I was talking to the Army of Two guys about how those two games are set essentially in the modern world. They were saying making that choice ends up being costly to make in a lot of ways, because people know the real world so well that it's the developer's responsibility to actual model it extremely convincingly. But then you've brought up a slightly different angle, which is that so much of what we're used to in a game from a mechanical standpoint would be hard to fit into the real world.
ZM: And people can spot that game-iness and that contrivance in a real-world environment really, really easily. If you look at some of the best storytelling games, they take something that is familiar in the real world and do it just enough to allow them some flexibility.
Even something like Half-Life 2's City 17 is very recognizable. It's very real. But it's just disconnected enough from our reality that the things they need to help tell the story and keep the gameplay going don't seem out of place.
Another interesting tactic for that, honestly, is parody and satire. One of the reasons GTA works so well is that a lot of it is very satirical and funny. When you have that environment, things don't stick out as badly for players because they identify it as an exaggerated view of something they recognize.
That's why having restaurants restore health in GTA ends up not breaking up your immersion in the world. That's honestly the best tactic for doing games within a real world setting.
Can you speak at all about where you're falling along the spectrum of making a game that tries to really expand on its predecessor and offer a new angle on its concept, and a game that tries to hone in on and improve and bolster what made the predecessor work?
AF: That's something we talked a lot about, and we still talk a lot about -- being able to balance between somebody who's played the first game three times and researched everything and figured out every trick in the book, versus somebody who's just saying, "Yeah, my friend played that. I guess it's okay."
It is a tough balancing act. The first thing we did, and I think one of the key changes in perspective from BioShock to BioShock 2 is that BioShock was an outsider's story. It was about somebody who doesn't know anything about what's going on locked into a place and discovering it for the first time. And you, the player, are discovering it with them.
The perspective change for BioShock 2 is that it's an insider's story. It's somebody who exists in this world and lives in this world. We're not saying that you had to have played BioShock to play BioShock 2 -- not at all.
You could have seen the picture of Big Daddy and said, "Okay, that's me. I'm going to imagine what that fantasy is, and now I get to live it." But for somebody who did come in from the first game, they've got a little more context about who that guy is and what he might be able to do, and then hopefully we surprise you a little bit with what you actually can do in the game.
ZM: It's about picking very strong key departures. The biggest one obviously is playing a Big Daddy. That comes with a lot of expectations and surprises on our end in terms of how that changes the gameplay and how that changes how people expect the game to play, in terms of the toolset you get to use, in terms of how people should treat you, in terms of how you interact with the world.
A lot of the design actually grew out of that core concept of, "We decided you're going to play a Big Daddy. What should that mean for the rest of the game?" All the Little Sister adoption stuff grew out of that, honestly.
Once we made a choice to change the context for the player, supporting that really took on a life of its own in a way that this is what we know we're going to have to do in order for us to fulfill that goal of saying, "You're the Daddy."
I think it's allowed us to get a little more clarity on keeping some of the other things. We could have fallen into a mire of completely reinventing everything in the entire game, and that let us target more of the reinventions around the player experience.
For our first sequel, that was one of the best ways you can keep a lot of the core parts of the game that people understand, while making it feel like it's coming from a different perspective.
The same goes for Rapture; we don't want to throw anything out where people are going to say it's no longer a BioShock to them without it. But we have to change enough that they're not bored, that they don't know exactly what to expect throughout the entire game.