Melissa Miller: And that's not to say we were able to take the BioShock single-player and go like, "hey, now there's a bunch of you". There was definitely refinements that we had to make, and changes to the mechanics that were just an absolute necessity for the multiplayer. One of the first of things is the pacing of a multiplayer map - it's so much faster than a single-player map. In single-player, you can see how many choices I have. I have the chance to pause and say, "hmm, what should I use?" Well you don't have that in multiplayer - it's just not going to make a good experience. So we limit you to equipping two plasmids, two weapons and three gene tonics - so if you hit the bumper you're immediately onto your second weapon or plasmid.
But because BioShock is all about choices, that's just one loadout - and you can have up to three loadouts going into a match. So if I'm in a match and I'm playing Survival Of The Fittest and I'm not doing so well, maybe it's my loadout - so I can shift tactics when I'm killed and during the respawn I can choose a different loadout and see if that will help me. So we are trying to keep that choice alive and well in multiplayer.
Eurogamer: You're a designer who's specialised previously in scary dark places. Whereas a lot of people have looked at BioShock 1 and complained, "oh, it's just more dark FPS corridors", for you is that more of an opportunity than a limitation - a chance to hone those tricks of terror and atmosphere you're known for?
Jordan Thomas: That's a really good question, and one that I've been contemplating lately. I actually see BioShock as an opportunity for me to branch out from traditional horror. And the reason for that is that I see it more as a tragedy. We've made a number of choices as designers for BioShock that you are so empowered as an agent in this world that physical vulnerability, which I've exploited in prior games, is not one of the chief attributes of this series at all. You are still fighting overwhelming odds, you are still in a deeply atmospheric place and you have limited information, and those are my tools here.
But it's kind of more of a psychological warfare. My intent this time around is to inspire moral terror. Because you have free will, and because you are so central. My hope is that you become aware of that, and are creeped out by it rather than [adopts Mickey Mouse voice] "Oh God, they're going to jump on me" scares and so forth.
There are still long, spooky sections of BioShock 2, which we have deliberately engineered as pace-breakers, but I don't think they're the focus of the game in the same way as something like Condemned or Silent Hill. It is more of a kind of parable, which you decide the meaning of. And my goal in the second game has been only to augment that sense of tragedy, but also to move you to high action and adrenaline back to speculative sections that are purely about atmosphere.
Eurogamer: Is there a risk that the mention of moral dilemmas means people start thinking about BioWare games and the like - but those aren't the kind of choices and depth of choice that's really possible in an FPS?
Jordan Thomas: It's not a risk - it happens. It's a fact! If you mention moral dilemmas, that's where they go. I guess we had to drawn our line for this particular brand differently. Because this is a first-person shooter, and because seldom does a shooter that puts this much effort into the visuals and into the moments of high systemic drama also try to deliver on any of your possible narrative choices.
There's a strong internal conflict between all of those things, and it's hard to get all of them right. So, for BioShock 2 I've had to choose the number of variables that I think we can meaningfully and interestingly support. So when you make those choices, the pay-off is spectacular enough that you notice that it's there. As opposed to something like Fable or any of the BioWare games - of which I'm a huge fan - but there's so many variables in question that the results can often be so gentle that you don't necessarily perceive the change.
This game is about coming from the philosophy of 2K Boston and even before that, about discrete results as following from meaningful and strongly differentiated choices. It's just a less noisy system deliberately - and that's because I hope that you actually notice the change to the story this time.
BioShock 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 9th February 2010.