Looking at places to live in games, it would be easy for the most magnificent, pompous and elegant palaces and castles to dominate any appreciation. But there is plenty of room to appreciate those residences that are tucked away, perhaps underrated, that are not major hubs or destinations and that are only subtle intrusions. Some draw a curious sense of attachment from players, eliciting a sense of pseudo-topophilia - a close relationship with a virtual land or place. The resulting effect is sometimes enough to cause the sentiment: if this place were real, I would live there.
Editor's note: Jordan Erica Webber is co-author with Eurogamer contributor Daniel Griliopoulos of the weighty tome Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us: (about life, philosophy and everything), out this month. We've asked her to write a few thoughts on video games as works of philosophy. Beware: there are spoilers for Soma, the Mass Effect and Fallout series ahead.
BioShock creator Ken Levine took the stage at EGX Rezzed in London today for a look back over his career so far, in a conversation with Eurogamer's Oli Welsh.
It's a peculiar sensation, looking back at another version of yourself and thinking "really?". BioShock Infinite was one of the very first games I covered professionally. I recall enjoying it at the time, but haven't thought about it much since that initial playthrough due to the tsunami of games that have demanded my attention since. Yet as I am about to take an extended break from both gaming and writing in anticipation of the birth of my daughter, I felt a strong urge to revisit this particular landmark in my life, as a form of taking stock, I guess.
Sega is cutting cheques for consumers who felt Aliens: Colonial Marines was wildly different to the marketing videos used to promote it, but while that particular battle is over, the war of words between the publisher and Gearbox Software, which developed the game, certainly isn't. This week brings fresh squabbling to light. The respective parties presumably wish they could just dust off and nuke the whole sorry episode from orbit.
Warning: This article includes detailed ending spoilers for BioShock Infinite and Burial at Sea Episode 1.
Andrew Ryan chose to build the impossible, but it was Ken Levine who decided to rebuild it. He chose Rapture. Again. A city where the artist would not fear the polygon count; where the programmer would not be bound by primitive Unreal shaders, Where great ambition would not be constrained by the limited expectations of DLC! With the sweat of Irrational's brow, Rapture is reborn as it was always meant to be - an objectivist utopia without equal, with a little film noir spice sprinkled on the top for good measure.
In the BioShock multiverse, there's always a lighthouse, there's always a man, and there's always a city. In the world of film noir detectives, the constants are somewhat simpler. There's always a dame. There's always a case. The only variable is how much trouble both will inevitably turn out to be - and in the underwater city of Rapture, you don't need to be a professional s**t-magnet like Booker deWitt to find plenty of that.
Playing Burial At Sea was a strange experience for me, not least because in theory it's the BioShock Noir that I've longed to see since wandering into the PI's office in BioShock 2 - its original trailer feeling less like something Irrational had made than something I'd inadvertently yanked through a dimensional tear. Sure, in my head, it wasn't Elizabeth smokily asking for a light and Booker gracing her cigarette with a plasmid-fuelled burst of flame from his thumb. Everything else though was terrifyingly close, down to tiny details. My ringtone has long been the main theme from the movie This Gun For Hire. Of all the classic noir posters Irrational could have chosen to homage for Burial At Sea, guess which it picked. Creepy.
In practice though, having played through the whole thing from start to finish, it wasn't what I expected - and I suspect that's going to be a common reaction. If not necessarily for the same reason. To answer the basic questions without any spoilers though, yes, while the DLC is set in Rapture, it's absolutely a piece of BioShock Infinite content, yes, it is 'our' Elizabeth rocking the femme fatale look, and yes, this is Rapture Prime rather than an Elseworld. At least, it's meant to be. In an odd but easily ignored time-saver, it does opt to use Infinite's vigors/gear rather than the original game's plasmids/tonics, offering a handwave involving Suchong stealing Fink's research and the city then deciding to go back to injections, and there's a deeply misjudged attempt to retcon in skylines that are then barely even used. For all intents and purposes though, we're indeed returning to the same utopia doomed to become Jack and Delta's ruined playground.
If you ever wondered whether Irrational Games could do anything BioShock-related without throwing in a twist, I've got news for you: they can't. On Monday afternoon I went to a press event in Boston expecting to see a preview version of the first BioShock Infinite DLC pack. Instead I was told the DLC, called Clash in the Clouds, was finished and due out a day later. I got to play through the entire thing. It's pretty good, making more fun out of Infinite's varied combat.
SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this piece until you've finished playing BioShock Infinite.
WARNING: One more time, this ending analysis of BioShock Infinite discusses the game's ending.
SPOILER WARNING IN CAPITAL LETTERS: Do not read this until you have finished BioShock Infinite. Seriously. This is not a drill. I discuss the ending.
Shawn Robertson, the animation director of BioShock Infinite, is trying to remember something. "I'll double-check but I believe we have the ability to turn off the floating buildings, and that's so that people don't get seasick." Sorry, what? "Yeah, we've had a couple of people in the company who have. Don't forget this is a really big aesthetic thing - making you feel like you are in the sky - and when things float they don't stay in lockstep with each other, there's always this slightly undulating movement." In other words, welcome to the heavens - and watch out below.
