Hey! Hey Guys. Bioshock, You Guys.

Bioshock had been my video game equivalent of War and Peace: one of those books you were supposed to read – one of the important books – one that I frequently started but never got around to finishing. I finally did finish it yesterday, though, and in typical MarkWahlbergian fashion I want to talk about it with you fine folks. If that’s ok.

Hi, mom!

Although I’d never gotten very far into the game, I’d had the Big Reveal spoiled in part for me several years ago (possibly by the Bombcast crew, I can’t remember exactly). I knew about ‘Would You Kindly’, but I didn’t know much else, and so I found myself paying more attention to the other details around it, such as the fact that you were playing as a rapidly aged 2 year-old whose father was an Objectivist genius businessman and whose mother was a stripper (add that to the list of sentences I’d never thought I’d write). That seemed much crazier than what I had expected, which was a KOTOR style ‘you are Fontaine’ sorta deal, with Atlas actually just Ryan trying to fuck with you or something.

The other result of not being shocked by the twist was that I think the flaws in the rest of the story stood out more. The twist certainly is what got everyone’s attention when the game was released, but when you look at the actual story, there isn’t a whole lot else to it. Most of it is actually just atmosphere, with audiotapes fleshing out the details of the places you encounter. The things that I was most curious about – how exactly did they go about building Rapture, how did they choose who to let into the city – were never clearly explained, and that’s understandable. The focus of the game was on how Rapture fell, and when you’re creating atmosphere, it’s just as important to know what to leave unsaid, as it is to know what to tell the audience. What Bioshock does very well is to show us the broad arc of the downfall of the city through the personal stories of individual people, which makes us more invested in what happens. We want to find out Bill McDonagh’s fate just as much as we want (at first) to help Atlas reunite with his family. So it is very strange that the ultimate villain, Fontaine, is barely explained at all as a character. For most of the game, he is a boogeyman lurking at the corners of everything, eventually starting an all-out war with Ryan over control of Rapture. Fontaine’s essential nature is repeatedly described as a criminal one; he even goes so far as to call his entire effort as a ‘long con’. But we never really know what he wants. If he is at heart a con man, then why does he try to take over the city? The whole point of a con is to take what you can and run the hell away, preferably without the mark ever knowing he’s been conned. And if he is only trying to use the city for personal gain, why does he turn himself into a roided-up freak at the end? That might put him on top of the pyramid in Rapture – which won’t count for much since he already destroyed it – but he’ll have a hard time of it above water. Ryan is memorable because he is a tragic figure; his greatest achievement was what ultimately destroyed him. Fontaine is just a power hungry douche bag with no clear motivation for bringing an entire society to its knees. If we knew more about why he came to Rapture (how did Ryan even decide to let him in?), I feel like even just that little bit of back-story would have made the whole story so much clearer.

Uh, Mr. Fontaine? Frank? What the fuck. What the fuck are you even doing?

Brad posted an article a few years back that linked to an alternate ending someone had come up with, which I think accurately addresses most of the flaws in the conclusion. However, there are a couple things about it that I also want to point out. Once Fontaine starts berating you over the radio, he immediately begins to cast doubt on Tenenbaum’s intentions, doubts which ultimately prove to be baseless accusations. And I think this is part of a huge error in the entire story, in regards to the theme of free will. The whole point of the Reveal was that you had not been acting of your own accord, that you were at the beck and call of the voice of ‘Atlas’. Once Tenenbaum rescues you, she claims to have ‘removed’ this mental conditioning. But then you spend the last third of the game doing whatever she tells you to do, so that while you are technically free, you’re not actually doing anything differently. You're still obeying the voice on the radio.

ewwwww

The problem with this situation became very clear when she tells you to become a Big Daddy. She claims it is necessary to go through the doors, because only Little Sisters can unlock them, but you’ve already had Sisters unlock those same kinds of doors for you before, when you were in the Orphanage. The justification for becoming a Big Daddy from a gameplay perspective is readily apparent – the cathartic nature of it is obvious – but from a story perspective it’s very confusing. Add onto that Tenenbaum’s clear desire for you to free the Sisters, and the Good Ending suddenly becomes much weirder when you realize that it’s entirely possible that she never freed you at all, but only altered the conditioning to match her voice instead of the trigger phrase. That’s just speculation, but I mean, for you to spend the rest of your life with a Big Daddy voice (after having your larynx adjusted for that purpose, despite your never speaking), that alone is a bit bizarre.

