.

"We started this experiment after we finished BioShock Infinite, which was, 'How do you make a narrative game feel like the kind of games we've made before but make it replayable and make it extend and make it react to the players?' Make it replayable by giving players different ways to approach the problems and really letting them dictate the experience.

"The thing we're working on is sort of a small-scale open-world game" -- Ken Levine

"That is not a simple problem to solve."

The solution is what Levine refers to as "narrative Lego," a term he also used during a 2014 Game Developers Conference talk (watch it above). The idea is that, much in the same way that physical Lego bricks can be combined to create many different things, the same can be true for narrative.

Don't expect Levine's next game to be totally open-ended like Minecraft, however. He stressed that Irrational is building the formula by which the narrative Lego pieces combine, so to speak. However, though Irrational is guiding the story somewhat, Levine said he expects people to be able to create a story all their own, combining the narrative Lego in "millions of interesting ways."

Asked by host Tom Ashbrook if the game could be considered an open-world game, Levine agreed, but with a qualification.

"The thing we're working on is sort of a small-scale open-world game," he explained, just days after a job opening at Irrational called for someone with open-world experience. "And the reason ours is an open world game is because if you want to give the player the agency to drive the experience, that really fights against the linear nature of the games we made before like BioShock and BioShock Infinite. What it really means though is, 'How do you make your content so it feels like the quality of the content you've made in games before but reacts to the players' agency and then allows the player to do something in one playthrough and something very different in another playthrough?'"

Levine tempered his comments by stressing that the game is not finished; he added that not all of Irrational's experiments will work out. The studio could be faced with some "nasty surprises" as a result of its experimentation and iteration, he said.

In a different interview earlier this week, Levine shared even more details on the themes for his next game.

"I'm so deeply involved in the themes of our new thing, our new game is a science-fiction game," he said. "It involves themes like artificial intelligence and what it means to be programmed, that you are a thing that was created by programming."

What are you hoping to see from Levine's next game? Let us know in the comments below!

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