Ken Levine (game developer)

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Ken Levine
Ken Levine 2014 GDC cropped.jpg
Ken Levine at the 2014 Game Developers Conference
Born (1966-09-01) September 1, 1966 (age 48)
Flushing, New York
Occupation Video game designer, creative director
Religion None (atheist) [1][2]

Ken Levine (born September 1, 1966) is the creative director and co-founder of Irrational Games. He led the creation of the multi-million selling, multiple Game of the Year award-winning video game BioShock, and is also known for his work on Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2.[3][4][5][6] He was named one of the "Storytellers of the Decade" by Game Informer[7] and was the 1UP Network's 2007 person of the year.[8] He received the inaugural Golden Joystick "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his work, such as System Shock 2 and BioShock.[9]

Life and career[edit]

Pre-Irrational Games years[edit]

Levine was born in Flushing, New York to a Jewish family, though he considers himself an atheist.[1][2] He studied drama at Vassar College[10] in Poughkeepsie, New York before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a film career, writing two screenplays.[11] In 1995, he was hired as a game designer by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Looking Glass Studios after replying to a job ad in Next Generation Magazine.[11] At Looking Glass, Levine worked with pioneering designer Doug Church[12] to establish the initial fiction and design of Thief: The Dark Project.[13]

Irrational Games years[edit]

In 1997, following his work on Thief, Levine left Looking Glass along with two coworkers, Jonathan Chey and Robert Fermier, to found Irrational Games.[14] The studio's first game was the science fiction RPG/shooter System Shock 2, a direct sequel to Looking Glass' original 1993 System Shock. Levine served as lead writer and designer,[15] and the game shipped in 1999 to critical acclaim.[16]

Irrational made two Freedom Force games, a real-time tactical RPG that drew heavily on the love Levine and Irrational artist Robb Waters had for the Silver Age of Comic Books. After the first Freedom Force game, Irrational developed Tribes: Vengeance and SWAT 4, on which Levine served as writer and executive producer respectively.

Although Tribes: Vengeance, SWAT 4, and Third Reich all shipped within a year of one another in 2004 and 2005, Irrational had been working in preproduction on the first-person shooter BioShock, the studio's most ambitious game at that point, since 2002.[17] The game went through numerous revisions to its premise and gameplay, and was released in August 2007.[18] In 2005, Levine, Chey, and Fermier sold Irrational Games to publisher Take-Two Interactive. Take-Two Interactive changed their name to 2K, just as BioShock was released.

BioShock was an immediate critical and commercial success, and remains one of the best-reviewed games of all time.[19] The BioShock franchise has sold over 8 million units to date.[6]

In 2008, Levine delivered the keynote address at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, discussing his youth as a nerd in the 1970s and how it impacted the path of his career.[11]

Since the release of BioShock, Levine has been serving as creative director and lead writer on BioShock Infinite, set in 1912 in the fictional floating city of Columbia. BioShock Infinite was a critical success, winning over 80 awards pre-release.[20][21]

On February 18th, 2014, Levine announced that he would lay off 90% of the Irrational Games staff, citing his desire to make smaller, digitally-delivered games.[22]

Games[edit]

Name Year Credited with Publisher
Looking Glass Studios
Thief: The Dark Project 1998 Initial Design and Story Concepts Eidos Interactive
Irrational Games
System Shock 2 1999 Lead Design, Writing / Dialogue / Story, Voiceovers Electronic Arts
Freedom Force 2002 Freedom Force Team, Voices Electronic Arts, 2K Games
Tribes: Vengeance 2004 Writer Vivendi Games
Freedom Force vs the 3rd Reich 2005 Writer Electronic Arts, 2K Games
SWAT 4 2005 Executive Producer Vivendi Games, Sierra Entertainment
BioShock 2007 Story, Writing, Creative Direction 2K Games, Feral Interactive
BioShock Infinite 2013 Lead Writer, Creative Director 2K Games, Aspyr

Work as an author and screenwriter[edit]

Ken Levine has been a consultant and co-author of three books related to the BioShock franchise. These are BioShock: Rapture, BioShock Infinite: Mind in Revolt and The Art of BioShock Infinite. Levine himself did not work on the majority of Rapture and Mind in Revolt, but provided the intellectual property and quotes used by the authors in the books. The author for Rapture was John Shirley and the author for Mind in Revolt was Joe Fielder.[23][24] Levine personally wrote an introduction in the Deluxe Edition of The Art of BioShock Infinite, published by Dark Horse Comics.[25]

In June 2013, Levine has been confirmed to be writing the script for a new film version of the dystopian science fiction novel Logan's Run.[26] Levine will continue to make video games after Logan's Run is finished.[27]

Notable works[edit]

Ken Levine is most notable for his conceptualization and work on the BioShock franchise. Ken Levine and his team worked on BioShock and BioShock Infinite, passing on the opportunity to make BioShock 2.