I did enjoy playing Bioshock, although there were some problems with the 'game' part of it. It was easier than I expected, although I did keep it set to Medium (I played it on my Mac with the track pad, so true difficulty wasn’t really an option), and the gamey-ness of the gameplay contrasted pretty heavily with the dark atmosphere, which is true of a lot of games but definitely stood out here. Having Big Daddies be neutral until attacked was nice, although it did make them significantly less threatening. And having them repeatedly spawn didn’t help much either; there were several times I’d kill one, leave the room, and then hear the deep groan and see a new Daddy walking right over the fresh corpse, even after I’d rescued all the Little Sisters. There was never much incentive to experiment with plasmids beyond curiosity, and the Harvest/Rescue mechanic was undermined by the fact that I got plenty of Adam just from rescuing (which again might have just been the difficulty setting, I dunno). It was still fun, though. And the story was interesting, despite the problems I mentioned above. All in all, I’m glad I finally played it, and I’m interested to see what Infinite will be like. I don’t know that I’ll get around to Bioshock 2 anytime soon, although I hear Minerva’s Den is pretty cool. And who knows, maybe since I haven’t had that spoiled yet, I might enjoy it more.

10 Comments
11 Comments
Posted by MarkWahlberg

Bioshock had been my video game equivalent of War and Peace: one of those books you were supposed to read – one of the important books – one that I frequently started but never got around to finishing. I finally did finish it yesterday, though, and in typical MarkWahlbergian fashion I want to talk about it with you fine folks. If that’s ok.

Hi, mom!

Although I’d never gotten very far into the game, I’d had the Big Reveal spoiled in part for me several years ago (possibly by the Bombcast crew, I can’t remember exactly). I knew about ‘Would You Kindly’, but I didn’t know much else, and so I found myself paying more attention to the other details around it, such as the fact that you were playing as a rapidly aged 2 year-old whose father was an Objectivist genius businessman and whose mother was a stripper (add that to the list of sentences I’d never thought I’d write). That seemed much crazier than what I had expected, which was a KOTOR style ‘you are Fontaine’ sorta deal, with Atlas actually just Ryan trying to fuck with you or something.

The other result of not being shocked by the twist was that I think the flaws in the rest of the story stood out more. The twist certainly is what got everyone’s attention when the game was released, but when you look at the actual story, there isn’t a whole lot else to it. Most of it is actually just atmosphere, with audiotapes fleshing out the details of the places you encounter. The things that I was most curious about – how exactly did they go about building Rapture, how did they choose who to let into the city – were never clearly explained, and that’s understandable. The focus of the game was on how Rapture fell, and when you’re creating atmosphere, it’s just as important to know what to leave unsaid, as it is to know what to tell the audience. What Bioshock does very well is to show us the broad arc of the downfall of the city through the personal stories of individual people, which makes us more invested in what happens. We want to find out Bill McDonagh’s fate just as much as we want (at first) to help Atlas reunite with his family. So it is very strange that the ultimate villain, Fontaine, is barely explained at all as a character. For most of the game, he is a boogeyman lurking at the corners of everything, eventually starting an all-out war with Ryan over control of Rapture. Fontaine’s essential nature is repeatedly described as a criminal one; he even goes so far as to call his entire effort as a ‘long con’. But we never really know what he wants. If he is at heart a con man, then why does he try to take over the city? The whole point of a con is to take what you can and run the hell away, preferably without the mark ever knowing he’s been conned. And if he is only trying to use the city for personal gain, why does he turn himself into a roided-up freak at the end? That might put him on top of the pyramid in Rapture – which won’t count for much since he already destroyed it – but he’ll have a hard time of it above water. Ryan is memorable because he is a tragic figure; his greatest achievement was what ultimately destroyed him. Fontaine is just a power hungry douche bag with no clear motivation for bringing an entire society to its knees. If we knew more about why he came to Rapture (how did Ryan even decide to let him in?), I feel like even just that little bit of back-story would have made the whole story so much clearer.

Uh, Mr. Fontaine? Frank? What the fuck. What the fuck are you even doing?

