BioShock Director Ken Levine’s Next Stop: A Twilight Zone Game-Film Hybrid
BioShock director Ken Levine’s next stop? The Twilight Zone.
The critically acclaimed game creator says he’ll write and direct an interactive live-action film based on the classic sci-fi anthology series, one that will “explore the spaces between movies and games.” Technology from the media company Interlude will allow viewers to determine what the characters do, probably leading to a twist at the end—just like the show, and Levine’s best-known games.
“Playing my games, you can probably tell Twilight Zone is something I grew up with,” Levine says. “They speak to a larger truth. They’re morality plays, fables, and often they’re about a character who is going through an experience that’s central to their life but also speaks to a larger part of the human condition. I don’t think [Rod] Serling, at the beginning, set out to be a science-fiction writer. But he found that this is a great medium to do metaphor.”
Interlude, founded by Israeli musician Yoni Bloch, made its name with small-scale applications of its interactive video technology, which lets users seamlessly move between multiple streams of video. It used that trick in an interactive video of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Coca-Cola’s Hulk vs Ant-Man Super Bowl commercial.
The strength of these projects has allowed Interlude to attract top talent from gaming and filmmaking. Nancy Tellem, erstwhile head of the ill-fated Xbox Entertainment Studios, joined Interlude as chief media officer. More recently, Sam Barlow, the acclaimed creator of the live-action game Her Story, signed on as creative director and will produce a digital short based on the WarGames.
And now Levine, creative director of BioShock and BioShock Infinite, dives into the talent pool. He’s keeping his regular gig at BioShock publisher Take-Two Interactive, where his team is “working diligently” on its next game. Interlude, he says, is a side project. “Most people spend time with their kids or go on vacation,” he says. “I do stuff like this.”
Empathy Through Agency?
The “stuff like this” he’ll do at Interlude is new to him. “I’ve been a writer my whole life and I haven’t had the chance to direct a live-action thing before,” Levine says. “I’ve done a lot of directing with voice actors, and back when I was younger, I used to direct stage plays. [Bloch] was like, ‘we want to see you carry this thing through from start to finish—write it, direct it.’ And then he said, ‘Twilight Zone.’”
“What am I going to say? No?”
Levine says he jumped at the opportunity to explore a type of interactivity that walks the line between films and games. “Interactivity is a spectrum, it’s not binary,” he says. “I think of it as the viewer’s angle in the chair. When you watch something, you’re sitting back in the chair. When you’re gaming, you’re leaning forward in the chair. This is an interesting place in between … your brain is forward in the chair.”
Interlude and Levine are still finalizing the arrangement. In other words, it’s still early. “We’ve done a rough outline of what we want to do,” he says, “and now we’re stepping into the writing process, figuring out how to leverage the interactive element to make a narrative tale feel more personal for the viewer, and make them more engaged.”
The BioShock games Levine created certainly had their share of twists that would make Serling smile. And he’s thinking more intently about what made Twilight Zone tick, and how interactivity might help that along. The show, he says, “did a great job of building empathy between you and the character.” It worked so well in part because of the surprises, which left the viewer a little unsure where things were going.
“Mixing that with agency is something that I’ve always cared a lot about. This is just a new place to try that. How I’m going to do that is—that will be what this thing’s about,” he says. “Telling you how I’m going to do it would kind of spoil it.”