Kevin Levin article on polygon

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#1 Edited by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

Anybody else read this article on ken levine? It's long and very involved, but it is easy reading.

http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/1/10/3853198/ken-levine-bioshock-infinite-vgas

I cannot believe the pedestal they put this guy on. Implying that he should be more famous than he is. In reality really his reach is quite small.

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

I'm not denying that Bioshock was brilliant, because it was. The art and atmosphere were superb, but i've read books and seen films with better story.

I have more that I could say, but I wont go on. I'm sure Ken is a great guy.

Anyone else notice how much ass lickery is going on over there at polygon in the comments. I was a little repulsed.

~edit~ wow i spelt his name wrong in the title. Now i look like a dumbass forever. I wonder who i was thinking of when i wrote kevin levin. answers on a postcard ~edit~

#2 Posted by Azteck (7449 posts) -

Sounds like he's taking the Steve Jobs approach to making products, and it went pretty well for them. Doesn't necessarily mean it will go the same for them, as Steve Jobs was pretty unique in that way

#3 Posted by Superfriend (1579 posts) -

Throwing away months of work seems to be quite the trend in the gaming industry.. well, honestly it is part of any creative process.

However, I don´t get how games are 80 or 90 percent finished and then completely cancelled. Given how easy it is to release games digitally (Steam) or in some beta form (Minecraft) I just don´t get how that happens anymore.

In the case of Bioshock Infinite: don´t fret, the publisher will probably take all the stuff that got thrown out and put it in a quick cash grab sequel that won´t be as good as the original.

#4 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

I think considering the last game he/the company made was Bioshock in 2007, then maybe they might be in a bit of trouble.

No doubt infinite will sell regardless of the end level of quality, but this is a company with no additional revenue streams. once the bioshock sales trickled to a halt I imagine it just became a war with the publisher to keep getting funds to push onwards. I can't imagine any publisher liking the way Ken does things. Especially if they can pay someone else to put out a game every 18 months and just slap the Shock name on it.

Development with no clear vision except a scrawl on a cigarette packet. its alright for indie devs but not for a big risk like infinite. Just look at the iterations of elizabeth. The only thing that stayed constant was the big boobs and cleavage.

#5 Posted by MikeGosot (3227 posts) -

@paulwade1984: Kevin Levin is the name of a character in Ben 10. Maybe you were thinking about that?

#6 Posted by Levius (1205 posts) -

Iteration is the key to making great games, there is a reason that Valve and Blizzard take so long to release games is that they have time to prototype and, rebuild and replace stuff that isn't working. You're always going to get stuff that sounds great on paper but doesn't work out.

Saying that I don't envy Irrationals task of meeting the massive expectations that have built up around Infinite.

#7 Posted by tread311 (357 posts) -

I like when games get the time they need. I don't need to play sequels every year or two. I burn out on them that way.

#8 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

My kid is watching Ben 10! Sub conscious mind came into play. Mystery solved. Thankyou. I Still look like an idiot though.

#9 Posted by killacam (1286 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

I can't imagine any publisher liking the way Ken does things.

Way to go, you managed to parse that from a direct quote saying the same. Good for Ken, sticking to his method of doing things, which may not be efficient, or even humane, but goddamn if it hasn't worked before.

If we're going to subscribe to the notion of games as art, we are going to have to start looking at their development as creative processes, not business models. Unfortunately, this industry is heavily dependent on the latter, but that just makes me more glad to see a case in which a blockbuster franchise is able to take the time to perfect a vision (cloudy as it may be) as opposed to slapping some derivative experience together every two years.

#10 Posted by Grilledcheez (3955 posts) -

You seem to already really dislike him and Bioshock. Even if the last game came out some time ago, it shipped over 4 million units eventually (aka it brought in a couple hundred million). I would hope you would have read books with a better story, the medium has been around for 1000's of years. I would much rather he throw away a few months of work, rather than try to cram it into a game when it doesn't fit or blend well. A lot of people really enjoyed Bioschock and therefore like to attribute this love to somebody, and since he is the creative director and essentially the figurehead of the company, they give him the credit (not unlike the president). I think I addressed most of the points you brought up.

#11 Posted by MikeGosot (3227 posts) -

@paulwade1984: Now i can't help but imagine a crossover between Ben 10 and Bioshock. Also, on-topic, i'm glad that the way Ken works is... Well, working. It may not be a good business model, but at least we get good games out of it.

#12 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

@killacam said:

@paulwade1984 said:

I can't imagine any publisher liking the way Ken does things.

Way to go, you managed to parse that from a direct quote saying the same. Good for Ken, sticking to his method of doing things, which may not be efficient, or even humane, but goddamn if it hasn't worked before.