Brad posted an article a few years back that linked to an alternate ending someone had come up with, which I think accurately addresses most of the flaws in the conclusion. However, there are a couple things about it that I also want to point out. Once Fontaine starts berating you over the radio, he immediately begins to cast doubt on Tenenbaum’s intentions, doubts which ultimately prove to be baseless accusations. And I think this is part of a huge error in the entire story, in regards to the theme of free will. The whole point of the Reveal was that you had not been acting of your own accord, that you were at the beck and call of the voice of ‘Atlas’. Once Tenenbaum rescues you, she claims to have ‘removed’ this mental conditioning. But then you spend the last third of the game doing whatever she tells you to do, so that while you are technically free, you’re not actually doing anything differently. You're still obeying the voice on the radio.

ewwwww

The problem with this situation became very clear when she tells you to become a Big Daddy. She claims it is necessary to go through the doors, because only Little Sisters can unlock them, but you’ve already had Sisters unlock those same kinds of doors for you before, when you were in the Orphanage. The justification for becoming a Big Daddy from a gameplay perspective is readily apparent – the cathartic nature of it is obvious – but from a story perspective it’s very confusing. Add onto that Tenenbaum’s clear desire for you to free the Sisters, and the Good Ending suddenly becomes much weirder when you realize that it’s entirely possible that she never freed you at all, but only altered the conditioning to match her voice instead of the trigger phrase. That’s just speculation, but I mean, for you to spend the rest of your life with a Big Daddy voice (after having your larynx adjusted for that purpose, despite your never speaking), that alone is a bit bizarre.

I did enjoy playing Bioshock, although there were some problems with the 'game' part of it. It was easier than I expected, although I did keep it set to Medium (I played it on my Mac with the track pad, so true difficulty wasn’t really an option), and the gamey-ness of the gameplay contrasted pretty heavily with the dark atmosphere, which is true of a lot of games but definitely stood out here. Having Big Daddies be neutral until attacked was nice, although it did make them significantly less threatening. And having them repeatedly spawn didn’t help much either; there were several times I’d kill one, leave the room, and then hear the deep groan and see a new Daddy walking right over the fresh corpse, even after I’d rescued all the Little Sisters. There was never much incentive to experiment with plasmids beyond curiosity, and the Harvest/Rescue mechanic was undermined by the fact that I got plenty of Adam just from rescuing (which again might have just been the difficulty setting, I dunno). It was still fun, though. And the story was interesting, despite the problems I mentioned above. All in all, I’m glad I finally played it, and I’m interested to see what Infinite will be like. I don’t know that I’ll get around to Bioshock 2 anytime soon, although I hear Minerva’s Den is pretty cool. And who knows, maybe since I haven’t had that spoiled yet, I might enjoy it more.

Posted by RPGee

Quite an interesting read. I always find it cool to go back to the most well-renowned games, because a little bit of retrospection can shed decent light on parts which were overlooked at the time.

And now, you can play Bioshock 2! Enjoy the unique plot point of "Apart from the Fontaine/Ryan political war, there's this other political war that happened that was never, ever, ever even hinted at in the first game." It's still a pretty fun game, though.

Posted by Jay444111

Personally, I think Fontaine really just wanted power most of all... I mean, ADAM is so insanely fucking powerful that in the form he was in, he could hurl globes of electricity at you. So yeah... you could legitimately become a demigod with all that power so I can totally see how someone could find that alluring.

Also the fact that his plans were so in depth shows he really was willing to do anything to get that power. Hell, everything that happens to you is because of another mans insane greed!

Also, I think it is a combination of art deco/environment/Audio tapes/characters that really brings in the story, it isn't just one of those things.

I don't thing Tenenbaum is all that evil... I mean she DOES take care of those kids so she does have a good heart, however I do see how she can be using you in order to further her goals in stopping Fontaine and getting the children out... I can actually see that and that makes for another pretty fucking great twist! We just need to find out her own 'Keyword"

Also I found the big daddy voice thing odd as well... I mean... damn... maybe his voice healed or something? I dunno, someone more well versed in Bioshock than me can find out.

Edited by believer258

@RPGee said:

Quite an interesting read. I always find it cool to go back to the most well-renowned games, because a little bit of retrospection can shed decent light on parts which were overlooked at the time.

And now, you can play Bioshock 2! Enjoy the unique plot point of "Apart from the Fontaine/Ryan political war, there's this other political war that happened that was never, ever, ever even hinted at in the first game." It's still a pretty fun game, though.

That's because 2 was a sequel-by-committee. Well, I think so anyway. I'd be willing to bet my bottom dollar that some big number-cruncher saw that Bioshock sold well and wanted a sequel, so they got one. If that was the motivation for making it, then the fact that the final product is so excellent (albeit not as much so as its predecessor) is pretty astounding.

