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by Ethos

Sunday Soapbox: BioShock Goes Infinite and Beyond

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

On Thursday the 12th, the world finally learned what Ken Levine and his infamous team of creative geniuses have been working on for the last three years: another BioShock game. It’s called BioShock Infinite, and it looks to be taking a bit of a different direction than the last two installments; rather than returning players to the watery confines of Rapture, BioShock Infinite will be taking players to Columbia, an all-new city in the sky. If you haven’t seen the game’s debut trailer yet, check out the post below this one, or just head to YouTube.

No gameplay, but there are plenty of details about the game’s new setting to be gleaned. A lengthy gameplay demo was shown at the game’s reveal in New York’s Plaza Hotel, and there are multiple impressions across the interwebs written by journalists who were lucky enough to be there. I’d recommend heading to either Kotaku or IGN for said impressions if you so desire. There are no gameplay videos for the general public as of right now, but Levine promises that they are coming.

So. Now that you’re up to speed, it’s time to discuss a few things. What is this new BioShock? Why is this new BioShock? Is this the direction that we, as devoted fans, want to see the franchise go? What’s going to happen to Rapture? Should we even care?

What’s Changed

BioShock Infinite isn’t set in Rapture. BioShock Infinite is set in the floating city of Columbia, 46 years before the events of the first BioShock even took place. You’re not a silent, unknown protagonist in Infinite, you’re a former Pinkerton agent named Booker DeWitt, and you’re here to rescue a girl named Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been locked away like Rapunzel for fifteen years now – and the kicker is that neither of you know why. Whatever it is, I’m sure the revelation will be shocking.

1912 is a period that Levine calls an era of “American Exceptionalism.” Unlike Rapture, Columbia hasn’t seceded ties to its nation; as you surely noticed in the trailer, American flags fly abundantly, and even make up a part of the game’s logo. And indeed, around the turn of the century, America was enjoying a period of extreme optimism – technologies such as radio, automobiles, and air travel were upon us for the first time, and a sense of American pride ran strong. It’s clear that BioShock Infinite plans to take the general feel and mindset of this time period and run with it. The people of Columbia seem to hold an extreme, almost fanatical sense of patriotic pride. Billboards boldly stating “Burden Not Columbia With Your Chaff” seem to indicate an exclusive, elitist culture and mindset that’s been established amongst the people of the floating city. Levine claims that the “4th of July” served as the inspiration for the environments pictured in the game, and it shows – everything I’ve seen for Infinite invokes the feel of a bright, summery American holiday.

Like BioShock 1 before it, BioShock Infinite seems to be taking a specific time period and enshrining it; exaggerating it, even.  But aside from that, the settings and atmospheres of the two games couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. Or… could they?

What’s Stayed

Levine has stated several times that his team approached the development of BioShock Infinite with the idea that “there are no sacred cows.” What that means, basically, is that they weren’t too worried about staying true to the formula of the original BioShock. Any ideas or conventions re-implemented in BioShock Infinite had to earn their way there. So, based on what we’ve seen so far, what made the cut?

-Big Daddies

The most iconic thing that has returned to BioShock Infinite is the lumbering Big Daddies. Unfortunately, as members of the general public, we haven’t been given the opportunity to see them in full – the debut trailer only shows limited, shadowy views of the beast. However, based on what we’ve been able to see, and what publications such as Kotaku have said, the Big Daddies seem to feature a more mechanized, steampunk feel. They’re a human head set atop a huge mechanized body, with a pulsing human heart clearly visible in the middle of their torso. Clearly some sort of bizarre man-machine cross, which makes them essentially the same (in concept) as those seen in Rapture. Given how beloved the Big Daddies are, this is hardly surprising. If there’s a sacred cow in the BioShock franchise, it’s them.

-ADAM/Plasmids

Another convention being re-used for Infinite are plasmid powers. Impressions across the web describe protagonist DeWitt using electricity, telekinesis, and a new power that allows him to control a flock of bloodthirsty crows. Apparently, instead of shooting up as you did in the original BioShock, Infinite merely requires you to take a swig of potion. Much cleaner process. Will these powers be referred to as Plasmids? Will the potions be known as ADAM? They didn’t say, but regardless of names, it’s clear what they’re meant to emulate. I gotta say, though, given the state of biological science during that period of time, I’m forced to wonder how they’ll explain the conception of such a thing.

