Design Secrets Behind Bioshock Infinite

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Posted April 9, 2012 - By G4 Staff

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After the reveal of Bioshock Infinite at E3 last year, fans have been foaming at the mouth to get any information that they can on the game. Ken Levine and the creative team talked through their process of creating villains in the game. They covered everything from new gameplay ideas that just didn’t work out to the sillier things that happened during the development of Bioshock Infinite. Be warned though, if you are hoping to stay somewhat in the clear spoiler-wise, proceed with caution.

Ken set the stage for everything that was about to be discussed with a simple question that ended up being their internal barometer for the characters that they were creating; What makes for a really good signature bad guy? We’ve been bombarded by a variety of villains for decades but even then, it’s a really hard question to answer. “It’s what scares me the most when making games – that it won’t be right.” said Ken. It’s easy to agree with a statement like that. Imagine the most iconic films or books that you’ve experienced and replace their villain with someone else; it just doesn’t work.

With that one question lingering, they went on to show concept art for several characters and explained how things moved along through development, changing at different stages. Perhaps the stage of character development that was the most important to them when coming up with these enemies was making sure that things were thematically accurate, which is something that is only noticeable when done wrong, and usually, there isn’t anywhere near as much thought put into it as displayed here. As with most top-tier development studios, Irrational had vision trailers and other thematic aids (that were not shown, unfortunately) but they also went one step further to use the in-game propaganda posters to help establish the theme.

BioShock Infinite "Motorized Patriot" Trailer »

Among the concept art shown, there were drawings for one of the automatons –a George Washington-looking character– that featured an extreme level of detail. These were used throughout the development process by many different departments and were even used by the 3d modelers to create the character models. The artist had built this creation in his head to such an extent that he had drawn the entire machine at different stages of deconstruction and even down to the type of head on the screw holding it together. These are things that will never be seen by players, but it was important to him that the experience was as complete as possible.

Most of the enemies that were shown were also automatons, but each was distinctly unique. Ken even toyed with the idea of having one of them being apologetic as you are fighting it; it screaming “RUN!”. It was an extremely interesting idea and led into the big issue of characters just being there to fight you once and not accomplishing anything else in the world around them.

"Characters need to have a life outside of wanting to kick your ass. They need a daily life — time to develop and time to breath" Ken elaborated. It’s something that more designers need to think about, creating details for the small things gives the player more of a sense that the things going on around them have an impact, in that their presence there is disrupting the normal pace of life. One of the enemies that you will fight in the game is only there in the world to tell NPCs what time it is. It’s somewhat silly, but it gives him a purpose for being there. “You can also feel sorry for our enemies, as they’re killing you” said Nate Wells, Irrational Games' art director.

BioShock Infinite "Boys of Silence" Trailer »

The last thing that they discussed was an idea that had been floating around in the early stages where one of the enemies used the sound that the player makes as a weapon against the player. It was an extremely neat concept where it actually mattered if you ran or if you crouched and moved slowly to create less sound. It mattered which machine gun you used, as some made more noise than others. This character would capture the sound through two horns on the side of his head and let it out with a bloodcurdling scream.

While the idea didn’t work out, Ken loved this character so much that he lobbied to keep him around and they made space for him in a different area of the game. We hope to see more from the game when E3 comes around and get some time with the world that this team has created.

Design Secrets Behind Bioshock Infinite


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