Bioshock

"Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?" - Andrew Ryan

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I'm sure you'll be positively shocked to know that I am about to pen yet another among many glowing Bioshock reviews that shamelessly heap mountains of praise on Irrational Games – I reject the new 2K Boston branding for the time being – but, that's exactly what I'm about to do.

Bioshock is good, maybe great, maybe eventually an all-time classic. It's far too soon to crown those latter qualities simply as a matter of principle, but the words dance at my fingertips aching to be let loose in a flood of feel-good hyperbole. Bioshock is worth its sixty dollar price tag within the first few levels, and the rest of the game is the icing on the cake if you eat cakes with nineteen layers of icing. Relax, I'm not going to spoil any plot points for you, but in the interest of objectivity I am going to offer a few points of criticism to be considered along with the carnival parade of deserved and endless praise being doled out apparently by the entire internet. But throughout the entire exercise it is important to keep in mind that this game is a sublimely fun work of seemingly unlimited creativity.

I have spent some unknown time so far with Bioshock, certainly more than fifteen hours and probably less than twenty. Truth be told, time had no meaning in Rapture, the crumbling underwater city in which the game takes place, and when creeping slowly through the tainted utopia with its denizens of excess and violence I've got better things to be doing than running a stopwatch. I have not quite completed the game, but have plumbed its twisting and deceptive depths enough to know that I'm playing something pretty remarkable. I suspected this was so within the first ten minutes as Rapture revealed itself against the murky depths, but I gave the game a few hours to really beat me over the head with its persistent excellence before concluding with some certainty that Bioshock was not going to be a game that started big and then pushed the player down a long slow slide of disappointment. I'm looking at you Doom III.

For fans of Irrational's previous critical success, System Shock 2, Bioshock will be filled with familiar mechanics and styles. Replace Psi with Plasmids, tone down the RPG elements and replace the icy-cool interiors of the Von Braun with an absolutely stunning environment of jaw-dropping art-deco detail and life, and you'll feel right at home. The parallels between the two games are many, but Bioshock offers a familiar framework both in narrative style and play elements without feeling repetitious. Remarkably, this is a more fun game to play than System Shock 2, which shouldn't be too terribly surprising considering the eight years Irrational stewed on the concept. Bioshock offers the same depth of world and uncomfortable tension but wraps it in the much tighter frame of a more traditional shooter without becoming trite.

The game does put a lot of strength into traditional firepower, and early plasmids, think of them as genetic magic, are best used in conjunction with the arsenal of weapons rather than as a primary offense. Plasmids offer some good tactical spice to the mix, but if you're expecting them to replace physical and chemical munitions, then prepare to be slightly disappointed. Fortunately the game puts a lot of alternatives at your disposal for dealing death, and something has to be said about hacking native turrets, security cameras and bots to your advantage and simply watching the relentless delivery of automated carnage. The hacking process is a straightforward mini-game that can be exciting at times but eventually becomes a little tedious considering how very very much you will be inclined to do it. The benefits of hacking are too good to resist, but the frequency with which you will be doing it might occasionally leave you wishing you were shooting at something instead.

Trust me, though, when you face-down an angry, well-armored Big Daddy protecting his Little Sister charge, you'll forget all about any hacking tedium. These battles are a centerpiece conflict of smoothly increasing difficulty available several times per level, and right into the later levels of the game when my comfort level has smoothed out against most other foes, my palms still get a little sweaty when I fire the first shot turning the behemoth's otherwise passive demeanor into that of a massive killing machine with a gun in one hand and a terrifying drill in the other. The Big Daddy may, in fact, be one of the more interesting foes offered in any shooter, most often found passively watching over the Little Sisters as they dispatch their macabre duties, their whale-like moans echoing hollowly. They are a sad character in many ways, and unlike the Splicers, which I take no shortage of pleasure in killing off, enacting violence on the Big Daddy is almost regretful. And, when you have dispatched the Little Sisters from the level, and the Big Daddys remain, mournfully searching the hallways for their tiny partners, banging on the walls and calling out for them in deep low tones, you may just feel something like sadness for them. When that happens, remind yourself that you're playing a video game and how often have you felt like that playing other games?

Victory over Big Daddy offers the central choice of the game, what to do with the Little Sister he had been protecting. Unfortunately the choice is the same every time, and tragically there aren't more moral decisions to be made with the rest of the game which generally forces you through its strict narrative. In fact, while the game does offer you the freedom to move through levels at your own pace, the story points are traditionally linear and until you hit plot point location X you won't move forward. The player has very little influence over how the story plays out, and only the repeated choice of what to do with the Little Sisters is offered to add moral free-will to the equation. Though, the game does offer an eventual concession on this point of linearity, which one can think of as the water with which to swallow down the somewhat bitter pill.

