Ken Levine Was Asked A Lot About Making BioShock Without Violence

Esmeralda Portillo

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Ken Levine Was Asked A Lot About Making BioShock Without Violence



Ken Levine was often asked if BioShock could have been made without violence.

In a recent appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered," BioShock creator and creative director Ken Levine discusses how he was often asked about the violence in BioShock: Infinite, and if the game could have been made without it. "Can you do it without the shooting?"

He explains that he wasn't interested in making a game "without a gaming component to it." When asked if he's referring to the violent component he confirms that, "I wouldn't have known how to make a game like Mario. I wouldn't have known how to take this kind of story and turn it into a game about jumping on blocks, or a PacMan eating dots."

He goes on to elaborate that BioShock: Infinite was used as a vehicle to move the discussion forward on the game industry's potential and expectations, "I think the reaction to the violence is more an expression of people building confidence in the industry's ability to express itself in more diverse fashions." Violence, according to Levine, is relatively easy to simulate and there's an established market for it, which is why most games choose to use it.

The segment provides more interesting insights from Levine, like how critics were skeptical about the original game's potential, given it's subject matter. You can listen to the rest of his discussion on where the video game industry is headed here [http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/06/28/326437835/modern-video-games-go-beyond-jumping-on-blocks].

Source: GameSpot [http://www.gamespot.com/articles/bioshock-creator-ken-levine-on-violence-in-games/1100-6420817/]

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WashAran

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Do the people, that ask this question, not get why there was so much freaking violance in this particular game?
 

scotth266

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I feel that those asking why there's violence in the Bioshock games are rather missing the point, ESPECIALLY when it comes to Infinite, as violence is a central part of Booker's character.
 

Ihrgoth

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I absolutely love Bioshock Infinite, and I personally found that the violence ran with a lot of the themes of the games story, such as a beautiful world with an ugly underside, beautiful graphics and art style with a violent and gory side. This helped drive the point home. Also it helped that Elizabeth reacts in horror if you execute an enemy in front of her or kill one in sight of her. It makes the redemption at the end all the more meaningful.
 

Sniper Team 4

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Am I missing something? I wasn't surprised by the violence at all in BioShock Infinite. I'm used to having violence in my videogames. And then there was BioShock and BioShock II, which were also full of violence. And yet, I seem to hear a lot about the violence in Infinite. Why is the violence in this game getting so much attention? Is it really that shocking and I've just become used to this sort of thing now? I mean yes, when you first get the sky hook and use it on that cop, that was a little shocking, but otherwise I just view it was part of the game.
 

Canadamus Prime

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Apparently the people who asked this question did not truly understand the game. Removing the violence from Bioshock: Infinite would've been like removing the time travel from Doctor Who. Or removing warp drive from Star Trek.
 

VondeVon

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I agree that violence is an easy game mechanic and one of the basest traditional formats in games (hell, it's a step above kids yelling 'bang bang!' at each other) but I find the notion of making this game without it to be incredibly interesting.

Columbia was gorgeous but once the fighting started it was mostly a blur to me. I couldn't reliably describe where or what the game looked like after I first started splattering brains so from an appreciating-the-environs aspect, no fighting would be nice.

As a new Pilgrim you have to fit in (and maybe start wearing gloves after you see a sign showing your tattoo) and could play more stealth-style as you keep yourself looking respectable whilst also stealing food/supplies/hacking vigors and sneaking into places you shouldn't be, carefully timing it to enter the tower when most of the shift is off and either avoiding or choking out any lingering scientists.

Or, you could use the underlying racial tensions to your advantage and help the enslaved underclass, building trust and respect with them so that they help you (janitors distracting people away, opening doors etc) and then once you've gotten Elizabeth out you and she are just faces in the crowd (except maybe for guards who might have been told your description? Requiring an Assassin's Creed-esque 'building awareness meter?) but as you continue using your contacts in the underclass to stay hidden and get moving, they start asking you for help with the rebellion.

