Ken Levine Was Asked A Lot About Making BioShock Without Violence


New member
Dec 19, 2013
Isn't combat the entire draw for the Bioshock series? None of them has had a strong story. What they excelled at was atmosphere, but that only enhanced the actual gameplay and the sheer variety of ways you can approach combat (at least in the first two, Infinite kind of dropped the ball a bit there.)

I still remember before the first game came out, the marketing was focusing on the intricacy of the combat, and that's exactly why I enjoyed the games.

This is like suggesting that GTA be made without stealing cars.


New member
Aug 13, 2008
Well look at Tomb Raider. The classic games had much more puzzles, exploration, and entire levels without other human beings. There were even times that you ran across random wandering NPCs that you didn't have to kill and they'd help you as long as you didn't attack them. There would just mostly be demons, monsters, and aggressive animals to kill.

Crystal Dynamics declared that boring, put in fun time, gore arenas and less tombs/puzzles. Then everyone declared the game revolutionary and progressive over the original cause Lara's cup size was smaller and she cried more.

Bet the new game will have a scene where Lara rips a man's eye out with the ice axe, holds it up to the camera and questions what kind of monster she has become, shedding a singular tear of regret. Then proceeds to hack more men to bits, while flipping around like a monkey to get the highest score.


New member
Nov 9, 2008
I agree with the posters saying that violence is a core theme of the Bioshock series. However, I will say that there was too much, and that the shooting parts of the game were an absolute slog. The first part of the game (before you start gunning people down) and the last part after destroying the Siphon were the highlights for me. Making it more of a "walk-em-up" (I believe that's the term that's getting used) might have been better.


Elite Member
Nov 15, 2012
I wouldn't say the violence hurt the game as much as the tedious insertion of an excess of said violence.

The amount of run-around fetch quests to send you into arenas to fight guys, often refilled for the trip back as well just felt like padding. Farther on into the game, it stops even using interesting setpieces and you're just fighting refilling corridors (in the mechanics sense, I'm aware that some of them are outside, but still effectively corridors) full of mooks (and then palette swapped mooks).


New member
Apr 26, 2014
Pogilrup said:
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.
I'm gonna be that guy...

While it is true that Columbia was stable at the beginning of the game, even then as the game starts you get peeks at the civil unrest just below the surface of this society.

No one hits you over the head with it until much later sure, but it is implied and there is pretty much little doubt that things were going to get violent even without you as the supposed catalyst or scapegoat. Then lets just point out that Booker was expected and this entire society was setup against you even before you realize it. You aren't actually bring chaos, if your very presence pretty much means that people are going to fall into what is essentially state advocated vigilantism to stop you at all costs.

I agree that it would have been more interesting to have been able to have more tactical options about how you go about things, but I don't feel like they were being less "smart" with the choices they made in regards to how Columbia reacts to you the player.


Scandinavian Jawbreaker
Jul 22, 2010
Worgen said:
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.
It isn't really weird once you think about it. I mean, these people are religious fanatics who live in a Jonestown (but nicer)-style cult, and to them Booker is literally the devil who they think is literally out to destroy their world and kill their families. It would be weird if they didn't try and kill you with every opportunity. :\


I'm anticipating DmC. Flame me.
Jul 23, 2008
Oh not that fucking thing again. It's a story about violence, how do you tell that without fucking VIOLENCE?!


New member
Jun 1, 2011
The problem with Bioshock Infinite is the same problem that comes with all Bioshock games; the "game" part is always the least engaging part.

Each Bioshock opens with a memorable, highly cinematic intro sequence, features a few minutes of roaming a non-hostile environment, and then railroads you from one amusement park set-piece to another. The moment weapons are drawn and crazed fanatics start gibbering, the game just becomes comically out-of-place bar brawls and shootouts, desperately being glued together by a lot of System Shock 2 voice recordings, and the occasional faux-shocking twist revelation or pretentious cutscene blather with a bad-guy.

The reason combat worked in System Shock 2 was that you were in a genuinely dead environment, filled with alien-infested crew and creepy suicide robots that'd wander in while you were exploring (read, while EXPLORING--big factor here) with your back turned. In Bioshocks, the games are always too shoved-up their own story to ever let it sink in that the enemies might be scary--and they're all just 'people' to boot. Sure, some of them are ugly people, but half their dialogue makes them seem like cartoon characters that would seem appropriate walking out of the setting of Team Fortress 2. Even the Big Daddies are threatening in the least direct way possible, and fighting them is something you always do on your own terms. Hell, there's practically an alarm bell any time you have to fight a splicer, what with them giving themselves away from a mile with banal jabber meant to be intimidating. Then you have Burial At Sea part 2, where they're so desperate to conjure fear and tension into the game that they have Sander Cohen make a "LOOK BEHIND YOU" gag to try and get you to jump.

I think if the Bioshock crew spent half as much time trying to make a game specifically for its congruous gameplay, as they do hyping up the bloody things cinematic elements, violence wouldn't even be a concern. As it stands, the games don't even make the violence that particularly 'relevant', let alone jarring. By the end of most playthroughs, I'd slaughtered ten times as many people as any of the actual antagonists, and any time I encountered something breathing, my first instinct was to beat the snot out of it just to get it to stop rambling on. Then I had to ask where all the nice people teleported off to, in order to give room for the loonies with the Lady Liberty masks to jump in. Perhaps they all realized at once, that they were in a Bioshock game, and that eventually they would either have to go crazy or be forced to vacate the premises, and having made this realization, willed themselves from being.