-The Combat

Again, we haven’t been privileged enough to actually see any gameplay yet, and that includes combat. But Levine has stated that he considers the varied, player-defined combat of BioShock one of the series staples, and BioShock Infinite aims to maintain and enhance this mechanic. In BioShock – and, to be fair, particularly in BioShock 2 – the sheer variety in which you could approach combat situations was fantastic. You could opt for down-and-dirty gun combat if you desired, with a variety of different firearms. An arsenal of specialized plasmid powers were at your disposal. Bots and turrets could be hacked to fight on your side. The environment itself could be utilized; for example, a blast of electricity to a puddle of water would fry anyone standing in it. Combine all of these elements and possibilities together, and you had one of the most unique, robust first-person combat systems in existence. And with BioShock Infinite, Levine claims that you’ll have even more options in terms of customization and evolution.

-The Human Element

This one’s a bit more vague than the previous three, but it’s perhaps the most important. The ideologies behind Rapture and Columbia are nearly antithetical to eachother – Rapture was built on a culture of individuality devoid of restraint, while Columbia clearly displays prideful, collectivist systems. However, while the two cities may not have similar political climates, they have in common the fact that they’ve both become dystopian in nature, crumbling under the weight of their own radicalism. “This is not a floating World’s Fair,” Levine said. “Columbia is a Death Star.” Rapture discovered a powerful genetic modifier called ADAM, and the city slowly crumbled under the financial, political, and (of course) biological weight of such a discovery. Columbia becomes involved in a horrific (but yet unspecified) international event, and then takes to the clouds – running off to evolve into the violently patriotic elitist nation that DeWitt has the displeasure of visiting.

With BioShock Infinite, the franchise continues its tradition showing the chilling consequences of humanity’s own hubris gone horribly awry. And again, it’s up to you, the player, the unravel the story behind the dystopia that lies before you. Perhaps BioShock Infinite will bring back some of the mystery and intrigue that was missing from 2K Marin’s BioShock 2?

Which brings us to our next topic of discussion:

What’s Next?

With BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine is aiming to show the world that the BioShock experience is bigger than the confines of Rapture. A bold statement, for sure; it can’t be denied that the defining factor of the original BioShock experience was, in fact, the city of Rapture. The city was steeped in character, atmosphere, mystery, backstory, and all manners of narrative and visual appeal. It was, essentially, the star of the show.

But, one must also recall BioShock 2. I enjoyed BioShock 2 quite a bit; however, the entire experience suffered from a case of “been there, done that.” Rapture just wasn’t as engaging a second time around, because I already knew the story behind it. There was no sense of mystery, no dark secrets to unravel. To be frank, I’m unsure if the setting could even hold up for a third outing. With BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine has stated that he wants to bring back the sense of intrigue and discovery that made BioShock such a memorable experience. And indeed, the floating city of Columbia already has me intrigued as a setting – I’ll be most interested in seeing just what makes the city tick, as it were, and what sort of colored past has paved the way for its violent transformation.

And maybe that’s the BioShock experience at its core. Think about it. A shocking example of human civilization gone awry, a thrilling, unique world, and the ability for you, the player to discover and unravel it. If this is the direction that the franchise is going to take, it could have many incarnations. What about a BioShock set in current times, or the near future? Take the political and social climates of, say, modern-day America and extrapolate it to the extreme? Hell, what about a BioShock set in the Wild West? Or in the Middle Ages? Fun to think about, isn’t it?

At this point, a lot of people are still wondering if BioShock Infinite will have any narrative ties – i.e, share the same timeline – with BioShock 1 and 2. Levine refuses to give a straight answer on the subject, and I’m inclined to believe that his team isn’t going to be terribly concerned with maintaining any sort of narrative connections between the games, or any sort of “timeline” as it were. After all, it’s entirely needless – I’m perfectly fine with letting the two games exist within their own spheres, much as entries in the Final Fantasy series do. As long as the Big Daddies stick around. Y’know, kinda like how the Behemoths do.

I haven’t seen enough of BioShock Infinite to form a strong opinion on the game itself, but I certainly concur with Levine’s direction for the franchise. To be perfectly frank, had we been informed of this project two years ago, I would have been outraged – I once firmly believed that Rapture and BioShock couldn’t exist without eachother. But after seeing the city wear thin in BioShock 2, and after seeing what bold new direction Levine’s team has taken with Infinite, my mind has been changed.

Tingle! Tingle! Kooloo-Limpah! #012 – I’mma Copy Riddles

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

That’s right, I’ll put a subtitle on my news feature too if I want to. Riddles isn’t the only one who can mooch ideas! Anyway, there’s not a lot of news, and I’m actually a little sick. Maybe I’ve got Pipher’s disease.

