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First Person Shooters (Games) Entertainment Games

The Making of Bioshock 281

Gamasutra is running a feature from Game Developer magazine in which Bioshock's project leader writes about what went right and what went wrong making last year's award-winning shooter, Bioshock. He talks about what the developers learned from fans and focus groups, how long it took them to firmly define what the game was supposed to be, and how they tried to reconcile their ideas with their capabilities. Quoting: "...just after the first beta, the entire design team plus a contingent of 2K producers headed off to see how a group that knew nothing about our company or BioShock would react to the first level. It was brutal. The first level, they said, was overly dense, confusing, and not particularly engaging. Players would acquire new powers but not know how to use them, so they stuck to using more traditional weapons and became frustrated. They didn't interact with the Big Daddies, and they didn't understand (or care) how to modify their characters. They were so overwhelmed by dialogue and backstory that they missed key information. A few of the players did start to see the possible depth of the game, but even they were frustrated by the difficulty of actually using the systems we had created."
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The Making of Bioshock

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  • What I found odd... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by polyomninym ( 648843 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @06:54PM (#24851845)
    I have almost beaten this game on the PC, and I must say that I truly love it. It's creepy, weird and under the ocean, so I've gotta give 2K some props for the concept. Those Big Daddies are horrifying tankers, loved'em to bits! The thing that I find most odd about this game is the text during loading screens. they were supposed to be quotes of various citizens talking about how things of gone down the tubes. I know that they were trying to capture some old-style slangy ways of talkin' , but damn the quoted text was so riddled with bad English that it sort of undermined the whole creepy feel of the game. I didn't let it get to me, but wow, it sure feels nice to share that with ya'll ;) Please reply if you felt the same way about those quotes. Great game IMHO!
  • Re:that's nice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:10PM (#24852059)
    Sorry, I literally got control back of my system about 30 minutes ago, so it's fresh in my mind (why my post starts with 'Funny'). And sorry, but not being able to use my computer thanks to a game I paid for is a serious WRONG in my book. If they remove the protection I'll reinstall it and pick up where I left off, and then maybe I might be able to tell you what they did "right" in the game. I'm sure there're plenty of good things there.
  • I think I found it! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by soupforare ( 542403 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:13PM (#24852097)

    ...what went wrong...focus groups...

    Ah, nothing like developing for the lowest common denominator to screw potential!

  • Re:that's nice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fallingcow ( 213461 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:14PM (#24852105) Homepage

    I just pirated the damned thing.

    Spent the money I was going to spend on it on STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl instead. Bioshock deserved the money more, but I won't pay to fuck up my machine, ESPECIALLY when the game's already on Steam. I also won't miss an opportunity to play a (reputedly) great game over principles, and paying money for a legit copy while having to pirate it anyway just to make it usable is retarded.. *shrug*

  • by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:14PM (#24852111)
    Damn straight.

    I'm friends with a designer from the Australian office and I talked with him about the development of Bioshock since it was made public (at least about the bits he could tell me before release). Believe me when I say I wanted this game - I wanted it bad, 'cus it looked cool, I'd followed it since the beginning and I wanted to support my friend's hard work.

    However, the moment I heard it had activation/Securerom/crap I refused to touch it. it's a matter of principle.

    I used to pay for games back in the day when games were interesting and worthwhile. I could just as easily have pirated them, but I chose to do the right thing. Then, games like HL2 started coming out - games that defacto treated loyal customers like criminals. The only people who were punished were those who actually bought the product.

    In the interest of fairness, as my designer friend told me, it's not the developers who want DRM and activation (most hate it) it's the publishers. Developers have to listen to their audience to make marketable games; publishers are completely out of touch.

    My friends tell me that publishers aren't going to change no matter what I do, so I may as well not fight it. That's bullshit. I vote with my dollars and urge other people to do the same.

    So I didn't buy Bioshock and I didn't buy HL2. I waited until my boyfriend finished playing them, then borrowed his copy. I'm not an impulsive teenager anymore - I can wait a few months for the next shiny new thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:17PM (#24852151)

    Hmm... Game with a lot of back story, depth and complex mechanics, tested poorly with the focus group so they toned it right down to the more or less hand holding game that it was.

    Don't get me wrong, I loved the game, and found it really accessible, however I would be interested to find out what got cut for the frustrated test group

  • by pumpkinempanada ( 522760 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:36PM (#24852377)
    I just finished it last week. It looked cool but even that was overrated. After you've seen the basic lighting/color scheme and art-deco look they're going to use, it doesn't vary a whole lot. All those mods and junk you could do to yourself was just boring, there was never a compelling reason to mess with any of it. Beyond that it was just the same game mechanic over and over again until it's over -- not even a good ending to the story they seemed so proud of! just my opinion, but overall in the year I've had an XBox, gears of war and portal have been the best games.
  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:40PM (#24852419) Journal

    In the interest of fairness, as my designer friend told me, it's not the developers who want DRM and activation (most hate it) it's the publishers.