Not the stunning orgasmic game-of-the-year experience I'd expect of a game with this much clout, and it's embarrassing that all it takes these days to clinch that title is a modestly good support character who can summon samurai into department stores for whatever reason. What I'm wondering is what would happen if we got more of the juiciness of Burial At Sea Part 1's opening moments--just exploring an interesting location with interesting characters, without it becoming a monkey house of bang-bang and fireballs.


Inaction Master
Jul 9, 2009
LysanderNemoinis said:
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.
>dont like pretentiousness
>make obscure reference



New member
Mar 1, 2010
Phrozenflame500 said:
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.
Eh? The gameplay is not awful. You might not like shooters, but that doesnt mean its awful. Its a hell of a lot more polished and smooth than System Shock 2 could ever hope to be. Is it as deep? Hell no, but that does not mean its bad. The story is not mediocre either. Its not as good as Bioshock 1, but its pretty damn engaging.

Violence is ultimately the expression of conflict. Of failed communication and the impossibility of seeing eye to eye. The shooting is simply the manifestation of Bookers fight against an opposing philosophy on one level and a more specific individual on the other.

That might sound lofty, but in a game like Bioshock it is true as well. The game takes care to create an atmosphere and backdrop to paint its colors. This elevates the rest of the game.


New member
May 28, 2008
So basically ken just outed himself as being creatively bankrupt when it comes to gameplay design. Given how tedious and dull Infinites gameplay was I'm honestly not surprised to now hear this. That original e3 demo was amazing and then the actual game played almost nothing like it.

J Tyran

New member
Dec 15, 2011
VondeVon said:
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.
Love the idea of this, it would have been great but most developers couldnt pull it off. Violence was really a part of Bookers character, it had followed him all his life and despite wanting to change he could never shake his nature. Having the opportunity for him turn it into something positive for once in his life would have made a more compelling character arc, tie that into the big shock at the end and it could have decided his fate. If he redeemed himself it could have gone one way, if he had learned nothing and stayed the same it could have gone the other.


New member
Dec 26, 2012
tzimize said:
Eh? The gameplay is not awful. You might not like shooters, but that doesnt mean its awful. Its a hell of a lot more polished and smooth than System Shock 2 could ever hope to be. Is it as deep? Hell no, but that does not mean its bad.
I actually quite like shooters, but Bioshock: Infinite's had a shit-tier two weapons system with flacid, boring guns and heavily bullet spongey enemies towards the end. Not to mention the vigors were, aside from a few, basically just glorified carbon copies of one another. The only saving grace was maybe the skyrails, but even that felt kinda stiff and generally underdeveloped. And saying the shooting is "more polished and smooth than System Shock 2" is like saying a pile of shit smells better then a skunk's asshole.

tzimize said:
The story is not mediocre either. Its not as good as Bioshock 1, but its pretty damn engaging.
I'd say it was mediocre. The long dev time really showed and the story could have used a lot of trimming down. It went from a satirical take on the 50s to focusing on Elizabeth to class warfare to focusing on Booker and then a bizarre multi-dimensional twist thrown in at the last second. Any one of those could have been made into compelling stories in their own right, but all together it just feels like a disjointed mess.


New member
Oct 16, 2011
Bioshock would be infinitely better if it were an "Adventure and Investigation" type game. A game where Booker Dewitt acts like an actual ****ing investigator. Talking to people, uncovering clues, breaking into offices to take a look at secret documents and finding out what sorts of fishy things are going on Columbia. Its sad that not only do game developers not make these types of games, they apparently cant even comprehend that things could be done that way.


New member
Dec 26, 2007
I don't think the violence was technically too much, but it felt so out of place, I was expecting a "spec Ops:The Line" ending after two-thirds.
I mean all you're doing in this game is slaughtering civillians for their political views, which I guess fits the theme of the game and Columbia, but take a step back and you realize how insane it is.
And even if it's pointed out, you still manage to beat every bad guy in every possible dimension(let's not argue about the logic here) and your murders are eventually rewarded with a happy ending.


New member
Aug 11, 2012
Make Bioshock without the action gameplay? Not if you want to make money in this industry.


New member
Dec 31, 2009
And again people complain about something without being informed on them.

That's the whole point of the Bioshock games...I guess they haven't been paying attention to the story.

Casual Shinji

Should've gone before we left.
Jul 18, 2009
cthulhuspawn82 said:
Bioshock would be infinitely better if it were an "Adventure and Investigation" type game. A game where Booker Dewitt acts like an actual ****ing investigator. Talking to people, uncovering clues, breaking into offices to take a look at secret documents and finding out what sorts of fishy things are going on Columbia. Its sad that not only do game developers not make these types of games, they apparently cant even comprehend that things could be done that way.
My thoughts exactly. It was the generic bullet hosing that ultimately made me give up on the game. Not that this was the only problem I had with it. I don't mind violence one bit, but when your attempt at telling a serious story is steeped in Serious Sam levels of shooting action, something's gone wrong somewhere.

And is it me, or does this article say that Ken Levine just threw in an easy game mechanic regardless of whether it would fit the setting? Because that would just be really lazy. Or he was pressured into it. Not that the shooting in the first Bioshock was anything to write home about, but it atleast that had some variety.