Ken Levine is like the gaming equivalent of Sir Alex Fleming

Being a recent graduate (although is over a year still regarded as recent?), it’s a tough time to be looking for work and deciding on a career path. Back in the golden ages where people were getting 100% mortgages and taking Masters degrees in David Beckham Studies, everyone my age had dreams. People followed their dreams because there were a lot of dreamcatchers. Now it’s like the townsfolk have busted down the witch’s door and put torch to all that funny business. Following your dreams?! Pfft… get a real job and feed yourself like everyone else!

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Healthcare and gaming... if only I could apply for Bullfrog.

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Where I’m going with this is that I have 2 paths. The first is to go straight into a graduate scheme in a healthcare related firm. I do love healthcare, I find it fascinating. However, since working in a gaming company I realize more and more than game design is something I need to do. Yes I could be making hospitals more efficient, working out health policy which will protect the most vulnerable in society. But no, I want to make digital entertainment that ruins your eyesight.

Medicine has a lot of inspiration, not much is more inspiring than one man creating a master cure. Sir Alex Fleming was the biologist and pharmacologist who discovered Penicillin. Pretty impressive right? I think he slept well at night thinking of the 200 million people whose lives he has saved.

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Gaming also has a few inspirational people. As I get older and develop a more professional and academic interest in gaming, I start to realize how inspiring and important some of these games and developers are. Deus Ex pretty much got me into conspiracy theories (I don’t believe most, they’re just entertaining!) and played a part igniting my interest in politics. Age of Mythology is one of the major reasons I’m fascinated by ancient mythology; Egyptian and Norse in particular. Half-Life 2‘s immersion is something that has left me a lasting impression greater than almost any film I’ve seen.

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Irrational Games' BioShock

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Irrational Games’ BioShock is another game which gives me a lot of inspiration. I don’t just mean storytelling or immersion either, I mean career inspiration. Creating something of that calibre is a great achievement. Yeah it doesn’t save lives but my life without gaming would be considerably worse than it is now! Today I discovered that BioShock Infinite is being worked on. It’s a prequel to the first 2 games and, while it has similarities, it’s going to be talking about completely different themes. Complex themes, adult themes… philosophy. This is what gaming needs more of. Adult games are the Penicillin of the gaming industry. Roger Ebert may disagree but I think gaming can be an art form and tell a story just as well, if not better, than any book or movie. Then again, I did just finish The Stand and that was pretty incredible…

Read the entry on BioShock Infinite on Wikipedia. It’s surprisingly detailed for such a recently announced game. Try telling me you’re not excited about it now! The fact there is a 2200 word article about the ideas of this game means it’s gotta be pretty thought-provoking. If they can pull it off, it will be something to behold.

The main feature that really got me interested was the character of Elizabeth. Relationships in games are so poorly executed, they are the Holy Grail of interactive entertainment. When done well, the experience could be truly amazing. The achievement of building a relationship with a digital character, who shares your experiences and grows to love or hate you… wow, it would be awe-inspiring. There are only 2 occasions I’ve experienced any feelings towards characters apart from “this guy is a cool badass/total asshole”. Half-Life 2‘s episodes are an obvious choice. Alyx Vance was so well implemented, Episode 1 was just a pleasure to play because it felt like you had a friend with you. Gaming doesn’t have to be a solitary experience, you don’t have to be the only hero. I’ll need to replay the game to give a better description (it was a while back), but I always get a warm fuzzy feeling when I think of Alyx and our adventures. The other experience was fleeting at best. It just involved sitting on a couch. That’s it. If you’ve played it, you’ll probably already know the game I’m talking about, but if not then you should go rent a copy for the weekend.

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The Darkness

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I’m on about The Darkness. It’s a good game in itself, an enthralling story and a fun experience (if a little easy). However there’s one moment in it, at the start, which has stuck with me ever since. Play it, I don’t want to ruin it for you. But that short passage of immersion makes you truly feel what the game has in store for you, the developers did a bloody brilliant job. Afterwards (don’t read it before, it will spoiler the shit out of you) you can read this excellent post by Styles B MKV from Destructoid and I think you’ll find it hard to disagree.

If BioShock Infinity can pull off a relationship in a game, then Irrational Games and Ken Levine will definitely be worthy of the gaming equivalent of the Nobel Prize. It’s going to be an AI and the character will act and develop on how you’ve used her during your adventure. If you use her powers, she’ll be harmed. It’s a simple choice but if they can deliver all the complexity of real life relationships, even in that extreme situation, then it could spell a new era in RPGs. Of course, if it’s as simple ‘Bad is bad, good is good’ like the original BioShock then it might be disappointing. And no-one likes an escort mission with an annoying character who dies all the time, gets stuck in the terrain and repeats the same sound bites.

I’ll try and keep you all informed about developments in the game, it’s going to be one to watch.

While you’re waiting, give this interview with Ken Levine a read. It’s old (just over a year) but it’s pretty interesting. Makes you feel like gamers don’t have to be viewed as immature time-wasters. Now… I’ve just got to go add 2K Games to my list of places to apply for jobs…

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Sam

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