Big Daddies Stacked to the Sky

This is the big one. Irrational Games announced Bioshock Infinite, the Boston-based developer’s true follow-up to the original Bioshock. Ken Levine is involved again. This entry actually takes place before the original Bioshock – during the very early 1900s – in a flying city named Columbia. The name isn’t as intriguing as Rapture, sure, but this is a different tale, after all.

In fact, for all the similarities that the teaser trailer showed, Bioshock Infinite seems to be refreshingly different. Columbia is not nation-less, in fact quite the opposite. American flags are abundant in the trailer and even compose a major part of the logo’s design.

However, while the trailer was certainly intense and very intriguing, we didn’t see any gameplay and the game won’t be released until late 2012. Still, it’s a promising announcement, and this is the first time that I’ve been excited for a Bioshock title as Bioshock 2 did nothing for me. Check out the trailer for yourself and check IGN for a full 2 page article with more details, including mention of some sort of inter-city grind-rail system.

The 3rd Birthday Removes the HP Bar, Protagonist’s Clothing

That headline is a little deceptive because the HP Bar in the PSP Parasite Eye follow-up doesn’t actually appear to be taken out of the HUD. However, the lead character, Aya Brea does lose more and more clothing the more she gets hurt. Take a lot at the side-by-side comparison I stole from IGN.

Full health:

After taking damage:

While this is somewhat of a cool and innovative mechanic, I’m having flashbacks to Final Fantasy II and picturing gamers intentionally inflicting damage on themselves. Only this time with slightly more sad reasoning.

Also, how many fucking games is Tetsuya Nomura working on? The 3rd Birthday, Final Fantasy Vs. XIII, 8543975 Kingdom Hearts games. The guy is a regular, crazier, emo-er, Shigeru Miyamoto. Read his hilarious fake real blog, by the way. (IGN)

Bethesda’s Bane

In slightly random, but mostly hilarious news, Bethesda Game Director Todd Howard used a panel at Quakecon to admit that while you may have never noticed, Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls don’t have ladders. Apparently their engine can’t handle climbing a ladder without slapping the player with loading times.

The reason why this story is newsworthy to me is Howard’s quote at the end.

One day, we tried to figure out why we wanted ladders so bad because we don’t really need them. It just felt like we’re game development pussies because we can’t do ladders.

I never noticed, but now I will. (IGN)

QUICKIES:

Xbox Wins July- No surprise, really. They have that redesign if you forgot. I did.

PSP Phone Rumours Roundtable- Not news, really, that’s why it’s here. Read IGN editors discuss pros and cons of the newest PSP Phone rumours. Personally, I don’t give a shit about a PSP phone.

That’s that! I wonder if Riddles had read any Scott Pilgrim. I know I haven’t, so I wonder if he’s enjoying it. Everybody I know that’s seen the movie adores it though, so I’d better get on that. I’m feeling a little better today too, so maybe I’ll try the game some more…

We’ll see.

Scatter Storming. Issue #037

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I’m in a really pissy mood today. Some of you have even felt the effects of it. Oh well, even the friendly ones need a day to hate humanity. So fuck you all. On to games.

One trophy away from a platinum -
My first. Maybe it means absolutely nothing, but I’m excited. It’s something like gamer cred. Only Nate Liles and my friend Alex Aitman have a higher trophy level than me, so it’s a bit of a metagame. Also, the RPG skin to the whole system has me suckered.

The point is that I legitimately enjoy Ratchet and Clank, so getting the Platinum is more of a bonus for my time with the title.

Scott Pilgrim -
Enh. It’s got a cool 8/16 bit graphical style, and the music fits right in with that vibe. I was expecting a side scrolling beat-’em-up, but after Castle Crashers, Scott Pilgrim seems a little dry.

Then again, I got to play Castle Crashers with Riddles and these games are best suited for multiplayer. Also, I’m only one level in and haven’t really powered up enough to explore the movesets and items, so I’m reserving judgement. I’ll play some more before the day is up.

Oh man, this is good Dr. Pepper -
I can’t believe I was debating which drink to get. This is hitting the spot. Pure syrupy deliciousness.

What the fuck games are coming out? -
I don’t give a shit. I wrote that Dr. Pepper thing 6 hours ago. Since then I visited my mother, came home, and continued to be in a pissy mood. Riddles didn’t pick up the phone today, I missed chair hockey, I think I’m sick, I didn’t sleep long enough, and I just want to throw a tantrum and be coddled. I don’t want to be a grown up today.

So yes, no games are coming out. None. Not until Metroid. Fuck that shit.

GIVE ME AIR CONDITIONING! -
So I can play piano again.

That’s it. Nothing more. Disappointed? I don’t care, go eat a fuck.

(sorry, I love you guys, I just needed to let all that out)

Where the Fuck Is My DSi Charger

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I love this picture of me.

Man, I hate moving. And half-moving is even worse, because half of my shit is at my current residence – that being Dillon Lipinski’s spare bedroom – and the other half is in some cramped-ass storage unit. That means that if I’m missing something, I can’t guarantee that I’ll find it here – chances are that it’s sitting in some dusty corner in the aforementioned storage unit, being chewed on by spiders and stuff. Not a pleasant thought, especially when said missing item is my DSi charger.

Why am I looking for my DSi charger? Good question, especially since I haven’t touched my DS in months. The reason is that, with the impending release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, I actually decided to give Kingdom Hearts: Dumb Name a try. Just to, y’know, get back in a Kingdom Hearts sort of mood. And also because I have an odd desire to play something on a portable system. It’ll probably be out of my system in a few hours, but whatever. In fact, I kinda hope it is, since I can’t find my charger and I doubt my DS has much juice left in it. Sigh.

In other news, in an attempt to get into the spirit of this “Scott Pilgrim” week, I’m currently downloading the comic book series. Yes, downloading. I’ve never pirated a comic series before. But there’s a first time for everything, and I have certain qualms about seeing a movie based on a comic series without first giving the source material a read. It’s the remnants of the once-quite-prominent comic book geek inside me.

Oh, and get this, not only is the comic series set in Toronto, but most of the movie was filmed there. I see Ethos’ game. This week isn’t a Scott Pilgrim week at all; it’s a thinly veiled hometown wank on his part. Clever, Ethos, clever.

Ethan has some breathing room for Scatter Storming now. He’d better come through, or else I’ll be forced to post more pointless crap like this to compensate. I’m going to play some Dumb Name and then read some Scott Pilgrim. Laters!

Welcome to Scott Pilgrim Week

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Oh yeah, it's also set in Toronto.

Yes, it’s a tad late for a welcome, but I didn’t want to step on Riddles’ toes when he made such a timely effort to put up his Hey! Look! Listen!, even if he did upstage me with his Batman story.

In any case, speaking of the mono-infested bugger, the Montok has somehow never heard of any incarnation of Scott Pilgrim. I understand that he’s in Tennessee, but what with the popular comic book series, the major release heavily-promoted film coming out Friday, and the generally well-received game released to PSN yesterday, I find it difficult to cut him any sort of slack.

Speaking of the game, I downloaded it yesterday in honour of the week, and I have mixed feelings so far, but I’ll talk about that in Scatter Storming tonight. Let’s just say I’m far more excited about the movie than finishing the game at this point.

And if you’re lucky you guys will see another Spam Comment Roundup this week too. It can’t be a weekly segment because it’s obviously dependant on how funny the robots are being, but I think I have enough material at this point.

Time to go back to work.

Hey! Look! Listen! #58 – I Don’t Get No Respect

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Holy shit, mono fucking sucks.

And damn, has this website ever gone to hell. Just look at that banner up there.

Normally I’d apologize to you all, but this time I’m  not going to, because I honestly feel like the universe needs to do some serious apologizing to me. These last few weeks have sucked an unholy dick, and I really don’t feel like I deserved all the pain and suffering that I’ve been unceremoniously gifted with.

However, as you may have gathered by the fact that I’m here right now, I’m feeling better. And I felt the hankering to write something. Before we begin, I should note the fact that, upon having finally given it a try, I think Left 4 Dead is a damn fun game. And also, Netflix on the 360 is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

That’s right, I bought three months of Xbox Live Gold. On impulse. I feel slightly dirty, but… it’s the only console that lets you stream Netflix without a stupid-ass disc. And it was only $9.99 for three months.

ON TO THE TOPICS OF INTEREST

Batman: Arkham City Officially Revealed in Game Informer, First Details Rumored

I know Ethos already touched on this in his latest TTKL, and I don’t mean to upstage him; but I’m totally geeking out over this, and there have been some new rumors abroad, so I figured I’d go ahead and take a stab at the story as well.

Ah, who am I kidding, I totally mean to upstage him.

First, just take a look at this concept art/Game Informer covers. Are they not beautiful?

