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Games Entertainment

The Story Behind the Bioshock Hacking Mini-Game 58

MTV's Multiplayer Blog has a chat with Dorian Hart, the designer at 2K Boston that gave us the pipes-like hacking mini-game in Bioshock. The two of them discuss the reason we direct blue liquid to win, the fan reaction to the game, and the value mini-games bring to their 'parent' titles. "I suppose it certainly gives the game an extra dimension: something else to do other than shoot. In a shooter, even a shooter that has small variance in how the game plays out, the number of verbs that you actually use in a given 10 minutes, half an hour, an hour of gameplay is pretty limited: you have a gun; you shoot it. Having a mini-game just gives the player a different thing to do, a way to break the player out of a rut they may be in, in how they're thinking about what they're playing. It engages a different part of their brain. As long as it's not too onerous or forced upon the player too commonly. They say, "Variety is the spice of life," and I think that applies in this case. As long as you don't make it an essential, unavoidable, too-important part of the game, because people are expecting a shooter."
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The Story Behind the Bioshock Hacking Mini-Game

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2007 @03:16PM (#21244761)
    It was that thing before The Portal came to save us all, right?
  • Pipe Dreams? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Propagandhi ( 570791 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @03:18PM (#21244805) Journal
    Anyone else remember that game? I'm sure there's an online version.. was way harder than the bioshock version...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by j.sanchez1 ( 1030764 )
      Anyone else remember that game? I'm sure there's an online version.. was way harder than the bioshock version...

      I forgot how addicting this [tripletsandus.com] was.
    • That used to be one of my favorite puzzle games... I hadn't thought of it for a while.

      When I was playing bioshock and came to the hack screen I actually thought of the train mini game on Big Brain Academy for the Wii... of course it makes much more sense there then it does in the middle of a shooter.

      I'm sure it bothers some but I actually enjoyed the pipe games in Bioshock, I've always liked them so it's not much of problem for me. I seem to recall that Perfect Dark Zero also has a similar game that y
    • Aw dammit you beat me. I believe my dad has the original 3.5 floppy version of Pipe Dream in his basement. My mother was completely addicted to it.
    • That was one of my first games. I agree that the Bioshock version was substantially easier, especially with the use of slow plasmids etc.

      More info: http://www.mobygames.com/game/pipe-dream [mobygames.com]
    • I wrote a blog entry on that a few weeks ago, after encountering both Pipe Dream and Simon recycled as mini-games in two big-budget titles:

      http://blakeyrat.com/2007/09/04/is-the-world-out-of-games/ [blakeyrat.com]
    • Seemed to come with some Windows 3.1 installs.
    • by Kuvter ( 882697 )
      Yes, one of my favorite games for the Gameboy.
      • Mine too. That was the only thing that got me away from my Tetris addiction on the Gameboy. Ahhh... that old green tinted Gameboy screen. I miss it... ok not really.
    • by shoolz ( 752000 )
      What I remember is that there was a contest included in the original boxed-distribution of the game (C64, I think). If you sent in a photograph (ha - yes a photograph) of your monitor showing that you managed to get the water flowing through every available tile on the board and pass the level, you were entered into a contest draw for $1000.
  • Useless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fozzmeister ( 160968 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @03:19PM (#21244815) Homepage
    It's a terrible mini game, I like the splinter cell one where u pick a door lock, it makes sense. I have no idea why I have to play pipemania to get 10% off prices, and it's _incredibly_ tiresome after the 60th time.
    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
      While I agree that it made no sense, it was a fun little mini game. I enjoyed it for quite some time and only towards the very end of the game did I start buying them off instead of playing the game, when money meant very little and my time was more valuable.

      Would I play them on a second run through? Probably. 'good game' and 'bad game' are very subjective things. Very few games will be called 'bad' by everyone.
    • by dougmc ( 70836 )
      Right, it wasn't so important to hack every single vending machine you saw, but you probably found a lot more value in hacking every single turret, bot, camera, and health station. Especially the cameras, because bad guys would come by and the turret would send 'bots after 'em, and the bad guy would attack the bots and not the camera, so it would just keep sending bots until the guy was dead. Especially useful for Big Daddies when you had the security bullseye plasmid. Having the splicers try to heal at
      • by shlepp ( 796599 )
        I actually smashed every med station and left whatever med kits there and came back and got them when i needed them, due to stations sometimes dropping 2 usually but sometimes more. I hated it when splicers would heal up at med stations. But pretty much everything else i did hack.
    • I like the mini-game, and have pretty much used it every time to get the discounts. I think what you mean to say is that the pipe theme has no relation to hacking, not that it served no purpose in the game (which it did, discounts, more items, etc as you mentioned). That may be true, but they need a simple to grasp, quick to understand mini-game that in some distant way resembles hacking around internal components in some random device (water in the mini-game instead of electricity or data streams or what
    • Re:Useless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by provigilman ( 1044114 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @04:02PM (#21245461) Homepage Journal

      I have no idea why I have to play pipemania to get 10% off prices, and it's _incredibly_ tiresome after the 60th time.