If you agree you become a leading rebel figure, instantly recognisable but with many more resources (and 'all you have to do' is help them win, then there'd never be anyone coming after Elizabeth - helping them win not through you fighting anyone but you putting your army days tactics to use and directing rebel groups, arms movements and making judgement calls regarding violence/no violence, sabotage or propaganda, execute or forgive. Unlike Bioshock 2 where all 'good/forgive' choices were ideal, you could have the decisions make *sense*. Those sympathetic to you or who will aid you don't get executed but those who are your stalwart enemies do. Violence here but negotiating there. The way you direct the rebellion changes not only whether you win or lose but also the degree to which you win or lose - the nightmare widespread massacre of the original game or a less violent 'equality' achievement? Etc.) but if you refuse then every single helping person refuses you and some might even point you out to guards.
 

Worgen

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Whatever, just wash your hands.
Its not the violence that seems out of place in bioshock, its that, that's the only means of interacting with your enemies. In the original it was fine since splicers were essentially just monsters, but in Infinite the enemies were just normal people, it seems weird that they would see their comrades get killed and still just mindlessly charge you.
 

Dreadman75

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I like how he answered the question, about how he didn't know how to make it without the violence. It implies that if he saw another way to do so he would have taken it if it meant he could tell his story in an improved way.

He's honest if nothing else, and in this industry these days that's something to be applauded.
 

LysanderNemoinis

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Nov 8, 2010
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I would have been more inclined to ask if the game could have been made without being so pretentious and Mr. Levine and crew so damn proud of themselves for making a story that couldn't hold a candle to the first BioShock and especially not BioShock 2's and Minerva's Den's. And when it comes to Elizabeth - Great, you made a helpful female sidekick who doesn't get in the way. Whoopie. Valve beat your by almost a decade, and I don't even like Valve that much.
 

Phrozenflame500

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So basically he included generic first-person shooting for the reasons everyone expected they did; because it sells well and they have no clue how to integrate gameplay and story.

To bad the gameplay is god-awful and the story is mediocre, but kudos to him for being honest.
 

Kameburger

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LysanderNemoinis said:
I would have been more inclined to ask if the game could have been made without being so pretentious and Mr. Levine and crew so damn proud of themselves for making a story that couldn't hold a candle to the first BioShock and especially not BioShock 2's and Minerva's Den's. And when it comes to Elizabeth - Great, you made a helpful female sidekick who doesn't get in the way. Whoopie. Valve beat your by almost a decade, and I don't even like Valve that much.
I don't really see what was so pretentious about this game, I thought it was quite good at not being that.
Also Elizabeth is a vital character who's actions pro-actively influence the stories outcome. With all due respect, I would invite you to take another crack at this game, as I feel like you might have rushed through it, skipping cut-scenes and what not.
 

Soviet Heavy

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The first thing that people saw of Bioshock was a trailer that ended with a man getting impaled on a drill. I think violence was implied.
 

Brian Tams

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Are... are people unable to analyze even basic themes?

Violence is a huge overarching theme in Bioshock, especially in Bioshock: Infinite. Its integral to Booker's character, as well as Fitzroy, Comstock, Slate...

Do people not get this???
 

LysanderNemoinis

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Kameburger said:
LysanderNemoinis said:
I would have been more inclined to ask if the game could have been made without being so pretentious and Mr. Levine and crew so damn proud of themselves for making a story that couldn't hold a candle to the first BioShock and especially not BioShock 2's and Minerva's Den's. And when it comes to Elizabeth - Great, you made a helpful female sidekick who doesn't get in the way. Whoopie. Valve beat your by almost a decade, and I don't even like Valve that much.
I don't really see what was so pretentious about this game, I thought it was quite good at not being that.
Also Elizabeth is a vital character who's actions pro-actively influence the stories outcome. With all due respect, I would invite you to take another crack at this game, as I feel like you might have rushed through it, skipping cut-scenes and what not.

