Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Lots of posts, I know. I just finished Bioshock over the weekend. It was fun, and the setting was certainly atmospheric. However, I can't see why the game won awards for its story, more than its setting. The moral choices were pretty stark (SPOILERS - save the Little Sisters or kill them), and your choices ultimately weren't that consequential, except that it gave you one of two different endings. But, the limited moral choice aside, the biggest issue I had was that Bioshock was not so much a story-driven game but an exploration of recent history. Ken Levine gave an interview recently on why stories in video games suck, and he revealed that a remarkable amount of Bioshock's story was left on the editing room floor. It was condensed from a span of months to a single day. And that leaves the player out of some pivotal events in Rapture's "history", and instead he/she is left with picking up audio recordings of what happened. It is an exercise in - at best - piecing together what happened, rather than participating in the events.

And that hamstrings the emotional kick of the game. The audio recordings alone did get me to sympathize with certain individuals or revile others. But the foregoing the opportunity to interact with these people, either as events were going on or in the aftermath, was a narrative and emotional waste. Instead, you’re just left with shooting a bunch of psychos.

But I don’t want to be too harsh. Bioshock was good, and it had some excellent moments of set-piece story underpinned by a light layer of philosophy. But the story never matched the atmosphere. And the fact that Bioshock is renowned for its story is more an indication about the story state of narrative in video games, rather than a positive recommendation for the game.


hcduvall said...

Ah, but dude, it's a shooter. If the plot is more complex then wake up to fight conspiracy, find help, and be betrayed by help, then it's a bright new edge to gaming.

I think perhaps you're viewing it from the rpg side, or as a narrative delivery device, rather than looking out for the gameplay. How customizable were you? Were the fights variable, or is it all duck and run? Though I understand that review criteria is changed with it's rep. I bring you Zero Punctuation's review.

And I know you weren't criticizing exactly, I will say that after having thought entirely too much about morality games, the nuance and the lack thereof, I've come to appreciate the stark black/white endings. Maybe I'm getting soft, or I've read too many stupid posts about people being wusses for not wanting to kill the little sisters or the like, but for games with morals as a center piece the consequences must be stark, or else risk not having teeth. If anything, I think the game makers aren't going far enough. Fable has a crap choice that should reward "evil" players, that has a back door cop-out. Bioshock would be more meaningful it it explicitly rewarded you more over time. (or less, though what a worthless lesson to give). Though a wider range might be entertaining.

Chengora said...

Great link to Zero Punctuation. And I agree with his overall impression. It's a good game, but falls a bit short, not just of its rep, but of what it could have been.

As for Bioshock's shooter status, I seem to recall it being billed as something of a hybrid FPS/RPG. But it's much stronger on the former. Now, the fights could be variable, depending on what powers and ammunition you had available. I was forced towards the end to get away from my trusty shotgun as it became less effective and I ran out of shells. And you are in some ways able to customize what perks you get. But I don't think it really had a significant impact on gameplay.

On the black and white-ness, there's two things. I agree: if they made the choices more meaningful, like a stiff penalty for picking one path or another, it would be a different story. But as that link showed, it all pretty much comes out as a wash. Granted, you don't see that unless you - like me - want to spoil the surprise. Second, it's not so much the sappy endings that got to me. Rather, it was that the connection between what happens in the end doesn't necessarily relate to the choices that you are making. Why does harvesting ADAM mean that you'll take over the world? Why does saving the Little Sisters mean that you look to them for a family? There were gaps in the plot that - if filled - would have added that extra level of emotional power. Just feels like a missed opportunity.

hcduvall said...

After long and careful consideration, after long and indiscriminate rants about Jade Empire, I've decided this: Coming from tabletop first means that we view playing an RPG as an act of role-creation. Coming from the video game side, and console systems? That's patently not so. Other then Planescape, these things are strictly role-playing, and some choice between good and evil is like choosing a class.

Not that I don't want more...