Ken Levine (game developer)

Kenneth M. Levine (born September 1, 1966) is an American game developer. He is the creative director and co-founder of Ghost Story Games (formerly known as Irrational Games). He led the creation of the BioShock series, and is also known for his work on Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2.[1][2][3][4] He was named one of the "Storytellers of the Decade" by Game Informer[5] and was the 1UP Network's 2007 person of the year.[6] He received the inaugural Golden Joystick "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his work.

Ken Levine
Ken Levine 2014 GDC cropped.jpg
Levine at the 2014 Game Developers Conference
Kenneth M. Levine

(1966-09-01) September 1, 1966 (age 54)
EducationVassar College (B.A.)
OccupationVideo game designer, creative director, author, screenwriter
Known forBioShock
BioShock Infinite
System Shock 2
Thief: The Dark Project

Life and careerEdit

Levine was born in Flushing, New York to a Jewish family. He studied drama at Vassar College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama in 1988,[7] in Poughkeepsie, New York before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a film career, writing two screenplays.[8] 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.[8] At Looking Glass, Levine worked with pioneering designer Doug Church[9] to establish the initial fiction and design of Thief: The Dark Project.[10]

In 1997, following his work on Thief, Levine left Looking Glass along with two coworkers, Jonathan Chey and Robert Fermier, to found Irrational Games.[11] The studio's first game was System Shock 2, an early hybrid of a role-playing game and first-person shooter. System Shock 2 is the sequel to Looking Glass' System Shock (1994). Levine served as lead writer and designer,[12] and the game shipped in 1999 to critical acclaim.[13]

Irrational Games developed Freedom Force and its sequel Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich, real-time tactical role-playing games that drew heavily on the love Levine and Irrational Games's 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 Games had been working in preproduction on the first-person shooter BioShock, the studio's most ambitious game at that point, since 2002.[14] The game went through numerous revisions to its premise and gameplay, and was released in August 2007.[15] 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 a critical and commercial success, and is considered one of the best games of all time.[16] The BioShock franchise has sold over 25 million units to date.[17]

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.[8]

Since the release of BioShock, Levine served as creative director and lead writer on BioShock Infinite, set in 1912 in the floating city of Columbia. BioShock Infinite was a critical and commercial success, winning over 80 awards pre-release.[18][19]

On February 18, 2014, Levine announced that Irrational Games would be closing down, with fifteen members of the staff to follow Levine to focus on digital only, narrative-driven games for Take-Two.[20] Levine stated in a 2016 interview that the stress of managing Infinite's development had affected his health and personal relationships, and rather than stay on to lead an even larger BioShock game, opted to depart from it. Levine's current project involves a concept of "Narrative Legos" that can be used to create an endlessly-replayable story-driven video game.[21]

On February 23, 2017, Irrational Games was rebranded as Ghost Story Games, founded by 12 of the former Irrational members with Levine remaining as president and creative director.[22]

Work as an author and screenwriterEdit

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 had been confirmed to be writing the script for a new film version of the dystopian science fiction novel Logan's Run.[26] However, he was later dropped from the project.[27]

In April 2016, Levine stated he was working with Interlude to write and produce the pilot episode for an interactive, live-action series based on The Twilight Zone, which will be published by CBS.[28][29]

Notable worksEdit

Ken Levine is most notable for his conceptualization and work on the BioShock franchise. 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.[30]

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.[31]

Style and themesEdit

Ken Levine is known for creating narrative-driven games that explore sociological and philosophical themes. He 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 emphasizes the storytelling aspect of gaming. He has cited Mad Men, the Coen brothers and Stanley Kubrick as some of his influences.[32]

Personal lifeEdit

While Levine considers himself culturally Jewish, he does not follow Judaism,[33] and considers himself an atheist.[34][35]

List of worksEdit

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, Crave Entertainment
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
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea 2013 Lead writer, creative director 2K Games, Aspyr
Ghost Story Games
Untitled Ghost Story Games Project[36] TBA TBA TBA


