With BioShock 2’s release date imminent, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call including the game’s Creative Director Jordan Thomas, Lead Designer Zak McClendon, and Lead Environmental Artist Hogarth De La Plante – all members of 2K Marin, the studio built specifically for BioShock’s sequel. The developers discussed the challenges of making a sequel to 2007’s most beloved game, in addition to the inspirations and thought processes behind certain design decisions for the sequel.
In the Shadow of a Giant
“Everybody who joined [2K Marin] was an immense fan of the first game… There was a lot of reverence to it, which can lead to a lot of second-guessing and a lot of trying to please everyone,” said McClendon. The developers at 2K Marin had to find a balance in BioShock 2: They couldn’t simply follow in the footsteps of BioShock developer Irrational Games, nor could they rebel against it irresponsibly.
Jordan Thomas elaborated on maintaining BioShock’s influence. “The setting of Rapture will never be as new as it was in the first game. And I think trying to change that would have been folly on many levels.”
“BioShock has an extremely detailed mythos: The backstory is novel length… Adding new history into that canon was certainly a challenge, and it’s something that I took very seriously. The writing team in general had to become very familiar with the script of the first game so that we weren’t contradicting ourselves.”
To balance mythos with originality, the team decided on a central theme of family for BioShock 2 – an exploration of the perverted father-daughter relationship between Big Daddies and Little Sisters. Players experience the game through Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy successfully bonded to a Little Sister. “He’s really out in search of his original Little Sister, so he has a much more personal stake… [in] Rapture itself.”
Jesus or Hitler?
While maintaining perhaps the most iconic representation of BioShock, exploring the father-daughter relationship as a Big Daddy also offered 2K Marin a number of opportunities in the development of moral choices. The developers specifically acknowledged BioShock’s choice to harvest or save Little Sisters as lacking depth. Maintaining that same binary gameplay for a Big Daddy “would undermine the value of a moral choice,” Thomas stated. “You are still called upon to make those choices but you are not forced to mistreat [Little Sisters].”
Zak McClendon elaborated, “We tried to make our choices around the Little Sister a little bit more grey. It’s both harder to be good and more rewarding to be really truly evil.” Adopting and eventually harvesting Little Sisters in BioShock 2 provides players with a great deal of ADAM as in the first game. However, unlike the original, saving Little Sisters in BioShock 2 leaves players starved for ADAM – there exists no benefactor to reward a player’s kind nature. “But there’s a middle ground and if you are the kind of player who really wants to work for it and gather ADAM from bodies and save Little Sisters, you can keep pace with the selfish player… but you’re going to be doing a whole lot more work for it.”
“We’re hoping that gameplay choice is actually a little bit more reflective of the choices that go on in your head when you’re trying to deal with complex moral situations.”