Ken Levine has been a recognizable name in the games industry for years now. The creator of the BioShock franchise, he’s consistently included among some of the best designers in games. After making System Shock 2 however, but before shattering player expectations with BioShock, Levine made another game called The Lost.
Originally meant to release on PS2 and Xbox, the game was a “Zelda-style, third-person action game,” but simply didn’t meet the team’s standards and was buried before ever releasing. Speaking in an interview with Rolling Stone, Levine opens up about his regrets and the difficulties he’s encountered throughout his career, one of which was The Lost.
“I have a pretty good track record so far,” he says, when talking about dealing with criticism. “I don’t have any giant disasters. Outside of one, but we buried it because we didn’t want to release it to the public. We actually bought it back and buried it because we weren’t happy with the product.”
Explaining, he adds the title “was a game about a woman. Her daughter dies, and she makes a deal with the devil to go to hell to try to get her back. What it’s really about is the process of accepting loss. It’s a game about mourning. It reflects some things that I had seen in my own life at that point.” Even while the game was a finished product, Levine still made the choice to bury it anyways “because it wasn’t up to our standards of quality. The game just wasn’t good,” he says.
“Zelda is genius, Mozart-level stuff, how you find these tools that are both useful gameplay items but also essentially keys… We tried to create a game like that and we very quickly realized it wasn’t a game I was really cut out to design.”
In the same interview, Levine also discusses many of the early difficulties he had with BioShock. It “probably could have used another six months to a year to make it perfect. But eventually you have to stop. The gunplay was good but not great. We didn’t have a ton of experience with that. And the ending lagged a little bit.” Referencing the last boss fight in particular, “It’s terrible. You have this great game, and then you end up fighting this giant nude dude. We didn’t have a better idea.”
Even the now iconic opening cutscene of the player character smoking a cigarette on a plane was added last minute. Following a particularly brutal playtesting session, “There were eight of us, sitting around a table. We were all fucking miserable. We were like, ‘Well, what do we do? What do we think is missing? Because we can’t make something new. What is already there that they’re not connecting to?’ We decided it was who [the players] were. What their identity was.
“We came up with a very cheap way to add the opening scene with the plane crash. I wrote one line. We had this idea that you’d be smoking a cigarette on a plane, which to me set the time period really well. We wanted something right away that would not just say it with text but would put it in your soul.”
BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite are all bundled as part of the recently released BioShock: The Collection, remastered for current-gen consoles. The collection is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.