  1. ^ Fahey, Mike. "X-Play Awards BioShock Game Of The Year", "Kotaku," December 18, 2007. Accessed April 6, 2011.
  2. ^ Jenkins, David. "BioShock Wins SpikeTV Game of the Year", "Gamasutra," December 10, 2007. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  3. ^ GameSpot UK Staff. "BioShock, Wii Sports top BAFTAs", "GameSpot UK," October 23, 2007. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  4. ^ Davey, Jamie. "Take-Two: Grand Theft Auto franchise sells over 100 million units, GTAIV accounts for 20m" Archived 2011-03-13 at the Wayback Machine, March 10, 2011. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  5. ^ Game Informer Staff, "Best Storytellers of the Decade." Game Informer, #212, December 2010, p. 70.
  6. ^ 1UP Staff. "2007 1UP Network Editors' Choice Awards", "1UP," January 30, 2008. Referenced April 6, 2011.
  7. ^ Scharr, Jillian. "Levine '88 discusses career as game developer". The Miscellany News. Archived from the original on 13 March 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Levine, Ken. "PAX 2008 Keynote", August 30, 2008. Referenced April 4, 2011.
  9. ^ G4 TV. "Feedback LIVE! At PAX East 2011 With Ken Levine", March 12, 2011. Referenced April 4, 2011.
  10. ^ Omni. "Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich Q&A with Ken Levine", "The Armchair Empire," March 10, 2005. Referenced April 4, 2011.
  11. ^ Irrational Games. "Studio", referenced April 4, 2011.
  12. ^ MobyGames. "System Shock (1999) Windows credits", "MobyGames," referenced April 4, 2011.
  13. ^ Metacritic. "System Shock 2 for PC Reviews", referenced April 4, 2011.
  14. ^ Irrational Games. "From the Vault - The BioShock Pitch", referenced April 4, 2011.
  15. ^ Fear, Ed. "Bioshock". develop. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  16. ^ Metacritic. "Highest and Lowest Scoring Games at Metacritic", referenced April 4, 2011.
  17. ^ "BioShock franchise sees lifetime sales of 25M copies - with 11M from Infinite alone", VentureBeat, June 1, 2015
  18. ^ "Bioshock Infinite wins 75 E3 editorial honors". Irrational Games. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  19. ^ "The Game". Irrational Games. Archived from the original on 30 March 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  20. ^ "A Message From Ken Levine". Archived from the original on 2014-02-19. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  21. ^ Suellentrop, Chris (September 14, 2016). "Inside the Making of 'BioShock' Series With Creator Ken Levine". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 16, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  22. ^ Pereira, Chris (February 23, 2017). "Former BioShock Studio Irrational Games Adopts A New Name". GameSpot. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  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. ^
  28. ^ Kohler, Chris (18 April 2016). "BIOSHOCK DIRECTOR KEN LEVINE'S NEXT STOP: A TWILIGHT ZONE GAME-FILM HYBRID". Wired. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  29. ^ Solsman, Joan (18 April 2016). "'Twilight Zone' Interactive Reboot in the Works (Exclusive)". The Wrap. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  30. ^ "Bioshock (2007) (VG)". IMDB. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  31. ^ "Bioshock Infinite". 2K Gmes. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  32. ^ Cook, Dave. "Ken Levine writing new game, cites Mad Men, Coen Brothers as influence". VG24/7. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  33. ^ Mello-Klein, Cody (July 10, 2018). "BioShock's Jewish Roots Run Deep". Kotaku. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  34. ^ VanOrd, Kevin. ""We Can Kill The Industry With Cynicism" - Ken Levine". Gamespot. Retrieved March 20, 2013.
  35. ^ "Is controversy the main selling point of BioShock: Infinite?". March 22, 2013. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  36. ^ Phillips, Tom (March 30, 2017). "Ken Levine's next game will be "more challenging" than BioShock". Eurogamer. Retrieved June 21, 2017.

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