Christopher Kline, technical director for
2K Boston, recently gave a lecture at Paris GDC on modern classic BioShock - co-developed by Kline and his colleagues at 2K Australia - and it's particularly notable how much honest talk of iteration was discussed in the lecture.
As he explained, the project, which has debuted on PC and Xbox 360 and is now coming to PlayStation 3, was "...a series of big mistakes and corrections and slipped ship dates, but all of these helped make it a good game."
Thus, we sat down with the game's technical mastermind to discuss issues such as
getting gamers interested in seeing the sequel (and thus driving publisher
interest) to the hard philosophies of technology use, UI design, and respect
for the audience.
This wide-ranging Gamasutra discussion also touches on everything from the health of the PC as a medium for hardcore gaming,
to why Kline felt confident working with Unreal Engine 2 on a next-generation
Terrible Secret of 2K Boston
I noticed that you aren't actually in Boston...
CK: Yeah, we're in Quincy,
which is a suburb of Boston;
it's about 10 miles south.
do you call it "2K Boston"?
CK: Well we were in Boston
originally... We moved. We were into the production of BioShock, we had this really cool space -- it was an old
schoolhouse from, like, 1900, and they decided to turn it into condos, so while
we were writing code they were actually demolishing the building out from
underneath us. So, yeah, we had to make a move. And we were trying to get
a good motivator to do something.
CK: Yeah. "Fear of death" is, yeah.
it seems like that was a common theme with you guys, the, just -- as you said,
in order to get motivated, sometimes you needed the fear of --
CK: Public humiliation. (laughs)
Publisher Interest via the Press
one thing that really surprised me, that you were talking about at your recent GDC Paris lecture, was,
well, it just struck me how much faith and stock was given to reviewers. And I
don't actually, really, understand that.
CK: I guess what I was
trying to point out, and maybe it didn't come across...
it was also in the [Game Developer magazine] post mortem, too, so... I guess, to clarify: taking
reviewers' opinions very seriously is, to me personally, surprising.
didn't really build our game off of their opinions. We were very flattered by
the reviews we got after E3... I guess the point I was trying to make was that
it was surprising to us, after all of this great press had come out, and we
started looking at these tracking numbers, for how much of the public was interested
in the game, and we found out that it actually wasn't getting a lot of
And so that was really critical for us,
because we said, "OK, well, why aren't gamers really interested in this
product?" And it was really just a matter of positioning; like, you have
to put it in the right frame of mind, so they can envision what kind of
experience they're going to have when they play the game. And once they have
that, they can get excited about it, and behind it.
was particularly interesting to me that you wound up using the traditional
consumer press as a vehicle to push the concept through -- by promising
exclusives to the press on BioShock
by having them write retrospectives on System
Shock 2, to drum up interest in a sequel. That was definitely an interesting tactic; I don't think a lot of
people consider that they could use that.
CK: That was a very clever approach to the
game. But, you know, we knew that if we took our case to the gamers, we knew
there was an audience out there for the game, and sometimes you just need to
prove that there is an audience before you can convince someone that it's a
worthwhile venture to put their money behind.
Irrational Games/Looking Glass Studios' System Shock 2
was almost like you were convincing people that they should care, which then
should convince the publisher that they should care.
CK: Well, you know, we didn't convince the
gamers that they should care, we just pointed out to the gamers, "Hey,
remember how much you loved this kind of game? Guess what! We're trying to do a
game just like it!"
And then, you know, there was just this overwhelming
response on the forums; all the people talking about their memories of playing System Shock 2, and how much they love
that kind of game. And that was great, because the publishers then had to take
and it also works because in that several years later timeframe, you're mostly
going to get the people that remembered it fondly, instead of the people that got
stuck clipping into walls or something like that. Not that that ever happened,
CK: Yeah. There were two groups of people: people
that remembered it fondly, and those that just talk about how they were just
too scared to finish it! But, people talk about, "Is there a crisis in PC
gaming?" You know, there is a big market out there.
It's not, of course,
just for PC gaming; it's a crisis of identifying who your audiences are. And if
you can find a way to get those audiences to show their support for traditional
types of titles -- even if they traditionally aren't mass-market, I think
you'll see a lot more support from publishers.