Friday, February 10, 2012

Level Design -Bioshock's opening

I finally bought Bioshock today!

So let's talk about what first made people sit up and take notice of the game. 

The game's opening

It's been a few years, but it still is quite stunning, and in less then then minutes we are not just suspicious of the world but we know for a fact that it will try to chew us up and spit us back out.

Let's get started!

We start off with a date, 1960.  This should immediately relax us.  It's in the past, we shouldn't have to worry about any high tech weaponry.  We see that we're in an airplane.  Well, unusual but our PC is fine.  The tattoos are a bit odd, but he's got a picture of his family in his wallet and a present.  It should be all okay.  We get a suspicious voice over, then turbulence.

When we wake up, we're underwater.  We see debris fall until we come up to the surface and we realize one thing.  We're probably the only survivor.  The game herds us towards the lighthouse.  The fire blocks off the other paths and it's the only significant thing that we can see.  While this is all odd, it's not really unusual for a game.  We don't start getting really disquieted until we see the slogan in the obscenely ornate hallway.

"There are no gods or kings, only men"

It's an interesting idea, not unheard of, but it's still disquieting.  What's more disquieting is why is there a gold head in a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean and why is does it have THAT in it's hands.  Unnerving, but let's continue.

We enter a Bathysphere which is still unusual and enter into the actual world of Rapture.  

Something we should note is that before we see Ryan's speech, we see a commercial for INCINERATE! Plasmids.  It's a little detail, but it's a hook into the commercialism focused world of Rapture.  In their world, only the rich succeed. It is also holds two clues that getting out will not be as easy as it seems.  1) (obviously) we're in a bathysphere going deeper underwater.  We don't know how we're going to escape.  2)  Whoever lives where we're going has developed the ability to shoot fire from their fingertips.  If nothing else, it's a warning.

Then we get to the famous part, Ryan's speech. (Video is speech only)

The first part, about whether a man is entitled to the sweat of his own brow, is phrased in a way that we should say "YES!" We've done our share, we want our due.  But there is always something slightly out of tune.  Is he suggesting abandoning the poor, God, and everyone else and only focus on ourselves? Or is he saying that we should work on our own due?   However, it's all swept under the rug as we finally get to see the world of Rapture.

It's a beautiful place.  It's a working city under water!  But as Ryan keeps on talking, things turn slightly sinister. Specifically, the line "Where scientists are not bound by petty morality".  Please keep in mind that this speech was probably made right after WWII, when the horrors of Auschwitz were revealed.  By having something not be bound by "Petty Morality" scientists could do whatever they wanted.  While it could lead to amazing breakthroughs, the price could be too high. It would also allow for other experiments to go through, items like mind control, methods of genocide, and so on. With nothing to hold scientists, back, what would they pursue?  And how would the great not be constrained by the small?

But, we're not really listening.  We're too enraptured by the sights below.  We see whales, and someone in a diving suit sealing a tunnel, and there still is the fact that massive buildings are thriving here under the sea.  All of our previous worries are washed away by the scene. Then the sense of uneasiness returns. 

There is someone on the radio.  That's good, we know someone else is alive.  Two other people, actually.  They are discussing our arrival, apparently it's impossible that we should have arrived, the plane was destroyed and we are in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.  Well, that's fine, but then we hear a word. "Splicers".  We get no context, other then the non Irish guy should be quick since the Splicers are coming. As their conversation ends, a light goes out on the signs.  While the place feels a bit abandoned, we're under water.  It's natural that no one is around.  But the lights crackling out like that gives us back our sense of foreboding.  Coupled with the talk of "Splicers" we know it's not good.

Every ounce of assurance vanishes once we actually arrive in Rapture.  There is someone out there, someone who we heard on the radio.  And as we watch helplessly from behind the glass, the man is torn apart by hooks before that creature sets upon our ship.  Obviously, we know that whatever Rapture was SUPPOSED to be, has failed.  We don't know why, we don't know how, but there is at least one crazy hook handed person wandering around killing people.  Whoever it is is also deformed.  We could see lumps and bandages from the brief flashes of light.  Any suspicion of it being only one person vanishes when we hear Atlas talking about "Aiming to keep you alive"  there's still trouble out there.

As we exit, we can see placards on the ground. "Rapture is Dead"

While there is a lot to be said about the rest of the level, I'll just leave it here for now.  What do we know?

First, it's impressive.  Seriously, props to the programmers.  We have fish, squid, a whale, the outside of an entire city, and we are moving through it all.  It's only a few minutes but it's really impressive on a visual and technical level. 

Andrew Ryan is charismatic, intelligent, and selfish.  He has built and entire functioning city underwater, he has apparently convinced enough people to forsake everything up above to live underwater -if the fact they have built a waiting area and recorded an intro video for a bathysphere is anything to go by- and his speech is all about the serving of one's self.  It tastes a bit of a cult of personality, but only enough to unnerve the listener, not actually scare them away.

The city used to be well run.  Running a city is hard, running a city underwater is even harder.  The city is huge, is full of lights, and they are still up keeping the city, but it fell apart not due to outside forces, but inside ones.  Luggage and "Rapture is Dead" signs are not notes of an invasion, but rather of political controversy. We don't know what happened or who won, but just one crazy hook handed person can not be the sole cause for the city falling apart.  The person, probably a splicer, unnerves us but whatever else is out there is worse, or at least there is more of it.

We still go on, but we are stuck with the two dichotomies presented in the opening.  Yes, it looks amazing and it's impressive on a purely technical level, but the inside is completely rotten. 

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