"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour." - William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
Drifting in a sea of pale blue, as clouds graze and splinter in its wake, a city soars. At one time it stood as a symbol for a nation's reach at exceptionalism, as a vision of a promised utopia. But humanity, being of such dubious nature, has corrupted it. Anarchy has broken it. Chaos has consumed it. Fear has enveloped it. Death has become it. For although it soars across heaven, it harbors within it a dark and sinister hell. And it is in this place of chaos and evil that you have come.
Because even here, in this Pandora's box, there is a small sliver of hope. It is why you have come. For a woman. This small and fragile creature, eyes soft and pale blue, hair shimmering black in sunlight. She kneels forlornly at the body of a dead horse, weeping for this broken creature. She runs a delicate hand over its neck, her sobs suddenly carrying with it a tremble of anger. Her hands splay open, the air suddenly undulating and, to your eyes at least, vibrating with some unnatural power. She gestures and cries out, and the scene around you suddenly changes, the air and the land and the sky unnaturally.....shifting. It's as if you're suddenly seeing the world through the lens of a negative imprint, the air vaguely tasting of burning ozone. It makes you dizzy, lightheaded, cold around the heart.
The woman gasps, her arms suddenly going slack as she expels this effort among heaving sobs and angry cries of indignation, the world becoming whole once more. Her body begs for rest but her eyes, those pale and soft blue eyes, show that fire of determination. She inhales one last time, before throwing her arms wide, screaming as she does so. The world, reality itself, suddenly splits, shifting from the cloudy ruins of Columbia, to that of a black asphalt city street next to a marquee of some showtime theater house flashing soft white light around its headers. The horse shudders, its head flopping and spasming as life is forced back into its body. And as unlikely as it should be, it begins to rise, to stand and move with renewed life. The marquee lights suddenly flare to blinding bright light, an unnatural buzzing slowly ringing the air. Like party favors, they being to fizzle, sputter, and finally pop as glass shards rain down on the streets, the lettering on the header suddenly melting into sour plastic goo.
Fear full on seizes you as the horse races down this black street into the unknown, the woman's eyes suddenly glowing unnatural. "Stop it," you manage to sputter out. "Elizabeth, stop! Turn it off, turn it back! Elizabeth!" The woman screams as her head cranes back to the sky, the world shimmers one last time, this tear in time suddenly imploding around you, vapored ghostly images shifting away from your sight, before the woman collapses in exhaustion and the reality of present time suddenly retakes its rightful place in the order of life. Your knees buckle, as if a terrible weight had suddenly been placed upon your shoulders, and you collapse upon the street. You force yourself to breathe, to live. To exist. The woman weeps again. Her hands, those delicate instruments of unnatural power, rest limply in her lap. You rise and run your fingers through sweat soaked hair, those soft pale eyes of hers looking up at you with deepest regret.
You inhale one last time before placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Well that was....bracing," you finally say. "I can honestly say that I did *not* see that coming. The horse was a nice touch." Her sobbing stops, and for a moment, the corners of her mouth twist into a small smile. Your voice suddenly turns serious. "Come on, we need to go." She looks up and nods gently, the air fluttering through shimmering black hair. "Just...do me a favor," you say as you stand up. "Warn me the next time you do...that."
A Stich in Time
Irrational and 2K Games are gearing up for the next chapter in the much-lauded BioShock universe, only this time don't expect to walk the familiar halls of the underwater city of Rapture, but rather the open expanse of the floating city of Columbia. At the dawn of the 20th century, it represented the ideals of American Exceptionalism, the pinnacle of creation wrought of the industrial revolution. But under this mask of progress and change was the dark secret that Columbia was in fact a weapon of war. A weapon that made itself known when it laid waste to chinese civilians during the tumultuous events of the Boxer Rebellion. Disavowed by the U.S. Government, Columbia quickly became an urban legend, a sort of Red Terror in the skies above. Cut off from society, civil war has erupted, and this one time symbol of national pride became a battleground of death.
It is during these events that former Pinkerton Agent Booker DeWitt find himself in. Hired by a mysterious group of individuals, you must guide this man on his journey to rescue a young woman named Elizabeth, a woman who has been held captive on Columbia for the last twelve years. And although finding her is the easy part, the mysteries as to why her presence is central to the civil war still raging across this floating city still remains unknown. Hoping to shed some light on this new tale in the BioShock universe, Infinite's Creative Director Ken Levine is surprisingly frank and open about the pros and cons of previous BioShock titles, and how introducing such an enigmatic "improv character" in the form of Elizabeth wasn't as easy as it looks.
