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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