Thursday, November 10, 2011

Design analysis - Bioshock's Medical pavilion

Bioshock is one of my favorite games,so I'll be visiting it a lot. I just want to talk about what makes it one of my favorite games.

The design of it's world.

We're going to skip over the (FANTASTIC!) opening right now and skip to one of the earliest levels, the Medical pavilion. (Note: this game is rated M for a reason. A large chunk of the reasons can be seen below)

The opening level is very good at setting up the game. We hear about how the world has gone crazy through ADAM. We fight Splicers. We see Big Daddies and Little Sisters for the first time.

The Medical pavilion is the first time this all comes together. First, though, there is the shock that all of this is happening in a medical pavilion, a place supposedly devoted to healing. We have secretaries murdered behind desks, splicers attacking eachother in the halls, and Steinman's little "Dioramas" all over the place.

One of my favorite parts of Bioshock is very rarely are items placed randomly. Teddy bear on a wheelchair? There were kids here. Dead splicer with luggage? She was trying to escape the medical wing. Splicer sobbing over a small casket? A baby died. If you actually pay attention, it really helps in telling a story. (I wasn't, though. It was my first shooter and M game and I was mostly "Oh, gosh, thatthingischasingmeandithasagunsmashattackbuttonsmashattackbuttonshootthethingohnothereisanotherone-) Some items are for shock, others are for terror, and others are to tell a story but each item DOES mean something.

Then there is the actual scenery. The floor, walls, and ceiling (along with various aesthetic touches like plants and benches) are very rarely whole. The floor is ripped up, walls are broken or painted on, and water leaks from the ceiling. They can saw "Rapture is a mess" or they can show it with these items.

Admittedly, Welcome to Rapture has some of these items, but they don't have the same effect due to one thing. "Welcome to Rapture" lacks a boss.

Meet: Dr. Steinman

Dr. Steinman is mentioned by Atlas early on and gets an Audio Diary talking about how ADAM has improved the medical process. However, we don't go "Oh Crap" until we walk into a room and see "Above All, do no harm" apparently written in blood (or red paint to imply blood) with cut up photos of women around and an audio diary offered up to the viewer. We need to get past Stienman in order to survive and he makes it quite clear that the medical pavilion is HIS. Splicers have made a point in their delusion to warn that "Steinman kills" and as time goes on, we see why.

He quite clearly has been sampling ADAM in his audio diaries. He consistently talks about the need to be beautiful and how ADAM accomplishes that. As the macabre temples to beauty continue he explains how not only has he seen Aphrodite (the goddess of love and beauty) wandering the halls, he's had lunch with her while discussing beauty. (result? Picasso made the most beautiful people)And then he believes that beauty is a moral imperative, turning both incredibly shallow and incredibly terrifying.

Why is this important? While we have heard, repeatedly, that ADAM can cause insanity, we have never actually seen the effects. Yes, we've seen splicers but they mostly just say the same phrases over and over so while they say SOMETHING when they attack, we don't really know how they got there. Steinman is different. We watch his fall through his audio diaries and we are helpless to do anything. Rapture hadn't been defaced by anything like his murals before we come across them the game. We have never had a splicer deliberately work against us and plan against us. And bosses don't usually have this amount of set up unless it's something like the final boss. (At least, the bosses I have run across don't. I don't claim to have played every game ever so I may be wrong)

And then we get this.

There is a reason that Steinman is my scariest moment in Bioshock, or in any game ever.

If it was just a moment it would have been more random. But due to the careful amount of set up, we are properly terrified. He is not an aberration in a shooter, he is not a typical splicer that we can run across. He is the leader of the medical pavilion and the boss of the level. He comes across as powerful. He has made it clear he will not tolerate anyone ugly. He is going to kill us.

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