Keen readers will know we're more than a little enthused by Irrational's BioShock Infinite. We were enthused when we saw its world premiere in New York last month. We were enthused when we sat down with Irrational head honcho Ken Levine to chat about the game. And we were enthused when we were shown a live gameplay demo behind closed doors at German expo gamescom.
Now, we're enthused again. But this time it's with BioShock Infinite lead artist Shaun Robertson. Here delve deeper into Irrational's dystopian city in the sky.
Eurogamer: Can you tell us about the powers the main player has? How is it this normal human being has these magical powers?
Shaun Robertson: We don't want to go too deep into the weapons and powers at this time. We'll definitely have more of that to reveal in the future. I will go as far as to say there will be a much wider variety of weapons and powers available to the player.
Also, as you saw in the demo, the combination of your powers along with Elizabeth, who's basically like an alley-oop for you, she'll set things up that you can either choose to take or not to take to help to solve certain problems within the game.
Eurogamer: So you can simply ignore what she's doing? Is there a button to press to accept her help?
Shaun Robertson: It's not a quick time moment where you just hit X and something happens. For instance, in the demo, when she creates the molten ball of metal with the pots and pans, if you wanted to kill those guys behind cover with your gun, you can just ignore her, walk around the boxes and start laying into them with the weapons you have at hand.
If you do decide to use the tool she's given you, you use it like a plasmid. You hit the trigger, you pick it up, you aim it and then you throw it. It's not just a hit a button and everything's done for you. There's still an amount of skill.
Eurogamer: Telekinesis looks important once again. Why is that such a great power for you guys?
Shaun Robertson: The demo did focus a lot on the TK power, but, without going into too much detail, just because we haven't shown something doesn't mean it's not going to be just as important an element at a later demo or in a later thing we're going to show.
Eurogamer: What is the power you'll use the most?
Shaun Robertson: Honestly, if we do our job right there will be a different answer for everybody.
Eurogamer: One of the criticisms of BioShock was you could play it a certain way and be very successful. I used the wrench almost exclusively. Is that something you're keen to address?
Shaun Robertson: You look at BioShock, small corridors, small groups of enemies, there are not a lot of problems that electro bolt and shotgun couldn't solve in that situation.
We want to provide a wider variety of tools and a reason to use those tools in BioShock Infinite. There's a saying that if you have a hammer then every problem looks like a nail. We want to provide you with a hammer and a saw and a measuring tape and a pencil, things that will let you be more creative with how you solve those problems.
Eurogamer: Why are the enemies motivated to kill you?
Shaun Robertson: In the demo when you enter the bar, people pretty much ignore you. They don't immediately grab their weapons and start attacking you, which would be the case in BioShock 1. Any time you saw a human they were just going to come right at you and attack you.
We want to create more moments in BioShock Infinite where you've time to soak in what's going on with the people. And there will be a lot more people in BioShock Infinite than there were in BioShock.
In the demo the bartender's the one that gets mad at you and tells you to leave. His reaction to you and your killing him with the shotgun is what wakes those people up and sets them off after you. But in another playthrough you could walk into the bar and then just walk out.
Eurogamer: What about the guys who came to the aid of the guy who was preaching? Are they humans or monsters?
Shaun Robertson: There's going to be a lot of character variety in BioShock Infinite, in the same way that we try to tell stories with the environment. As you're walking through the city and you soak it in and you take the time to explore you're going to be told a story. We're going to try that also with these characters.
We really want that tension of you're not quite sure if he's going to attack you or not. It adds another element of suspense and uneasiness to the game.
Eurogamer: The game looks gorgeous, a significant step up from BioShock. What work have you done to improve the visual quality of the game?
Shaun Robertson: First off, it's a brand new engine. It's based off of Unreal Engine 3. We have an amazing tech team. They wrote a whole new rendering engine for us, a whole new lighting system. The floating world technology. I don't know if you noticed, as you're standing at the gazebo, before you start sniping the guy the whole world's whirling around and undulating. That was a good piece of tech we put in.
From the get go we wanted to make the player feel like they were in the sky. We couldn't just put puddles of water around to make them feel like that. It was a different problem to solve than BioShock 1.
Once we knew we had to go really big with this, then problems became apparent. Our tech team stepped up and gave us all these tools. From an art standpoint, we really went at this full board. It provides a huge blank canvas for artists to experiment with.
Even early on we were experimenting more with art-nouveau than the Americana stuff you see. We got to a point where we were basically just building Rapture in the sky. It was still dark. It was still claustrophobic because we had the clouds really set in.
We took a step back and looked and said, you can't just do this again. We have to think about what we want to save and what we want to throw out from BioShock.
We ended up throwing everything out and starting from scratch. Again, artists love a blank canvas. It really gives us an opportunity to build that up and create a new vision.
Eurogamer: It seems like a dramatic departure. I wonder why it even has BioShock in the title.
Shaun Robertson: BioShock to us has always been more than the city of Rapture. When we sat down and we were thinking about what is BioShock? Is it Rapture? No-one felt BioShock was Rapture. BioShock is more than that. Then what is it?
Our core values for BioShock are making a fantastic place that's immersive, the player wants to visit and wants to be in and wants to explore, and take their time to explore. Even if there's no AIs and there's no external story, you would still understand elements of that city and why it was there because the environment is rich enough that you could pull a story from it at your own pace.
The other element is providing the player with a wide enough variety of tools and problems that they can use their imagination and the tool set in how they want solve these problems.
Eurogamer: That explains the BioShock part. What about the Infinite part?
Shaun Robertson: We couldn't call this BioShock 3 because it doesn't have anything... Or does it? Anything to do with 1 and 2. Like I said, BioShock is bigger than Rapture. Calling it 3 would just imply it's either a straight-up sequel or prequel to BioShock 1 and 2, which it's not.
We will reveal more in the future about the actual relationship, if there is one, between the other BioShocks. It's one of those things where ultimately the idea of BioShock transcends Rapture.
Eurogamer: Infinite to me suggests never-ending or a huge world. Columbia seems like a massive place. Is it a sandbox?
Shaun Robertson: A true open world and sandbox to me would be GTA or Red Dead Redemption. We don't create worlds that immense.
If you look at the exploration you have in BioShock 1, there's a definite story and progression, but there's room for exploration and proceeding at your own pace. BioShock Infinite will be along those lines.
Eurogamer: A similar structure?
Shaun Robertson: Yes. There will be plenty of time for exploration. We don't show that in the demo because it's not exciting to watch someone hit X to eat potato chips out of a dead body. But that's what Irrational does so well, is the exploration and telling and telling a story in an environment.
Eurogamer: How will the player transition from level to level?
Shaun Robertson: The skylines for us are a huge mode of transport. Not only will they be a dynamic action that we're trying to show in the demo, it's not just a get on, get off. If you saw in the demo, all the different skylines above and below you, those are all viable places you could have jumped to and gone somewhere else.
There is one mode of transportation. There is plenty of other modes of transportation we can provide, but they will mostly come round from what the story dictates.
Eurogamer: Once you progress the story will you be able to return to places you've already been, or will they be shut off from you?
Shaun Robertson: That's going to depend on the story. There are certain things you've done that make certain areas impassable. That's not an answer that has a yes or no. The story is going to dictate that.
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Eurogamer: Things happened during the demo that suggest to me that the game will be more set-piece driven that BioShock. Will it be?
Shaun Robertson: No. It's definitely not going to be one giant action sequence. Our purpose was to introduce people to the world of Columbia, to Elizabeth and to Booker DeWitt. Yeah, there are some demo-ey things in there that help progress the action.
When we're looking at what BioShock Infinite will ship as, it'll be much more, as far as pacing goes, like BioShock 1. It's very important to us that the player has time to explore. For those who enjoy being the environment, they can explore and take as long as they want. For those who just want to blow through it and get the story done, well they can avoid all the exploration areas and just plough through the story as quick as they can.
It will be a game that'll definitely have a couple of set-pieces, but it's not going to be watching a movie and going from big moment to big moment to big moment.
Eurogamer: Are you taking an approach to BioShock that's similar to the one Square Enix takes with Final Fantasy, where there are sequels that share game mechanics and philosophies but are set in different universes with different characters?
Shaun Robertson: I don't want simplify it too much by saying we're doing what Final Fantasy does. For the sharp mind, there are a couple of hints in the demo that inform you better as to the relationship of Columbia to Rapture.
But honestly, I hate to admit that I haven't played any of the Final Fantasy stuff.
Eurogamer: None of them?
Shaun Robertson: No.
Eurogamer: Not even VII?
Shaun Robertson: Plenty of people on our crew will make fun of me for that.
Eurogamer: Basically, all the Final Fantasies are the same. They've just got different characters.
Shaun Robertson: That was one of the discussions a lot of the Final Fantasy fans were having about BioShock Infinite. For us it's not that simple.
BioShock Infinite is due out on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2012.