Ken Levine shares insight on BioShock's creative storytelling

BioShock creator Ken Levine gives rare insight on his process for writing storylines and characters in the beloved alternate history sci-fi series.

2 minutes & 22 seconds read time

BioShock creator Ken Levine shares the storytelling process and motivations that he used in order to write the fan-favorite series.

Photo Credit: Jim Martin

Photo Credit: Jim Martin

BioShock is known far and wide for its unique story that weaves themes of classism, history, and unchecked tyranny in a fictional underwater city full of art deco beauty. But how exactly did this classical story come to light?

In a recent interview on Colin Moriarty's Sacred Symbols podcast, BioShock creator Ken Levine shared some interesting insight into his core motivations for the games. Levine explores topics like understanding perspectives from a villain's point of view alongside assertions that everything always has to be in service of characters.

Below we have a transcription of what Levine said in regards to the kinds of stories he wants to tell, and the main focus of BioShock's themes.

"Even if you take the worst villain, they're the hero of their own story.

"I don't go into things with an axe to grind. If you're going to write characters, you can't judge them. Even if you're writing the most evil person in the universe, they're the hero of their own story. That doesn't mean they're a hero--they just perceive themselves as the hero of their own story.

"I think that if you don't try to understand where bad outcomes come from, especially in yourself, you can end up in a lot of bad outcomes.

"So I like to write stories...I don't really like to write about villains. I don't know what a villain is. I know that there are people who end up doing things that are quite villainous but how they get there is what's interesting to me.

"You want to understand if you can predict where society is going, or where people are going, that's because you know where they've been."

Ken Levine shares insight on BioShock's creative storytelling 1

Levine goes on to highlight how someone he knows has a business that uses machine learning to predict terrorist attacks, and likens the process of continually looking to the past and establishing patterns to his kind of storytelling. Levine says that he's a huge history buff and used all of his passions to help guide BioShock's arc.

"You can predict the future with some high degree of reasonability if you look at the past. So I think the reason the games have become more believable than some games is because I spent a lot of time thinking about the past and dissecting the past.

"I read a lot of history, and I think that's also a reason why our games are a little different. I read a lot of social history and military history.

"It was all my weird and nerdy hobbies coming together. I don't really try to say anything, I just ask 'what do I really know something about' and how can I leverage that to tell a cool story?

"At the end of the day, all the history and architecture and has to all be in service of people, of characters. Characters are everything. And telling cool stories."

Check out the full interview below:

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Derek joined the TweakTown team in 2015 and has since reviewed and played 1000s of hours of new games. Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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