BioShock Infinite: 'Combat has evolved in a very substantial way'
25th May 2012 | 10:43
A few months ago we interviewed Irrational Games boss Ken Levine about
We also had the chance to chat about other aspects of the game including its "demanding" 1999 mode, its then-planned October release date, and the measures Levine will use to judge whether it's a success, plus we picked his brains on next-gen consoles. Here's the second part of our chat:
Like BioShock, Infinite allows you to wield a combination of firearms and more exotic powers, but how has the combat most notably evolved?
Combat is one of the things that has evolved in a very substantial way. The reason I feel that way is that in BioShock the combat got a little bit samey along the way because of what we demanded of the player. You'd generally come across an enemy and the right way to deal with them - almost all the enemies - was to use the Electro Bolt, which was incredibly effective across the spectrum.
With BioShock Infinite, one of the opportunities of having the large, vertical spaces is the ability to include weapons that are effective at short range versus those that are effective at long range. You have certain weapons that are extremely effective against you on the Skyline and weapons that are more effective against you on the ground and vice versa in terms of how you interact with the enemies and which weapons you use, so you have to be thinking all of the time. 'What should I be doing now?' 'Which weapon should I be using?' 'Should I be on the Skyline?' 'Should I be on the ground?' 'Should I be in cover?'
And a lot of that also has an impact on the powers you get in the rest of the game. We're really putting a lot of effort into making more demands on the player in terms of combat choices. We're really making them think about the toolset, how they want to approach the combat, and how they want to build their character.
And some of those choices are going to be permanent in 1999 mode.
Even in regular mode, some choices are going to be permanent, but in 1999 mode not only are they going to be permanent but players are going to have to really specialise. It's going to be much more difficult to be a jack of all trades, so you're really going to have to choose some powers at the expense of others in a substantial way.
Apart from the differences in play style and challenge level, can you tell us about any extra incentives to play 1999 mode, such as custom content?
I think there'll be a few custom nostrums [not the equivalent of, but similar to BioShock's tonics], but 1999 mode is really about a feel and a style of play, and the player's experience in terms of difficulty. Really I think the most interesting thing about 1999 mode for me is being, for example, 'I'm really a melee guy', 'I'm really a ranged weapons guy', 'I'm a guy who's great on the Skylines', 'I'm a guy who should never go on the Skylines'.
It's having to make those different types of choices that I think will offer a different style of play to what you've really seen in a BioShock game before, and they really hark back to the olden days when games were... when making it immediately accessible to everybody wasn't always the watchword. With this mode we have the luxury of being able to have our cake and eat it too by providing something that's brutal and punishing for players who want that type of experience, but not just in terms of difficulty, but also in saying that you really need to find a play style and go with it.
The game's coming out in October as the release schedule starts to hot up. If it was strictly your choice, would you not prefer to launch in the quieter summer months? While I can't see it being the case with Infinite, unfortunately yet inevitably some great games go under the radar and don't perform as well as they deserve because of competitive release windows.
That's always a concern, but on the other hand, the games that do well manage to hold their hook in that period. If you look at last year you had a great game coming out almost every week and they all managed to sort of find their audience. I think the challenge is, 'is your game very, very similar to another game?' And I don't think BioShock is. This is perhaps a testimony to out weirdness, but I think it's kind of hard to categorise a BioShock game exactly. It's a first person shooter, but it's not that similar to other first person shooters coming out and I'd be much more concerned if I thought it was.
I could tell you that we've calculated the market share blah, blah, blah, but you know, honestly it's a shot in the dark to a degree. You choose a period and do whatever internal maths you can to figure out the right time from a production standpoint to be done with the game and try to decide when to finish it, because honestly you could go on working on a game forever, and if you don't say this is the right time at some point I could be working on this game for 20 years because I love it.
Then you turn to your marketing people and say 'look, is this a good time? Does it work for you guys?' And then they do their maths and if it sounds alright you release it. I don't think anything about games is really a science. I wish I could say I was a genius who knew all the right answers to everything. The advantage of releasing at that [end of year] time as I understand it is that there are a lot of people in stores in general, buying games and buying everything in general. So it's a yin and yang [situation]. The downside is there's a lot of competition, but the upside of it is there's a lot of energy coming from gamers wanting to buy products.
BioShock won 50 game of the year awards in 2007 and had sold around three million copies in mid 2009. How will you judge Infinite's success or otherwise?
There are three ways to judge a game's success, I think. One is review scores, two is sales, and three is what the experience of making it was like. I have made games that sold nothing. Freedom Force didn't really sell anything but I'll always look back and think about working with Robb Waters, our concept artist, on the characters, and coming up with the story, and working with the other members of the team. By some measures you could say it wasn't a successful experience, but it was a successful experience in my life.
Fortunately BioShock was a success on all those measures. I can certainly say that no matter what happens with Infinite I'll always look back on it as a very special period in my life because I've really had an amazing time working on it. If you're lucky you hit one of those measures, if you're very lucky you hit two, and if you're blessed you hit three.
Is there a general path you'd like to see Microsoft or Sony take with new consoles, and what do you hope new hardware will enable developers to achieve that perhaps they can't at the moment?
I wish I could say I was some kind of brilliant thinker along these lines, that I have this huge vision for the future, but really what I always do on any game is look at the platform and consider what it does well, what it doesn't do so well, and try to leverage some of that. We have a vision for a game and then try to make that work on the platform. I guess what I'm saying is we're not really a technology-driven company. I think our games are very strong technologically, but that's not where we start generally, we're much more of a design-driven company.