BioShock is set in 1960, where the player controls a man named Jack who is the sole survivor of a plane crash near a mysterious lighthouse in the mid-atlantic. Jack finds a bathysphere and takes the submersible down to an underwater city called Rapture, a city that was dedicated to the pursuit of a perfect free market economy. The city has fallen into ruin due to the city's social implosion and Jack must find a way to survive against the crazed inhabitants and escape.[28]

BioShock Infinite is set in 1912, where main protagonist Booker Dewitt must travel to Columbia, a flying city that has no fixed location and rescue a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to New York. No motivation is given as to why Booker must do this except the cryptic words "Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt." Booker arrives at Columbia to find an American Exceptionalist city dedicated to hailing the Founding Fathers that is led by a religious zealot known as Father Comstock.[29]

Style and themes[edit]

Ken Levine is known for creating narrative-driven games that explore sociological and philosophical themes. Ken Levine selects dynamic art styles for use in his games, such as Art Deco, steampunk and frontierism. Levine has explored concepts ranging from racial commentary to metaphysics with his games and is very heavy on the storytelling aspect of gaming. He has cited Mad Men, the Coen brothers and Stanley Kubrick as some of his influences.[30]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b VanOrd, Kevin. ""We Can Kill The Industry With Cynicism" - Ken Levine". "Gamespot". Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Is controversy the main selling point of BioShock: Infinite?". March 22, 2013. Retrieved June 3, 2013. 
  3. ^ Fahey, Mike. "X-Play Awards BioShock Game Of The Year", "Kotaku," December 18, 2007. Accessed April 6, 2011.
  4. ^ Jenkins, David. "BioShock Wins SpikeTV Game of the Year", "Gamasutra," December 10, 2007. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  5. ^ GameSpot UK Staff. "BioShock, Wii Sports top BAFTAs", "GameSpot UK," October 23, 2007. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  6. ^ a b Davey, Jamie. "Take-Two: Grand Theft Auto franchise sells over 100 million units, GTAIV accounts for 20m", March 10, 2011. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  7. ^ Game Informer Staff, "Best Storytellers of the Decade." Game Informer, #212, December 2010, p. 70.
  8. ^ 1UP Staff. "2007 1UP Network Editors' Choice Awards", "1UP," January 30, 2008. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  9. ^ Ivan, Tom. "New: Golden Joysticks 2013: Ken Levine accepts Lifetime Achievement award". ComputerAndVideoGAmes.com. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  10. ^ Scharr, Jillian. "Levine '88 discusses career as game developer". The Miscellany News. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Levine, Ken. "PAX 2008 Keynote", August 30, 2008. Referenced April 4, 2011.
  12. ^ G4 TV. "Feedback LIVE! At PAX East 2011 With Ken Levine", March 12, 2011. Referenced April 4, 2011.
  13. ^ Omni. "Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich Q&A with Ken Levine", "The Armchair Empire," March 10, 2005. Referenced April 4, 2011.
  14. ^ Irrational Games. "Studio", referenced April 4, 2011.
  15. ^ MobyGames. "System Shock (1999) Windows credits", "MobyGames," referenced April 4, 2011.
  16. ^ Metacritic. "System Shock 2 for PC Reviews", referenced April 4, 2011.
  17. ^ Irrational Games. "From the Vault - The BioShock Pitch", referenced April 4, 2011.
  18. ^ Fear, Ed. "Bioshock". develop. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Metacritic. "Highest and Lowest Scoring Games at Metacritic", referenced April 4, 2011.
  20. ^ "Bioshock Infinite wins 75 E3 editorial honors". Irrational Games. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  21. ^ "The Game". Irrational Games. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  22. ^ "A Message From Ken Levine"
  23. ^ Wigham, Chris. "Bioshock: Rapture - interview with the author, John Shirley". Console Obsession. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  24. ^ Fielder, Joe. "Bioshock: Mind in Revolt". Amazon Digital Services Incorporated. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  25. ^ "The Art of Bioshock Infinite". Dark Horse Comics. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  26. ^ Futter, Mike. "Bioshock's Ken Levine Tapped To Write Logan's Run Remake For Warner Bros.". Game Informer. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  27. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. ""Bioshock" Creator Ken Levine Takes On "Logan's Run" Script For Warner Bros". Deadline. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  28. ^ "Bioshock (2007) (VG)". IMDB. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  29. ^ "Bioshock Infinite". 2K Gmes. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  30. ^ Cook, Dave. "Ken Levine writing new game, cites Mad Men, Coen Brothers as influence". VG24/7. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 

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