Though the first few decisions over the Little Sisters are poignant and even moving, eventually it becomes mechanical. You know what you're going to do when you get there, and you've done it enough times that you've become accustomed to the result. I find myself a little at conflict here with my expectations, a common problem for our own particular breed of hobby, having hoped for a little more of this kind of moral conflict, or at least some variety to the single repeated choice, but I'm on record as having said that increasing complexity of moral choice builds to seeming infinite complexity on the design end, so I grudgingly understand.

Besides, it's really not a point I'm terribly interested in belaboring, considering how well crafted the rest of the story is. Again, in a nod back to System Shock 2, much of the tale of Rapture's rise and fall is told through audio diaries found littered throughout the city, and characters become defined by the way others perceived them. Those still alive and sane enough to interact directly with you, moving the story forward in its present tense, become more complex as you measure their words and deeds against what others have left behind.

It's difficult to talk in detail about the story without risking giving too much away. Not surprisingly the game echoes a number of themes, building on questions of the conflict between moral absolution and the authority of man to act on his own desires. Rapture is a city in conflict not just between warring factions who seek to hold the city for their own ends, but in conflict over the question of how free is a person to act out his desires if he crafts those desires in the name of progress or art. Bioshock offers us a glimpse at paradise lost through the actions of the artist who paints in death, the surgeon who reconceives the beauty of man, the geneticist unchecked by the laws of man or nature and the entrepreneur who prizes industry and invention over empathy and charity. But, you don't have to look that deep to enjoy Bioshock. It doesn't require you to look past more than the surface story, to consider the subtleties of the story. If you turned the story off entirely, it would still be an engaging action shooter with a rich, often creepy setting.

The real hallmark of Bioshock, as with many great narrative games of the past, is its unpredictability. Let others speak endlessly on the voice acting, the mechanics of gameplay, the stunning Unreal powered engine and the technical minutia which must be atteneded, and yes this game is AAA in each of those important points, but that's not what drives me forward. For me, the unpredictable nature of enemy AI, narrative, level design and opportunity urged me on throughout. I never knew what to expect in the next room, never cynically predicted what the theme for the next level would be, never found the perfect tactic for dealing with my enemies and most important never knew precisely what secrets Rapture hid until I uncovered the last clue. It is a remarkable thing, playing a game that does not fall into the natural track of stereotype and cliché; a remarkable thing to feel like I'm enjoying a unique gaming experience and one that would not be precisely duplicated were I to play it again.

In the end, what can be said about Bioshock that hasn't already been said? Not much, and I realize that my comments serve less to inform as to reinforce. This game is outstanding, and if we're still talking about it in eight years, then color me unsurprised. If you own an Xbox 360 or a PC, then there's simply no viable excuse for not rushing out to pick up the game. It is a must-own, a system-seller, an automatic game-of-the-year candidate, and other such bite-sized, box-worthy, quotes. It's an uncommon pleasure when a company meets or exceeds the lofty expectations of a demanding fan base, so I'm happy to offer credit where credit is due. Bioshock is simply the best single player game I've played in years.

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Comments

Certis wrote:
burningman wrote:

Mind you that interview ws done just before the Certis is awesome came out so what he talks about in it is already in play

Hardware failures happen but if your motherboard tanks or your vid card dies or the processor craps out you will be fine.

Hope that helps

Now I know you probably think I'm awesome anyways, but in this case that phrase is there because it automatically replaces a word that starts with "f" and rhymes with "bag". Calling someone that in middle of a poorly written post missing caps and being tough to read in general isn't something we want to see here. You seem like a smart guy, tighten it up and spend a little more time typing, if you please.

Certis..my apologies I meant to type FAQ...if you read the sentence and the previous posts it was obviously an erronious typo. But if that wasn't that obvious then sorry. My typing skills are poor and I'll be the first to admit it.

A write-up on Bioshock I actually agree with.

I just found out a little interesting bit about Bioshock and AVG antivirus. If you have AVG and it auto updates, the latest definitions will flag the Bioshock.exe. If you click to ignore on the the warning it will still disable Bioshock. I'm told you have to disable the Resident shield in AVG and that fixes it. I unfortunately found this out after I had uninstalled Bioshock and reinstalled it. Word on the street is AVG is working on a fix.
Just a heads up for those that care.

A write-up on Bioshock I actually agree with.

Sorry, I can't help but find it crochety for the sake of being crochety, like going to ComicCon and asking what's with all the superheroes?

Elysium wrote:
A write-up on Bioshock I actually agree with.

Sorry, I can't help but find it crochety for the sake of being crochety, like going to ComicCon and asking what's with all the superheroes?

Yeah.. smells of desperation to be internet "hip" and go against the popular opinion.. but without many glaring flaws at all the internet hip it seem go for more esoteric criticisms.

Also B+ out of 10.. zomg! to cool for me.

