Home Upcoming Reviews About
Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
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.

Lazy Saturdays #05 – Not So Lazy

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Well, for a change, this particular Saturday has been anything but lazy. Why? Because I worked from 7 a.m. till noon. It was all overtime, too, which is very nice. Waking up at 6 a.m.? Not so nice. But, I’ve been doing it for the last two weeks. Last night I passed out at seven fucking p.m. No, I’m not kidding. I was exhausted. Why was I exhausted? Because I can’t adjust to this early morning bullshit, that’s why. I’m a NIGHT person, goddammit.

But, while I might prefer the hours of my previous job, my current job doesn’t make me hate my life on a regular basis. So. I suppose it’s a good tradeoff.

Anyway, um, yeah. It’s still Alan Wake week. I actually haven’t managed to play much more of the game. (Working 47 hours in a week tends to limit one’s playtime.) But, I’m hoping to get some more time in today, and I have tomorrow completely off, so you’ll hear some more about it for sure. And who knows, maybe Ethan will find the time to write more about it than an obligatory paragraph at the end of Scatter Storming.

Well, while I have your attention, can I interest you in some links?

Freakin’ Sweet: original BioShock pitch posted online for the reading pleasure of allnow this is just really fucking cool. If you have any interest in BioShock, and even if you don’t, you should hit the link above. Eight years after Irrational Games pitched the idea of BioShock, the nine-page document has been made available to the public. Instead of explaining to you how cool that is, I suggest you hit the link and see for yourself.

Well, actually, I will explain how cool it is. I’ve never actually seen or read a videogame pitch before, so it was definitely an interesting look into what it takes to get a publisher to back your project. Also, given the ambitious nature of BioShock both as a game and a concept, it’s obviously quite interesting to see how all the many ideas behind the game originated. Some of them remained intact, many of them changed, and some of them actually ended up in BioShock 2, as it were.

Anyway. Seriously. Click the link. It’s the most interesting thing you’ll read this weekend.

Rockstar: If you buy our games for your kids, you’re a “terrible parent”I’m not sure why this strikes me as odd, but… it just does. While speaking to the BBC about the recently-released Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar’s Lazlow Jones had this to say about the violent and/or questionable content that’s become a trademark of Rockstar’s software:

Our games are not designed for young people. If you’re a parent and buy one of our games for your child you’re a terrible parent. We design games for adults because we’re adults. There’s a lot of kids games out there that we’re not interested in playing. Just like you enjoy watching movies and TV shows with adult themes and language and violence that’s the kind of thing we seek to produce.

Well, the dude hits the nail on the head, I can’t deny that. But to me, there’s just something distinctly suck-up-ish about a Rockstar rep blasting parents who purchase violent games for their children; especially given the rather colorful, controversial past the company has had. (Hot Coffee, anyone?) Still, though, he’s totally right. Parents who buy that stuff for their 6-year-olds are the reason we have the controversy in the first place.

I stole this from Gizmodo because I thought it was funny.

AT&T jacks up early termination fees, offers stupid explanation – I’m positive that there’s more to this than meets the eye. Don’t know what I’m implying? Well, give me a moment.

AT&T, the sole provider (currently) of the iPhone in North America, is raising the early service termination fee for smartphones from $175 to a whopping $325. Nope, that’s not a typo; they really are giving their customers 150 more reasons to stay with them. (At least for the initial two years.)

So, if you were hoping to get out of that expensive iPhone contract sometime soon, you might wanna think again. However, if you’re the owner of an AT&T feature phone or messaging phone, your ETF just got lowered by $25. What could the reason be for all this? Here’s AT&T’s explanation:

The idea is, and we think that it’s fair approach, that if you spend less on a device, your early termination fee should be less. If you spend more, your early termination fee should be more.

Okay, while I agree that entirely arbitrary termination fees should be done away with, this does not explain why AT&T decided that it should cost an extra hundred-and-fifty-fucking dollars.

So. Since they won’t explain it, I will.

It’s quite simple. For some time now, it’s been rumored that Verizon, AT&T’s biggest competitor, is working on an iPhone deal with Apple. It’s a rumor that hasn’t been squashed (which is a de facto confirmation in my eyes) and if it’s true, it means that AT&T’s about to lose the lucrative exclusivity they’ve enjoyed for three years now.

On top of that, it’s common knowledge that Verizon’s 3G coverage is a hell of a lot more reliable than AT&T’s. Also, people just like Verizon more, generally speaking. (I’m too lazy to go dig up info on actual market shares.) So, if and when Verizon lands this deal, I guarantee you that there will be a) a lot of new iPhone users, and b) a lot of people jumping ship.

Starting to see where I’m going with this?

If not, here it is: I think AT&T is raising the ETF on their smartphones because Verizon is very close to landing the aforementioned deal with Apple, and they’re afraid of people terminating contracts and jumping ship. So, they’re very aggressively discouraging it.

Good things do come to those who wait, I suppose. And ridiculous termination fees come to those who don’t. Remember that.

Killzone 3 is coming… in 3D, no lesswe knew Killzone 3 was coming, just not when. And…well, I guess we still don’t know when. But, we know for sure that it’s coming, because the latest issue of GamePro says so. Subscribers already have the issue in their grubby little hands, and it’s packed with details on the game. Now, I don’t know or care much about Killzone, but the juiciest details seem to be:

-The game will be playable in 3D

-The game will have jetpacks. Awesome jetpacks, too, not the lame jetpacks you see in “other games.”

-The game will… be like Inglourious Basterds? What?

Anyway. Hit the link above for a long, easy-to-read list concerning the game’s new features, courtesy of VG247. And while you’re at it, maybe check out this other VG247 for an additional fun fact: apparently Guerilla Games has been working with Naughty Dog, the creators of Uncharted, to build Killzone 3’s graphics engine. Given the fact that Uncharted 2 is far and away the best-looking console game ever made, that can only be a good thing.

Well, I’m dangerously close to my 1000 word limit, so I guess we’d better wrap this up.

Actually, I don’t have a 1000 word limit. I just wanna wrap this up.

-Riddles

Games where the Sun Don’t Shine – #3: BioShock

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

“Games where the Sun Don’t Shine” is a completely random, arbitrary, and pointless list of games that give off a dark and/or depressing vibe. What better way, after all, to celebrate the season of Spring?

BioShock

Well, this one’s a no-brainer. If any game belongs on this list, it’s BioShock. Not just because it’s one of my all-time faves, but because you spend the entire game underwater – so the sun, quite literally, never shines. Pleasant, no?

Rapture is a beautiful, immersive place for so many reasons, but it’s definitely not a place you’d go to get a pick-me-up. A ruined underwater paradise crawling with mutated freakish humans, ugly little girls, and hulking Big Daddies. It’s dark, messy, dilapidated, and violent. And all of Rapture’s “citizens” have a really weird sense of humor, too, which tends to make things awkward.

They also have a bad habit of jumping out and scaring the piss out of you when you’re in the bathroom. Odd fetish, maybe.

Alright, well, that’s enough content for today. Look for Ethos’ third and fourth picks tomorrow! Or don’t. You wouldn’t be missing much anyway.

Sunday Soapbox: BioShock and the Death of the Cutscene

Monday, February 15th, 2010

BioShock1It’s not often that a game like BioShock comes around.

And odd thing to say, seeing that it “came around” some years ago. Right now, the gaming world is busy playing through and sizing up the long-anticipated sequel, BioShock 2. Anyone who’s read my two separate impressions of the game knows that, despite all my prior misgivings, I’m having a blast with it.

Playing BioShock 2 has made me realize what an influential game the first BioShock was. BioShock 2 doesn’t feel as fresh as the first game did, and here’s why: not only have I seen these gameplay mechanics and storytelling conventions in BioShock 1, but I’ve seen them in countless games since. I thought it before, and I’m almost sure of it now: BioShock may, in fact, be the Ocarina of Time of this generation.

Quite a bold statement, you say? Well, here’s another one for you: in this console generation, videogames have finally come unto their own as a legitimate and unique form of storytelling, and BioShock was one of the main proponents of this movement.

BioShock was one of the first games to effectively tell a deep, involving, and well-written story entirely devoid of non-interactive cutscenes. You’re never, ever taken out of the gameplay in BioShock – you’re in control the entire time. The plot is developed through dialog spoken during gameplay, as well as numerous “audio journals” scattered throughout the world.  Even during the game’s most pivotal moments – for example, the fated meeting with Andrew Ryan himself – you never left the world of the game in favor of a cinema.

As a result, BioShock was a very unique, immersive, and seamlessly story-driven experience. It was proof that games could tell stories – not movie scenes interspersed throughout gameplay segments, but games themselves.

Dead SpaceThe number of games that have adopted a similar or identical model of storytelling are numerous and obvious. Dead Space, for example, is almost identical in its storytelling: almost no cutscenes are utilized, all dialog is spoken in-game, and dozens of audio/video logs develop the game’s mysterious backstory. The seamlessness and consistency that comes with such a model allows developers to craft a more immersive, poignant atmosphere – can you imagine if Dead Space utilized traditional cutscenes to tell its story? Much like BioShock, Dead Space thrives on its constant, unsettling atmosphere – and being broken from such an atmosphere for the sake of watching a movie would cause the game as a whole to lose its frightening effectiveness.

It’s not only Dead Space, of course. Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted, Mass Effect 2, and perhaps even Modern Warfare can all be considered part of BioShock’s legacy in some way. In Arkham Asylum, how dull would it have been if we only ever heard Mark Hamill’s rendition of The Joker when he appeared in cutscenes? Listening to his jeering voice over the asylum’s intercoms was one of the most awesome things about that game.