    Given that Valve has gone independent, Steam is quite obviously a development shop's idea of what DRM should be.

    I actually don't have a problem with Steam, since at least it seems to work, and after playing through single-player, I'm going to mostly want it for Internet-enabled games, like Counter-Strike.

    And then there's things like, which seems to need single-activation. I really could care less, then -- I'm going to be online at least once to patch it, adding an activation step is pretty harmless.

    No, where I draw the line is adding a layer on top of Steam -- and having that layer actually damage your OS.

    I would say, don't boycott all DRM. Instead, boycott the truly damaging DRM in favor of stuff you can live with.

  • Re:that's nice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jesterboy ( 106813 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @07:58PM (#24852617)

    I wish I could take credit for this, but it comes from this post [] on the 2K Froums in the thread about removing the install limits, but not the DRM [], and I think it's pretty applicable here:

    Is a man not entitled to the game he purchased?
    No says the man at 2K, he may be a thief.
    No says the man at Sony, he may be a pirate.
    No says the pirate, I'll give it to you free...
    I rejected all those answers and did what many should do.... .... I ...purchased..... a XBOX 360, and never worried again.

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @09:02PM (#24853261) Journal

    "I would say, don't boycott all DRM. Instead, boycott the truly damaging DRM in favor of stuff you can live with."

    Y'know, there was a time when I would have agreed with this statement. But I'm old and bitter, and tired of this crap.

    DRM hurts sales. DRM annoys people. DRM treats customers like criminals. DRM usually does NOT prevent anyone from pirating your game, but even if it does, it's only the people who wouldn't have paid for it in the first place.

    I remember reading matte red codes on glossy red paper, and entering a random one each time I started a game. I remember floppies with a bad sector, which would only run if the drive returned an error 'sector not found' on that part. (and it usually had to grind for 30-60 seconds to timeout). They're all ways of protecting...something. Not sales, not profit, just...something.

    Sell me a game with no DRM, and I'll happily buy it. Insist I'm probably a criminal and have to prove otherwise--ANY way at all--and I won't bother. I don't need your game that badly.

  • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @09:03PM (#24853269)

    Maybe the reviewers just had a different opinion from yours. Mine is about 180 degrees different from yours. I thought it was a fantastic game.

    I just wish all the manufacturers would make demos available for all their games so we could each sort out what game we were probably going to enjoy or not before the purchase. You could have played the demo and known it wasn't the game for you, and I would have known it was well worth my money to go ahead and buy it.

  • Re:that's nice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:26PM (#24854527)

    None of that matters if people actually avoid playing your game because of the DRM on it.

    Thought experiment: What if the DRM was "perfect?" That is, somehow, through magic, completely unobtrusive. The only thing it did (again, through magic) was keep you from installing the game on computers you didn't own.

    Would the situation be the same? That is, if this (non-existing), magic type of DRM existed that hindered only pirates and torrent leeches, would people still be against it? If one really has no problems paying $60 for a game, would anyone protest a protection that you never saw upon paying?

    Granted, SecuROM is the exact opposite of my magically unobtrusive DRM - it breaks computers, keeps paying customers from playing the game they purchased, and can be circumvented. But, if the perfect DRM existed that (again, magically!) only stopped piracy with no side effects, would anyone care? Could you justify it on moral grounds?

    Depending on how you think through the "thought experiment" (I like misuing big words), it could be argued that developers should work on perfecting DRM. Making it infallible stops piracy, and making it completely unobtrusive maximizes the number willing to pay and able to enjoy it.

    And, because dichotomies are fun, if you have "perfect" DRM on one end, you have no DRM on the other. Would "no DRM" offer any benefits to the consumer over the "perfect DRM"? And would it offer any benefits to game developers?


  • Re:that's nice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:26AM (#24855581) Journal
    Say someone sets up a genuine and easy to use no bullshit donation site for you to donate to the bioshock team, how much would you really pay for it? A$0? A$5? A$10? What would be a fair cut for the people running the site? 5%?

    My brother had a pirate copy of GTA3 before, and he liked it so much that he wanted to buy it, but he couldn't get an original copy - nobody sold it, he even went to a neighbouring country. I think it was banned in both countries - but naturally the "unauthorized distributors" didn't bother about the ban :).

    Sometimes it's just so hard to give people money and skip all the crap ;).
  • by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:55AM (#24856199)

    Bioshock was beautiful, but in the end it left me unsatisfied. I was hoping for less linearity (yes, you _can_ travel between levels at will, but why would you want to?), and more distinct levels. Not graphically, that was fine; but every level had the same set of enemies, the same set of power ups, vending machines, etc.

    Compare this to System Shock 2 (hey, the developers did!): in SS2 you _have_ to backtrack to earlier levels (and doing so isn't a chore at all thanks to some brilliant level design), and each area has its own level of threat: some are swarming with enemies, some are eerily quiet, some have lots of useful goodies, and in some you have to carefully hoard your possessions.