Elysium wrote:
A write-up on Bioshock I actually agree with.

Sorry, I can't help but find it crochety for the sake of being crochety, like going to ComicCon and asking what's with all the superheroes?

it's still Doom, like every other FPS. Zombies jumping around, and door-key puzzles. The environments are very well done, the overall visual design is very interesting, but ultimately I'm not drawn in. I have played (and made) perhaps too many FPS games for me to not look on them with a jaundiced eye. I just feel like "story" has been mistaken for "elaborate set design", and the actual narrative elements were given less attention than they needed

This is the core of the article for me. The storytelling is as shallow as can be "expected" from a videogame, and when it comes to gameplay mechanics, Bioshock is actually a step back. The "songs" that the zombies sing are merely extended aggro sounds that existed since Doom. You can't interact with them in any meaningful way. Their pathfinding has improved, the visuals have improved, but the game flow is at times even more linear than it was 14 years ago.

Furthermore, the inability to interact with friendly humans is a step back from Half-Life 1 (remember, they even talked to one another). The "narrative sequences" that take control from the player are also a step back from Half-Life 1 in game design. The blatant triggered spawning is also a step back. The lack of inventory system and the simplified RPG elements are a step back from System Shock 2.

There's a sequence closer to the beginning of the game where you're supposed to

a) enter a room
b) get a notification that now you need to find a specific plasmid #1 to open a new area
c) go to the newly opened area and find a plasmid #2 to overcome the puzzle in room a)

Having played that part before, I told my cousin "hey, you are just going to waste your time doing a) . It will just send you back. So, just go take the plasmid #1, then go open the new area, find plasmid #2, and THEN come back to room a)".

The poor guy found plasmid #1, opened the new area, poked around for half an hour and was unable to find plasmid #2.

FINALLY he gave up, went to room a), got the "GOAL" to find plasmid #2, and THEN a door got unlocked in the area that HE PREVIOUSLY SEARCHED, so that he could reach the plasmid inside.

This game is not, by any means, a step forward. When you're jaded enough, you hope for something that hasn't yet been beaten into the ground. This game is not that something.

This game is not, by any means, a step forward. When you're jaded enough, you hope for something that hasn't yet been beaten into the ground. This game is not that something.

This, right here, is completely mystifying to me. I just can't relate to your perspective and expectations for games. I respect them a great deal, but I just can't seem to grasp the state of mind.

I agree with his specific point regarding the lack of freedom. It's not Oblivion, but it wasn't promised as such either. It does what it does unbelievably well. If those things aren't what you see as "moving gaming forward" then it's not moving gaming forward for you.

For me, a really deeply philosophical story that it is integrated with the setting and the the limitations of the game world is moving gaming forward. It's holding hands with Planescape in that regard.

shihonage wrote:

This game is not, by any means, a step forward. When you're jaded enough, you hope for something that hasn't yet been beaten into the ground. This game is not that something.

Whether or not you feel I was twisting your previous argument(Sorry, I just can't help but ask 'Why bother?' with a stance like that, jaded or whatever it may be), this one has a lot more meat, and I actually agree with it. I hate to say 'This isn't any Half-Life 2' which seems like something of a cop-out, but its just true, in my eyes. While I don't find this game terrible, it doesn't feel new and cutting edge. It's definitely not a Half Life 2; actually its SS2 with stuff prettied up and and some of the annoyances taken out, only I haven't found the game quite as interesting as SS2 was for me. Then there is the obvious double edged sword of it's resemblance to SS2, and that is of course that SS2 is 8 years old now. I've not finished Bioshock yet, and so far it's worth playing through, but for me it doesn't compare to any of the games I've played several times through(like SS2, years ago, and HL2 more recently... and the Thief series, zombies be damned).

I think it is completely fair to say that, as game play goes, Bioshock has pretty much been done. I'd mention a specific incident in game that irked(and confused) me too, but it'd be a fairly sizable spoiler so I'm not going to bother. I'll just say it kind of distanced me from the events taking place, and that's not a good thing for a game that is focusing on its narrative. Digression aside, its still worth a play, mainly because I have had several 'That's pretty cool' moments.

Certis wrote:
This game is not, by any means, a step forward. When you're jaded enough, you hope for something that hasn't yet been beaten into the ground. This game is not that something.

This, right here, is completely mystifying to me. I just can't relate to your perspective and expectations for games. I respect them a great deal, but I just can't seem to grasp the state of mind.

I believe the answer is in how conditioned one becomes to accept the limitations of the genre. "What do you expect from a shooter ?" one asks. "You're just being too picky ! It's a shooter !".

Well - for a game which got such gushing reviews (some being 10/10 !), I certainly expect something that is more than rehashed gameplay principles in a shiny new wrapper.

Since the dawn of time, games have been boasting about their "superior A.I.". How about we start with that. How about you stop locking every friendly NPC behind an inpenetrable glass door.

You want an emotional connection ? Give me one. It's easy. I don't require an A.I. to pass the Turing test. I just want someone who will be by my side , without annoying me, and actually perform reasonably intelligent actions based on what's going on. I want it to hear a scream behind me, turn around and keep walking backwards covering my back for a while. I want it to act startled if a door closes behind it that it didn't see open. Things like that. Things that make it seem human. Because it's hard to connect to something scripted behind a wall, or to a fragmented recording of someone long dead.

How about having enemies which have different heights, builds, vocal pitch ? How about rudimentary procedural speech ? You know - in the same way that Samuel L. Jackson advertised "Snakes on a Plane". Half-Life had something like it and it worked well. As it did for Samuel L. Jackson.

How about we at least NOT loop the same phrase twice within a reasonable amount of time ? "It's sleepy time now, Mr. Bubblesit's sleepy time now, Mr. Bubbles" ?

How about more interaction with the environment ? If I want to, I should be able to eventually blast a hole in the wall and flood a portion of the building. Sure, it might make the game impassable (and force me to reload), but the knowledge that this CAN happen should be there. The walls aren't inpenetrable. They start to crack. Intense firefights in the same place ARE dangerous. The world should, for once, seem REAL.
I should be able to destroy a part of Rapture and seal the door before the rest floods.

How about being able to approach a situation in a less binary fashion, such as being able to DISTRACT or IMMOBILIZE a big daddy in order to save a little sister ? Why do I have to kill those guys ?

How about enemy behaviors which are not just "idle" or "aggressive" ? How about "mildly aggressive at certain range", or a kleptomaniac who runs around gathering stuff, like the stealing bot in Descent 2 ? How about enemies reacting to the nature of your weapons for once ? If I am carrying something akin to the BFG, I want at least some of them to recognize it and be scared instead of blindly charging like a kamikaze. If I am low on health, perhaps they might follow the blood dripping from my character.

Speaking of that, how about blood and other environmental stuff actually affecting the weapons ? I want a blood-stained shotgun.

How about a main game script which IS Andrew Ryan ? How about an intelligent Andrew Ryan that REALLY is controlling Rapture, and actually REACTS to what you do - not just when you step over an invisible trigger. How about, simply put, he's the Dungeon Keeper and you're the hero ? He's Hans Gruber and you're John McClane, and he's more than a linear, passive script ?

How about the things you do in the world actually make logical sense, and you can figure them out yourself and approach them from several angles, instead of being hard-locked into "solving a puzzle" ? How about everything in the world functions and is present no matter where you are ? The boss doesn't magically materialize at a specific moment. He's always there, waiting for you, if you're clever enough to find SOME shortcut to find him.

How about the Dungeon Keeper not knowing where you are at any given moment ? What if he only learns about your presence from enemies that managed to radio him after they saw you ? And if he doesn't know where you are, he has to have his minions explore the world and actively look for you, instead of randomly stumbling around corridors ? What if you can blow up a remote mine in a place, and the enemies will radio him that you're there while you're not ? What if you can throw an object to distract an enemy and have them go investigate ?

That's the kind of game that would be closer to deserving a 10/10, IMO, because it would actually attempt to push the genre forward somewhat as opposed to pulling it backward.

Man copy and paste that into an email and shoot it off to Ken Levine or Warren Spector. You've got some good ideas there for sure! Maybe Bioshock 2 can/will have some of that.

Ahhhh, now we're getting to the meat & potatoes of the argument

I think you're right in asserting that Bioshock doesn't push any boundaries when it comes to environmental interaction & NPC behaviour Shihonage, and I also agree that the games is not worthy of a perfect 10. The examples you've presented are solid and a game that included them all (or even more than two of them) would definitely be pushing the boundaries of FPS in a mechanical sense.

I do however think it is unfair to call the game another straight-out Doom clone. Bioshock does engage you, and I (along with many others here) think I've felt twinges of actual guilt when targeting yet another Big Daddy for the takedown. I was genuinely engrossed in the story of Rapture, and the culmination of the main plot left me affected me in exactly the same fashion as many of my favourite movies have. Bioshock does tell a story, and you do become a part of Rapture. Where as Doom was built for cheap tricks and showcasing, Bioshock's environment is as much a narrative mechanism as the audio logs.

Yes it's not *everything* we had hoped for, but it's a damn-sight closer than we expected.

The problem with what Shihonage wants is that it is not logical from a programmer's standpoint. A programmer can't account for every single thing that every random person could want to do in every single room of every single building. A game like that would never be finished. Why can't you blow holes in walls? Because there is nothing on the other side of most of them. They would have to build a full model of the city and have plenty of rooms with no point just so if a player wants to destroy a wall in one place you can. It's just not feasable to get everything you listed. Even half of that isn't feasable. The dev team would be too big and reaching too far out in any of those directions would take away from the main focus of the game. It would be a huge expensive project that would not be worth it in the end.

