Thinking BioShock: From Tech to Philosophy
August 8, 2008 Page 2 of 5
The State of the Hardcore Market
It seems to me, in terms of the packaged PC market, the hardcore-oriented stuff is going to have to not be as big budget as it used to be; you can't really make Crysis and expect people to play it. Did you see Ben Cousins' Battlefield Heroes talk? That's definitely a direction that PC gaming is going to get bigger, but I think the hardcore is going to have to shrink or change.
CK: I don't see the hardcore going away... I think there is still going to be a market for that audience, 'til the end of time. What we tried to do on BioShock was say that, "OK, here's this kind of game, that we love playing..." We know gamers are intelligent, we know that they want a game that's complex, with a mature story, and complicated gameplay that's very empowering.
We said to ourselves, "OK, well that's the kind of game that we made, with System Shock 2, and critics loved it, so why didn't it sell well?" And we don't think it was because the gameplay was very deep; we thought it was, really, just that it wasn't presented very well.
And so I think that's what you're seeing with stuff like Battlefield Heroes, is that people are trying to say -- this is fun gameplay, right? And there's a huge market for it on the hardcore side, but there must be an even bigger market, if you can take that kind of fun and bring it to a more casual audience.
And it's really all in presentation; that's something that we spent a lot of time on in BioShock, to try and present these very complicated ideas to the player in the right way, so that they understood it, and they enjoyed it. It's all about presentation.
It seems it's like a good thing to do, and also a difficult thing to do, in the way that it was done, because you've got all of your messaging going through the hardcore gamer channel. In the case of marketing the game as a shooter, since you're going through the hardcore channels, there are going to be people who remember how you were marketing it before, and be like, "What's the deal?" So it seems like a difficult balance...
CK: You know, we have to rely on our hardcore audience, and expand that to a bigger audience. So, you don't want to alienate your hardcore audience. And, often, the hardest thing for us is... we always hit this thing, we're like, "Oh, these guys are dumbing it down for the console gamers!"
And that's not what we're doing; getting that message across is very difficult, to the hardcore audience; we're not trying to make the game any less complicated. If anything, BioShock, in many ways, was deeper than System Shock 2, and it was just all about trying to find a right way to present it, so that more people could enjoy it.
I mean, I'm not a super hardcore player; I'm very much in the arcade style of games. I really enjoyed BioShock, because it had these really great moments, and it had awesome visuals, and scenario design, and great moments. But I stopped at hour twelve, because it took too long, there were getting to be too many plasmids, and I was going to have to make my own weapons, and it just... the slope got too high for me.
CK: Well I'm sorry you stopped, but I'm glad you were able to enjoy it, nonetheless. That was one thing we really tried to do, is try to make a game that is very complex, and with a lot of player choice, and a lot of combat choice, and emergence -- but also make it work on a lot of different levels.
If you're a guy who likes to run through and shoot things with a gun, you can play the game that way; if you're someone who wants to manipulate the world, and trick creatures into doing things for you, you can do things that way as well. So we tried to provide an experience that was narratively guided, but allowed you to branch out into whatever direction really got you excited.
The Best Way to Use Tech
You developed it, basically, on Unreal Engine 2, and do you, in retrospect, think that it was a better choice to do that, versus to completely roll your own engine?
CK: It was the right choice for us. Middleware is, I think, a critical component of any big title, going forward, because, you know, people can't afford to spend the time writing all that stuff, if you want to compete. And those guys do their job better than we do, in a lot of ways.
But at the time, we were really new into the console cycle, and we were just very worried that -- we had very specific goals, in terms of gameplay, and also in terms of schedule, and we didn't want to be stuck waiting around for middleware to catch up. I think it was the right decision for us -- on the next title, maybe we'll make a different decision, but I think it was the right one at the right time.
Page 2 of 5