If we're going to subscribe to the notion of games as art, we are going to have to start looking at their development as creative processes, not business models. Unfortunately, this industry is heavily dependent on the latter, but that just makes me more glad to see a case in which a blockbuster franchise is able to take the time to perfect a vision (cloudy as it may be) as opposed to slapping some derivative experience together every two years.

Well I did read the article you know. I'm sorry if some of it got into my head and was regurgitated.

#13 Posted by Kieran_ES (258 posts) -

Throwing away chunks of progress, and whole versions or concepts, is pretty common is every creative job.

#14 Edited by mnzy (2920 posts) -

I had to stop listening to his podcasts, eventhough he had great guests, because...well he really seemed to love hear himself talk. He is a writer and one of the very few to be lead designers in games, but he also seems to have this very hard to grasp ideological approach to making games. I can imagine it being a nightmare to work with as an engineer or designer.

#15 Posted by TheSouthernDandy (3908 posts) -

If you're trying to convince me Ken Levine isn't awesome, you've done a poor job.

Also I don't really get why you have a problem with this article. We get stuff like this on actors, directors, artists, why can't we get the same for influential people in this industry? Why is the idea of getting to know more about how a particular designer ticks, who's responsible for some of the best games to ever come out, something that bothers you? I personally think we need more of this. Go watch that interview Jeff did with Levine not too long ago, it's fascinating. I could have listened to the two of them talk for another hour.

As for his creative process, obviously it's worked up to this point. Being able to throw out a lot of work because he doesn't feel like it fits might seem sorta crazy but if the end result is worth it then you can't really say it was a bad idea. The Little Sisters in Bioshock at one point were going to be slugs. If they'd stuck with that because they didn't wanna change things, the game wouldn't have been nearly as effective.

I'm not saying this is definitely the way to make a game, George Broussard is a great example of how badly you can mismanage a project but if 2K has no problem paying Irrational to make this game as good as it can be, I think that's great. The game could come out and be terrible and then this'll be a different conversation but so far considering Levines track record, who are we to say "you're doing this wrong"?

#16 Posted by JCGamer (666 posts) -
@paulwade1984 I felt the same way after reading that article. I really enjoyed Bioshock, and am pretty sure Infinite will turn out to be pretty awesome. But I am getting really tired of hearing about how Levine is this creative genius. I guess I feel that this game was shown to the press a but too early and now is too overexposed. Wish the game would come out already so we can be done with the coverage. I feel like the enthusiast press is trying so hard to find an "artist" to show how "games can be art" that they hyperbolize some people.
#17 Posted by Hunter5024 (5905 posts) -

KlEviNe.

#18 Posted by StarvingGamer (8472 posts) -

Thief > System Shock 2 > Freedom Force > Bioshock

If this developer isn't deserving of praise, who is? And would you honestly rather live in a world where developers forced every game out the door rather than start over when things clearly weren't working? It may not always be the right decision, but that's a discussion that can't even begin until after the game is released.

#19 Posted by believer258 (12101 posts) -

@JCGamer said:

@paulwade1984 I felt the same way after reading that article. I really enjoyed Bioshock, and am pretty sure Infinite will turn out to be pretty awesome. But I am getting really tired of hearing about how Levine is this creative genius. I guess I feel that this game was shown to the press a but too early and now is too overexposed. Wish the game would come out already so we can be done with the coverage. I feel like the enthusiast press is trying so hard to find an "artist" to show how "games can be art" that they hyperbolize some people.

Hmmm... I'm not entirely sure about that, Ken Levine might be a part of that but thatgamecompany and people like Jonathan Blow seem to be the poster children for that whole movement.

In the meantime, I think the games industry is in desperate need of someone who can create great art, but can also manage their time and business well. I hate to say it but the money and the time it takes to make games is a big issue and someone has to figure out how developers can get great games out in a timely manner, i.e. 3 years or less, so that they can make more money.

#20 Posted by Silver-Streak (1376 posts) -

A game that goes through a full development cycle (as opposed to development hell) can be good. A game that is released before it is ready will be bad forever.

#21 Posted by awesomeusername (4231 posts) -

I'm absolutely positive Take-Two doesn't care how long he takes because they know he'll release a fantastic product that'll sell. I mean, they work with Rockstar for Christ's sake. Those guys take forever to release games but when they do, they're fucking great. Yes, I know they release a game every year but they work on those games for 3+ years. So I'm sure it's not a problem for Take-Two because they know they'll make money and release a game that'll be critically acclaimed.

#22 Posted by Itwastuesday (981 posts) -

remember when they forgot to put in any kind of penalty for death in bioshock?

#23 Posted by doobie (605 posts) -

@JCGamer said:

@paulwade1984 I felt the same way after reading that article. I really enjoyed Bioshock, and am pretty sure Infinite will turn out to be pretty awesome. But I am getting really tired of hearing about how Levine is this creative genius. I guess I feel that this game was shown to the press a but too early and now is too overexposed. Wish the game would come out already so we can be done with the coverage. I feel like the enthusiast press is trying so hard to find an "artist" to show how "games can be art" that they hyperbolize some people.

stop reading articles about the guy then if they annoy you. the guy created one of the best games this gen and deserves some recognition.

