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    Ken Levine

    Person » credited in 15 games

    Ken Levine is the founder and creative director of Irrational Games, and has developed games such as Freedom Force, System Shock 2, and BioShock.

    Ken Levine to Write and Direct Pilot of New Interactive Twilight Zone

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    austin_walker

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    Edited By austin_walker
    If you really wanna make The Twilight Zone interactive, you're going to need more than one door to walk through.
    If you really wanna make The Twilight Zone interactive, you're going to need more than one door to walk through.

    According to a story on The Wrap, The Twilight Zone will be making a surprising digital return in the near future. Why am I writing about it here? Two reasons: First, because the new show will be an interactive video project designed to "let viewers step in and become part of the story." Second, because the pilot episode of the new series will be written and directed by Ken Levine, of System Shock 2, BioShock, and BioShock Infinite fame.

    According to CBS and Interlude, viewers will be able to "change and adapt the story based on what he or she feels." And as with other videos that Interlude has released in the past (and as with most story-driven games), users will also be able to go back and make new choices on future viewings.

    Boy, do I have mixed feelings about a lot of this.

    Interactive movies go back to 1967's Kinoautomat and have bubbled up in video games a number of times since then. I honestly think there's still something (fun? distraction?) to be had with the medium, so I'm not rushing to say that we should avoid them or that this is a fundamental misstep. But I have a lot of doubts that this is a good fit for The Twilight Zone.

    When I look at the tech in use--say, in this clever lip-synching, channel-surfing video for Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" or in this official tech demo from Interlude--I always find myself moving through the same set of feelings.

    Now this is a Twilight Zone game I can get behind.
    Now this is a Twilight Zone game I can get behind.

    At first, I'm impressed: Unlike the choose-your-own-adventure videos that occasionally show up on YouTube, Interlude's videos are all so seamless. Everything moves cleanly from one scene to another, which leaps over one of the major hurdles facing this sort of storytelling. In the company's tech demo, you make choices about what a spokesman for Interlude does as he goes through his spiel. Will you dress him in sportswear or evening wear? Will he be backed by a bombastic cinematic score or a minimalistic track straight from a twee tech ad? It's smooth and I end up with a little grin on my face.

    At one point, though, the spokesman says that "Interlude inspires movie makers to rethink the most fundamental question in storytelling: What if?" And that's when I notice a different sort of seam all together. When I come to films and TV--especially with shows like The Twilight Zone--I'm not looking for a collection of "What If" questions. Most Twilight Zone episodes could twist and turn in a dozen different ways, but the best ones are an example of smart decision making on the part of the writer and director that zero in on the most challenging questions.

    The best choice-heavy games, meanwhile, offer a network of choices and continuity of ongoing interaction, creating a sort of cascading effect so that even if the choices aren't particularly deep, there's a sense of constant, ongoing connection. When you play Mass Effect 2, you're not just asking "What if Shepard punches this reporter?" but also "What if I upgrade this sniper rifle?" and "What if I bring Tali on this mission instead of Miranda?" At some point, that moves past a feeling of "Ooh, this is interactive," and towards a sort of settled state of engagement.

    Keep being great, Danny.
    Keep being great, Danny.

    I'm not saying that smart interactive moviemaking can't be done, but creators will need to overcome the allure of gimmicky filmmaking to develop a new set of techniques for the medium if they want to make something beyond novelty. Look at something like interactive cartoon Charlie Got Fired, which gets laughs from randomness more than careful joke construction. Mad libs are fun, but I'm not sure they're what I'm looking for when I turn on a comedy show. Even in the interactive Dylan video, I find myself eventually moving past the novelty of channel-flipping so that I can focus on the either the classic footage of Dylan performing or the Danny Brown lip synch, which is produced like a traditional music video, incorporating elements of the beat and lyrics into the visuals.

