It can't be easy to follow in the footsteps of Ken Levine. That sharp, manly beard, for example. I would.
With that said, 2K Marin's Jordan Thomas makes a good fist of it, and we'll be eternally impressed by his decision to rock up to this month's BioShock 2 hands-on event wearing a jacket inspired by The Prisoner. "I had to look like a splicer, you know? To the extent that I could. I don't actually have a straw boater than I can wield as of yet, but I'm going to hook that up for the next time."
A good move, since he's the creative director on the game the splicers call home, and the man we have to thank for new bad-woman Dr Sophia Lamb, the Big Sisters, and plenty more you can read about in today's in-depth hands-on preview. When we weren't playing the game, we were talking to Thomas about it, and here's what was said.
Eurogamer: BioShock 1 was you in the midst of this battle between a staunch ideologue in Ryan and the opportunistic looter in Frank Fontaine, and you only really came to appreciate you were a component of that battle at a particular point. Is that the kind of dynamic you want to replicate in BioShock 2?
Jordan Thomas: Well, our new villain, Dr Sophia Lamb, is a clinical psychiatrist and a staunch altruist. She believes we all owe our every effort over our own interests, and she has allowed that philosophy to turn her into a sort of monstrous dictator - specifically, in her mind, in the promotion of the greater good.
The player is an individual, the ultimate individual; he is a free Big Daddy, one of these armoured bodyguards from the first game that has for some reason had his mind broken loose of the conditioning, and that makes him a very powerful threat to her. And so she really is kind of the player's opposite in many ways, and she finds him very frustrating in that regard.
Beyond that, the story character who guides you through much of the story, Augustus Sinclair, is - while not necessarily as brutal as Fontaine, he never intended to take the city - he is self-interest incarnate. He is the kind of guy who will play absolutely any side against the middle. So there is ideological tension between all the major parties in the story of BioShock 2.
Eurogamer: It sounds like Sophia's the sort of character who would have made Ayn Rand's blood boil, so--
Jordan Thomas: --Oh ho, absolutely. Look, both Andrew Ryan and Ayn Rand left Russia specifically to get away from the kind of ideas Sophia Lamb bubbled right up out of, and so Andrew Ryan would be sick on his thousand-dollar loafers to see what's been done with Rapture.
Eurogamer: One of the things about the first game was that although it was in some senses an indictment of objectivism, it portrayed Ryan sympathetically as well. Is that the kind of treatment you give Sophia, or are you kind of with Ryan on this one?
Jordan Thomas: I have to tell you, I find sympathetic villains far more interesting as a writer and as a player, and so Sophia Lamb... I hope the player sees her point half the time. I think, you know, Rapture is the place where good ideas go bad, and you're supposed to start going, "You know, she's kinda right," and by the end be like, "Ah, ah lady, aaaaah, you did that in the name of the greater good? Ouch." And so my hope is that the player kind of decides where they fall on that continuum.
We don't... BioShock is a game that doesn't judge. We put you in a place of new moral context and say, "What do you think?" And so over the course of the game I hope the player realises he or she's being handed the reins of authorship.
Eurogamer: The first game was still kind of in the... although the city was in chaos, Ryan was still there, so there was still the sense of no contact with the outside world and all the rest of it. I wondered about what's actually going on in the outside world. In Atlas Shrugged, obviously, everybody went on strike and went to Galt's Gulch, and the world fell apart. Is that what you imagine is happening outside Rapture?
Jordan Thomas: Weeell [grins], so I'm not going to spoil what's going on outside Rapture, because it's involved with the story of the game, but I will say both Sophia Lamb and Andrew Ryan strongly believe that the world is ending up there.
Lamb was a missionary working to provide medial relief at Hiroshima, and everybody that she knew, basically, for the last two years, turned into shadows on the wall, so she came out and miraculously survived - this is based on a real historical incident, which I've added an additional party to - and she said, "This world is doomed. That was not the greater good, what they just did. They didn't account for the role of time." And so down she came to Rapture hoping to escape the madness of the surface.
Eurogamer: Why do the people we've seen today deify the Little Sister, Eleanor, the one that you're seeking?
Jordan Thomas: Hehehe. That I absolutely will not spoil! Suffice to say, [she's] the player's only real personal connection in the world of Rapture - after the fall, after 10 years have passed, he is a man out of time, he comes from Rapture's history - and 10 years later he's wondering, "What have they done to the place, and where has she gone?"
And so he's crossing the city to find her, and he finds out that her story is layered very heavily with the story of Rapture. Beyond that, I don't want to spoil for you, because that's basically the game.
Eurogamer: Okay, but one more thing on Eleanor. She must be in her, I guess, early teens now, or something like that... But obviously Jack had the kind of acceleration growth thing going on...
Jordan Thomas: Indeed he did.
Eurogamer: Actually, I don't even want to ask you about that. How are the splicers still alive? I mean, don't they need to eat or something?
Jordan Thomas: The splicers are scavenging from all over the place. A lot of the collectables the player will find are non-perishable, which the splicers have collected. Also, Sinclair, opportunist that he is, was sitting on a pretty hefty stockpile, and before Sophia Lamb took power his stockpile was distributed into the vending machines, and the splicers have been killing each other for half a sardine ever since.