#24 Edited by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best.

Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful."

I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

#25 Posted by doobie (605 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best. Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful." I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

we are so lucky the internet if full of armchair experts to give opinion on shit

#26 Posted by scalpel (314 posts) -

That site really is style over substance.

#27 Posted by granderojo (1792 posts) -

I want to get hype about Bioshock Infinite but that last trailer really left a sour taste in my mouth. On top of making Elizabeth look more like a Disney character by rounding off her face, they made her tits bigger. I don't know what the artistic calling was for this but it seemed dumb to me. That's excusable, what isn't excusable was the AI routine for the boss in that trailer. It was abhorrent. Clearly so much money went into making this game, but the boss has the same stupid AI routine as lower level enemies.

I'm not saying it's going to be terrible by any means but like the bombcrew said, if this is the best game we have to look forward too all year it will be a disappointing year in gaming.

#28 Edited by I_smell (3924 posts) -
@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

4 designers left in the final stretch of the project, because that's when the design part is over. Many people JOINED Irrational this year, and over the course of Infinite's development, but didn't get Kotaku articles written about them because that's not very scandalous news.
 ... actually Rod Fergusson did, because that one's a name people recognise.
 
OH- and on-topic I saw this article yesterday but I can't read the the whole thing because GOOD GOLLY IS THAT LONG!!
#29 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

@doobie said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best. Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful." I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

we are so lucky the internet if full of armchair experts to give opinion on shit

We are so lucky the internet is full of snarky c**ts who just wanna troll shit. Either contribute, dispute my argument, or go somewhere else.

Seriously whats your problem? Is Ken your best mate?

#30 Posted by doobie (605 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

@doobie said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best. Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful." I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

we are so lucky the internet if full of armchair experts to give opinion on shit

We are so lucky the internet is full of snarky c**ts who just wanna troll shit. Either contribute, dispute my argument, or go somewhere else.

Seriously whats your problem? Is Ken your best mate?

what is your argument ?

#31 Posted by evanbower (1216 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

@doobie said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best. Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful." I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

we are so lucky the internet if full of armchair experts to give opinion on shit

We are so lucky the internet is full of snarky c**ts who just wanna troll shit. Either contribute, dispute my argument, or go somewhere else.

Seriously whats your problem? Is Ken your best mate?

There is just no point in having a stance on Ken Levine based on how the people working under him might feel. Some might get frustrated and leave, others might be thrilled they aren't working on an annualized franchise, where taking time to get things right isn't an option, and will stay. In both cases, it is within the power of those people to get what they want in the end, so whats the problem?

#32 Posted by rmanthorp (4047 posts) -

I still don't understand the point of Polygon...

Moderator
#33 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

@I_smell said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

4 designers left in the final stretch of the project, because that's when the design part is over. Many people JOINED Irrational this year, and over the course of Infinite's development, but didn't get Kotaku articles written about them because that's not very scandalous news.
... actually Rod Fergusson did, because that one's a name people recognise.

OH- and on-topic I saw this article yesterday but I can't read the the whole thing because GOOD GOLLY IS THAT LONG!!

The only problem with that logic is that companies don't just let their best talent go at the end of a development cycle. They retain them. Move them onto a new product, the next product, anything. Ken says himself in this article that nate wells left partly because he made him throw away all his work on finkton.

#34 Posted by StarvingGamer (8472 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best.

Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful."

I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

The Diablo III team threw away entire core gameplay systems multiple times because they weren't right, and as a result they ended up with one of the most intelligently designed skill systems in an ARPG to date. His method is only unique to those more concerned with the quality of the product than the hitting of milestones, like Valve and Blizzard. It's not something that most devs could pull off, but those that can deliver quality time and time again.

Imagine the motivation his staff must feel when Ken comes around and says, "I know us, and I know we can do better. We've worked hard these past two months and now I'm going to ask you to work even harder. We're not some game factory here to churn out sequel after sequel. If we're going to make this game, we're going to make it best game we can or die trying."

I'd say fuck yeah Ken! I'm glad I didn't take that job with Activision.

#35 Posted by killacam (1286 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

@I_smell said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

4 designers left in the final stretch of the project, because that's when the design part is over. Many people JOINED Irrational this year, and over the course of Infinite's development, but didn't get Kotaku articles written about them because that's not very scandalous news.
... actually Rod Fergusson did, because that one's a name people recognise.

OH- and on-topic I saw this article yesterday but I can't read the the whole thing because GOOD GOLLY IS THAT LONG!!