    All of this is what makes me cautious about Levine's connection to the new show's pilot episode. Levine and the old team at Irrational were at their best when they were building worlds, and perhaps at their weakest when offering players a choice of narrative outcomes. What's worse is that when I think about BioShock Infinite, I can't help but focus on the ways in which it botched its own Twilight Zone-y story. Rod Serling's show was at its best when it was fearless and fresh, able to weave together mind-bending sci-fi with subversive and surprising cultural commentary. BioShock Infinite missed this balance by a mile, delivering a complex world of multiple dimensions alongside a trite "Everyone is bad, actually" morality play. No matter how much I loved riding Columbia's skylines and slamming into enemies with the Charge vigor, no matter how well rendered (and influential) the world of Rapture was, it's hard to get excited about more storytelling from Levine.

    On the plus side, Interlude is also working on an Interactive reboot of WarGames (with Sam Barlow of Her Story fame), and I think if done well, that could actually convince me that this model of storytelling has legs. My only demand is that the only way to get the good ending is to press no buttons at all.

    Full disclosure: Giant Bomb is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of Twilight Zone creator the CBS Corporation.

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    RE_Player1

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    I always got the impression Ken Levine would rather work in film than games. Same with Kojima.

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    Joe_McCallister

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    I'm not looking for a collection of "What If" questions. Most Twilight Zone episodes could twist and turn in a dozen different ways, but the best ones are an example of smart decision making on the part of the writer and director that zero in on the most challenging questions.

    Austin nailed my feeling here as well - I watch a good handful of Twilight Zone episodes a few times a year, tune in to the marathons that SyFy does, and generally know exactly what I want out of that experience. I think that Levine is a great storyteller, and have to wonder if a directed experience isn't just more what I want from him and the Twilight Zone brand. I could be, and dearly hope I'm absolutely off base when this comes out - but as Austin points out it really doesn't inspire more feelings of hype and excitement, it's leaning more toward my "yikes idk guys..." sector.

    @re_player1 - I'd like to see those two work together on a project - the subtext in whatever they would work on would be insanity.

    What ever happened to Levine working on smaller team, more-focused projects? Did I miss what he was working on entirely?

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    EricFine

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    Your move Black Mirror.

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    TheDarkOn3

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    I'm feeling less Black Mirror and more The Scary Door

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    recroulette

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    #5  Edited By recroulette

    So is this just going to be The Button except you're Comstock?

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    TheHT

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    #6  Edited By TheHT

    Bit of a bummer it'll be "interactive," but hey, maybe it'll be cool! Excited to see what Levine does next, in any case.

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    ripelivejam

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    Choose your own adventure books are so 80s. Also i always just skipped to the different endings so HAH.

    Why do i feel ken levine is being wasted on this? Is he still making games too?

    Still love bioshock infinite, come at me.

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    alex

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    @ripelivejam: According to the man on twitter, he says this is more of a side project for him and that he's still working with his smaller team at 2K.

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    Brand-Old

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    I would love for this to work, but man I don't know.

    Her Story was my first thought of an interactive movie working well. And not just "working" in the sense that a story is communicated and that story (mostly) made sense, but also having that interactive format multiply the impact of that narrative. I'm intrigued by a Twilight Zone project that is cut from the same cloth as Her Story, but that comes with a boat load of caveats.

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    Liquidus

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    @re_player1 said:

    I always got the impression Ken Levine would rather work in film than games. Same with Kojima.

    I get where you're coming from but I'd say that more about any other AAA developer. Those two have been consistently some of the few in the big budget gaming that have actually used the medium to tell stories that only work in video games. Metal Gear Solid cannot work in any other medium because so much of it hinges on the player being in control behind Snake and the nature of that relationship and BioShock and BioShock Infinite both have huge meta-narrative twists.

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    Cybexx

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    Definitely seems like a corporate attempt to tap into the "remix" generation. Still interested to see what Ken Levine has in mind though.

