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Published on February 8th, 2010 | by simeon


Bioshock 2 Q&A

We got to take part in the Bioshock 2 Q&A with the developers. We shared our notes with who were kind enough to type them up for us.

What was the biggest challenge in making Bioshock 2?

It’s that Bioshock 1 was so well received (laughs). Had to build a team from scratch. Building out the team was mentally challenging, and going up against our own expectiations. It is odd and humbled to be working on a game that everyone is enthusiastic about.

Was it difficult to make changes and expand without losing the feeling of the first game? Yes. Bioshock has a detailed ethos. Lots that was said and adding new history into that canon was certainly a challenge. The writing team in general had to become very familiar with the original (Bioshock 1) script in order to maintain true to the story.
What was the most difficult technological achievement?

Definitely the integration of multiplayer. Digital Extremes took much of the brunt of that challenge. We’ve made significant upgrades to the AI and facial animation, but the biggie was the inclusion of a multiplayer component.
Bioshock 1 had a delayed release on the PS3 and the general concensus is that version is the “weakest link”. Did this pose any issues during development?

It is difficult to develop for three platforms at the same time. Our goal was that the experience would be the same on all three platforms (PS3, 360, and PC) so that we didn’t reward or punish any particular audience for choosing their platform.
The release of Bioshock 2 was delayed until 2010. What do gamers get for having to wait these extra months?

Generally when release dates slip the developers need time to implement extra features. In our case the extra time was used to focus on balance and polish rather than new features. We wanted the smoothest onramp for our new users, so we polished everything to a high sheen. We did add 4 new game modes in that time, however.

The world of Bioshock was obviously influenced by Ayn Rand. Are there any other influences?
One obvious literary influence was Orwell, relating to the dangers of an all-consuming state. That said, the other influences are non-fiction, such as David Pierce’s ideology to eradicate suffering from the planet.
Because of these literary influences, do you see video games as a way to experience literature?
The term “literature” is corrupt when applying to video games. A player can get a taste of philosophy or Classic Classics which is pretty much worn on their sleeves. The demand for mature themes follows naturally to mature influences and influences players on an intellectual level. Mature games such as these are not the ideal way to experience these complex ideas, but it does offer the way to ask interesting questions.

Some say the boss fights in the game were too easy because they never healed and you kept regenerating. Have you addressed this?

We did not keep that system because it WAS too easy. Little Sisters can now heal them (Big Daddies) back up. Even more so on Hard levels. If you don’t jump back in then the Big Daddy will be back at their original strength to make these encounters as challenging as possible.

Have you implemented anything that wasn’t possible in the first game?

We implemented the ability to go outside and participate in the ecology of the Adam economy. We used the same engine this time around because we wanted the player to feel like they were “going back to Rapture”. We did improve the game engine and refined some tech… Underwater fogging works a lot better, but there was nothing major that we did in the last game that we didn’t do in this one.

One of the biggest changes is actually one of the simplest, which is the ability to use plasmids and weapons at the same time, a kind of “dual wield”. Now the player doesn’t have to manage going back and forth and using both is one fluid action. This is one of the first things we added and it changes the gameplay substantially.
One of the things that made Bioshock so successful was the elaborate narrative. How does this balance against the gameplay?
These were significant challenges on both fronts. Zack had his work cut out for him. On the narrative front we had to flesh out what was done before for the story to remain as mysterious. One of the challenges of the narrative department was to meaningfully surprise people. A simple-minded reboot would have just pissed off a lot of our core fans.

How did you get Flooding and floating bodies to look just right?

Yeah, that was pretty hard. The flooding was hand animated, and we had to tune the buyancy model so the dead bodies would stay in one place.

Was the story arc of Bioshock 2 pre-determined before making the first game?

The story was definitely NOT pre-determined. We bounced around a few cool ideas in a hypothetical Bioshock 2 during the first game’s development, but we weren’t sure how well the first game would be received.

Rapture has a definite art-deco theme. Were there any thought of making the environment more futuristic or ancient?
The visual theme was picked when production was first ramping up, but I do know that the mid to late fourties was when the city of Rapture was founded. This originally manifested itself into a Nazi secret lab under the ocean. One of the original environments was WWII with Nazis.

How does the team work with the characters of Rapture?

Every Splicer has two layers to them: their passion (or obsession) and the darker side, or the fall from grace that turned them into slobs. The splicers are people with disfigurements; generally either war wounds or birth defects, and their costumes are cross-sections of the fashion of the era. Walking the line between these two aspects was something the writers had to become familiar with.

The environment of the first game has a thick atmosphere. What can gamers expect from BS2 that keeps this motif going?

The lighting effects, music, dialog and constant first-person perspective are all very present in the second game. As pertains to what is new is seeing a different philosophy. Splicers are deeply loyal and that motif recurs. You get a taste of the disenfranchised and religious views that would have been banned by Ryan.

The soundtrack is amazing. How did you make it better than the first one?

On the music side: the orchestral and alien sounds again live in harmony. We made a change in style from the 1930s to the mid-1950s, and we did a licensed track this time.

The soundtrack is already available for people who want to get it. The Ultimate edition of the game includes a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl in addition to the CD. We did this because we felt vinyl is a more meaningful collector’s item that fit the tone of the game, and Bioshock aficionados would appreciate that.
What is the number one new plasmid?

There isn’t one. Each player has their own style of how they play, and everyone’s strategy is different. Some plasmids people either ignore or love, like the Insect Swarm.
How many new plasmids have you added?

The Scout plasmid lets you leave you body and explore space, which allows the player to develop a strategy before bursting in. The houdini plasmid (originally available only to Splicers in the first game) lets you turn invisible. We upgraded the Winter Blast and Telekenisis, and you can combine plasmids so that players can freeze their enemies, pick them up in the air and throw them against other enemies which shatter and freeze. We wanted to create abilities that are not only fun to use but are fun to be used against you.

Did you ever consider plasmids that would not work with a Big Daddy?

We did know that plasmids are a central element that conflicts interesting state changes in the world. Once of the challenges is how to make a believable story as to why the Big Daddy WOULD use plasmids and we came up with a prototype Big Daddy that was heavily infused with Adam.
Are there multiple endings like the first game?

Originally your choices determined an ending that was either “Jesus” or “Hitler”, but Bioshock 2’s endings are more granular and are influenced throughout the game.

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