The only problem with that logic is that companies don't just let their best talent go at the end of a development cycle. They retain them. Move them onto a new product, the next product, anything. Ken says himself in this article that nate wells left partly because he made him throw away all his work on finkton.

you keep speaking as though there is some set of rules that every team must follow in order to be successful. the article says that irrational started with 20 people and grew to 200 over the course of development.. your contracted ideas of what is "right" do not apply here. stop arguing against something you (and most of us) don't understand.

i admire ken's devotion and willingness to let go of such an asset in the name of the game's cohesiveness. it's his attention and care for the little things that make games like bioshock such great things. working under him isn't for everyone, and he understands this. now please. stop ruining a fantastic article.

#36 Edited by BlastProcessing (922 posts) -

I soon as I saw the word HATERS I had to stop reading. I can't take anything that uses that word seriously.

#37 Posted by Getz (3140 posts) -

From what I can glean from the barest information available publicly (only the people close to him know what he's really like), calling Ken Levine "egotistical" doesn't seem fair. The guy is probably incredibly difficult to work with at times, and he has very clear goals that he doesn't want impeded by others but when you hear him talk about his co-workers it's all about respect and humility. I got nothing but respect for the guy, and I do think the praise in the article is well-justified.

#38 Edited by mnzy (2920 posts) -

@awesomeusername: In that big Hot-Coffee-Mod article from a few weeks back they basically said, that they started with Red Dead Redemption right after San Andreas. So about 6 years of development? 2k has patience.

#39 Posted by FunkasaurasRex (847 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

I don't think you understand how creative process works.

#40 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

@FunkasaurasRex said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

I don't think you understand how creative process works.

It doesn't usually work like this.

#41 Posted by DonutFever (3561 posts) -
@thabigred said:

I want to get hype about Bioshock Infinite but that last trailer really left a sour taste in my mouth. On top of making Elizabeth look more like a Disney character by rounding off her face, they made her tits bigger. I don't know what the artistic calling was for this but it seemed dumb to me. That's excusable, what isn't excusable was the AI routine for the boss in that trailer. It was abhorrent. Clearly so much money went into making this game, but the boss has the same stupid AI routine as lower level enemies.

I'm not saying it's going to be terrible by any means but like the bombcrew said, if this is the best game we have to look forward too all year it will be a disappointing year in gaming.

By "boss" do you mean a handyman? Because those are one of the Heavy Hitters, who will pop up a couple times in the game.
#42 Posted by killacam (1286 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

@FunkasaurasRex said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

I don't think you understand how creative process works.

It doesn't usually work like this.

WHAT AREN'T YOU UNDERSTANDING HERE?!!?!?!?

different people have different ways of going about doing things. whoa. INSANE.

#43 Posted by DonutFever (3561 posts) -
@paulwade1984 said:

Iteration doesn't mean throwing away months of work on a whim. Even the most agile of developments need a vision and clear tasks. His method is unique and crazy at best.

Imagine the demotivation his staff must feel when uncle ken comes round and says. "No no no. I just don't see this in my vision which isn't formed yet. I know you just spent 2 months on it, but do it again eh. Maybe you'll get it right this time. The only direction I'm gonna give you is make it beautiful."

I'd say fuck you ken, I'm going to work at Zynga. Better prospects.

It's not a vague vision. The city is supposed to be an idealized version of America, so it wouldn't make sense to have slums in it.
#44 Posted by FunkasaurasRex (847 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

@FunkasaurasRex said:

@paulwade1984 said:

Also, I honestly cannot fathom his design process. Just throwing away months of work on a whim because he hasn't "discovered" his vision yet. I can really see why his staff are leaving. His ego is going to destroy that company. His attitude to software development is insane.

I don't think you understand how creative process works.

It doesn't usually work like this.

Okay, that's debatable. I do think though that you shouldn't take this article at face value when they're very clearly trying to create some brilliant auteur image of Ken Levine. The dude's certainly talented but he's been making games for a long-ass time and I doubt his approach to development is wildly hubristic or anything.

#45 Posted by EXTomar (4922 posts) -

I'm confused. Is the complaint that Levine is successful and you hate that someone is pointing it out?

#46 Posted by paulwade1984 (481 posts) -

yes. that is exactly what it is.

#47 Posted by MetalGearSunny (6999 posts) -

I like Bioshock and the dude seems talented at what he does, but that article just seemed so pretentious, my god. Read about halfway because I realized "god, I don't give a fucking shit about this dude's life story" and moved on. Dumb article.

#48 Posted by StarvingGamer (8472 posts) -

@paulwade1984 said:

yes. that is exactly what it is.

Well, at least you know.

#49 Posted by ripelivejam (4619 posts) -

internet being judgmental, nothing to see here...

Online
#50 Posted by ajamafalous (12129 posts) -

Kevin Levin

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