Bioshock; full of atmosphere, one of the biggest games of the year, and not quite what we expected...
Whether you're going in looking for a shooter or a full-on first-person adventure game, Irrational Game's gorgeous horror from the deep is bound to catch you from behind, and that's why we're convinced it's going to be making waves when it arrives later in the year.
Attempting to outline just some of what we should be expecting from the moody shooter senior designer Joe McDonagh sat down with CVG for a chat.
Going in expecting a "first-person adventure" we were caught by surprise. What kind of niche would you say it falls into?
McDonagh: There's this requirement in the industry to really pigeon hole games. We're very clear what this is; this is a shooter. At a certain stage of making this game we realised that if it didn't stand on its own merits as a shooter then it would fail, irrespective of anything else.
We also think that the shooter genre has gotten amazingly stale; we don't think it's fundamentally changed since Half-Life. We think that it's due for a makeover.
One of the analogies Ken [Levine] and I talk about is what happened to the racing genre when Gran Tursimo came out. Prior to that you just had tracks; a series of completely unconnected tracks and a car that you race around the track.
Then when Gran Turismo comes out you get context, you get character development, you get choice - you get all of these interesting things that aren't necessarily associated with the racing genre and now it's become a feature of the genre.
When we look at the shooter genre we think 'why am I always playing a straight line? Why are the only tools I have guns? And why do I have no choice over which guns I have and when I use them?' What we wanted to do was really take that choice and put it into the game in a way that was expressed in a physical and tangible way.
That's why we don't talk about RPGs, because for a lot of people RPGs are about numbers and nerdy stats. For us the best part of that is choice; how you grow, how you express yourself.
We don't want to express things in a numerical way. When you get Incinerate 2 in Bioshock, which is the upgrade from Incinerate, it's twice as big. You can see that it's better, it's manifestly, physically superior to the first one. That's how we really wanted to bring choice to the genre.
So you're going out of your way to avoid conventions?
McDonagh: We think everything should be expressed in the same way. A example is what we've done with the tutorial; in most first-person shooters it's like 'right marine! This is an assault cource! Now you're going to go over to that sandbag...'
We don't like that because we've done it millions of times and it's really artificial. So what we did was every time you get a new plasmid you're given an in-game tutorial. Like when you get the electric bolt there's enemies in the water, or when you get incinerate there's an oil slick.
Why should these parts of the gameplay be separate? Story, tutorial, action - why shouldn't it all be integrated into a seamless whole? Surely that's more effective and more immersive?
One of the most staggering elements of Bioshock is the city, Rapture itself...
McDonagh: Yeah. I remember one of the key moments for Ken and the creative team; the game went through lots of different stylistic iterations and started out very different from how it is now.