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Time with “Bioshock” developer

By dcacho
Tuesday, August 21st, 2007 at 2:00 pm in Gieson Cacho.

The way Nate Wells sees it, “Bioshock” is the only next-gen shooter out there.

At a time when everyone is trying to define what a new generation of games should play like, the technical arts director for Irrational Games has a pretty good argument and it’s staring me in the face.

This isn’t the prettiest shooter on the Xbox 360. That distinction belongs to “Gears of War” and it’s not the most realistic that honor would go to “Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter” or “Rainbow Six Vegas.”

But in terms of narrative, presentation, level design and ideas, “Bioshock” outdistances the competition. No other title blends the cinematic and gameplay in such a compelling package.


Sitting in a boardroom at the Clift Hotel in San Francico last week, Wells and producer Melissa Miller showed off their video game masterpiece, which makes its way onto shelves today. The room is dim and Miller shows off the fourth level of the game, a lush forest fanstastically grown beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s one of those games where the gameplay is determined by the player’s imagination,” she said. Miller points out the fact that she set her opponent on fire and that blaze will spread throughout the level, on oil slicks if there are some and on other players if they go near each other.

It’s hard to understand at first but when you see this in action you’ll understand. This is what Irrational Game was talking about when the studio described an ecological AI. When enemies are attacked, they smartly head over to a healing base that could be hacked to hurt them. If they’re on fire, they rush to the water, where they’re ripe for an Electrobolt.

There’s rules to this world and knowing how to manipulate the environment in the underwater city of Rapture is the key to surviving in it.

But that immersion is only half the game. The other side of it is narrative and presentation, and judging by the introduction to the underworld, “Bioshock” excells at that. This seems to be a game built around moments.

The first comes when you enter the lighthouse that leads to Rapture. A statue of the game’s antagonist Andrew Ryan stares you in the face. He’s angry. He’s enormous. He’s staring you down with the angry eyes of a god. As you go further into the game, an appropriate tune plays up and sets the mood.

It’s this layering that gives this game it’s quality.
“We didn’t cut things,” he said. “We were always putting in more.”

As Wells explained it, scenes in the game started out as an idea, and as the developers at Irrational Games designed it, they layered in the music, lighting and other touches to create some of the most tense and cinematic moments this year. In some ways, it’s Spielbergian.

It’s these instances that will compel players to dig further into the “Bioshock’s” fantastic lore. Right now, it’s keeping me playing to 5 in the morning waiting to find what happens next.

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