      Well, there's your problem right there! You don't have to play it all. Want the cheaper prices at the vending machines? Use the buyout or the autohack. Want to stop those pesky turrets, bots and cameras? Shoot them! Better yet, freeze/electrocute them, then shoot them!

      That's part of the point of the minigames. You need to part with something to gain an advantage. Be it money, autohack tools or time, you need to give something in order to get the benefit. If you don't like the hacking minigame just blow everything up, buy your items at full price and craft all your autohack tools for the times when you *do* want to hack something.

      Me personally, I sort of enjoyed right up until about the last level. Luckily by that point I could auto-hack the turrets and bots, and the cameras and the few vending machines I encountered were a breeze thanks to my engineering tonics. So, for me at least, right around the time they started to get boring was when I could just breeze through in 10 seconds (which might be why they got boring...no risk). It's all about how you want to play...

  • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @03:26PM (#21244927)
    I actually liked having the pipes minigame as a kind of steampunk-hacking system. Considering the theme and the setting I think it was very appropriate, if you ignore the fact that enemies basically wait for you to finish while you're playing it.

    While they're not terribly difficult even at the hardest settings, it's a nice change of pace and definately more satisfying than automatic hacking or using a consumable. It's just too bad there wasn't more variety in it, having a couple different minigames would have been much more interesting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by feepness ( 543479 )

      While they're not terribly difficult even at the hardest settings,
      Not sure which game you played, but on the hardest settings for me there were many times which if you did not swap directions immediately (first piece!) you'd end up heading into a dead end created by alarms/short-circuits.

      Was very happy when I got to the auto-hack stuff.
      • Actually, if you keep up with the engineering tonics it can get pretty easy. Having Slow and Slow+ (Don't remember the actual names) gives you a lot of time, and then there's one that takes off two alarms and two short circuits. Combine that with the other one that takes off 2 alarms and you have 6 more free panels. You can also freeze a lot of thing, bot and turrets are big ones, to give you more time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by complexmath ( 449417 ) *
        Yup. A hack with the hardest rating almost always requires swapping the first tile with another one. Along with the increased speed, this is the reason safes are regarded as so difficult to crack. That aside, by perhaps 2/3 of the way through the game some of the hacks are unsolvable without at least one tonic installed. Another thing I like is that it's impossible to die from the health penalty incurred from failing a hack. Worst case you'll bottom out with next to no health left and can continue hack
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by anethema ( 99553 )
        Actually, it was stupidly easy because you can NOT die from hacking damage. You just keep hacking and hacking and you can always get it eventually.
        • by Khaed ( 544779 )
          ...I wish I'd known that during the game.

          I know dying didn't do any real harm, but it generally irritated me enough that I wanted to avoid it at all costs. Thus, I never tested if I could die from hacking. You *could* die infinite times in BioShock, but that didn't mean I necessarily wanted to.
        • by jandrese ( 485 )
          Once I had the natural stealth plasmid I always routed the flow to alarm tiles when I realized I'd messed up the hack. That way the bots would just buzz around you without causing any real problem while you went back and hacked again. There were a lot of unsolvable puzzles from about midways on if you didn't have the right plasmids installed. Several others where you had get every single piece exactly right in order to win (which mostly meant getting lucky and getting the first piece you needed on an ear
          • by anethema ( 99553 )
            Yeah I haven't seen any unhackable puzzles because I always had at least 1-2 plasmids active..BUT again, you don't have to get lucky to hack. If the first time you didn't get the first piece in place, just hack again and put it there. You have infinite tries and can re-hack LONG before any bots reach you since as soon as the hacking game kicks you out just keep tapping your hack key. Can hack many times in the space it takes the security bots to fly a couple feet.

            Then you can just look at your map which als
  • FTA:

    It engages a different part of their brain. As long as it's not too onerous or forced upon the player too commonly. They say, "Variety is the spice of life," and I think that applies in this case. As long as you don't make it an essential, unavoidable, too-important part of the game, because people are expecting a shooter.