And in Uncharted 2, what if you had simply watched a cutscene of Drake battling his way up that train? It must be noted that the Uncharted series still makes fairly liberal use of the non-interactive cutscene, but it combines them with fantastic sequences of interactive storytelling. (Incidentally, that’s one of the main reasons why Uncharted is so awesome.)

BayonettaThere’s nothing wrong with the traditional cutscene, of course. We’ve been watching them for years, and there’s no reason to entirely do away with them now. Games like Uncharted 2 show that there’s still a place for them in the current gaming landscape, but they are to be used sparingly. Take Bayonetta, as a bad example – well-done as the cutscenes were, many of them felt entirely out-of-place in this day and age. Why, exactly, do I need to watch a movie scene of Bayonetta and Jeanne dueling? Why can’t I just fight her myself?

In the game’s defense, you are indeed given the pleasure of fighting her yourself – but only after sitting through a lengthy and entirely superfluous cutscene.

Videogames are the art of interactivity, and to create an artful interactive experience, it’s crucial to achieve a certain level of immersion. Gameplay segments should never feel like obligatory hoop-jumps that connect non-interactive plot points. Rather, the player should feel that with every passing moment that they play, the story is advancing. The player should feel, quite literally, like they’re playing through a story – not as if they’re advancing through a level in order to get to the story.

The reason BioShock was and is such an amazing experience is because it’s not something that can be fully replicated through any other medium. The same story told through film wouldn’t even be comparable. It thrives on its atmosphere, and atmosphere in a videogame thrives on interactivity. Not every game needs to be BioShock, and not every game needs to tell its story through audio logs; however, games do need to remember that it’s not what a gamer sees, but what a gamer does that defines an experience.

Hey! Look! Listen!

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Well, it’s been a while since we did this, hasn’t it? The post-GamesCom videogame industry has been relatively uneventful, and will likely remain that way until the Tokyo Game Show. But nonetheless, a few things caught my eye today and I deemed them worthy of sharing with you. Shall we?

All that minus the HDMI cable now just $299

All that minus the HDMI cable now just $299

Xbox 360 Elite Price Cut, Pro Discontinuation Confirmed
So, yeah, remember the rumors about this? And then how Microsoft didn’t say a thing about them at GamesCom? I’m not really sure why, but it seems they didn’t care to make a big deal out of it. In any case, Microsoft officially confirmed today that the Xbox 360 Elite model was receiving a $100 price cut, meaning it now costs the same as the Pro model. ($299). What’s to be done with the Pro model, you ask? Well, it’s receiving a $50 price cut, and being phased out of production. Pretty sweet deal all around, though sadly, the Elite will no longer be packaged with an HDMI cable.

Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft’s director of product management for the 360 said that this price cut was a direct result of lowered production costs. Oh, and for what it’s worth, he denied the “rumors” of a slimmed-down 360 console, claiming that the 360 hasn’t even reached “half its lifespan.”

Verbinski Not to Direct BioShock Movie
This is actually somewhat old, but still disappointing enough to share. Because of the film’s new overseas filming locations, Gore Verbinski is stepping down as director of the BioShock film. And just to add insult to injury, 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is taking his place. (By the by, Fresnadillo is not to be confused with Danny Boyle, the director of the superb 28 Days Later. Days was awesome. Weeks sucked.)

Damn straight.

Damn straight.

And with Verbinski goes the last of my hopes for the BioShock film. At this point, frankly, I see it going the way of the Halo movie. And perhaps that’s a good thing. In fact it almost certainly is.

Well! I have two hours before I have to leave for work, and a fresh copy of Dissidia sitting on my desk. Just arrived in the mail this morning; a bit late, but I can forgive them.

Yes, I’m kidding. I drove across the street and bought it with my own hard-earned cash. I’ll be there someday, though…

An…Ode? To Lord Riddles

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Lord Riddles rules The Golden Land of Murfreesboro with a cold-hearted fist.
His blackened soul allows him to make the necessary decisions.
The secret decisions of a ruler.
Decisions of life and death.
But this power has twisted the Dark Lord Riddles.
He begins to put pretty-good-but-not-truly-exceptional games like Bioshock on his top ten list.
He begins to weep alone at night remembering the glorious days when he had a soul.
He begins to lead children into dark alleys and murder them viciously.
But do not judge your Lord. This is just the necessary path for one with such responsibility.
Pray that in the coming days, as the power passes to the far more capable hands of King Ethos, Riddles will return to his former self.
The self that knew how to smile.
The self that knew how to laugh.
The self that knew how to love.
Let us love this Lord Riddles with all our twisted hearts for these remaining days.
riddlethos

Oh, ps, apparently our “like”, “dislike” function is fucked up, but I’m hoping we get it back really soon.
Otherwise, I’ve been listening to the increasing demand for comments, so that might be a reality sooner than we expected, but don’t hold your breath just yet.