A video game cannot act like the real world because a video game is not the real world. The only things that can happen in a video game are things that the programmer accounts for. It just isn't feasable. And if you are honestly asking for this, you will never be satisfied because you are asking for the impossible.

Mordiceius wrote:

The problem with what Shihonage wants is that it is not logical from a programmer's standpoint. A programmer can't account for every single thing that every random person could want to do in every single room of every single building.

A game like that would never be finished. Why can't you blow holes in walls? Because there is nothing on the other side of most of them. They would have to build a full model of the city and have plenty of rooms with no point just so if a player wants to destroy a wall in one place you can.

No, just make water on the outside rush in and flood the area quickly. I don't think you read my post very carefully.

If it's such a big deal to make the city actually make architectural sense on the outside ( though in many places it does seem to be actually built to be _seen_ through all the windows in the game), make the water that floods in murky. Problem solved. There's always a way.

It's just not feasable to get everything you listed. Even half of that isn't feasable. The dev team would be too big and reaching too far out in any of those directions would take away from the main focus of the game. It would be a huge expensive project that would not be worth it in the end.

That's like, your opinion, man

Eventually this kind of stuff will be standard in FPS genre anyway. I just expect a game that rates 10 out of 10 to have at least some of it NOW. A step forward, y'know.

A video game cannot act like the real world because a video game is not the real world. The only things that can happen in a video game are things that the programmer accounts for. It just isn't feasable. And if you are honestly asking for this, you will never be satisfied because you are asking for the impossible.

Ah, I see you're both against emergent gameplay, AND you consider emergent gameplay to be an impossible concept. Well, in another case I'd say it's a matter of opinion, but in this case, you're simply wrong. Emergent gameplay is hardly a fictional concept, as elements of it are sprinkled throughout many existing games.

shihonage wants the ultimate RPG player dream. A fully interactive and destructible environment with an intelligent and intuitive AI system for all NPCs in the game be they enemy or allies.

Simply put this is not a new dream and this is something many, including myself, have wanted for years. The problems are obvious and simply, resources. Hardware in current PC can not run what this would need. Even if a hundred game coders worked 10 years on a project the amount of polygons, mapping, models and the AI programing needed would be immense. We simply do not have the hardware to push this out to the modern market nor does any developers have the resources needed to fund such a project.

Perhaps in a decade from now something approaching this dream might come about. But until then shihonage, you and me are just going to have to wait and realize that what we have here and now is going to have to disappoint in comparison to the dream PC game we desire.

So enjoy what you have and encourage improvements in baby steps. Until we ourselves have enough money to fund a game ourselves we just do not have the ability to make these ideas become reality.

shihonage wrote:
Certis wrote:
This game is not, by any means, a step forward. When you're jaded enough, you hope for something that hasn't yet been beaten into the ground. This game is not that something.

This, right here, is completely mystifying to me. I just can't relate to your perspective and expectations for games. I respect them a great deal, but I just can't seem to grasp the state of mind.

I believe the answer is in how conditioned one becomes to accept the limitations of the genre. "What do you expect from a shooter ?" one asks. "You're just being too picky ! It's a shooter !".

Well - for a game which got such gushing reviews (some being 10/10 !), I certainly expect something that is more than rehashed gameplay principles in a shiny new wrapper.

Since the dawn of time, games have been boasting about their "superior A.I.". How about we start with that. How about you stop locking every friendly NPC behind an inpenetrable glass door.

You want an emotional connection ? Give me one. It's easy. I don't require an A.I. to pass the Turing test. I just want someone who will be by my side , without annoying me, and actually perform reasonably intelligent actions based on what's going on. I want it to hear a scream behind me, turn around and keep walking backwards covering my back for a while. I want it to act startled if a door closes behind it that it didn't see open. Things like that. Things that make it seem human. Because it's hard to connect to something scripted behind a wall, or to a fragmented recording of someone long dead.

because you'll then have your equivalent on the other side of the argument b!tching about how the AI is always ending up dead. Or the mechanism to bring him back to life doesn't flow that well with the story. Or that if he was made invulnerable doesn't work either.

Games like these are story telling mechanisms. Luckily for us they're interactive. Why not set back and enjoy the story? The rest of the things you describe are for a totally different type of game than what this was intended.

shihonage wrote:

Stuff.

You either believe the following.

1. The Developers behind Bioshock are dumb and/or amateurs.
2. The Developers behind Bioshock are lazy gits.
3. The Technology to do what your saying isn't there yet.

One hopes its #3. But I suspect you believe its a combination of 1 and 2.

Its funny when you get to asking the developers well why arent there more enemies?.. or why do the enemies have to look the same?.. I think each enemy should be built different!..taller!.. You get a quick response..