Also, I think that Fontaine had used so much Adam that by the end of the game, he was a total nutter. He was essentially a splicer taken to its logical conclusion, from what I remember. It doesn't hurt that a game such as Bioshock needed a climactic finale in the "game" sense and Fontaine fit that bill pretty well. The real finale, as far as I'm concerned, is putting a nine-iron through Ryan's skull. The rest is just to round out the "game" part and some story bits here and there. The latter third is still great, just not quite up to par with the first two thirds.

EDIT: And the Big Daddy part. Worst part of that game.

Edited by joshthebear

Good read duder. It's been a while since I've played the first, but I totally agree about the end. Pretty much everything after the Andrew Ryan incident was not so great.

For me the best part of the game was Fort Frolic and everything to do with Sander Cohen. The whole masterpiece part was amazing/totally fucked up, but I loved every single moment with him.

As far as 2 is concerned, it's actually pretty awesome. Sure the story isn't as good but still totally worth seeing. The combat on the other hand kills the first, as being able to dual weapon and plasmid was miles better than 1.

Posted by AutoBarn

Wow. Your thoughts on Bioshock were longer than the game itself. Feel like I just played "BrevityShock".

Still, some good insights in there!

Posted by DarthOrange

I never finished it. Started it in January and stopped shortly after I got the fiery fist of death (or whatever the fire power giving syringe is called). The stupid hacking mini games pissed me off because I was always to slow and I would burn through ammo too quickly. I think I'm just going to skip it and play bioshock 2, I have to assume that playing as a big daddy means you have more weapons and bullets right?

Posted by iam3green

i actually beat it i think this year or close to this year november, december. the ending was kind of disappointing i thought. one reason for that was because i just beat assassin's creed 1 and it had the same kind of ending. it was like come on i just beat a game with the same story.

in other news i can't wait for bioshock: infinite. i hope it's not the same ending lol.

Posted by Humanity

@DarthOrange said:

I never finished it. Started it in January and stopped shortly after I got the fiery fist of death (or whatever the fire power giving syringe is called). The stupid hacking mini games pissed me off because I was always to slow and I would burn through ammo too quickly. I think I'm just going to skip it and play bioshock 2, I have to assume that playing as a big daddy means you have more weapons and bullets right?

You assume correctly but that is not the case with the game. Playing as a Big Daddy in Bioshock 2 has almost no impact and making the player more imposing or durable during gunfights. Early on you will take considerable damage from any firearms and ammo is just as scarce. Despite being able to wield gigantic gatling gun as your primary weapon, the damage seems to not coincide with the imposing exterior of the weapon as you seemingly whittle down lifebars instead of demolishing them.

All of this is explained with a gaming caveat of you being the first prototype Big Daddy and thats why everything is literally still kicking your ass despite becoming the one thing everyone feared in the first game. This makes the whole Big Daddy aspect very forgettable.

The story is also not quite as strong in this one which is a shame because I don't think the gameplay is very good in the series. I actually quite disliked the "playing" aspect of Bioshock 1 while I did enjoy the atmosphere and story.

Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

There's story and then there's plot. I think Bioshock's atmosphere and Rapture are the story of the game, which is why it's so great. The plot itself, you're right, not exactly the best. But it's still a great God damn game.

Posted by MarkWahlberg

@believer258 said:

Also, I think that Fontaine had used so much Adam that by the end of the game, he was a total nutter. He was essentially a splicer taken to its logical conclusion, from what I remember.

That was another problem. They went on about how everyone had spliced themselves crazy, and maybe that's what happened to Fontaine. But the whole backstory for him was that he used the plasmids as ways of manipulating other people, not for personal.. improvements. Sure, maybe he ended up splicing himself because the situation demanded it, but isn't that exactly what your character does? By the end of the game, I was spliced six ways from Sunday and my sanity was never at stake. I admit it would be tricky to implement as a game mechanic, but you can't set up the loss of sanity as a drawback to plasmid use, and then never let that be a problem for you. At one point Tenenbaum described plasmids as a "benign cancer" that must be constantly fed Adam to control it, so is the assumption then that you found a way to neutralize the problem once you leave Rapture? Maybe that's addressed in the sequel...

@TheDudeOfGaming said:

There's story and then there's plot. I think Bioshock's atmosphere and Rapture are the story of the game, which is why it's so great. The plot itself, you're right, not exactly the best. But it's still a great God damn game.

Good point, and I think ultimately Rapture is what sticks in your memory more than what happens - what you yourself actually do - in the game. Which is, when you think about it, probably the opposite of how games should work (isn't that what David Jaffe was arguing about a while back?), but somehow they managed to pull it off.