Eurogamer: When we last came to see you it was "the Big Sister" and now it's "the Big Sisters". I assume there are quite a few of them around and about, but are they the only Little Sisters who have returned to Rapture?
Jordan Thomas: No. Well, "returned" yes, in the sense that the... There's still a story character who has much of the spirit of the Big Sister we were talking about, but because BioShock is a place where the sort of narrative and mechanical side have to skip down the Yellow-Brick Road arm in arm, we decided to take that character and sort of refract her into a bunch of different types of encounters.
So there's the Boogey Man that hunts you down when you take ADAM away from Rapture, and then there is a different character that has more history. And again, not to spoil, but it's part of the mystery of the game. As far as new Little Sisters though, those are being made as well, so you'll find Little Sisters wandering in Rapture who were not there at the conclusion of the first game.
Eurogamer: Where's Dr Tenenbaum in all this and has she been in Rapture the whole time?
Jordan Thomas: Dr Tenenbaum is a Rapture alumni who was living away from Rapture for most of the 10 years between the two games. Now, something has happened which involves the creation of the new Little Sisters, which has brought her down to Rapture. That is how her story becomes intertwined with that of the first successfully bonded Big Daddy that the player is.
Eurogamer: On another topic, there was a show in the UK recently called Gameswipe, about games but in quite an informed way, and there was a chap called Graham Linehan, who wrote Father Ted and Black Books and some other stuff--
Jordan Thomas: Yes!
Eurogamer: --And he was making the point that videogames as a storytelling medium are still infantile; that if you look at Vice City for example, it's a game that's made by somebody who's watched Scarface a million times, whereas there are only small pockets of people who seem to do proper research, like Left 4 Dead with the Spanish influenza and stuff like that. Do you think videogames are growing up as a storytelling medium?
Jordan Thomas: I think that it's a mistake to say that because something is of the id, that it is not deep. I think it's a bad thing to tell people, "You're infantile because you feature violence, or because you feature sex or whatever it is." A lot of fairly brilliant meta-commentary comes in the form of seemingly lowbrow material.
That said, I do think that gamers are growing up, and I do think that as they mature, their demand for deeper themes, possibly more downbeat material - stuff that doesn't have to blow up every five seconds - is starting to rise in tandem.
Games like BioShock, I like to believe, have something for everyone. There is a very visceral shooter here, but there's also what I hope is a kind of meta-theme that you don't necessarily have to be a gamer or a literature critic in order to appreciate; that it falls in that place where it kind of asks interesting questions of you, and maybe by the end you're thinking slightly differently than when you started. That's really what we aspire to.
Eurogamer: Since we last spoke, another thing that's happened on a broader level is we've had E3 and the announcement of these motion controllers. Do you think that's where they should be putting their focus? Is it a positive thing for gaming, and do you have any interest in working with things like Project Natal and the PS3 motion controller?
Jordan Thomas: Weeeeell, I like any possible medium in which mooning can become a meaningful play interaction. I will say this: human interface is a challenging sort of overhead for our medium. Obviously the player sits down and it's like a language they haven't really spoken before, and we're asking them to jump in and ask not just for shellfish, but for shellfish mixed with beer or whatever, right?
So the thing is that, these devices that you're talking about are at least an attempt to make the body the interface, and I think that's powerful, because it does offer the opportunity for my grandma to maybe play BioShock in adventure game mode or whatever in 2015. So my hope is that these things are the source of innovation mostly in terms of accessibility - that's what I'm most interested in.
Eurogamer: And you're not one of these people secretly beavering away on a PS3 motion controller patch for your game here?
Jordan Thomas: [Laughs] I can't talk about "secretly beavering away" on anything, but I will say this: with a game like BioShock, this is an immersive simulation, I come from that old nerdy school where the original shooter-meeting-RPG-action was spun together, and I love to see more people able to play that kind of game; to make those kind of choices. And if in the future these interface revolutions, let's say [laughs], give us the ability to allow maybe even non-gamers to enjoy that sense of freedom, I'm all for it.
Eurogamer: On another thing, there's that BioShock film that seems to be in limbo. Do you have any contact with the people working on that?
Jordan Thomas: Well, 2K obviously and Take Two at large have contact with them. Can't really talk about any details of it, because that lives up in legal land. That's something that we're still psyched... We'd love to see it happen, and that's as much as I can really say.
Eurogamer: And do you know what Ken Levine's working on? Perhaps you can just tell us.
Jordan Thomas: [Grins] Absolutely not commenting on anything other than BioShock 2 development. Although I'm sure it'll be awesome, whatever it is.
Eurogamer: Do you feel a kind of unique sort of pressure working on something like this, because it's a game that's unlike anything else that's out there, and it's the sequel to something you weren't the creative lead on?
Jordan Thomas: Well, I'll say this: having worked on the first BioShock and poured as much of myself into a small chunk of content, called Fort Frolic, as I possibly could, I was proud to be involved with that game, and I absolutely want to make sure it's treated well, and that's one of the reasons I'm out at 2K Marin.
As far as pressure, look, the sequel's got different goals to the original IP, and we absolutely want to make sure that people love it, and they see additional dimensionality that wasn't there in the first game that offers something fresh.
Beyond that, we're mostly just fans hoping that our vision is something that will bring both new players and old something they weren't expecting.
BioShock 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 9th February.