"we've got only so much memory to to work with for textures etc.. to keep performance where we want it."

You could make the game look like crap and do all this though!!!

"yeah but in today's REAL market that game wouldn't sell.. sorry.. we've got families to feed."

I should be able to shoot the glass and flood the level even if it means I've got to reload!

"Er.. why? how many man hours would be wasted programming that.. for players to do it once.. then say.. ok back to the game? That doesnt really make fiscal sense.. we've got things like budget.. deadlines.. you know real world stuff"

etc.. etc..

Your "argument" makes great internet "debate" to bad we're just not there yet.. perhaps one day with enough technology textures, levels, AI etc.. can be programmed to dynamical "morph" to a players whim and take account every possible action a player can try..

But yeah.. no. Not that I wouldn't WANT to play this game your describing.. I mean who wouldn't? But to artificially hold up games to some unreachable standard isn't fair.

EDIT

I should add that IF I ever was approached by a team with a design that featured half of what your saying with really mediocre graphics.. say Dwarf Fortress meets System Shock 1... I'd probably fund it just to see what would happen in the marketplace...provided they had it half working.

I completely respect Shihonage's points. There are *always* ways a game can be made better. For all it's brilliance (my opinion, not a statement of fact) Bioshock is fundamentally a very simple game -- it's a shooter in a confined environment. What makes Bioshock unique is the story it tells and how it tells that story. If you simply aren't impressed/don't care about the narrative, art direction, or various levels of mise en scene that make it something that *is* unique, then you are completely right -- it's just a shooter with it's own variety of weapons and powers, and if THOSE don't do it for you then all that's interesting is the AI and the monsters, and if you don't like *that* well then you're not going to like the game.

For me, what I expected and wanted out of this game was the story (I'm a story whore, we all know this) and I have not been disappointed. We always get into these horrible "games/art" discussions, but for me it's always games/storytelling. For games to tell stories better than movies or books, they need to use their environments to do so, and Bioshock is one of, if not the only game I've found that does this really, really well.

The tradeoffs are all those you articulate here. At the end of the day, a developer can only do so many things. One simple example: when I first was doing environment walk throughs at irrational, I asked a rookie question about why there weren't more mirrors in the bathrooms that weren't broken/fogged, etc. The answer was obvious and simple -- mirrors are hard. Rendering a room with a few mirrors and a dynamic environment (fire/water/badguys) simply took way more cycles than they could count on having in the 360 (or most PCs). So they compromised. Same reason there's no multiplayer. Same reason there aren't 100 other things I'm sure are on someone's list as "wouldn't it be cool if ..."

They made different choices -- voice acting, music licensing, art -- nothing is free.

Anyway, my point is just to say that while I don't disagree, I don't think I really care. I don't mean that to be a snot, I'm just saying it's not what I expected when I typed in my credit card. What I expected an immersive story with some interesting new gameplay elements, and that's what I got. It's not great because it does everything. It's great because what it does do, it does wonderfully.

Shihonage wrote:

This game is not, by any means, a step forward. When you're jaded enough, you hope for something that hasn't yet been beaten into the ground. This game is not that something.

I hope I'm never jaded enough.

If you want to enjoy video games--or any kind of fictional entertainment, for that matter--you often have to check your demands and disbelief at the door. Ken Levine's asking us to accept the goofy premise and limited rule set of Bioshock's world, even if they don't make sense most of the time. I don't have any problem doing that, because Bioshock's world is fantastically entertaining. I could come up with a list of ways the game could be improved, too, but so far it is unique, beautiful, and engaging enough to meet--and in most cases exceed--my expectations of what a game should be.

Rabbit wrote:

What I expected an immersive story with some interesting new gameplay elements, and that's what I got. It's not great because it does everything. It's great because what it does do, it does wonderfully.

I completely agree.

I believe your comments are somewhat misdirected. My point is not as much to criticize the game (which I do enjoy playing by the way). My criticism is toward the reviewers and players who have gotten so used to the stale state of FPS gameplay that they think the game deserves the incredibly high scores that its gotten. I like to believe that people have higher standards, because if they don't, and games like Bioshock keep getting 97% scores, then the gameplay will hardly ever advance.

Gameguru pretty much already nailed my future responses regarding the "not enough CPU power" argument. If we decided to go back in visual department to say, No One Lives Forever, and instead use the freed CPU and GPU time, as well as developer time(development teams have been growing by leaps and bounds, and its mostly because of the visuals), for innovative gameplay concepts, they would be here already.

It's all about the graphics arms-race, and with every generation, people inevitably throw up their arms (no pun intended) and say "the CPU power just isn't here yet to do what you want !". Oh yes it is. It's just all being sucked dry by the visuals.

