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Irrational Games have just announced a new play mode that will be appearing in BioShock Infinite. Called 1999 Mode, it’s aimed at appealing to those who think games have become too easy. Ken Levine explains, “We want to give our oldest and most committed fans an option to go back to our roots,” adding that 1999 Mode means that you’ll face more permanent consequences from their choices you make, and force you to stick with the specialisations you choose.


Levine continues,

“I’m an old school gamer. We wanted to make sure we were taking into account the play styles of gamers like me. So we went straight to the horse’s mouth by asking them, on our website, a series of questions about how they play our games. 94.6 percent of respondents indicated that upgrade choices enhanced their BioShock gameplay experience; however, 56.8 percent indicated that being required to make permanent decisions about their character would have made the game even better.”

The mode will also require tougher management of your health, weapons and powers, with an actual “Game Over” screen appearing if you die without the resources to bring yourself back to life.

What are those consequences, and how much impact will it have on the game you’re being told? We should be able to bring you much more information about that tomorrow.

@TheVoxelman on twitter

Check out my hype threads: Cyberpunk, and The Witcher 3!

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BasilZero said:
Damn was about to post this lol

Good news though, sounds very interesting *-*

I was going to post it an hour ago but then decided someone else probably already had then I came to look for the thread and couldn't find it so posted one. 

I think I might play using this mode as long as it's not to hard, I had a lot of fun with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and The witcher 2 both games people consider hard games.

@TheVoxelman on twitter

Check out my hype threads: Cyberpunk, and The Witcher 3!

Sounds great to me.

Yum. Ill go play system shock again as a warmup.

ǝןdɯıs ʇı dǝǝʞ oʇ ǝʞıן ı ʍouʞ noʎ 

Ask me about being an elitist jerk

Time for hype

Very cool. Sounds like a great idea.

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So is this an added difficulty level, easy-normal-hard-1999, or is it a secondary option to change all of the difficulties, easy 1999-normal 1999, hard 1999?

Ken Levine On BioShock Infinite's 1999 Mode

Irrational's Ken Levine shared his thoughts with us on the recently announced 1999 mode for BioShock Infinite. Read the full interview below to get Levine's opinion of himself as a gamer, the purpose of the additional mode, and what he misses most from that year.

In case you missed the announcement of 1999 mode earlier this week, the short version is that BioShock Infinite has a mode where Vita-Chamber revives cost money and you have to scrounge for every penny and every bullet to get through the game – just like you did in classic titles like System Shock or Deus Ex. Don't worry if you're not hardcore enough to have fond memories of that era, though. BioShock Infinite's normal difficulty modes will feature a similar (lack of) difficulty to the other games in the series.

Read on for the lengthy interview with the BioShock's creative director himself.

Game Informer: Why are you spending your precious development time and budget on 1999 mode?
Ken Levine: It occurred to me in a revelation, what was missing in BioShock 1 – the sense of permanence. And then once you realize that, you're like, "Okay, we need to deal with that problem." I miss that; my favorite part of playing those old-school games is making those decisions.

What decisions do you have to live with in 1999 mode that you don't normally?
Even in regular difficulty mode, you're still making choices about your nostrums, which are similar to the gene tonics [in BioShock]. You're still making permanent choices about those. They're stuck to your body permanently. The big difference in terms of choices in this mode is that you're not going to be able to be a jack-of-all-trades, much like in games we've done before. If you're going in one direction, like one weapon or a certain type of vigor, that's going to come at the expense of other weapons and other vigors. If you're specialized in, say, rifles, and you're out of ammo for that and you come across a bunch of pistols or rocket launchers or something, you're going to be not so good with those weapons and you're going to feel that pain. You're really going to be incentivized to find resources for the weapons you're good at. I think that's going to be really interesting when you get into those fights where you feel like you're up against it in a way that you're not normally. Modern games can have a sort of even difficulty across all moments, and I really like those [other] moments. I'm a big fan of comeback moments. This comes from strategy games for me originally, where you really feel you're down and you manage to work your way back up to a place of power, but you have a period in the wilderness.

Do you worry that the challenge will get in the way of the authored experience that's at the core of BioShock?
I think that's a risk, certainly. Probably what we're going to do is you'll only be able to get to that mode through some kind of unlock. Not unlock in the game through "left, right, up, down," that kind of thing. But the kind of people who are going to play this are hardcore gamers, right? The people who are going to read Game Informer, go to various blogs and websites, and find this information. Those are the kind of people who are going to want this kind of challenge, I think. But yeah, there's definitely a risk that you're going to get pounded so much that you may not be able to take in the environment as much as the guy who is playing on easy or super easy. We want to give something to the people who are more interested in the game aspects and the resource management aspects.

It seems like difficult games are having a bit of a renaissance these days. Do you agree?
I'm an old-school gamer so I'll go play a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and that really drives me, the "scraping by" feeling. That's a different game than BioShock, but for us, it was like, "Okay, let's not forget about those people." And we can't forget about those people because as a gamer, I very much am one of those people. My reactions have probably decayed enough that I'm going to get my ass kicked in 1999 mode, but it's certainly where my head is. I am an XCOM guy, I am a Civilization guy. That's my gaming DNA. I'm a System Shock 1 guy. Those games are so hard, but I think that this is a nice way to have our cake and eat it too.

You mentioned a survey you did in the 1999 mode announcement. Did you look at any other metrics when you were making the decision to include it?
We don't do a lot of – we don't do any market testing. We don't line up game concepts in front of people and say, "Do you like this?" Because frankly, I don't think that's very useful because they're seeing an abstract version of what the idea is anyway, so they're not going to be reacting to what they're playing. I think if you try to focus test BioShock, you get people laughing at you. "Underwater objectivist utopia? Yeah, here's my 60 bucks." Yeah, right. I think you'd have a real problem there, so I don't believe in that. But this is a very different problem. We had a suspicion about what people were missing, and I had a suspicion from talking to a lot of gamers over time. I specifically went back to my college to speak at one point and a guy came up to me and started giving me a hard time. He's like, "I didn't like BioShock as much as your previous games." And I really tried to dig down with him and see what was disappointing. And he said, "I don't have to make any permanent choices. I didn't feel connected to my choices because I could just undo them." I was like, "Oooooohhhh." A bit of a ray of light shone down there. We just wanted to make sure that was a broadly held belief, so we did this little survey. Any time you can get in touch with your fans and ask them what they think it's a good thing.

What kind of incentives to people have to play 1999 mode?
I don't want to speak out of school; I could be wrong. I think there's a few nostrums – there's a few pieces of content that are custom for 1999 mode, but I don't want to oversell it. Mostly it's about playstyle experience. Again, we're not looking to have people say, "Oh, here's a new bit of the narrative."…. It's not a different game by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a different style and a different feel.

What do you personally miss most about the year 1999?
My metabolism? [laughs] I think one thing that I miss – and this is a tough one – is that as an industry forms, the genres calcify over time. Not even genres themselves, but just the notion that there's a genre called first-person shooter, there's a genre called strategy games. I think that's a tough problem, but I think it's gotten a lot better in the last couple of years because you've got these new platforms that demand that people innovate again, like iPhone games and things like that…. But I think there was a sense of experimentation that was going on in the hardcore PC gamer side that you don't see as much now because you just don't have the ability to launch different genres. In terms of big-budget titles, there are only a few genres that people are working in. And a lot of the genres I love, like turn-based strategy – I was as thrilled as anybody to see that XCOM announcement. I cannot wait to play that game, because I'm the biggest XCOM whore you've ever met. But that kind of strategy game, you just don't see a lot of it where in 1999 you'd see a lot of strategy games.

Are there any era-specific references we can look forward to in 1999 mode? Does the rain turn purple or anything?
[Chuckles] Let me say "no comment" for right now. But we called it 1999 mode because we wanted to reinforce when we're designing it that that's the frame of mind: if we were designing this game in 1999, within the concept that it is BioShock Infinite, what would we do in terms of the balance and the resources?

Modern design is modern for a reason. How are you trying to recapture the feeling from 1999 without falling into the same pitfalls?
As we design a game now, we have to have the game react to the player and endeavor to provide a fun experience to that player relative to their playstyle. Games are designed to be flexible now and accommodate gamers, and I think there are some really good things with that. As nostalgic as we get, if all games were like they were in 1999, there is some segment of the population that would love that. I think there is a large segment of the population who would be like, "I miss these innovations because they really allowed me to get to the fun faster." But I think that you lose something. You always lose something when you gain something. There's a sort of conservation of energy quotient in fun. You lose this edge-of-your-seat management and sense that if you beat the game you've really done something extraordinary, that you have a real accomplishment. We scratched our heads and said, "What can we do about this?" I think this is a modest proposal; I'm not saying, "Oh my god, this changes everything!" I think it's important that we keep that sort of game and gamer in mind and don't forget that style of gameplay, because it is something that is very important to me. And we want to do our little bit to make sure that it isn't lost.

@TheVoxelman on twitter

Check out my hype threads: Cyberpunk, and The Witcher 3!

This is great news! I wish Skyrim would have had a hardcore mode.

I want a 1999 Mode in every game! I am used to saving really often, then I played games like FFXIII were the maximum punishment for failing was having to restart the battle, I don't want to need to reload, but want to be put at least back to my last savepoint (and losing exp and such earned between death and last save). Also I need to get Resistance 3 because that game is in pre-halo mode (at least I heard you have to use health packages and don't just recover from litres of bloodloss in a few seconds)

You’re Going To Suffer: Levine On 1999 Mode

Late last week, Irrational announced 1999 mode for BioShock: Infinite – an attempt to recapture the sense of binding decisions, permanent consequences and hard-as-nails challenge that we perhaps associate with a lost era of gaming. In this first of a two-part interview, I nattered to avuncular Irrational bossman Ken Levine about why they came up with 1999 Mode, what it entails, why it’s a very different prospect to simply a ‘hard’ difficulty setting, why he doesn’t want non-hardcore gamers playing that mode, and whether or not it’s a reaction to disappointment about BioShock from System Shock fans.
RPS: So, 1999 mode. Bit of a surprise, that one. Why do it?

Ken Levine: Primarily, I think after we finished BioShock, we tend to be a company that does a lot of self-review and soul-searching, and we had made this game that was very popular, but there was a segment of the audience, and also a segment I think of people at Irrational, who felt there was something there that wasn’t at the level they wanted it. There was a sort of dissatisfaction, from the hardcore, old school gamer audience.

So recently I talked at my old college and feeling like Mr Successful, then this guy says “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Levine!” He’s giving me a hard time, he says “the problem was none of the decisions I made had any permanence to them. I didn’t have to commit to any decisions.” And I was like “oh!” The clouds parted for me. Except for the Little Sisters, there’s no permanence in your choices. It hadn’t really crystallised for me before, the difference between games we had made before, like System Shock 2, and BioShock.

In System Shock 2 it was the OS upgrades, this sort of this perk system, and you made these choices; I remember staring at it even as I played it and agonising over that decision, worrying that if I made bad decisions I was going to get screwed. And I kind of miss that. Last night I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I went and played Deus Ex: Human Revolution for a while, then I went back to bed. And I still couldn’t get to sleep, so I picked up my iPhone and started playing Bejewelled. People often ask me “what kind of gamer is your game for?” but I think there are different kinds of gamer in all of us, especially in old-school gamers. There are things we like in modern games, and things we miss from games of yore.

It is tough to have your cake and eat it too, but it occurred to us that there was a real opportunity here to address that old school gamer in a way that was not going to break the bank. I don’t want to oversell what this is, I don’t want “oh my god, it’s two games in one!” because it’s not. It’s a bunch of very carefully, I think pretty well thought-out changes to the way the game is played that is going to make a real difference to how it feels.


RPS: It’s very interesting that it came about from talking directly to a fan – is that the only way a voice can be actually heard from all the noise of online feedback and criticism?

Ken Levine: Yeah, for some reason this guy was able to articulate the dissatisfaction in a way that… I won’t say that nobody had done it before, but maybe they hadn’t said it so clearly or maybe I didn’t hear it or understand it. But I made a connection during this conversation that I hadn’t made before, and it was really exciting to do that. I’m sure there were many other things that gamer A, B or C may not have liked, but this was something that I as a gamer really tuned into. Because at the end of the day game developers make games that they want to play, so BioShock was very much a game that I wanted to play, but when it occurred to me that this element was missing, I realised that was the kind of game I liked to play as well, where you make these permanent decisions.

So even in vanilla BioShock: Infinite there are some permanent decisions – the Nostrums, which are very similar to the gene tonics in BioShock 1, the decisions you make about those are permanent. You make those decisions and you live with those decisions. But the difference in 1999 mode is that there are decisions which become quite mutually exclusive. You tend to specialise. If you’re really taking a lot of Nostrums that are designed to improve your pistol skill, you’re really going to suffer in other areas – other weapons, hacking… You’re going to have times in the game where the thing that you’re really good at isn’t that relevant.

You’re not going to have the ammo for it, or there won’t be much hacking you can do in that area, the opportunities for [your skills] aren’t going to be very present, and you’re going to be struggling, really struggling to progress. You’ll have to count every bullet and think very deeply about every encounter, because if you just run into things you’re going to find yourself really in a bad place that’s going to be very hard to get yourself out of.


RPS: Are you guys at Irrational going go through the entire game and see where those kinds of situations occur, and whether there’s ever a point where it’s impossible to progress if the player has made certain choices?

Ken Levine: The goal is never to have an absolute brick wall, but I think there has to be places where some gamers will be “oh, guess I’m going back to the savegame” because they really put themselves in an untenable situation. I think that’s okay, because this is not a mode for a guy who only plays two or three games a year, who goes home in the evening and wants to unwind and play for half an hour, shoot a bunch of stuff and forget about it.

Our goal with BioShock: Infinite was always a way to bring those people into this kind of game, but I think the plan right now – my thinking, anyway – is we’re going to hide this mode behind an old-school up, down, left, right, left, right, start button combination on the console to unlock it. You’re not going to have to finish the game to unlock it, but we’re going to hide it because the last thing I want is some guy who’s not an old-school gamer stumbling into this thing, because he’s going to think “alright, this game sucks, I’m never getting into this because it’s so brutal and so punishing – forget it!”

RPS: On PC, instead of the up down left right thing it should be the old Looking Glass, Deus Ex keycode…

Ken Levine: Oh, 0451? Yeah. Or we could put a codewheel into the box, or a cloth map…

RPS: Heh, but what about the guys on Steam? They’ll have to print out a PDF or something.

Ken Levine: Remember when you had to go find five words in the manual? And then you’d lose the manual… Yeah, I don’t want non-old school gamers finding this, or they’ll take the game right back to the store.

RPS: Why are you calling it 1999 Mode instead of simply ‘hard’ or ‘ultra’ or something like that?

Ken Levine: In terms of figuring out the name of the mode, we already had difficulty levels in there, but they don’t really change the way you play the game. That’s more how committed are you and what level of challenge you want. This, you really have to play the game differently – but again, the last thing I want to do is oversell this, because I don’t want people thinking “oh my god, two games in one, Irrational spent 40 years making this…”

It is a difference in balance, a difference in specialisation, a difference in how you die, and there are a few new Nostrums to support it, and really does make a profoundly different experience. If someone selected it expecting a traditional BioShock experience, I think they’d be surprised and confused and dismayed, because they’re going to have to make decisions. They might get really stuck and have to go back to a savegame.

RPS: You keep mentioning that you don’t want to oversell 1999 mode – how much is that a reaction to perhaps getting a bit burned with the BioShock 1 ‘spiritual successor to System Shock’ hype?

Ken Levine: Something I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t let my enthusiasm for something overwhelm me when I talk about it. When Irrational makes a game, I’m absolutely convinced that we’re doing the thing that we want to make and everyone’s going to be really excited about it. It’s very easy to get excited about what you’re doing; the thing with making BioShock is you often have to step back, look at it and be careful about what you’re saying, because either you might be speaking in a way that will be misinterpreted or is unintentionally confusing, muddies the water a bit. So I’m really trying to step back when I talk about Infinite, as often as I can, and say “how can I speak about this as objectively as I possibly can?” And it’s a challenge, because you obviously have a lot of emotion tied up in what you’re doing. It’s very hard to talk about our baby objectively.

But I think that I feel a responsibility to speak as objectively about the game as I can – which is a weird thing for a guy who is out to sell something. I mean, that’s why I’m having these kinds of conversations, trying to get people excited about the game. But I’m trying not to set expectations that are going to end up being confusing or people are going to be disappointed. This [1999 mode] specifically, because the audience is specifically a group of people who are extremely discriminating, and will read every word very carefully, and say ‘okay – I want to understand what I’m getting.’

So I want to make sure that those people get a very specific understanding of what’s on offer here. I’m not speaking to a general audience, I’m speaking to a very specific audience that is going to take a real deep dive in thinking about this. It’s an audience that thinks very carefully about their purchasing decisions, and I don’t want that audience to ever open up one of our games and think ‘this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.’

So this mode especially, I want to be careful about how we talk about it: because this audience is so attuned to thinking about games on such a deep level, I feel like I can talk to that audience in a way that you can’t really talk to a more general audience. I can use a certain kind of lingo, I can use design concepts that I can’t use for a general audience.

Tomorrow: Ken Levine on the importance of clarity, why you shouldn’t trust previews, why “If you’re a reader on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, you are sophisticated enough to not listen to what Ken Levine says” and on the problem with out of context quotes just like that one was.

@TheVoxelman on twitter

Check out my hype threads: Cyberpunk, and The Witcher 3!