"There are three primary risks [we took with Infinite]," Levine says. "The first one was, obviously, when we announced that that this game was not going to be set in the city of Rapture. People were kind of surprised and were like, "What are you guys, crazy?" Already I'm pretty confident that was the right thing to do. The other big risk is....this is not a game where you're by yourself anymore. You're a character and you're with a character, and Elizabeth, especially Elizabeth, is something we've never done before. She's a companion....that has this huge role in gameplay., [one] that is so critical to the story. We tend to think of her as an "improv partner" for the [player]. She is somebody that is with you that we can't script because we don't know what the gamer is going to do....That's what I think has been the scariest [risk] to take on, but also the most rewarding."
The final risk Levine believes the new title carries with it is its vast and open nature compared to the more-confining aspects of the last two BioShock titles, but believes it to be a risk worth taking. "The skylines....That kind of sense of movement, that sense of verticality, that sense of speed. How do you balance that with a very BioShock-like combat experience? We've been working very hard for a very long time on that, and I think we're just about getting there." He also also spoke highly of the game's setting, where it explores the events as they happen, rather than the aftermath that players experienced in the last two previous games. Levine doesn't necessarily consider it a risk, but a careful progression in dynamic change. "In BioShock, when you come to Rapture," he says, "essentially the party’s over, and you’re just sort of examining the shards of broken glass. And we really wanted to tell a story that was very much in motion this time...In Columbia, it's fairly stable when you arrive. It has a lot of underlying problems that are very easily brought to the surface; you saving Elizabeth from captivity acts as the catalyst that sets everything in motion and causes a lot of the conflict in the city."
The main challenge that the development team wanted to tackle head on is the different use and functions of powers and weapons, something that the team felt could really use some work on improving in Infinite. Something that Irrational's Director of Product Development Timothy Gerritsen hopes this time around will allow players to actively seek and experiment with more so than the did in the previous games. "The problem we ran into with BioShock is that, you could get to a point where you could have one gun and one plasmid and pretty much just go through the game with that," Gerritsen explains. "We're our own worst critics. So that was one thing we identified. Like, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We didn't want to create that situation where people would just use the same thing over and over again....For us it was about what do we do "powers" wise. How do we create combinations and opportunities? Our core design philosophy throughout the entire game is opening up possibilities for players. We didn't want to create this, "Here's this radial system. Here's these eight weapons. Here are these eight powers. How do they fit?" It's about creating opportunities where, "Oh, I used this shotgun and this power and that worked. But it's not working here anymore. What do I have to do?" It's about changing it up. "Oh, if I combine this with this, what happens? And now I'm adding this Elizabeth character." She brings a whole different set of variables into the equation."
Changing the Playing Field
The big selling point Levine and co. want to express the most is your A.I. partner Elizabeth. "It’s such a different thing," Levine explains. "You know, to be a very specific character with a personality and a voice. And having this woman who’s a complete game-changer on every conceivable level. That presented a whole new challenge." The strongest selling point in Elizabeth is, according to Levine, not her powers, or her nature but, of all things, "Her eyes," he says, "because there's so much expression you can do there....her eyes show a ton of expression and you [can] see them at a relatively great distance...we took the challenges of Elizabeth very, very seriously because it's so easy to do a companion character wrong. Just having her standing there looking around [in a natural way] is a challenge. Because if you turn to look at her and she looks [robotic], it's over."
This behavior oddly helped the team form the basis of how Columbia's various inhabitants act and react to the player's actions in a more realistic and defined manner. "There's a part where one of the Vox Populi (one of the civil war factions fighting for control of Columbia) pushes a guy down the stairs. If you put a bullet in him before that happens, that part would change," he explains. "The guy won't get pushed down the stairs and you'll end up in a fight with some other members of the Vox Populi." In other words, infinite actions, infinite reactions, all thanks to the "improv partner" aspects of, well, your partner.
As the team puts the finishing touches and final polish on what looks to be a stellar title in a franchise already well respected among its peers, Levine is confident in Infinite's success, more so than when he and his team first took us into the mental artistry that was Rapture. "When BioShock [first] came out," he muses, "there was a Call of Duty game, The Orange Box [Portal being the big one], the first Assassin's Creed, and I think the first Mass Effect. All you can do is you put in your best effort and count yourself lucky if you're even recognized among those kinds of titles." This time around, with a pedigree of excellence helping to push the title above and beyond, BioShock Infinite could well be the game that, quite literally, soars head and shoulders above them all.
BioShock: Infinite is set to be released February 26, 2013.
At a Glance: BioShock Infinite
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Aug 18, 2012.