Every generalisation has its limits, but this one I'm going to risk: big-budget FPS games have terrible stories. One of the honourable exceptions is the work of Irrational Games, with a legacy that stretches back over a decade to 1999's System Shock 2. The twist in 2007's BioShock still, for my money, stands as the greatest 'wow' moment a shooter has pulled, and its combination (conspiracy?) of player mechanics as part of that narrative climax is - regardless of what comes afterwards - simply brilliant. So BioShock Infinite's story has a lot to live up to, even if it is in capable hands: Ken Levine, writer/creative director, alongside Irrational's in-house writer Drew Holmes.
Every so often, we reach back into the Eurogamer archive for a feature you may have missed or might enjoy again. This weekend, following the news of Irrational Games winding down, we rewind to early last year when Rich Stanton profiled BioShock's Big Daddy, Ken Levine.
With 2012 already a smudged headline on yesterday's newspaper, it's time to get excited, all over again, for the next twelve months and the incredible games they are sure to bring. There are some amazing-looking games due out this year, including Grand Theft Auto 5, BioShock Infinite, Beyond, The Last of Us and more. And with the next-generation of consoles set to explode onto the scene, proper brand new games are surely not far behind. Hopefully.
It's not common for a triple-A game to go a year and a half without appearing at a trade show or releasing any new information, but that's what BioShock Infinite has just done. After a stellar showing last spring, Irrational went dark on its highly anticipated spiritual successor to one of this generation's most acclaimed new properties. Some high-level staff left, others were recruited onto the project, and the game's now being pushed back an additional four weeks. Creative lead Ken Levine has even said that the studio was exploring multiplayer possibilities before ultimately deciding to focus all its efforts towards single-player, which may have contributed to the continued hold-up and lack of communication.
Irrational's quietness has bred suspicion, but speaking to Levine at this week's BioShock Infinite hands-on event in LA, he claims the silence was down to something else.
"The reason there's little news about the game is because we really felt we showed what the game was at E3 last year," he says. "It was very, very representative of what our vision for the game was. We didn't see a point in constantly going out and sort of beating the same drum, because what were we going to say at that point, besides, 'Here, play it'? I didn't want to go into weapon types and here's this and here's that."
It says something about modern games that BioShock Infinite has been able to make headlines by adding a special "1999 Mode" where your in-game decisions will actually matter. If you've yet to hear about it, you can read our full run-down here, but in summary, it's a special difficulty mode where you'll be forced to make and live with your in-game choices. Where normally you'll be able to jack-of-all-trades your way through most situations, here - supposedly - everything will be a trade-off.
I've spent a lot of time trying to picture what the newly unveiled 1999 mode means for BioShock Infinite, but I keep coming back to a scene from an old movie. It's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - which doesn't really have very much to do with Pinkerton agents, American exceptionalism, or floating cities in the sky - and the scene comes right at the end, just before the closing credits.
Tom's already offered you a rundown of this year's Actual New Games - the ones that are offering, in their own ways, something unique - and now here's the slightly less glamorous look at the other side of the coin.
They're big business, these blockbuster sequels, and for all that we lament the lack of innovation it's these big-budget series that inevitably garner the most attention and inspire the most devotion from the majority. That's nothing to be scorned - iteration's an important thing in games development and indeed the development of games - and a composite of evolved features designed to fulfil a particular desire, be that the needs of a sports fan or those wanting a fresh shooter fix, can be just as important to the progression of the medium as the advent of a new game mechanic or control concept.
Sequels take many forms and capture our attention for many reasons. Some build their features up year by year, like FIFA and Call of Duty, and will continue to be brilliant when we encounter them later in 2012. Others build on the storytelling or world-building of games a few years past, like Gearbox's brilliant-looking Borderlands 2 or the sure-to-be-spectacular finale to the Shepard's tale in Mass Effect 3. And some are interesting because of their circumstances - Halo 4, for example, is another big-budget sequel on the near horizon, and with a new and as-yet unproven developer filling Bungie's big boots, we're just interested in that out of morbid curiosity as devotion to the series.
Surely there are few groups with a greater willingness to suspend their disbelief than the people who play video games. Whether we're pretending to be commandos in follow-the-leader first-person firework displays like Call of Duty or a petal floating on the wind in a game like Flower, we're always on the front lines of make-believe.
It began, as ever, with a leak. With just hours to go until Microsoft's absurdly lavish... Wait a second, this is last year's intro. Oh well, it turns out it still works: where last year we heard about Kinect before we'd even donned our space ponchos, this year we knew about Halo 4 and several new Kinect sequels before Don Mattrick even had a chance to start educating us about "growth and innovation".
I can't think of BioShock without thinking of Walt Disney. Aside from Andrew Ryan sporting the same haircut and moustache as the famous animator, both were perfectionist visionaries who would do whatever it took to create their own paradise. One built an underwater city, while the other was in the process of doing the same in a Florida swamp before he died. Disney may not have lived to see his dream come to fruition, but he at least left behind a hell of an amusement park, whereas Andrew Ryan's legacy was a rotting tomb at the bottom of the sea.
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.
Whether or not you think of BioShock Infinite as the true sequel to BioShock probably depends on your definition of the word sequel. We've already had a numerical and chronological successor set in the drowned world of Rapture, of course, echoing its pressured, clanking undersea horror and iconic art deco imagery.
It's a sultry August night in New York and Ken Levine, president and creative director of Irrational Games, writer and designer of Thief and System Shock 2, creator of BioShock, has just revealed his next game to the press for the first time. BioShock Infinite, which you can read about in detail in our preview, inverts the original's claustrophobic, art deco undersea horror to create a bright, brutal satire on early 1900s America aboard Columbia, a city in the clouds.