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Flashback article: BioShock 2 was almost a semi-prequel hybrid

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Sea of Dreams: paradise or perdition?

Not much of an update, but more of a spotlight on an article from a year ago yesterday. As you can tell, since despite appearing in it's original teaser trailerpremier, BioShock 2 no longer has the "Sea of Dreams" subtitle in it. For this, I felt that it would be best to spotlight this May 18th, 2010 Gamesradar interview with Jordan Thomas, which answers why BioShock 2 went the direction it did from altering Sea of Dreams. Enjoy! :


Gamesradar: Recently we sat in a room with Jordan Thomas, creative director at 2K Marin, and questioned him about BioShock 2. There were so many sentences and words to listen to, the poor fellow who transcribed the interview broke down in tears and fled the building, his poorly constructed headphones still plastered to his sweat-matted hair. Fortunately for us, we managed to retrieve the following spoiler-peppered words for your delectation.


Parallel universe


“Originally the game was a hybrid, there were a number of playable flashbacks, which had a prequel-like flavour, but were much more subjective, like memories that you were uncovering. But they were terrible. What Rapture was like in its heyday appeals on paper, but it meant you really couldn’t play the game. Players sleepwalked through each scene, which was pretty, but not particularly convincing."


“We spent a lot of time on that because it was something that I very much wanted to do, but it just didn’t make sense. It would’ve been such a radically different game that we couldn’t really call it BioShock anymore. Anybody who came from the original would be saying like, ‘What about the gameplay?! I liked that too.’”



One trick pony


“I knew that the people who came back expecting a giant twist would be disappointed with its lack. But I also feel like repeating that formulaic kind of Shyamalan-style of one-trick storytelling would have led to people saying BioShock 2 was a carbon copy of the first game."


“Frankly, I was much more interested in doing the opposite of ‘Would you kindly...’, zooming out to show your effects on the world in a way that you didn’t anticipate, than to pull another ‘Gotcha!’”


“Before we got out of formal pre-production, we started speaking about multiplayer, because we were informed that the sequel would have to expand what it meant to be a ‘BioShock’ game. We started thinking about what that meant, and came up with some very loose ideas. More experienced multiplayer gamers would have seen them as too complicated to drop in and play, but Digital Extremes countered with their own pitch, and we hired some internal people whose job it was to work directly with them.”



Marin life


“A few months after BioShock shipped, Alyssa Finley [BioShock’s project leader] told me she was starting a new studio, and that Ken Levine and the guys at Irrational were moving on. Eventually it came down to about eight of us who seeded 2K Marin, and we just started talking about BioShock 2. Our main objective was to make sure the name was treated well."


“Each of us had worked on BioShock and were proud to have been involved, and we wanted to make sure that the very sort of baroque and spiny Rapture canon was properly protected. Eventually we kind of distilled down to a couple of core ideas: the Big Daddy/Little Sister relationship was going to be humanized, a former sister would factor in a big way, and that we would set it in Rapture.”


Split personality


“Splicers have an array of possible remarks based on their state. The only difference is that BioShock 2 has dozens of states for them to be in. So them being frozen, covered in bees, hypnotized, running to cover, deciding to flush a player out with a grenade or just fighting a protector – a Big Daddy relative to fighting a player – all of those things have very unique writing associated with them."


“The biggest ones are the hypnotized state’s unique content, which reveal a different aspect of the character. Every splicer is a duality. For example, the brute is a raging homophobe, foul-mouthed and despicable. But if you hypnotize him he hits on you, and he reveals that he got strong because he was afraid of being found out as homosexual in Rapture’s unforgiving socio-political climate."


“Hypnotize is my favourite plasmid, specifically because it unlocks this other side to characters.”



Mutton chops


“Originally, the Big Sister was a unique character who you fought as frequently as you do now, but couldn’t defeat. And back then Eleanor was the Big Sister. A couple of things irritated me about that: she was too far gone, your input wouldn’t lead to anything, she was too fragmented, and had already done too many terrible things for you to feel like you had done much."


“Another thing was that it felt like a bad twist in the sense that ‘Ooh, the Big Sister was your Little Sister,’ and that was never the intent. Dramatically it had to be that way, because it had to feel like she was the antagonist at first. So a combination of pressures led to that shift to multiple Big Sisters as enforcers and Eleanor taking up the mantle later."


“I’m definitely happier with how it turned out, but I’ve learned my lesson with telling too much early on. With any mystery game I work on in the future, I’m going to be super reticent with details.”


Daddy cool


“No amount of talking about prototypes, agility and being more of a guy in a suit from way back in the line is enough to disassociate ‘Big Daddy’ from ‘slow’ and ‘completely immortal’. Frankly if we had made a game around a traditional Big Daddy, it would’ve been fun for an hour before you realized you’re just going to be lumbering down a corridor and killing everything. There’s no challenge there."


“I feel that a lesson of BioShock 2 is that the associations people make with the character – ‘Will I be slow? Will I be immortal?’ – are going to be the subjective experience of anyone returning to play that character. Convincing them otherwise is a challenge which we could have dealt with elsewhere, but the story was so fundamental to that bond that it’s hard to see this particular game as any other form.”



Dual shock


“Introducing Rapture as a setting is daunting in comparison to most games. BioShock had a two-audience challenge: increasing the number of people that are interested in BioShock was a goal, and so we had to make sure this game would introduce you to Rapture, Ryan and some of the core concepts again."


“The fans coming back would be familiar with all that, and so the layering references and skewing the tutorial, giving a child’s eye view of Rapture with Ryan Amusements for example, became a goal, as we wanted to keep veterans interested while getting the huge payload of concepts delivered to them. ”



Referential treatment


“There’s a fair amount of stuff in the Big Daddy/Little Sister lore that overlapped with the first game, like references to guys like Suchong who were pivotal in their creation. But we focused on the player, like when Splicers debated what Jack did."


“Not everybody catches this because it’s in the telekinesis plasmid tutorial. There’s an argument going on between three splicers, one of whom says that Jack rescued a bunch of Little Sisters, went back to the surface and is a pansy. The second one believes he’s topside drinking high-balls. And then a third says, it doesn’t matter where he is – he’s gone."


Those are the three things that you need to know: splicers don’t know what Jack really did, they think he did different things, and that now he’s out of the picture it’s leaving a power gap. That sets the stage for what happens.”

Link: Gamesradar

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