    Play through bioshock and count how many times you came across something you could hack. Now, after doing that, how many times did the puzzle's general setup change? It is one thing to keep your core idea of the minigame to play a plumber. It is another when the plumber solves the same problem not just a dozen, but dozens of times in a game.

    It was not until you could auto-hack turret/bots that the game became much continuous; not stopping ever 5 minutes to hack a turret or a camera to avoid getting spo

    • System Shock 2 did have a hacking system but it was a far cry from the hacking in the original System Shock.

      Either you could easily hack something or it was a waste of nanites attempting to. That or you end up reloading a quick save because it blew up in your face.

      In System Shock, hacking took place as rearranging wires to get power past a certain level or toggling nodes on a circuit until there's a complete line to power something up. I can't say there's any more skill with those types of puzzles than wi
  • FTA:

    Hart: From a gameplay point of view... I don't know if you're familiar with the hacking system of "System Shock 2...

    Multiplayer: No, I'm not.

    Sad really. They need to just re-release SS2 with an updated graphics engine.
    • There are two mods projects that update the textures for SS2. SHTUP does object textures and SS2 Rebirth the AI models. Worth taking a look if you are interested in a replay.
    • by trdrstv ( 986999 )

      Sad really. They need to just re-release SS2 with an updated graphics engine.

      Isn't that what Bioshock was? Oh right they also turned the difficulty setting from "Challenging" to "Off".

  • Minigames can be fun, a good distraction, and a way of breaking up the 'monotony' of the parent game's primary thrust... but god damn, they really, really have to be skippable. Something like Bioshock's system is good: Play the game if you want to, or sacrifice some in-game money to just skip the whole thing and keep moving. Something like the Tetra Master tournament from Final Fantasy 9, or the (timed!) pipes minigame in Star Trek: Elite Force II, which you have to play through and beat in order to progr
  • As long as you're co-opting old games, why not just slap a real classic on there? Pipe Dream is sorta neat, but it's no Super Mario 3.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by spyrochaete ( 707033 )
      I was playing Blades of Steel the other day and had a great chuckle during the second intermission where you play a Gradius mini game on the jumbotron.
  • It was novel the first 10 times... but after the 200th hacked turret/bot/vending machine it was a little tired. Although part of that is my fault for being OCD about completing everything in the game and feeling the need to hack every machine I came across whether I was going to use it or not.
    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      I don't know about you, but I was seriously glad to finally get the bots researched up high enough to auto-hack them.
  • You know, as buggy and outright crappy as portions of that game are (I'm looking at you, hovercraft piloting and GTO driving!), the hacking minigame [gamefaqs.com] is actually pretty well done, IMO.

  • Bioshock's hacking mini-game is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes.
    • That's right and if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.[
  • C'mon guys, the game is a hit, you can admit it now...

    _Bioshock_ isn't just some dumb shooter.

    I understand you needed to tell your moneymen and mucketymucks it was so you would get funded, but the cat's been out of the barn for ages. Just come on out and say it. Gloat a little, even. It'll make you feel better.
    • Bioshock certainly isn't dumb, but a shooter is exactly what it is. What the hell else should we call a game where you spend most of your time shooting enemies with weapons (guns or plasmids)?
      • Realtime RPG?

        At least compared to iD's stuff or the Unreal franchise it is.

        Not saying I didn't have a ton of fun in UT2004 multiplayer, but story it is not.
        • True, but not all shooters are just brainless frag-fests. Halo, for example, has a very highly-praised story. So does Half-Life. I think that we're long past the day when one can say that a game isn't an FPS because it has a good plot... good plot is well on its way to being expected, not being expected to be absent.
  • and that is the only reason why I did not play the game a second time.
  • Done right:

    GTA: San Andreas - After a stressful mission, I enjoyed playing pool with one of the local yokels at the bar. Good stuff.

    Done Wrong:

    The Warriors - The Lock picking minigame frustrated me to no end. The 3rd final inner tumbler spins so fast you can't get it right. I can never time it right. The other minigames(boosting car radios, pick pocketing, etc) weren't so bad.

    Some D&D game on the Genesis- you have a lock picking set with a set of specially-shaped keys. Use the wrong key, and it's broken
  • I would admit that given even more development time than we had, one of the things we considered was different mini-games.

    The original System Shock had several hacking mini games, two that I can remember were rewiring things so that there was a high enough power level and a connect the circuit game that looks very similar to the pipe game...

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis