A few weeks ago, I got to play the first four hours of BioShock Infinite and it was awesome -- meanwhile, Patch played a similar demo in Boston and had a chat to Ken Levine.
Shortly after playing, I sat down with BioShock Infinite design director Bill Gardner. What is that, you ask? So did I.
“I play the role of the gamer to help fix stuff,” explained John.
MMGN: Who is this Booker chap?
Bill Gardner: BioShock Infinite Design Director: Booker is interesting because he has a very mysterious past. The player will go on the journey with him to try and figure out exactly what his past is.
What we know is that he’s a former Pilkington agent -- there’s some shadiness there -- but he’s got himself in a lot of trouble and into a lot of debt. His only chance to pay it off, essentially to save his own skin, is to go to Columbia, which he knows nothing about, and bring this girl Elizabeth to New York. So he goes into the city and quickly discovers that for some reason they don’t want him there.
It becomes his story to get Elizabeth out of the city and she is trying to figure out her own history there; she’s been locked up in this tower her whole life. Why have these people gone to such great lengths to keep her imprisoned?
Booker is obviously confused initially, as is Elizabeth, and so was I when I was thrown into the thick of the action. Honestly, I had no idea what was going on [during the first few hours]. Is that mysterious confusion a running theme?
Mysterious is definitely a huge part of BioShock as a series. The way the narrative unfolds, the way that we take the gameplay and merge it with the story and try to find ways to get the player to pull information rather than forcing it on them is very important.
A lot of games focus your attention with a cut-scene every two minutes saying ‘listen to this, listen to this!’ We’re much more interested in letting players unravel that themselves. Part of that is definitely about posing these questions and slowly revealing them bit-by-bit.
It’s the same type of approach as a show like Lost, or really a lot of JJ Abrams’ work that encourages mystery. I think it really pulls you along. It’s a huge part of what pulls you through a BioShock experience and Infinite is no exception. It will certainly keep players curious.
If we talk first impressions, it [a 4 hour preview] immediately felt like BioShock 1 and yet nothing like it. That’s not really a question...
To some degree I say mission accomplished! It is a BioShock game, so you want to make sure it doesn’t feel completely alien, but at the same time it doesn’t want to feel like an old hat. So you’ve got to find a way to walk that line where it’s new and fresh and exciting as players try and figure out the mystery of this place and have players asking themselves intriguing questions -- that part might feel familiar. And the interface is similar as is the low-on-health sound -- there’s a very distinctive BioShock clang noise.
It needs to comfortable, at least familiar to some degree, but at the same time it is alien and set in a completely different world. And there are completely new mechanics to learn.
So it’s interesting and encouraging to hear that. You know what they say: similar yet different.
I’ve seen what what Elizabeth can do with Booker as a gameplay companion during the first few hours. What else can she does to be helpful?
You’ll never have to protect Elizabeth, you don’t have to watch her and she can take care of herself.
One of the interesting challenges with BioShock Infinite is that there’s so much that we’re taking on in gameplay and in narrative. Trying to pass that information out is a huge challenge. Up until the point that you’ve played [and so has Patch], you’ve probably seen the tears and her helping in combat with health and ammo and things like that. She can also pick locks, she can break codes that are found along the walls so you can access new areas.
She’s got a huge amount of little contributions to make and on top of all of that, putting aside her important narrative qualities, she’ll also help you explore the world and point out areas you may have missed. She’ll point out enemies, like a sniper for example. I suggest you always try and find ways that she can enhance your combat abilities and compliment them.
A lot of times companion characters fall into the trap of being an escort mission and forcing you to protect them. I personally can’t stand that. Nothing turns me off more than losing or dying and failing a mission because the companion character can’t figure out how to hide. So we said early on that wasn’t going to be the case; you’ll never have to protect her, you don’t have to watch her and she can take care of herself.
Of the suite of tools that she can use, I think the most interesting is the tears and being able to use them in combat and finding a way to make them interact with your existing tools.
When we first saw a tear, it looked great for a moment, but then it all went horribly wrong and Elizabeth had to scramble to close it. Is that to say that tears won’t always work in her favour?
From a combat perspective, they will [always be favourable]. We don’t want to have them backfire on you.
But there are narrative tears as well and the idea here is that she doesn’t have full control over all of them as she’s only just recently discovered how to use them. There’s definitely an element of surprise and of her growing. She starts off in the tower and she doesn’t really know much of anything beyond what she’s read in books. But when she goes out into the world, it’s this massive wakeup call and she has to seriously grow up.
In the same way she’s growing as a person, she’s mastering this power. As you see early on when she opens up the tear and she’s looking into Paris, except it’s not quite Paris -- we can see ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ playing in cinemas and it’s clearly not 1912 -- so it’s not quite what she expected when she opened the tear.
Thanks for your time!
By Ben Salter