Why Ken Levine moved on from BioShock: 'I [thought I'd] lose my mind, and my marriage'

Having been immersed in the franchise for several years by that point, Levine realized it was having adverse effects on his life.

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Rolling Stone's Glixl publication ran a detailed interview with BioShock director Ken Levine (via GameSpot). The interview touched on a wide range of subjects, including why Levine chose to step away from producing blockbuster games in favor of smaller, more experimental projects.

Levine directed 2007's original BioShock as well as BioShock Infinite, the latest entry in the franchise released back in 2013. Having been immersed in the franchise for several years by that point, Levine realized it was having adverse effects on his life.

"I saw a picture of me when we first announced it. That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it in 2013. And I look 10 years older," he said. "It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people."

Although he didn't feel up to making another installment right away, he resolved himself to table the idea and told his bosses at Take-Two that he would be leaving to create a smaller game. "I think the natural expectation was that I would go and do the next bigger and better BioShock game. And I felt, 'I think I'll fail if I do that. I think I'll lose my mind, and my marriage.' And so my solution was to quit."

Take-Two asked him to stay, and Levine and a few ex-Irrational developers formed a smaller studio as part of Take-Two. To Levine's surprise Take-Two closed Irrational Games rather than put another team on a new BioShock game.

Even so, he's happy working in a more intimate setting. "Managing 30 or 40 people where you know everybody's name is a very different process than managing 150 people. You walk by people in the studio and you don't know who they are."

2K published BioShock: The Collection for Xbox One, PS4, and PC this week. The package includes remastered versions of BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite, as well as all single-player DLC for each game plus extras like commentary with Levine as well as lead animator Shawn Robertson.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    September 15, 2016 12:35 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Why Ken Levine moved on from BioShock: 'I [thought I'd] lose my mind, and my marriage'

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      September 15, 2016 2:44 PM

      He leaves to go into the Film industry. Cause that industry is way more interested personal and professional.

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        September 15, 2016 2:46 PM

        easier work hours as well

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        September 15, 2016 3:11 PM

        He isn't writing screenplays full-time, though. And while I agree that film has a reputation for being cutthroat and impersonal, the games business is just as bad these days. I've been on both sides of the industry--writing about it, and writing scripts for games--and Hollywood models apply to games as much as they do to films.

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          September 15, 2016 3:23 PM

          I've been on both sides. The film industry feels like people being forced to work together but there not "working Together" if that makes sense. They'd gladly stab people in back, or throw people under a bus to get a few inches ahead of the Film rat race. I'm sure there are some Video Game studios like this, but from what I've seen, the Majority of Studios and Devs work together to make something they want people to enjoy, Every Creative Director I've met has cared that I liked or dislike his/her game, in the Film industry Those directors don't give two shits. I remember I went to Comic Con in 2011 or 2012 and the director of "The Wolverine" was in a Q & A, I forgot the exact question the fan asked, but I'll remember forever the answer James Mangold gave " I Don't care if you like it, just go see it" The film-industry in a nutshell.

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            September 15, 2016 3:30 PM

            That makes sense. I'd enjoy reading/hearing more about your experience in the film industry. I find inside baseball-type stuff fascinating. :)

            As for how the games industry operates, it's like any other: the bigger the company, the more people are involved, and the more people involved, the more likely you'll have cliques and politics.

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            September 15, 2016 4:05 PM

            Either I've had the luckiest 15 years ever in the industry, but that doesn't represent my time whatsoever.

            The house definitely suck, but shit people are put in their place pretty quick.

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              September 15, 2016 4:05 PM

              *hours

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              September 15, 2016 4:09 PM

              Haha yeah... I'm wondering what direct experience he actually has in the industry that isn't a comic con panel.

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                September 15, 2016 4:16 PM

                Me? or the director lol

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                  September 15, 2016 4:23 PM

                  You. I ask because your comments read more like stuff seen from people that have just heard and read things rather than someone who's had a lot of direct, every day, embedded experience in either industry.

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                    September 15, 2016 4:40 PM

                    I've worked for TLC, Warner Bros Animation, Discovery, MTV, G4, and multiple Post House Studios. Not to mention Freelanced over a dozen Indy projects while in and out of college.

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                      September 15, 2016 5:23 PM

                      pfft newb ;)

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                      September 15, 2016 5:31 PM

                      What were you doing at those places? I've been in the TV/Film/Games industry for the last 15+ years on the art side and yea competition and hours are high, but that should be expected. You listed 5 years earlier, but then listed a bunch of different places, so it sounds like you were doing mostly small project, super temp contract work?

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                        September 15, 2016 5:41 PM

                        My career story is a long,sad frustrating one. One day I may tell it.

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                          September 15, 2016 5:57 PM

                          5 years though and bounced around a ton? That's why I asked what you specifically did in the industry so I could figure out what may have affected you so severely since you obviously sound super jaded and seem to been projecting and making huge generalizations while thinking the one industry is any different than the other (it's not).

