Somewhere beyond the sea — the Atlantic Ocean, to be specific — lies Rapture, an underwater paradise envisioned by the illustrious business tycoon known as Andrew Ryan. It’s an aquatic haven teeming with idealistic numpties all striving to create the perfect, laissez-faire utopia. At least, that was the idea.
Political strife and a dangerous genetic substance known as ADAM soon became the fuel for a full-blown civil war, leaving Rapture in disarray and Ryan’s dreamy vision in tatters. That’s the context underpinning the masterful opening to BioShock, and it’s also a lavish set piece that PS4 players experienced all over again — or perhaps for the very first time — thanks to the recently-released BioShock: The Collection.
But on this, September 1, our attention is drawn to the key creator behind it all, as today marks Ken Levine’s birthday. And so, as the Irrational Games co-founder rings in the big five-oh, let’s recount his incredible contribution to both the BioShock series and the entire industry. Welcome to This Day in PlayStation History.
There’s Always a Lighthouse
Much like Hideo Kojima before him, Levine was initially drawn to the film industry. It was here that the auteur honed his craft of writing screenplays, so by the time he landed a gig at Looking Glass Studios in ’95, Levine jumped at the chance to flesh out the overarching fiction and design of Thief: The Dark Project.
Two years later, he founded Irrational Games alongside Jonathan Chey and Robert Fermier and Levine’s path to video game stardom was beginning to take shape. Though it wasn’t until the release of BioShock in 2007 – a watershed moment for story-driven first-person shooters – that the writer-director started to become a household name.
Widely considered to be Irrational’s most ambitious project yet, pre-production on the dark and twisted thrill ride first began in 2002, at a time when Levine was coming off work on Freedom Force and its sequel, Tribes: Vengeance and SWAT 4. We’ve compiled this track record into one handy gallery for your reading pleasure. Strap yourself in, it’s time to crack open the archives.
Even after reflecting on the software that preceded BioShock‘s arrival in ’07, Irrational Games will forever be synonymous with dystopian worlds riddled with fascinating plots and xenophobia — with totalitarian leaders and falsified gods and of course, Big Daddies and Littler Sisters. Yes, demented beings big and small wandered the dank hallways of Rapture, and it wasn’t long before BioShock had players staring down the mouth of madness after plunging beneath the bitter-cold waves of the Atlantic.
These surreal, thrilling tendencies can be traced throughout much of Levine’s work, too, whether it’s the deranged, drugged-up Splicers glimpsed throughout Rapture or the psionic powers that coursed through the veins of the System Shock series.
But soon after BioShock 2 shipped in 2010, Irrational Games had all hands on deck in preparation of BioShock Infinite, the threequel designed to take the studio’s legacy to the skies.
One fleeting tease of a Vita spinoff later and Ken Levine and Co. announced plans to wind down Irrational Games effective immediatley. That was two whole years ago and since then, 2K Games has merely hinted at the possibility of a future installment in the BioShock series — something that we’re still holding out for even to this day.
Levine is currently hard at work on a new title, one billed as a first-person sci-fi RPG. Familiar territory, then, but it’s this commitment to a new IP that has all but ruled him out of upcoming sequel, System Shock 3. Next up? An interactive, live-action rendition of The Twilight Zone, which Levine will write and direct.
Reflecting on Ken Levine’s decorated career, what are your favorite gaming moments from the archive? Or you an old-school devotee that struck a chord with the System Shock series? Perhaps it was BioShock that introduced you to Levine’s craft? As always, you can drop your thoughts, memories and hopes for the future, below.
This Day in PlayStation History is a new and recurring feature here on PlayStation LifeStyle that will be acting as your window into the archives of all things PlayStation — birthdays, anniversaries, milestones and more.