2ghz is an ENORMOUS amount of CPU power. There's so much digital sorcery that can be done with this vast ocean of raw SPEED, it's not even funny. The CPU power has been there, really, since the days of P133 if not earlier. A P90 would be enough to have a Hexen-level game with a simple Dungeon Keeper A.I. (of course, by that time, everyone was already into Quake level visuals, and so it has been going on up until the present time) . It's just that nobody bothers to do even the slightest bit of research and optimization in that department. There are always tradeoffs and optimizations to be made.

Again, a game that gets 10/10 should have groundbreaking stuff in it. It shouldn't get these scores just because it polishes thats already there. Because then, when a game DOES come out that actually pushes the genre forward, what score is it going to get ? 11 out of 10 ? Now, that's just not mathematically sound

TheGameGuru wrote:

I should be able to shoot the glass and flood the level even if it means I've got to reload!

"Er.. why? how many man hours would be wasted programming that.. for players to do it once.. then say.. ok back to the game? That doesnt really make fiscal sense.. we've got things like budget.. deadlines.. you know real world stuff"

Exactly. I may seem like I attack Shihonage's statements a lot, but it is just because I am a computer programmer and I see user demands like that all the time in projects.

Most users don't understand the complexity of certain things (I'm not saying Shihonage is one of them, but just in general). They don't understand how must initial code, art, sound, etc need to be used for something simple. Then they want to add more complex elements to it which may have to make the person go rewrite all the initial stuff.

Sure, they can assign a team to make it so you can lets say... shoot the tubes, flooding the tube and thus killing you and/or blocking progress, thus forcing you to reload. But A - Most people will make the mistake of shooting a tube once and then never do it again. B - People will complain that the tubes get blown too easy and thus the game isn't fun because it's two hard. C - That man power and money is better spent working on things that will affect the player more.

I don't think we'll ever reach a point in gaming with total immersion because it'd take too many people too long and cost too much for the reward at the end.

Game companies are make games to make a profit. With the amount of money and time it would take to make total immersion games, the single unit price on those games would be astronomical.

It'll be decades before we see anything approaching that. And even if it is someday possible, it'll take years and years and hundreds of people to accomplish it and people will still complain.

Shihonage wrote:

Again, a game that gets 10/10 should have groundbreaking stuff in it. It shouldn't get these scores just because it polishes thats already there. Because then, when a game DOES come out that actually pushes the genre forward, what score is it going to get ? 11 out of 10 ? Now, that's just not mathematically sound

I think the reason it was reviewed so high was because the game had an amazing story that made most people feel.

The Halo games have always gotten 9+/10 and I think those are crap games that just dumb down humanity, but there isn't a huge outcry about those.

EDIT: By the way, Shihonage, I think you need to meet Mven. I'm not sure if he still lurks around here anymore, but he had some interesting points about immersion in games. I'll have to find one of his topics.

Mordiceius wrote:

Exactly. I may seem like I attack Shihonage's statements a lot, but it is just because I am a computer programmer [..]

So am I.

Sure, they can assign a team to make it so you can lets say... shoot the tubes, flooding the tube and thus killing you and/or blocking progress, thus forcing you to reload. But A - Most people will make the mistake of shooting a tube once and then never do it again. B - People will complain that the tubes get blown too easy and thus the game isn't fun because it's two hard. C - That man power and money is better spent working on things that will affect the player more.

That's what game designers are there for. Programmers should never be left to their own devices when it comes to assigning game balance. Left to the programmers, the tubes would blow up on the slightest opportunity to showcase the water effects. That's where the game designer steps in and makes the tubes strong enough that they don't break in 99% of the cases, because most firefights won't be focused in the same place. They will visibly and increasingly crack though.

A good example of a designer failing to step in is Doom 3's "darkness engine".

I don't think we'll ever reach a point in gaming with total immersion because it'd take too many people too long and cost too much for the reward at the end.

Nobody's asking for a "total immersion".

Game companies are make games to make a profit. With the amount of money and time it would take to make total immersion games, the single unit price on those games would be astronomical.

It'll be decades before we see anything approaching that. And even if it is someday possible, it'll take years and years and hundreds of people to accomplish it and people will still complain.

It would be decades before we see something that implements the features I specifically listed ? Oh please.

Like you said, it depends on how you START the whole thing. If you start the engine with a procedural, expansive mindset, then a lot of the things along the lines that I desire to see in a game become much easier/natural to do. A lot of the time spent on each individual meticulous trigger is shifted toward the global A.I. that does it for you. The level design may become less organic so that the A.I. can work faster but there are always sacrifices. The question is, in the end, in where the dev. team throws their priorities.

I want what Shiho's talking about and I want Bioshock, and all I got was Bioshock. Stupid reality, keeping me from the things I want!