                          And then things like this make me question your conclusions:

                          http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=35430061#item_35430061

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                            September 15, 2016 7:33 PM

                            Can we just agree to disagree you obliviously had a completely reverse experience from me, that doesn't mean that your right and I'm wrong, & my experience doesn't mean I'm right or your wrong. I don't want to go into detail about my personal work experience I faced a lot of struggles and obstacles on my journey. It was a very personal thing I went through. I'm pretty much down with this conversion now."

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              September 15, 2016 4:21 PM

              May I ask, if its okay. Are you older? Cause i feel the industry is a lot different now. You sound established. For me it was between 2005-10 it was a nightmare working in it for me, so i left. Shitty people, bad attitudes and Fierce, flat out Fierce competition.

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                September 15, 2016 4:34 PM

                I'm 36. I've worked in a ton of different departments before I got into producing. '99 was when I started doing dailies throughout university.

                I'm not saying that you didn't have a bad experience, I think that's entirely possible. But everyone I've worked for or with has a very short leash for bad attitudes. I guess it's all about what door you get your foot into...

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                September 15, 2016 6:07 PM

                As someone who has never set foot inside a game studio I can say with absolute conviction that what you describe exists everywhere in the gaming industry. In fact it's in every industry, fuck it's everywhere!!!!

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            September 15, 2016 4:29 PM

            I've worked in both as well, as an IT guy, but heavily involved in the company and knew everyone. I would gladly go back to games any day. The movie industry is not doing well and the companies are so big its way too political. In games there is a sense of everyone working their asses off to accomplish a goal. In movie/tv industry it's so big that most people are terrible workers who don't do dick all day. That's my experience anyway. I'd love to work in games again and when I left it I hated it due to crunch time only to realize I put it more hours now. Obviously everyone has their own experiences but I do think my coworkers now would love to work at a games company.

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      September 15, 2016 3:31 PM

      sounds like selling the company kinda forced him to do things he didnt want. I miss their original run as Irrational

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        September 15, 2016 3:32 PM

        see my take away was they wanted him to work in a larger team, and he was unwilling to compromise.

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          September 15, 2016 3:52 PM

          That's what you got out of this?

          "I saw a picture of me when we first announced it. That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it in 2013. And I look 10 years older," he said. "It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people."
          Although he didn't feel up to making another installment right away, he resolved himself to table the idea and told his bosses at Take-Two that he would be leaving to create a smaller game. "I think the natural expectation was that I would go and do the next bigger and better BioShock game. And I felt, 'I think I'll fail if I do that. I think I'll lose my mind, and my marriage.' And so my solution was to quit."


          That's him realizing he was super stressed and overworked and being under the pressure to make an even bigger game that would take even more of his life over the next time and he didn't want that to happen.

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            September 15, 2016 4:25 PM

            sounds like triple A games are soul crushing in victory and defeat.

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      September 15, 2016 4:41 PM

      It's funny he said that cus Infinite was an imposter of an "immersive sim."

      Bioshock was already simplified, Infinite did away with all pretense.

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        September 15, 2016 4:53 PM

        Would you say it was a watered-down System Shock?

        lulz

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          September 15, 2016 5:14 PM

          lmao

          Infinite wasn't system shock anything. In the first combat sequence I had no choice but to shoot a guy in the face and the bioshock series patented strawberry jam shot out of his body.

          It was an average shooter.

          When Bioshock came out he explained all the simplification as a compromise to the mass market. It was supposed to introduce COD people to immersive sim, with full fledged ones to come in the future. Turned out the old adage proved correct yet again. Key SS2 vets leaving the company a month prior to release said it all.

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            September 15, 2016 5:30 PM

            It's all good tho.

            Between Judas Levine here and Eidos Montreal thinking Thief = Ass Creed, thank god we still got Arcane holding down the fort + indie true believers in control of the SS IP and letting the original Origin guys helm the sequel.

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            September 15, 2016 11:01 PM

            I meant Bioshock but I agree with you. I really liked the way they streamlined it, though. I played it quite late and was as immersed as in SS2.

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              September 16, 2016 3:39 AM

              It was an implausible and unsustainable world. The gameplay wasn't bad. It was watered down, as you said, cus it's basically: "Hey I can kill enemies 3 ways: shoot them, get them to kill each other, or get turret to shoot them! What a revelation!"

              What's missing is true reactivity. How about knockout? How about sneak pass? Immersive sim tend to react to player activity with more options, surprises, tidbits of incidental story, etc.

              The ironic thing is BS2 actually had much better levels. And what did 2K Marin get for their effort? Thumb down, low score.

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                September 16, 2016 6:37 AM

                I just couldn't get into BS2, I was really turned off by the first set pieces. It felt like a completely different game and more action focussed. I liked what I've played of Minerva's Den but haven't finished it. Maybe now is a good time to try again.

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      September 15, 2016 6:23 PM

      I get what hes saying, that dude really throws himself deep into what he and his team is making. Being everywhere and everythung at once is a ton of stress, not to mention the huge burden of the giant budgets these games have now hanging over your head