Ken Levine talks escaping the past: "plain remakes don't do very well - you have to move on"

Bioshock boss praises XCOM reboot for "reducing choice but making choices more interesting"

All the rose-tinting in the world can't hide the fact that classic games don't always hold up under scrutiny today - or so says Ken Levine, Irrational Games boss and lead designer on Bioshock Infinite. Speaking to OXM as part of an interview published in our latest issue, on sale now, Levine offered Firaxis's XCOM: Enemy Unknown reboot as an example of how to teach an old dog new tricks.

"Jake Solomon, who is the lead designer on XCOM, came up and played [Infinite] recently, he spent a bunch of time with it, and I admire Jake a lot," Levine began. "What he did in XCOM, he took what we think we remember those games were and sort of made it now.

"I've done that, and I've tried to play XCOM many many times. At some point your body just says no. Not because there's anything wrong with the game - it's mostly interface conventions, the panel buttons on the side, have changed so much that I think those games became very difficult to play at this point.


"That's why I appreciate XCOM so much because he reduced the number of choices but made those choices more interesting," he went on. "The interesting choices were just as much as the original XCOM. But the ease of implementing my will on that world had altered radically, so I'm a huge fan because I thought it was a great notion.

Levine feels the outrage fans often express when developers tweak old formulae for re-release paints a misleading picture. "We want that same amount of choice, same amount of agency, but I don't know if people want the same thing. Remakes don't do very well, just those plain remakes. You sort of have to move on. The games are always there, we know games are always there."

Ninja Theory's Tameem Antoniades would presumably agree - speaking to PSM3 (RIP) last year, he opined that designing games purely for fans will kill a series.

"Nothing needs a reboot unless that reboot works," Antoniades argued. "Look at Batman. The parallel to the Batman reboot was Catwoman. Nobody needed that, but when it works it can change the course of a franchise in a positive way. It can make it survive."

We published a lengthy piece on how developers and publishers manage so-called "haters" in December. Might be worth revisiting.