Ken Levine is known as the man behind “BioShock” but in the three years since that game launched, no one had any idea what he and his team at Irrational Games were working on. That mystery has finally been revealed, and Levine sat down with MTV News to discuss his new project, “BioShock Infinite.”
Rapture, the underwater city players explored in “BioShock,” has not yet been built when “BioShock Infinite” takes place. Set in the early 1900s, “Infinite” has players exploring a brand-new locale: Columbia, a massive, floating city in the sky, suspended by hot-air balloons and propellers. “Imagine what the moon landing was in 1969,” Levine explained. “This was the purpose of Columbia, was to show the success of the American experiment, of American ingenuity, of American endeavor, the American democratic principles. And to move around the world as a demonstration of what we could create.”
But there was a darker reason for Columbia’s existence as well: It’s a weapon. Levine goes so far as to call it a “Death Star.” And once its true nature was revealed to the world, Columbia vanished into the clouds and wasn’t seen again for more than a decade. It’s around this time that your character discovers Columbia and unravels the mystery of what has been going on there.
Unlike Rapture’s dark colors and muted tones (a side-effect of being built deep beneath the sea), Columbia is bright and sunny. The blue skies, white clouds and architectural opulence in “BioShock Infinite” provide a stark contrast to the original game. Levine said this shift was by design. “We’re not interested in repeating ourselves. I’m a real admirer of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. How do you take a world that doesn’t look traditionally scary, that’s bright and colorful … how do you make that weird and creepy and strange? We had worked in that darker palette, that underwater palette, that deep-space palette. These deep purples and reds and darkness. And we said, ‘Well, let’s do something very different.’ ”
Columbia is most certainly different, but it was important to Levine that “BioShock Infinite” stay true to the tenets of the franchise. “To me, there’s two things that make a ‘BioShock’ game ‘BioShock.’ They take place in a world that is both fantastic and ridiculous. Something that you’ve never seen before and something that nobody else could create except Irrational, but it’s also strangely grounded and believable. The other thing that makes it a ‘BioShock’ game, it’s about having a huge toolset of power and a huge range of challenges, and you being able to drive how you solve those challenges. With ‘BioShock Infinite,’ we’re really just expanding upon that.”
The toolset Levine spoke about isn’t just limited to the weapons and powers given to the player. The environment also plays a bit part in player choice. Levine demonstrated a section of the game where players can ride rails, called skylines, from one floating block to another. These rails aren’t just a means of getting from point A to point B; they allow players to decide how to approach a combat situation. Do you try to get as close as possible to your target, or do you stay far away and mobile? Levine is trying to make a game where both options would be viable.
Our first glimpse at “BioShock Infinite” was relatively brief, but it was enough to whet an appetite that’s been starving for information since 2007. Unfortunately, our patience will have to hold out for a while longer, as the game is planned for release in 2012.
For more on “BioShock Infinite,” head on over to Multiplayer.MTV.com.