Bioshock Infinite Choices

It seems us plebes will get to see the full E3 demo of Bioshock Infinite, which is being released as part of a promotional program hosted by the game's lead designers. 
 
My impression so far of the game is that I love the art and character design, and the time period crossed with freakish transhumanism is certainly compelling. The skylines thing, while it looks exhilarating, also stretches my disbelief more than shooting crows at people. I imagine the dude's arm just tearing off if he falls from too high a height. And while it's easy to be cynical and say that it's either too different to hold the Bioshock name, or perhaps too similar not be a bit redundant, I have a tendency to just be impressed. Even if they didn't use the guy who voiced Garrett in the longer demo I saw, I'm still interested in learning more.
 
I find it a bit grating that your options actually pop up on screen, but I guess they wanted all the choices to be clear and immediate, making it more about deciding than figuring out what's possible. Not the way I'd prefer, but it's not like this is necessarily new, given the prior binary mechanic with Little Sisters. The choices, too, seem like they'll be a bit more nuanced, and it appears that they'll go beyond manipulating tears and picking upgrades out of a bucket, given that you can actually encounter factions doing their dirty work and decide how you'll interact with them. IF these choices compound into a bunch of interesting threads, it'll be pretty awesome, but the reasonable part of me knows that they have to keep the game's variables from going out of control, so as far as affecting the environment or storyline in adverse ways with lasting consequences, I have to wonder to what extent that will be possible in a game with this much production behind it.
 
It's good to see, or rather hear, that their sound design is still quite compelling. They spend just as much time working on the clicks and buzzes that make pushing buttons as appealing as slot machine designers imagine they do (in some idealized, alternate universe non-sadzombie casino.  Man, the real places are depressing). But the stuff that really makes my eyes widen are the crazy-ass monster sounds they put in there. There's something like the distilled fear of god in the bowels of those horrible groans.
 
I have to remind myself it's still a shooter, and in order for it to be a compelling shooter it'll likely have stuff that will make it feel a bit more like a shooting gallery and a bit less about exploration and choice, just to keep the action from getting stale. It looks like it'll be a balancing act.
 
An aside; when watching the demo for this game I imagined, in that idealized world where we don't know how a real game will play, I wondered how many people I could get away with NOT killing through the course of the game, and if that would even matter. Maybe Garrett's voice inspired me? I dunno.  By contrast, another combat-oriented game I watched just made me imagine all the cool ways I could take people down. When you emphasize choice in your game, it seems to beg for you to add more choices to the list. I'll be curious to see just how many choices in Bioshock Infinite are valid.
 
As always, I'm interested in hearing how other people's impressions of the previews mesh with their expectations, if any.

6 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

It seems us plebes will get to see the full E3 demo of Bioshock Infinite, which is being released as part of a promotional program hosted by the game's lead designers. 
 
My impression so far of the game is that I love the art and character design, and the time period crossed with freakish transhumanism is certainly compelling. The skylines thing, while it looks exhilarating, also stretches my disbelief more than shooting crows at people. I imagine the dude's arm just tearing off if he falls from too high a height. And while it's easy to be cynical and say that it's either too different to hold the Bioshock name, or perhaps too similar not be a bit redundant, I have a tendency to just be impressed. Even if they didn't use the guy who voiced Garrett in the longer demo I saw, I'm still interested in learning more.
 
I find it a bit grating that your options actually pop up on screen, but I guess they wanted all the choices to be clear and immediate, making it more about deciding than figuring out what's possible. Not the way I'd prefer, but it's not like this is necessarily new, given the prior binary mechanic with Little Sisters. The choices, too, seem like they'll be a bit more nuanced, and it appears that they'll go beyond manipulating tears and picking upgrades out of a bucket, given that you can actually encounter factions doing their dirty work and decide how you'll interact with them. IF these choices compound into a bunch of interesting threads, it'll be pretty awesome, but the reasonable part of me knows that they have to keep the game's variables from going out of control, so as far as affecting the environment or storyline in adverse ways with lasting consequences, I have to wonder to what extent that will be possible in a game with this much production behind it.
 
It's good to see, or rather hear, that their sound design is still quite compelling. They spend just as much time working on the clicks and buzzes that make pushing buttons as appealing as slot machine designers imagine they do (in some idealized, alternate universe non-sadzombie casino.  Man, the real places are depressing). But the stuff that really makes my eyes widen are the crazy-ass monster sounds they put in there. There's something like the distilled fear of god in the bowels of those horrible groans.
 
I have to remind myself it's still a shooter, and in order for it to be a compelling shooter it'll likely have stuff that will make it feel a bit more like a shooting gallery and a bit less about exploration and choice, just to keep the action from getting stale. It looks like it'll be a balancing act.
 
