The lights are on
Irrational's Ken Levine shared his thoughts with us on the recently announced 1999 mode for BioShock Infinite. Read the full interview below to get Levine's opinion of himself as a gamer, the purpose of the additional mode, and what he misses most from that year.
In case you missed the announcement of 1999 mode earlier this week, the short version is that BioShock Infinite has a mode where Vita-Chamber revives cost money and you have to scrounge for every penny and every bullet to get through the game – just like you did in classic titles like System Shock or Deus Ex. Don't worry if you're not hardcore enough to have fond memories of that era, though. BioShock Infinite's normal difficulty modes will feature a similar (lack of) difficulty to the other games in the series.
Read on for the lengthy interview with the BioShock's creative director himself.
Game Informer: Why are you spending your precious development time and budget on 1999 mode?Ken Levine: It occurred to me in a revelation, what was missing in BioShock 1 – the sense of permanence. And then once you realize that, you're like, "Okay, we need to deal with that problem." I miss that; my favorite part of playing those old-school games is making those decisions.
What decisions do you have to live with in 1999 mode that you don't normally?Even in regular difficulty mode, you're still making choices about your nostrums, which are similar to the gene tonics [in BioShock]. You're still making permanent choices about those. They're stuck to your body permanently. The big difference in terms of choices in this mode is that you're not going to be able to be a jack-of-all-trades, much like in games we've done before. If you're going in one direction, like one weapon or a certain type of vigor, that's going to come at the expense of other weapons and other vigors. If you're specialized in, say, rifles, and you're out of ammo for that and you come across a bunch of pistols or rocket launchers or something, you're going to be not so good with those weapons and you're going to feel that pain. You're really going to be incentivized to find resources for the weapons you're good at. I think that's going to be really interesting when you get into those fights where you feel like you're up against it in a way that you're not normally. Modern games can have a sort of even difficulty across all moments, and I really like those [other] moments. I'm a big fan of comeback moments. This comes from strategy games for me originally, where you really feel you're down and you manage to work your way back up to a place of power, but you have a period in the wilderness.
Do you worry that the challenge will get in the way of the authored experience that's at the core of BioShock?I think that's a risk, certainly. Probably what we're going to do is you'll only be able to get to that mode through some kind of unlock. Not unlock in the game through "left, right, up, down," that kind of thing. But the kind of people who are going to play this are hardcore gamers, right? The people who are going to read Game Informer, go to various blogs and websites, and find this information. Those are the kind of people who are going to want this kind of challenge, I think. But yeah, there's definitely a risk that you're going to get pounded so much that you may not be able to take in the environment as much as the guy who is playing on easy or super easy. We want to give something to the people who are more interested in the game aspects and the resource management aspects.
It seems like difficult games are having a bit of a renaissance these days. Do you agree?I'm an old-school gamer so I'll go play a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and that really drives me, the "scraping by" feeling. That's a different game than BioShock, but for us, it was like, "Okay, let's not forget about those people." And we can't forget about those people because as a gamer, I very much am one of those people. My reactions have probably decayed enough that I'm going to get my ass kicked in 1999 mode, but it's certainly where my head is. I am an XCOM guy, I am a Civilization guy. That's my gaming DNA. I'm a System Shock 1 guy. Those games are so hard, but I think that this is a nice way to have our cake and eat it too.
[Next up: The influence of metrics on BioShock's development, what you get for playing 1999 mode, and more]