No need to use an Italian eraser phrase (Dom Irrera joke), but I didn't skip any of the cutscenes or any of the dialogue, audio logs, etc. I just found the game's story to be far below their previous game and further below 2K Marin's output in BioShock 2. And yeah, Elizabeth is pro-active in the story, but so is Alyx from Half-Life and so are a lot of other female characters, but I never heard people falling all over themselves for the badass ladies of Resident Evil or Dead Space (admittedly minus the third game) the way they did for Elizabeth.

As for being pretentious, I got sick and tired of the game slamming it's "big ideas" at with giant fists of ham and then being so proud of itself. BioShocks 1 and 2 were subtle and nuanced, but I feel Infinite is just a caricature of the series, and without the far more interesting gameplay of the previous games to hold up the shoddy narrative, it falls utterly flat for me. The first two games were masterful works of art that combined great stories with terrific gameplay. Infinite's story is just a Twilight Zone episode written by an MSNBC commentator married to gameplay that's essentially Call of Duty with magic.
 

Pogilrup

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Ok I think the problem isn't the presence of violence but how it is being applied.

Booker is pretty much openly waging war against Columbia as a one man army for half the game. The trouble is that Columbia is a stable, if oppressive, society and that as the player you are pretty much bring about chaos by the truckloads.

IMO perhaps it would've been "smarter" to allow the player to wage guerilla warfare instead of rampaging through town. When not fighting one is scheming and gathering supplies for the next strike. When the strike does come perhaps it would be better to cause mass panic than mass bloodshed.
 

BarelyAudible

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I can't speak for the others, but my beef with violence is how it's mostly tied into the shootouts. How this amazing experience is interrupted with a "Hey! Here's gunplay so you don't forget you're playing a video game!".
 

Baresark

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I don't really care for Ken Levine, but you have to love how honest he is. I half expected him to be like, "I really wanted to do that, but the publisher said it wouldn't sell so I wasn't allowed to."

As other's have stated, violence is a major part of the story. It couldn't really be made without it and most of the violence is leading towards something in all of the games. And it was such an integral part of Booker's character. Part of the theme is how he goes from being a violent fighter to being a "prophet" who uses violence to achieve his ends. It's a reformation (hardly seems like a coincidence) of sorts for the character but doesn't change the core of who he is.

This is my big issue with games going "mainstream" like they have done, and now comics. As soon as it's outside it's main culture of people who supported it when it wasn't "mainstream", everyone all of the suddenly has a say in how everything is done, changing the core of what it is. It's weird. So, we have games that are first person story games with no gameplay (ie Home and Dear Esther). People love those. But they are the worst kind of "game" in that there is not a game part of it. I'm not saying they shouldn't exist or that they are terrible (I don't care for them, but that is a personal choice and is not commentary on the whole genre). Adventure games have a gameplay element and tell a story, so for me that is a higher form of gaming. The Walking Dead is rife with violence, but that story would significantly lesser without it. So would the Bioshock games.

It's automatically considered "artistic" by most onlookers because they lack this "terrible violence", and they feel compelled to then question why other games can't be like this, even acting as if other games are lesser because they don't emulate this same thing. The only thing is that many game developers strive to not be homogenized. They want to make something that matters to them and is there's. You can't blame them for that.

People who ask those sort of questions should honestly avoid games, they aren't going to make the pass time better, only worse.

BarelyAudible said:
I can't speak for the others, but my beef with violence is how it's mostly tied into the shootouts. How this amazing experience is interrupted with a "Hey! Here's gunplay so you don't forget you're playing a video game!".
After all I just said, I do agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly though. It was just a bunch of shooting galleries between moments that really mattered, and not particularly good ones at that. They weren't bad, but they were just so... vanilla, to put it in the words of one of my coworkers.
 

Eternal_Lament

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Honestly, I never really got the complaints about the violence. Considering the story of Infinite and Booker as a character, violence seems like a perfect fit actually. I've always suspected that when people touted that the game suffered from "ludonarrative dissonance" that they either a) just didn't like the game (which is fine) but wanted an academic reason to explain their dislike and convince other people that they're wrong, or b) felt that since the game came out after the whole issue with Sandy Hook and the media focus on gaming that it was their responsibility to denounce violent games as a way to justify themselves or their hobby to mainstream media.