As the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Irrational Games, Ken Levine is one of the most well known and respected writers in the games industry, responsible for such classic games as BioShock, Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2. He was named one of the “Storytellers of the Decade” by Game Informer and was the 1UP Network’s person of the year in 2007.
We were honored when he agreed to answer some questions for us, but how to make the most of this opportunity? Why not enlist another games writer to
interrogate interview Mr. Levine from the perspective of a colleague?
We reached out to Jonas Wæver, a good friend to www.xp4t.com and the Creative Director of the small Danish indie game studio Logic Artists, who wrote the script for the CRPG Expeditions: Conquistador. As a big fan of Ken’s work, Jonas was all too happy to send us some questions to relay to Mr. Levine.
JONAS: You’re one of the very few game writers who are well known in the wider gaming community, and in my opinion you’ve written some of the most compelling game stories in recent memory. When I interviewed Chris Avellone (another person in that select club) he appreciated the chance to pay homage to some of the people he himself admires and respects, so I will start by presenting you with that same question: Is there anybody in the games industry (or elsewhere) whose work you’re particularly impressed with, and what is it that you admire about them?
KEN: Well, there’s too many people to list. I tend to really go in for the folks who do both business and creative together, whether that’s a Gabe Newell, or a Notch, or Greg and Ray from BioWare. That list of people is growing because I’m seeing so many folks start businesses now, like CliffyB and a lot of former Irrational folk. One my favorite people in the industry is Pat Balthrop, who just started his own sound design group last year. He’s an amazing talent.
JONAS: Can you give us a glimpse into what your writing process is like? Do you write in your office between meetings? At home in the evening after work? Do you find yourself more productive when writing in quick snatches or do you need to shut yourself in for weeks at a time?
KEN: The writing on games goes in 4 parts. First I like to conceive the high level direction, usually on very long runs. Then I work with the team to develop it and make sure it works with the rest of what everybody needs. Then I go back to running, to actually craft scenes and plot. And then when I have the scene more or less written in my head, I sit in front of a computer and write it. And then I rewrite it a few times. And then I rewrite it again in recording sessions. And then sometimes I re-write it and re-record if it isn’t working.
JONAS: When you write, do you collaborate closely with the other writers on your team? If you do work with other writers, how do you balance the need to let them express their creativity with the need to maintain a cohesive overall vision?
KEN: Any writer’s needs, including my own, comes second to the larger needs of the project. That’s not to say amazing ideas can’t come from anywhere, but we’re working on a collaboration with not us writers but with the project as a whole.