As you can see, DCs infamous femme fatale Catwoman is prominently featured, indicating that she’ll have a prominent role in the game. Co-op play, perhaps? Or maybe an ICO-esque team gameplay mechanic? Personally I’m hoping for the latter, seeing that co-op play tends to come at the expense of a focused narrative – and that would just be a shame, given how strong the storyline behind Arkham Asylum was.

As the title “Arkham City” implies, Batman will be taking down crime in the streets of Gotham this time around. Perhaps you recall the teaser trailer shown at the Spike VGAs, which showed a walled-off portion of the city, and an ending tagline that said “Arkham Has Moved.”

A hastily thrown-together site called Arkham.co.uk claims to have the first details on the game from Game Informer. Supposedly, Quincy Sharp, the man who was running for Mayor in the original game bought off a part of the Gotham slums and walled it off, making it the new detainment facility for Gotham’s colorful inmates. Why? Well, supposedly both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison were deemed “unfit” to hold said inmates. Why a walled-off slum could do the job when two maximum security detention facilities couldn’t is well beyond me, but hey, it provides the necessary fresh setting.

As far as actual storyline goes, it’s rumored that the infamous Two-Face has plans to execute Catwoman in order to gain respect of the Arkham City inmates. The Joker, of course, is still kicking around – but there’s something distinctly wrong with him. You might recall that the teaser showed him in pretty rough shape. One would assume that it’s due to the overdose of Venom that he took at the end of Arkham Asylum, but the GI article hints that this might not be the sole factor.

As far as gameplay changes, Batman is now able to counter two attacks at once, and he’ll be able to use his trusty smoke bombs. Arkham City will feature side missions, unlike the original game. There will also be more puzzles, criminal gangs to take down, and more riddler challenges. It’s too early to say, but it almost sounds like Rocksteady might be focusing Arkham City into a more sandbox-esque experience, which could be pretty damn cool if done right.

Anyway. Keep in mind that the above details are technically rumors; the source is hardly anything credible. Just be on the lookout for the upcoming issue of Game Informer for confirmation. What I can tell you in confidence is that we won’t be seeing Arkham City on store shelves until Fall of 2011. So. It’s time to play the waiting game. (IGN)

Nomura Provides Versus XIII/Agito XIII Updates

Woo. For those of you who are still waiting with bated breath for every Final Fantasy XIII-related piece of news, today is a happy day! Apparently both Agito and Versus XIII are currently undergoing the voice casting process. Which means they must be getting somewhere, right? If you don’t believe me, then believe Mr. Nomura. Here’s what he tweeted the other day: “Agito and Versus have different production styles and progress states, but they’re both presently undergoing voice casting. The 3rd Birthday’s recording will end shortly. Next up is Agito.”

He did go on to say a little more about Versus XIII. Apparently there’s a lot he could announce about the game, but due to Square Enix’s policies he cannot. However, he did comment on the nature of Versus XIII’s world map: “There have been many questions regarding fields. It’s not a completely open world. It’s like the 2D FF games in HD. Although, in terms of looks, it’s not a top-down view, it’s like the screenshots that have been released. You’ll move through the world from that view.”

Hm. Vague as that is, it already sounds more promising than Final Fantasy XIII’s abominable tunnels. In truth, I am still holding out for Versus XIII simply because it has the chance to be the game that Final Fantasy XIII failed to be. Obviously I have absolutely no reason to believe that it will be, but hope springs eternal. (IGN)

Please God Yes: Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia HD Collections Rumored

Oh man. I could care less about Splinter Cell, but an HD collection of the Sands of Time trilogy would be a literal dream come true. According to Joystiq, Amazon France is listing – or listed – trilogy collections for two classic Ubisoft franchises: Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia, both set for release in November. Below is visual evidence.

Obviously there’s no way of knowing if this is true or not. I’d like to say that Riddlethos has contacted Ubisoft for comment and will be back with you shortly, but we haven’t, because we don’t have any PR contacts with Ubisoft. Or anyone.

I can assure you, though, that we’ll be doing everything in our power to ensure that this is true. And by that I mean I’ll be kneeling at my bedside every night and offering up a prayer to whatever deities care to listen.

Well, that’s a wrap. Seeing that I’m still recovering from the dread mono, I have all of today off work. And tomorrow. Thursday, I believe, I make my return. In any case, I have some time to play games. Will I play anything aside from Modern Warfare 2? That’s yet to be seen, but for the record, I have been planning to re-start and finish Dragon Age: Origins. Also, I’ve been feeling an intense desire of late to re-visit an old friend, Ocarina of Time.

‘Till next time, you hateful creeps!

P.S, what the hell is a Scott Pilgrim Week?