    To me it made a lot of difference: the Von Braun was a real place, but Rapture eventually just blurred out. Yes, it is pretty, but there is no emotion associated with any of the locations. It is all just some place you run past while killing baddies. If you need health, it is always less than a hundred meters away. If you need to change your skills, you can do it at any time - no need to carefully think about what you want before you start.

    This is the uncanny valley all over again: the various Bioshock levels are so much alike in terms of what you can do, that in the end they all look the same, and wrong.

  • by wildstoo ( 835450 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @05:56AM (#24856483)

    Well, it pretty much spells it out in TFA.

    The game was going to be deep and complex, but then they took it to a bunch of drooling retards who promptly cried "IT'S TOO HAAAAARD" before soiling themselves and going back to their fingerpaints.

    Ok, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it does seem to be a worrying trend these days. Players seem to be rewarded for being unwilling to put up with even the slightest complication in a game.

    Yes, I realise that a lot of people really LIKE the hand-holding way that modern games present themselves.

    I realise that a cumbersome UI or byzantine system of "features" and poor controls can alienate new players and mire an otherwise brilliant game. (X3 I'm looking at you)

    I realise that "accessibility" = sales and that not every gamer is interested in deep, involving game mechanics.

    It just seems to be the way the whole industry is going; take a well-worn concept, focus-group the design down to nothing, then polish the most basic features and sell it as somehow "revolutionary".

    With all the meticulous planning and crafting every detail of the "user experience", the magic seems to have become lost.

    Or maybe I really am an old fogey gamer with rose-tinted glasses. :P

  • by wildstoo ( 835450 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @06:19AM (#24856619)

    If you're going to complain about the graphics, point out how the view out the windows should not be visibly wavering. Water doesn't work like that; you'd think with all the effort they put into the game they could have taken the time to see how large underwater windows at the local aquarium behave.

    I assumed it was because Rapture was a seriously old and leaky underwater city. The water was actually streaming down the insides of the windows through cracks in the seals?

    I might be wrong, It's prolly just in there coz "it looks coooooool".

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @11:04AM (#24859405) Journal

    I bought Bioshock about a week after it was first released (largely because I found a $10 off sale on it at a local Circuit City, and figured all the hype plus the discount made it worth grabbing).

    I have to agree that it could have been more compelling. To this day, I've never finished the game. I enjoyed it for a few hours, but ultimately, I felt like the mechanics made it too similar to many other 3D shooter type games I've played before. The graphics and sound f/x are outstanding. The concepts in the game like the plasmids, the little sisters, and the Big Daddies are great. But I spent too much time walking around the same rooms, trying to get to where I could unlock one lousy opening to see the next set of interesting things.

    And honestly? I think the theme itself annoyed me, too. Initially, I was really thrilled that someone was making a game revolving around objectivism and Ayn Rand's beliefs. But then, it became clear it was trying to illustrate why such concepts were "bad" things, and would only lead to utter failure and despair.

    I guess somehow, I'm just not buying the idea that all these great scientists *really* just wanted to escape the laws of the land so they could start injecting each other with substances that would cause permanent mutations, but giving them "super powers", etc. etc. Just because you're for progress and minimal government interference doesn't imply you've tossed ethics and morality aside.

  • Re:Market research!? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @05:13PM (#24865223)

    I'm under the impression that it's not *that* unusual for game developers to bring testers in. I seem to remember mention of it in the Portal commentary. Getting an audience to test you game seems easy and obvious. It seems like the hard thing would be knowing what to do when your audience tells you the game isn't fun.

    You're correct. For most substantially-sized game I've been involved with, testers were brought in to provide feedback near alpha and beta stages of the project, which is when a lot of gameplay balancing occurs. It would be sort of insane not to get outside opinions of your potential customers given the time and effort spent on a modern game. At my current company, we would bring in new groups of testers on a weekly basis, and one of our internal QA folk's full time job was organizing and managing the playtest sessions, as well as reporting the results of the playtests and surveys they were given.

    Oddly enough, it's not too unusual to be so busy with your part of the game that you don't really even have a lot of time to play it yourself - most developers (except the designers) don't "play" their own games so much as occasionally test out small, specific features throughout the development cycle, so it's great to have outside opinions that help to fill in the big picture. As a developer, you're unlikely to be able to view anything all that objectively anyhow, being so close to the game.

    Still, at that point, it's generally too late to do anything about really fundamental problems with the game. This is why a number of companies also try to complete smaller scoped gameplay demos. Essentially, they try to create a small "vertical slice" of the game as much as possible. This is feasible so long as your schedule is limited more by content creation than programmer time. These sorts of early demos are typically internal, as it is probably too early to risk showing the public anything at that stage (the project may not be even announced at that point).

    And yes, it's hard to have someone pick up a controller, spend 15 minutes playing your game, and find out that the feature you've been slaving away on for the last month or two "isn't fun". You just have to step back, try to look at *why* it wasn't fun for the player, and figure out a way to correct the issue while hopefully not throwing away all your work.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears