When Big Daddies Cry Rape

This Penny Arcade strip, while aimed at the current Big Evil Boss of the gaming industry, accurately sums up my feelings about the new Bioshock game that Irrational have just announced. Bioshock started out as a spiritual successor to one of the most claustrophobic, terrifying, brilliantly written FPS/RPG hybrids in PC gaming. Yes, it had to come out on 360 to be financially viable. Yes, it pulled back from showing the consequences of the most important moral action in the game. But it was a solid, well put-together shooter, with well written characters and, until the finale, an interesting antagonist.

And it should have stopped there.

But it didn’t. 2K liked the sales figures so much, that we got Bioshock 2. Except, now that we’re done with the truly interesting, we’re going to gimmick-land. BE A BIG DADDY! MORE POWERS! MORE GUNS! WALK AROUND UNDERWATER! And it had to have multiplayer, and it was considerably shorter than the original game ( I have finally pushed myself through the equally turgid ending), and it was a bit shinier. It was sequel-itis. It was something we frankly didn’t need. Just as SHODAN can no longer be terrifying, having fallen twice, Rapture, even new parts of Rapture, could never generate that cloying, art deco atmosphere properly.

And now we have Bioshock: Infinite (Please, dear Gods, let this be a working title, like Bioshock 2’s “Sea of Dreams” prefix was dropped…).

You’re in the airborne city of Columbia. It is the World’s Fair city of 1900, a technological marvel… except it went wrong (again). There are… things, going wrong. Early trailers have hinted at steam-punk monstrosities that are just human enough to be scary (again), a ideology taken to horrific extremes (again – in this case, it looks all very Manifest Destiny and Might is Right), and fantastical (genetic? not currently clear) powers (again).

But this time, we have A BUDDY. Her name is Elizabeth. You have to protect her and get her out of the city. She can do, as a trailer showing her brewing up a rainstorm for your electro-zaps to exploit shows, rather impressive things – which, as the same trailer shows, cost her – she suffers a heavy nosebleed after such a leverage of power, invoking thoughts of Pratchett referring to magic as using your mind to push a bloody big lever – push too hard, and your brain might come out your nostrils.

Forgive me, but right now, it basically sounds like Bioshock: 1920: Air City. With a buddy.

I appreciate as much as the next person that publishers exist to make money, but we are slowly but steadily coming to the point where, outside of big franchises that are molested to the point of no return, the only people doing a huge amount of innovation are indie devs, modders and freeware types.

I’m not dismissing Bioshock: Infinity out of hand. It’s not coming out till 2012 at the very earliest, and we don’t know much. But please, Irrational, 2K… do something else afterwards. Let sleeping monsters lie.

    • ManaTree
    • August 13th, 2010

    Okay, god damnit, this is unfair to Irrational. I think you’re being a bit out of line.

    1) 2K asked for a sequel to BioShock 1. Irrational didn’t want to (i.e. they were done with Rapture), so 2K Marin handled it (plus a bunch of other studios). To lay the blame of BioShock 2 on BioShock Infinite is simply ignorant.

    2) Ken Levine did in fact have the choice of making a new IP; he decided there was more to tell.

    3) You have not played the game, we’ve barely gotten glimpses of it, and you’re simply putting it off? Unfair. Straight up unfair. I don’t give a shit about what actually happens or not, but to make judgment when we have so little to work with is ridiculous. I know you are in fact reserving judgment until 2012, but you have to remember; the media is not for journalists. It’s for customers. Basically, the passerby. People like you and I and of course journalists shouldn’t dismiss any potential game. Every game deserves a chance, this one much more than others (hello Activision).

    By the way, by naming it BioShock Infinite, I’m very sure Ken Levine is making a statement that this will, in fact, be the final of BioShocks. Until we get Space-o-Shock (complete with dashes), of course.

    I also don’t think it’s really fair to tell the developers to not work on the sequel of a game they haven’t even released yet. Let’s leave that for when this one gets finished.

    • I’m with Kid on this one. In a similar vein to the fact that the XCOM game should be called something different, like MOCX. Or if I was inventive, something inventive.

      Just as System Shock dealt with Shodan’s world, Bioshock deals with Ryan’s world. Moving out of this world into another game title may be the best.

      • Kid A
      • August 13th, 2010

      BioShock Infinite doesn’t suggest a finality to me. If Final Fantasy is on instalment 13 or 14, Infinite implies that this could be the first in a line – which I dearly hope is not the case. And I at no point lay the blame for BioShock 2 at Irrational’s feet, thank you.

      I think telling the devs to stop the BioShocks after this is entirely fair: we’ll have had BioShock, BioShock 2 and the upcoming SP DLC, and BioShock Infinite in the space of 4 years, all of which focus on a fallen utopia and genetic manipulation, and their consequences. All from the same publisher, and if what we’ve seen of BioShock Infinite is in any way representative of gameplay, none with huge changes in gameplay – unless Elizabeth is going to be playable in a co-op mode, which I will cede could be interesting.
      Your third point seems to read “I know you’re reserving judgement till it actually comes out, BUT HOW COULD YOU JUDGE IT NOW” – I’m not. Hell, for all I know this is going to be on a par with the original BioShock. But from what I’ve seen so far, I’m leaning more to caution than optimism.
      As Drug says, System Shock is a name fundamentally tied to SHODAN, The Many, and the far future; likewise, BioShock, regardless of my feelings about the games, is tied to Rapture’s art-deco inspired monstrosities.
      Call it Aeroshock if you want to keep a tenuous link or create a new IP, I don’t care – but this is not BioShock. (Unless Andrew Ryan is going to be a survivor of Columbia, which would frankly be the biggest retcon since “Superman wasn’t dead after all”)

    • ManaTree
    • August 15th, 2010

    Bioshock Infinite does not imply an end to you? Exactly what would the sequel to THAT be named? This is pure speculation, but that’s a heavy implication by Irrational that they want this to be the end. I don’t really care if it does end or not; I don’t think I ever said so.

    “And now we have Bioshock: Infinite” That line implies that Infinite is influenced by 2. If that wasn’t what you meant, my bad.

    But again, this must be emphasized; BioShock 2 is from a different studio. It doesn’t matter if they’re under the same publisher, they’re still made by very different teams.

    And no, I’m saying that what we have is NOT representative of the game. Definitely not enough yet. And by the way, Elizabeth won’t be playable, she’ll be AI. There was actually a good reason for this (and lots of people agreed, co-op would be a bad idea), but I can’t remember off the top of my head.

    My response sounds hypocritical because yours partially did, at least to me. “Forgive me, but right now, it basically sounds like Bioshock: 1920: Air City. With a buddy.” And then of course the qualifier of not judging. In retrospect, I drew a little too much out of that, so my bad yet again. But it does bend what you’re saying the wrong way.

    “…all of which focus on a fallen utopia and genetic manipulation, and their consequences.”

    “As Drug says, System Shock is a name fundamentally tied to SHODAN, The Many, and the far future; likewise, BioShock, regardless of my feelings about the games, is tied to Rapture’s art-deco inspired monstrosities.”

    You have two contradictory things here. Ken Levine himself said that BioShock is not about Rapture; it is not about any particular setting. It’s about the feel. Much like how X-COM is remembered by its gameplay rather than setting. You’re only making assumptions about what the series is about.

    And I don’t get the stuff around renaming things; it seems absolutely pointless. Who cares about a name? Just play the fucking game for what it is: a game. Why does the fact that it’s a sequel matter so much? It never made sense to me. Also, naming it something similar will STILL draw comparisons. There were definitely some haters on BioShock because it was spiritually named after System Shock. I’m pretty sure there were some angry comments on RPS around the time BioShock 2 took the news. It’s not like your old games are gone.

    • FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! I mean, erm.

      I believe the reasoning for avoiding the same name is that it’s not the same game. Bioshock 2, as which System Shock 2 was the same place, the same world.

      Bioshock was always seen as another -shock game. Why then, don’t they just come up with a new name that makes it obvious it is another -shock game?

        • ManaTree
        • August 17th, 2010

        I don’t know, I’m not Irrational.

        But if I had to take a guess…

        First off, why was BioShock named the way it was? It’s a spiritual successor to System Shock 2. It’s meant to have some things in common, but not a massive amount (otherwise it’d be a sequel). This is where the line is blurry though, because in truth, only Ken Levine really knows how much he meant to take from SS2 into BioShock.

        It’s all a matter of definition; Why Bio-, after all? I think there’s more to the name than Rapture, and I guess we’ll have to wait until then to find out. My stab in the dark is that it’s about humans and the societies they create. It’s not about Rapture, it’s not about plasmids or the like. It’s about that sense of world; the feel. Not a particular setting. Other games may do that, but that, in contrast, seems like flat out laziness.

    • Kid A
    • August 16th, 2010

    Infinite: without end. So, er, yes, it does.
    Elizabeth not being playable degrades this game to a very long Escort mission then. With, most likely, a predictable “Elizabeth has been cut off/captured, you must work back to her/rescue her” section or two.
    If Ken Levine says BioShock isn’t about Rapture, that’s great. That’s how he feels as the creator. As the audience, a BioShock game that isn’t Rapture doesn’t feel like BioShock to me. That’s my opinion, and I stand by it. If you say BioShock, I think Rapture, ADAM, Splicers, Big Daddies, Andrew Ryan. That’s “the feel” of BioShock to me. Levine might not intend for BioShock to be that, but two games of that (yes, under different development teams) has lodged it there indelibly for me and, I suspect, many others.

    • ManaTree
    • August 16th, 2010

    “Infinite: without end. So, er, yes, it does.”

    No, that’s not the impression I got from Ken Levine. And again, how exactly would the sequel be named? Not to mention that “infinite” could be interpreted in many ways, especially given airships…

    “Elizabeth not being playable degrades this game to a very long Escort mission then. With, most likely, a predictable “Elizabeth has been cut off/captured, you must work back to her/rescue her” section or two.”

    Exactly how do you know this? Not all AIs are shit, you know.

    “If Ken Levine says BioShock isn’t about Rapture, that’s great. That’s how he feels as the creator.”

    Right. That’s exactly what I meant to say. And I think it’s ridiculous you’re (more likely to) reject this game merely because of a tiny difference. I think listening to creators (especially the ones that are at the forefront of game design) is a good idea. Open minds, etc. etc.

    • MortalJohn
    • August 17th, 2010

    I’m sorry but I’m with Kid A here. Bioshock 2 is a blatant example of how a producer, not a developer, go overboard with and IP and ruin the true playstyle. I found Bioshock 1 to have a refreshing story and, because I’m a sucker for good plot and setting (up until the boss battle, but thats besides the point) I enjoyed it thorouly.

    But you can’t say Kid A’s opinions are completely factless. AI in most games are shit… I don’t care how many games you list. AI in games has always been worse than playing an average humern counterpart. And thats because its hard to make good AI, coding gaming AI isn’t far off coding for “robotic” ai. Case and Point, Bethdesda recently revealed ladders in their games keep on getting cut because scripting them into the game engines for games like elder scrolls and fallout 3 would confuse the AI too much and would be too difficult to add overall.

    And as for all this kevin levine debate, it really doesn’t matter. Bioshock Infinite doesn’t look anything like bioshock one “based” on the trailer seen so far. They didn’t need to use the bioshock title for this game and yet they have. And thats because the producers know it has a following still and If they start over, its a larger risk.

    Its sad but new IPs are harder to come by every year. Just think about all the game ressurections and sequels happening right now right now…

    • ManaTree
    • August 18th, 2010

    Jesus Christ, can you people open your eyes? I’m not stating an opinion about what BioShock is or isn’t, I’m RESTATING Ken Levine’s! Talk with him if you disagree, not me. I don’t have an opinion. But I’m not going to redefine what is HIS interpretation. In fact, to be honest, his interpretation sounds far better than Rapture. This is what games are about.

    I did not say Kid A was wrong, just pointing out he is assuming a lot of things without any actual evidence about Infinite. And trust me, there is no need to explain AI to me. That’s precisely what I’m majoring in right now. And I think there’s more to it than you’re seeing. Yes, AI is shit in most games. But why is that? Let’s go a little deeper. In your typical AAA game, AI is left to last; it’s a topic no one wants to invest money into, and frankly, it’s something you can somewhat cover up if you have good scripting. That’s the path that’s typically taken.

    However, this is a game that intensely focuses on your companion. I’m not sure how they’ll go about it, but I think it’s safe to give them a chance to make good AI. Or, at the very least, very good scripting. This is Irrational, this is not just any studio.

    And again, I point you to my last post (or the one before?). BioShock is not about Rapture. It’s about the conflict, the utopianism; that FEEL. Rapture is not a feel. It’s only a part. I think the video portrayed that feel just fine. On top of this, we don’t even have much to go on to make assumptions yet.

    By the way, when you say producers, do you mean publishers? That’s…different, but it sounds like you mean publishers.

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