An aside; when watching the demo for this game I imagined, in that idealized world where we don't know how a real game will play, I wondered how many people I could get away with NOT killing through the course of the game, and if that would even matter. Maybe Garrett's voice inspired me? I dunno.  By contrast, another combat-oriented game I watched just made me imagine all the cool ways I could take people down. When you emphasize choice in your game, it seems to beg for you to add more choices to the list. I'll be curious to see just how many choices in Bioshock Infinite are valid.
 
As always, I'm interested in hearing how other people's impressions of the previews mesh with their expectations, if any.

Posted by Gamer_152

Narrative choices are a very difficult area for games and I can't say I'm convinced that Irrational well get it completely right in Infinite but I'm glad they're having a stab at that. Regardless of how the choice system turns out though Infinite looks like an amazing game. The press seem blown away by it and from everything they've said it sounds like Irrational could have something phenomenal here.

Moderator
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Gamer_152: It's certainly pretty and ambitious, and I like what they're doing with your companion character. She's no slouch, and has a cool personality. I think that may actually be where the game will live or die, at least for me. They've set the bar high enough that I'm sort of hoping for good interaction between the pair the whole way through. Despite all the dark undertones, the game has a very pulp, larger-than-life adventure feel to it, which is really refreshing.
Posted by Mento

I assume with the faction decisions, helping one over the other will simply award you invisible points which will accumulate as you go on and pay off towards the end game. Certain sequences where you save someone's life though, that might have deeper repercussions if that person is involved in scenes later on. People deride invisible score systems for narrative decisions, but it comes in handy when there's too many instances to properly branch out.
 
Besides that, I'm kind of doing my usual anti-hype thing of avoiding any press about the game. The next piece of media related to Bioshock Infinite that I'm interested in seeing will be the QL. Until then I've got games still in their cellophane and full of unlimited potential that I need to play and be disappointed about.

Moderator
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Mento: heh. Do people deride invisible points? I think that sort of thing can be great, because it removes the player from having to gather obvious points manually like so many daisies and just focus on the larger experience.
Posted by RagingLion
Just watched the full demo - quite something.  Apart from the amazing amount of freedom that there seems to be, one of the most significant things to me seems to be creating a brilliantly realised world where various plots are taking place and characters are  living out there lives independently of your own.  That there's a real choice to be made about interacting in situations or letting play out by themselves is pretty thrilling and people aren't just going to shoot you on sight necessarily.
 
I presume you read the RPS interview with Ken Levine from yesterday.  I'm loving the notion of "semi-scripted, semi- emergent gameplay" which they're trying to achieve with Bioshock:Infinite.  I really believe thats the way forward for games and what will enable me to enjoy games the most personally.
 
"There's something like the distilled fear of god in the bowels of those horrible groans. "  In perhaps the first preview of B:I I read they said that there aim was to evoke tension and fear in the player without having to cling to the crutch of having really dark environments.  They wanted to create those feelings in broad daylight.  I think the sound design that you refer to here is symptomatic of them going after that aim and largely achieving it.
 
@ahoodedfigure said:
@Mento: heh. Do people deride invisible points? I think that sort of thing can be great, because it removes the player from having to gather obvious points manually like so many daisies and just focus on the larger experience.
I was thinking exactly the same.   In my thinking about how to make player choice matter and feel real I'm in a place where I think invisible points are a great system to use.  Such points can just be models of what the designer feels the implications of decisions will be and keeping tally (or using a more complex model) in this way allow proper consequences to be realised elsewhere.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@RagingLion said: (lots)
 
What I'm wondering after watching it myself is just how much freedom these miniature playgrounds will actually have. In order to keep the game from chugging, are they going to have self-contained zones with inaccessible buildings representing the other zones off in the distance? Not a big deal to me, but since it's a lot more OPEN than Bioshock I or II, they have less tricks to minimize processor burden.
 
The dynamic semi-scripted idea isn't necessarily new, but it's invigorating to see. It also feels like a bit of a sacrifice on the part of the individual game makers, as they will know going in that what they do may not be seen by the player, like when someone designs entire levels that only advanced or lucky players will ever see. There is a craft to games that goes beyond what we get in more analog formats, like a detailed poster folded into the shape of a crane, we don't see all of the picture unless we pick it apart.
 
One issue with invisible points might be that, since the points are still acknowledged to exist, the player knows he or she is still being rated and that will affect behavior. It may be a step beyond, at least in a scripted, narrative style game, to simply have ACTUAL consequences for actual choices, and then have the game architecture and the player's imagination interweave them. If you assume that, you will act more according to a story-result mentality which could then be served through a hidden points system.
 
Another problem, though, is where the player feels that he or she has done enough to bring about a change in the environment, but the system says coldly that they haven't achieved enough points, either directly or through events. This may feel artificially restrictive unless the designers make graduated differences in the world rather than stark differences, and it might also help to see these results throughout gameplay, not just at the end.