BTW, Shihonage, here is a discussion Mven and some of us had about immersion and having dynamic games (the focus was MMORPGs). Figured you might find it interesting: Linky

In completely unrelated news, the Bioshock Shader Model 2.0 fix appears to work perfectly, at least on SM2.0b cards (ATI x*** models).

shihonage wrote:

Gameguru pretty much already nailed my future responses regarding the "not enough CPU power" argument. If we decided to go back in visual department to say, No One Lives Forever, and instead use the freed CPU and GPU time, as well as developer time(development teams have been growing by leaps and bounds, and its mostly because of the visuals), for innovative gameplay concepts, they would be here already.

Clearly you haven't played Dwarf Fortress. It's the reductio ad absurdum of your argument. With 200 dwarfs, the AI grinds machines to bits. No processor power spent on physics, graphics, or anything else. OK well some physics. But if you want innovative gameplay, there's a reason Bill Harris gave it game of the year.

That's because Dwarf Fortress is made by two guys with little programming background between them. The methods by which the game keeps track of what needs to do what are less than optimal to say the least.

Shiho's right about the hardware side of the argument; there's a lot of power being wasted on pores. From a business standpoint this is probably the correct mistake to make at this time, as the other features that could be implemented at the sacrifice of graphical fidelity don't make a good screenshot.

rabbit wrote:

Clearly you haven't played Dwarf Fortress. It's the reductio ad absurdum of your argument. With 200 dwarfs, the AI grinds machines to bits. No processor power spent on physics, graphics, or anything else. OK well some physics. But if you want innovative gameplay, there's a reason Bill Harris gave it game of the year.

Danjo already answered that one... from the very first screens where it starts to generate the world, it is already clear that the goal #1 is functionality, and optimization is simply not a goal.

There are so many optimizations regarding A.I. and pathfinding and all kinds of environmental stuff that can be done, its ridiculous. If you can't optimize the code to make the A.I. faster, you can optimize the levels so that even the dumbest pathfinding never gets lost.

If you can do neither, you can make smart A.I. active only in a sphere around the player, with the rest being dumb A.I.. If you cannot do that, then limit the amount of A.I. that the player comes in contact with. If you cannot do that, distribute the A.I. work more evenly over each game cycle or make it automatically stupidify itself when there's too much to process at once (sell it as a realism feature, "crowd effect").

That's just scratching the non-game-specific surface. The actual possibilities are truly endless when it comes to game-specific approaches.

My 2 cents on this debate:

Let me start by saying that BioShock is FRIKKIN AMAZING and I will pay for it and play it and recommend to all my friends without hesitation. Irrational is clearly one of the most talented studios out there, and I eagerly await their next title.

Now - I agree with Shihonage. The gaming press needs to have MUCH higher standards. Don't get me wrong - BioShock is a GREAT game and a must-play, and I will play it with great vigor. However, as Shihonage can imagine, greater and more innovative games are yet to be made.

The 10/10 should be reserved for those that leave the rest of the industry wondering, "How in the world did they pull that off?" And I don't mean just in terms of game-play, technology, or story (although it definitely does include those factors) - I also mean in terms of industry leadership. 10/10 games should leave other developers wondering, "How did they ever manage to get funding for that crazy idea?". Plenty of other games had crazier ideas than BioShock, such as Shadow of the Colossus. In terms of technology, a 10/10 game should leave me, a graduate student in computer graphics, wondering "How in the world did they pull that off on the 360?". BioShock does not do this - it's pretty good, but I'm not amazed. In terms of game-play, it should turn the industry on its head and make everyone else feel uncreative in comparison. BioShock does not do this, although its AI-Ecology idea is pretty neat.

And why is this important? Because the industry needs to be held to higher standards. Guess what happens when BioShock gets 10/10? Every publisher in the world is gonna start making BioShock rip-offs. And hey, that may not be so bad in the short term - you may get some great FPS's. But in the long run, there's little motivation to blow your mind any further. Why should they take any risks when they could just evolve the FPS genre, as BioShock does? Not only risk in terms of technology and game-play, but also risk in terms of selling/marketing the game (Levine made it very clear from the start that BioShock is an FPS, but better - this was smart communication on his part). Why should the industry try to invent new genres when they can get a 10/10 just by evolving existing ones?

So what are some 10/10 games? I'm not sure..but just off the top of my head, maybe Shadow of the Colossus and X-Com. Both games had spectacular production quality, unarguably innovative game-play, and great execution. Though...maybe they're really just 9/10. They were definitely not perfect games.

In conclusion, BioShock is a GREAAATTT game, but it does not innovate enough to deserve a 10/10. We need to hold the industry to higher standards to encourage mind-blowing innovation.

The developers try damn hard - they're the ones working overtime for months. But the rest of the biz, the people with the money, are being too conservative. And I think higher standards in the gaming press will motivate them to take more risks, funding more out-there projects.

Thanks for reading!

--Steve