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    militantfreudian

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    #12  Edited By militantfreudian

    This seems like it's a ways off, so it's kind of hard for me to get excited about this, even though I loved Levine's previous work. I feel like we know less about this than Levine's next game. I wonder what kind of budget will be available to him though.

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    mrnovember13

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    Twilight Zone Pinball on The Pinball Arcade > any of this. My dude Austin knows what's up.

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    ripelivejam

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    @alex: thanks, sorry i couldve taken the five seconds to check myself, d'oh. Good to hear and i'm still interested to see how this turns out.

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    BBQBram

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    "I can see all the doors...and what's behind all the doors"

    How fitting.

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    Kevin_Cogneto

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    #16  Edited By Kevin_Cogneto

    You are traveling through another dimension; a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

    GO NORTH

    You are still traveling through another dimension; a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

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    hermes

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    The original twilight zone has always been about interesting writing (for the time) and impactful plot twists (from a time were these were not tropes)... God knows Levine can provide in terms of twists and interesting settings, which makes me, at the same time, hopeful for his involvement in this project but concerned that its new focus on "interaction" will dull out any impact of the story.

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    ChrisTaran

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    I'm all for Ken Levine doing interactive fiction. I actually happen to like his storytelling, but I completely agree that doing it with Twilight Zone kind of hurts what I like most about that show.

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    Phished0ne

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    Oh man i totally forgot about that Bob Dylan Channel Surfing video. I actually really liked that from a conceptual standpoint and usually go back and watch it a few times a year at least. Its pretty neat, the collection of real shows and fictional stuff goes together with the tone of the video well. The news report about Occupy, the house flipping show, I always happen to flip through the channels at the perfect speed to land on Pawn Stars when Dylan sings "you better take that diamond ring, you better pawn it babe!".

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    Monkeyman04

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    Is there going to be a lighthouse?

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    Blister

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    I really like the idea, but there is one thing that bothers me; It's a bit cynical, but watching the tech demo I couldn't help but notice the choices were timed. Because of those timed choices to watch the video I had to be fully engaged, because at any moment one could pop up and getting a multitasking world with millions of gadgets on hand to be fully engaged is like an advertisers dream.

    It would be a shame if a 30 minute episode had a couple choices, but 3 or 4 ad breaks which also demanded choices, but not timed. No way to tune out of the ads, fully engaged and locked in audience. But we'll have to see, it depends on the team behind it and how they chose to use that engagement.

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    D_W

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    I don't really have much confidence in anything Ken Levine is attached too. He has some good ideas that aren't really executed on very well.

    The original Twilight Zone is probably the greatest thing that'll ever be done for TV. Even if it breaks done to "the one where x is the twist." While I'd love a serialized adventure game with the Twilight Zone branding, I don't have faith that this would do it justice.

    I guess we'll just wait and see.

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    ripelivejam

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    #24  Edited By ripelivejam

    @dudeglove: not really an excuse, but it feels like it's more and more difficult to come up with something truly original nowadays (see: marvel films being the most successful thing going in theaters nowadays). At best you get interesting spins on and hodgepodges of existing material. Seems unless there's some unheard of/unprecedented cultural breakthrough or more people start embracing the really out there stuff on the fringes all that's left is refinement and fine tuning.

    There's only 22 stories anyway. Art is dead. Etc.

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    deactivated-582d227526464

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    Excited for some form of Twilight Zone content, not excited for Ken Levine writing it. Never really cared for Bioshock's fiction.

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    ArbitraryWater

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    Ah yes, the Bioshock series, known for its deep and interesting choices like "Do you want to harvest the girl for more upgrade currency that you don't need, or save her to get the good ending?"

    The other snarky thing I can say in regards to this is that there have been many attempts at bringing back the Twilight Zone and none of them have been successful.

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    Spitznock

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    Want.

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    Niceanims

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    Worst case scenario this turns into Quantum Break 2

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    hermes

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    @dudeglove: In the case of the twilight zone, this is not even a new phenomenon. This would be the third revival of the series (after 1985 and 2002), not counting the two movies that used unfilmed episodes scripts or directly remake iconic episodes; or the countless movies inspired by episode scripts...

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    Bamboozler

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    What ever happened to Ken's write-up for the Logan's Run reboot? Wasn't he attached to that at some point?

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    totheteeth

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    i saw the photo and though danny brown was going to be in twilight zone. but this news is still good...i guess.

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    clagnaught

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    I'm sure it will come right after he finishes wrapping up that Logan's Run remake.

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    Raven10

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    @re_player1: He is a screenwriter by education. So he was a filmmaker before he was a game designer.

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    Colonel_Pockets

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    This is interesting. I have no idea what to make of it though, until there is more information revealed.

    On a side note: I still don't understand all of the hate Bioshock Infinite got post-launch.

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    anoldtoilet

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    BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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    steveurkel

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    @dudeglove: you arent paying attention if uyou fee this way about the world

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    blindx0r

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    @ripelivejam: I just went and looked at imdb, and there were 12 Oz movies made between 1910 and 1939, which was when the version of The Wizard of Oz that everyone remembers came out.

    In other words, there was never a time when it wasn't extremely difficult to come up with something truly original.

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    vsharres

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    I don't fully agree with the notion that just because Bioshock games did not provided good narrative options that automatically makes Levine unsuited for any interactive story project. Bioshock game where first and foremost FPS games with some agency to the player in the way he approached enemy encounters more than how he had choices with the narrative. The factor that really makes Levine a good fit for this project for me is his ability in writing amazing dialogue that usually delved in question related to human nature meshed with some sci-fi or fantastical element.

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    petethepanda

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    #40  Edited By petethepanda

    ...Huh. I'm not sure I would say I'm excited about this, but I'm fascinated to see how it turns out.

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    DedBeet

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    #41  Edited By DedBeet

    Bashing Bioshock Infinite, no matter how mildly, is always hard for me as I loved almost all of that game, especially the storytelling (whereas I found System Shock 2 mostly forgettable - I played it in its day). Ah well, at least me and Bioshock Infinite have each other.

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    ShaggE

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    I'm not exactly convinced, but you have my attention as a BioShock fan, a Twilight Zone fan, and an on-again off-again fan of games in which characters "will remember that".

    While we're talking Twilight Zone, I just want to gush over how great the BR box set is again. Fuuuck, it's so good. Just a stupid amount of content. The menus kind of suck, but everything else is top notch. I wish more anthology shows would get that kind of treatment... I've always been a bit underwhelmed by the Tales From the Crypt DVDs, for instance.

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    Iodine

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    please god leave the twilight zone alone why keep doing this

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    ShadowSwordmaster

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    Seems like a good fit.

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    adetheterrible

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    We used to have that Twilight Zone pinball machine in the office at my work. It's truly amazing.

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    deactivated-5e60e701b849a

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    What ever happened to Ken's write-up for the Logan's Run reboot? Wasn't he attached to that at some point?

    Yeah, that was my first thought when I saw this story.

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    monkeyking1969

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    #47  Edited By monkeyking1969

    ...Pssst. [whispering] Ken knows he writes terrible game stories, right?

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    Quantical

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    This can't possibly be a bad idea!

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    jakob187

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    #49  Edited By jakob187

    You know what would be better?

    Getting someone who will write really good Twilight Zone episodes and then just making a new series.

    Better than that?

    Just rerun the old Rod Sterling episodes because nothing is going to beat them...ever...especially if that something is Chevy Chase asking if I wanna see something reeeeeal scary.

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    GERALTITUDE

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    I have no idea what to think about this, or this entire, er, "medium" ? Is that fair? I guess interactive videos have existed for some time. "Seamless Interactive Narrative Video".

    There are some impressive elements, that's for sure, and I do wonder what Mr. Levine will bring to the able, but, all in all, this is a big ol sigh to me.

    This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

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